When I look back over my life, I can see several powerful driving forces that have shaped my behavior over my lifetime. In my early childhood, the driving force was my innocence. I played and laughed and picked on my older sister just like one would expect an innocent child to do. But, there was a secret darkness in my soul.
I was raised in a very strict Christian home with puritanical moral values. Approval and acceptance from my dad was contingent upon my ability to meticulously comply with his rules and God’s rules. On the inside, I knew I was failing to meet the expectations of morality set forth by my dad - because I knew I was really a dirty, nasty, sinful little girl. If anyone ever found out about the disgusting, perverted movies that played in my head, they would know that I was not pure enough to ever make it to heaven.
To hide my secret, I tried to behave outwardly like a good girl that God would love. I was pretty sure I wasn’t fooling God, but I thought I might be able to fool my dad into believing I was worthy of his approval. It seemed to work until about the time puberty came around. By then, my dad seemed to be more displeased than pleased with me. I sensed it was a losing battle and I pretty much gave up on meeting his expectations.
So, I started looking to other males to quench my unquenchable need for approval and acceptance. If someone was male, I wanted his attention. It didn’t matter if he was twenty years older than me, or if he was the scum of the earth; I indiscriminately craved his approval.
Instead of gaining acceptance, I was shunned - labeled a “pain in the butt” and a “loser”. And, that drove me to search even harder for male approval - a cyclic disaster in the making.
Then, I attended a Christian college - and struggled to find peace amid my internal warfare. On one hand, I wanted to appear to be a “pure” Christian girl that “quality” guys would want to marry - I so desperately wanted to be a “good” wife - or as “good” as I could be, given the secretive “truth” about me.
On the other hand, I wanted to be seen and acknowledged by a man - any man - so badly that I was willing to hand over my body to any man who wanted to fondle and disrespect it. Being “good” wasn’t attracting any male attention - but the promise of naughty nakedness sure did. I believed my body was all I had to offer. These pathetic scraps of attention were better than nothing.
This frantic pattern continued even after college - but the men of my adulthood were men that wanted only my [now-weary] nakedness. They didn’t even pretend to appreciate the intangible parts of me. It wasn’t until I was approaching my fortieth birthday that I finally figured out this approach was not working. I finally gave it up and withdrew from social contact. I slumped into a life of depressive isolation.
And yet . . . in the isolation and in the absence of desperate searching, I found a still, small voice inside of me. I guess it had been there all along - I had just been so focused on looking for comfort outside of myself that I had never really noticed it before. I had to become a recluse in order to find it.
It is this still, small voice that is now guiding me though the healing process. I have figured out that this voice is trustworthy - it always has my best interest at heart. It doesn’t want anything from me; it only wants for me to experience health and vitality and pleasure and joy.
This dependable voice is helping me to understand the source of those vile images I carried with me from an innocent age - and it is teaching me how to replace those images with healing mental images. It is also teaching me that I know best what I need to do in order to heal. No one knows better - no one.
This steady voice is teaching me that I am good enough - that I am already lovable. And, in some ways, it is teaching me about God in a context which honors who I am now and who I have always been - secrets and all.
I’m still learning how to listen to this still, small voice. Sometimes I find myself distracted by that historical pull of needing others to provide approval. Sometimes, in those distracted moments, I think the voice is telling me to start back down that path of frantic searching. In those moments, I pay attention to my body - do I feel like I’m moving towards a safe, warm place or a desperate place? If it’s a desperate place, then it’s fear rather than my inner voice that’s guiding me. Sometimes my brain gets so noisy that it is hard to tell the difference.
That’s when I remind myself . . . if I’m too busy to listen, the voice sits patiently and waits . . . it only speaks when I am ready to listen. So, in those moments, I turn my attention back into myself, find a quiet spot where I can listen carefully . . . and just listen.
In those moments, I remember . . . the healing comes from the listening.
Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.