A story about comfort, part one.
Comfort: I hear the word and I think thick, cheesy casseroles, warm sweaters, my husband’s arms. I think steaming chai on a rainy day in Oregon. I think conversation – companionship – with friends.
But when I consider the concept of comfort, a completely different image comes to mind. Instead of coziness and stick-to-your-bones-food I have a memory of a 21 year old girl imprisoned by shame.
I was in my first term at a new school, a gorgeous hide-away in the hills above California’s Napa Valley, surrounded by the intoxicating scents of burning vines, wine presses, and evergreens. A childhood friend and I rode down the twisting mountain road almost daily to the small-town coffee roaster where I would sit beneath orange trees, heady with the aroma of burnt batches of beans, and feel…
It had started out well. I had jumped in with all that I had – which was mostly dreams and vision. I had worn my extroverted face, I met people; I even – and this was a stretch for me – attended my classes.
But by the time November began creeping through the valley, by the time the flaming red vines gave their last glorious show and the fog began to blanket us each morning, my spirits entered their own burrowing winter. Theology classes began to throw me into panic, making my mind a crazy trap, making my soul feel damned to perdition. I reached a point where I could no longer physically attend – and as the majority of my classes were theology based, my grades careened toward disaster. I put up my white flag; I began to see a Christian counselor.
We jumped right into sexual abuse, the counselor and I, because that’s the stretcher upon which I’d been laying for a good year or two (all my wounds open and gushing ugliness and stench). I had felt as though I’d been making good progress but now here I was nonfunctional again. The whole scenario made me angry, lonely, and confused.
I’m sure the counselor had good things to say. I mean, he must have. But all I remember from those sessions (the ones in which I actually found the courage to knock on his door instead of falter on his steps, baptized in shame until I slunk away) – all I remember is a single sentence. I remember it because it fell on me like a curse.
“If you ever get married, your husband will have to act as therapist to you throughout your whole life; he’ll especially have to be your therapist in bed.”
The counselor’s context was philosophical. He had just finished relating totally unhelpful (and in fact, quite crippling) facts and personal opinions, such as (read the following in a low, knowing voice): “sexual abuse survivors are affected by their abuse for their whole lives. Sexual abuse survivors are a unique burden to their spouses because whomever marries them will not get to enjoy normal marital intimacy. Instead, the spouse to the survivor will always have to take on a therapist’s role in the marriage.”
Okay, if you have any type of ongoing struggle – mental, physical or emotional – you felt it, didn’t you, when you read those words? An icy “knowing” slid down your body, a sinister voice (something outside your true heart) said to you, “this is true. It’s all true. See? you are a burden. Your poor husband. Your poor wife. Your poor parents. Your poor friends. I told you.”
It’s a lie.
Listen, it’s true enough that issues might linger, and do linger, but what the counselor did up there was act as if there’s no hope (there is), while at the same time acting as if the experience of “having stuff to deal with” is unique to abuse survivors. His words divided people into two classes: burdensome victims, and everyone else. What a lie.
I don’t care if you’re an abuse survivor, a cancer survivor, an anxiety survivor, or any other, well, human. We ALL have things. We’ve all been marred by sin and we’ve all had to forge our way on a sin-tarnished planet, we’ve all been hurt, and broken, and healed, and saved, and probably even hurt again.
The obvious struggles of one are no more real than the hidden struggles of another. We are more alike than different. We’re all in this Eden-less world together. We are all broken-being-made-well.
So, so what. So you have panic attacks in grocery stores. So you can’t watch certain films. So you feel a desperate need for applause. So you struggle with cooking, or connecting, and sometimes the duration of those episodes make it feel like they are the mortar of real life and the good times are just little stones tossed in for decoration.
It’s okay. It’s all crazy raw and hard to accept, but the people who love you don’t see you as a burden. They see YOU; they like you, they love you, they consider you worth the sharing of their lives because…you ARE worth that.
You are not your depression, or your addictions, or your memories. You are not your panic attacks, or your disorders, or your illness. You are not the sexual abuse that happened when you were young. You are YOU, loved wildly, created purposefully, rescued mightily, and there is space for you – for you, and for every wound you’ve been dealt, every dream you possess, every emotion you still have to process – there is space for you in the heart, mind and life of God. And your people? Your people need you just as deeply as you need them.
This post is part of Survivor Songs, a 31-Day series. A full list of posts is found here.