I’m grateful to have Amy Ivey here today who is so beautifully and boldly sharing her story of sexual abuse. It’s not the “classic” way you may see sexual abuse, but I have learned through Dan Allender’s The Wounded Heart that the degree of abuse (or the amount of touching) matters very little in terms of length of recovery. Any unwanted sexual touch or talk or leering or peeping means you will have to deal with the pain. In some ways it’s harder because you feel it’s “not so bad” as others’ stories.
Please hear me: all sexual abuse is evil, no matter what form it takes. Stop minimizing it and dare to get the help you need.
I hear my son walk down the hallway and seconds later I realize I’m clenching my jaw. My response feels like it is etched into my nervous system. I have to work to bring down the intensity. It is the legacy of my father’s abuse of my mom, my brothers, and me.
The phrase “sexual abuse” connotes physical contact. But the term includes many behaviors such as voyeurism and exhibitionism that can include little to no physical contact but are sexually abusive. Among many other things, my father did both.
As a young teen I became aware of his voyeurism when I would bathe, sleep, change, or just be in my room. I now realize his voyeurism had been going on long before that. In case you are wondering “How does that happen?” let me explain.
The first time I became aware of his voyeurism I was taking a bath before school. That morning he cracked the door and peered in. I pulled my legs up to my chest all the while feeling intense panic inside me. “What is he doing?” pounded in my head and yet I knew. It was as if I expected it. And he wanted me to know what he was doing.
Over the years I became aware of how and when my father was watching me. He placed pinholes in the doors to look through and made it where my doors could not lock. He drilled holes in the ceiling so he could pull back the insulation in the attic and watch me. As I tried to keep him from viewing me, he came up with new ways to fool me. I began taking a shower in the afternoon. He began leaving work during the afternoon, parking his car down the street, and coming in to peer at me. I was always a step behind him, powerless.
He shaved the side of the blinds in my room so that it was possible to see in my room. I would often get in bed at night fully dressed and wait to hear him come back through the front door. I would wait to make sure he was gone – to know he was through gratifying himself outside my window. I did everything I could as a child to protect myself in his house. When I would prevent him from his sexually addictive behavior, I would suffer his anger. I was terrified of him. I had seen what he did to my mother.
Praying and Coping
During this time in my life I made a decision for Christ. I became involved in the youth group at church and earnestly tried to learn what it meant to be in a relationship with Jesus. I had a dedicated youth minister who helped in many ways. In fact without that involvement with the youth group I am not sure what would have happened to me.
But my desire to grow as a Christian was tangled up in just trying to cope day to day with my father’s abuse. I so badly wanted to please God and to make things right that I prayed for my father as he watched me at night. I thought God was telling me I needed to help him get better. Besides I thought if I did anything I would be responsible for a divorce to his second wife. It was something I was supposed to handle – I was to be a good Christian. My relationship with God was twisted by the abuse in ways that were much more about coping than about the truth of who God is and how He sees me. I looked to others like a mature Christian teen but in reality I was a depleted, depressed, terrified, ashamed, and confused. And from the outside our family may have seemed okay. After all, my father was assisting with the deacon ministry and teaching Sunday school.
When I left my father’s house, my coping skills were firmly in place. I believed that I was going to be a strong Christian who helped others. God would use what happened to me. But a great problem existed with my thinking – I was not willing to really be honest about what my father had done and how it had wounded me. How many times had I heard women reference abuse as just something in the past or testimonies where the person seemingly overcame any pain in her life? Instead of having an honest relationship with God, I held to a spiritual guise of the “perfect” Christian and pushed away my internal struggles.
It is not an uncommon process; denial can feel much better for a time than the truth. My energy to maintain the denial began to break down though. I wanted to help people but I had difficulty trusting others. Nightmares, anxiety, feeling worthless, and physical illness crowded into my life and drained my energy for pretending. I felt like I was displeasing God because I could not keep my guise together anymore. The truth is He was after me to no longer try.
I wish I could say that the process of facing the truth was quick. Instead it has been a long and difficult one. I have struggled with God. I have felt abandoned by Him. Exclaiming that “everything is okay” while denying that which He wants to heal is not a trust in God that offers real hope. But in being honest with God real hope is found. Jesus himself, the Truth, displayed fierce truth telling when clearing out the temple. The truth sets us free (John 8:32).
I have discovered that what I held back in my denial God already fully knows. He is not corrupted by nor is my relationship to Him corrupted by being honest about my wounds. Our dreams, desires, the parts of our personality we wish did not exist – He wants to enter into all of it. I do not simply want to shrink back from that, but want to run in the opposite direction. I am often afraid of being vulnerable to Him, another legacy of my father’s abuse.
Has God answered my struggles and questions? No, but even if He did answer my questions I am not sure my finite mind could understand. Evil and intense suffering exists all around us. I believe God extends mercy when His children suffer even while He knows there is more beyond what the hurting person can see. Perhaps in not fully understanding, as believers, we will not take lightly the suffering of others by giving trite answers to their pain.
And yes, He has answered. I have those who have come along beside to help me. In those moments where the truth of my life is bare, by their presence and words I experience the real hope of Christ. I choose to believe that there is more to what I can see in the future and that God is unfolding His story in my life.
And the Truth is slowly setting me free.
Definition of childhood sexual abuse
Childhood sexual abuse includes a dominant adult or peer forcing or coercing a child into sexual activity. Physical acts such as fondling of genitals, masturbation, oral-genital contact, and vaginal and anal intercourse may be involved. Noncontact abuse can include being forced to view or participate in pornography, exposure, voyeurism, or sexually inappropriate questions and comments.
Tips for Finding a Counselor
- Ask others you trust for referrals. But be prepared to consider more than one counselor.
- Does the counselor have a biblical worldview that underpins all of his counseling work? Can he clearly and simply explain the type/s of counseling he practices?
- Find out what her practice is concerning out of session contact. You want to find a therapist who offers the ability for contact but does so in a way that promotes boundaries and thus keeps the therapy process healthy.
- What experience does she have working with sexual abuse/trauma? If the therapist has little experience, is she under supervision or in a consultation group that can allow her to help you the best.
- What is counselor’s fee? Does he offer sliding scale? Remember that therapists are professionals who have often studied and trained for many years and as I Timothy 5:18 says “Those who work deserve their pay.”
- Seeking out counseling takes courage and will not be without some anxiety. Do not expect to feel at ease in initial sessions. Ultimately you want to find a counselor who you feel comfortable with. Do not feel guilt if the counseling is not a good fit. Therapists understand the process and can refer you to someone who might work better with you.
Amy Ivey has her Ph.D. in Psychology and Counseling. She has published numerous articles on parenting and family life. Amy has a passion to help others who desire healing in their lives. She shares life with her husband, Keith, and their four children in the beautiful mountains. You can follow her on twitter @amycivey
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If Amy’s story resonates with you, you may be interested in a special I’m running right now. Buy Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse and get Beautiful Battle (a book about spiritual warfare) for FREE! Click here for details.