Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sexual Abuse

Back from vacation to write about a topic that is deeply on my heart. 

St. Maria Goretti, drawn by Helen Hull Hitchcock, one of the patron saints of the sexually abused

Although there are many aspects of modern society to deplore, one of the best advents of being more 'open' is the greater realization of, and treatment for, those who have been sexually abused. Today we realize that sexual abuse, of minors and adults, is not as rare as we wish it was and is not anything to be brushed aside. The attitude of 'boys will be boys' or 'these things happen' is no longer acceptable.

But at some point, the person who has suffered sexual abuse must move on, right? One of the most frustrating aspects for survivors is feeling stuck - dealing with the same issues, over and over again. This can easily lead to rushing into a relationship, a marriage even, in order to 'claim' sexuality as free from the abuser - something that the victim again has control over. Perhaps even if nothing was rushed, the issue does not get a full airing; it is mentioned, but not discussed. The victim simply wants to 'get over' it and move on. Maybe the abuser is still even in the victim's life and they feel they cannot extricate themselves without creating more issues to deal with. 

But while wanting to move on is normal, you can't move on from a wound that has not healed. The wounds that we receive from sexual abuse are not fleeting - but neither are they incurable. Just as a physical wound must be cleaned out before it can be healed, so these psychological, emotional, and spiritual wounds must be shown to the light of day. Make no mistake about it, sex is powerful, incredibly powerful. Satan wants to take something so powerfully good - sex - and turn it into something cripplingly painful, which is what sexual abuse is. But Satan, and sin, fears the light. To expose these experiences to the light, with the aid of a trusted spiritual guide, can only defeat Satan's power over a person. 

Sometimes people doubt whether they have been abused or they normalize the abuse. 'It wasn't so bad' can be a constant refrain, or 'she/he didn't know better' or even 'it's just part of that culture.' None of these statements are in any way an appropriate excuse or justification for abuse. And no matter how many attempts are made to minimize the pain, it will not erase what happened. Maybe you wonder  something along the lines of 'if that was just a simple game of doctor between kids, then why does the memory fill me with fear?' It's okay. Find a trusted person to talk to, preferably with experience in dealing with these issues, and gently expose these events to the light of God's Truth. The Divine Physician can do great healing. 

Where to seek help? Many people who have been abused are asking - who can I trust? I know there are even counselors that normalize or minimize abuse, further compounding a person's pain. But there is good help to be found. The Pastoral Solutions Institute is a good place to start, no matter where you are emotionally - or geographically! Also, the website Catholic Therapists has a directory of Catholic therapists in the US, but they can only do so much in verifying each therapists' authentic adherence to Church teaching, so it's best to ask a few questions yourself before you develop a relationship with one of their therapists.

If you're not ready to talk to a person, try Dawn Eden's great book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. Read the book as slowly as you wish and keep a journal to process your thoughts. During this time of reflection, Satan may up his attacks - your abuser may contact you, someone may say something hurtful that relates to the situation, or your thoughts may turn dark. That's why it's important to increase your prayer time; spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist via Adoration if at all possible, attend daily Mass, and please oh please - say the rosary! These efforts will help you begin to revisit these events.

Additionally, a good spiritual director may be a great help in processing all of this work. Spiritual direction is NOT a substitute for therapy at all, but it can be very helpful when done alongside counseling. You can usually find a list of spiritual directors on your diocese's website or by calling. For more questions about spiritual directors in general, check out Jennifer Fulwiler's extremely helpful blog post here.

Finally, dear reader, if this is a personal struggle for you, please know you're not alone and sex is not ruined forever for you. You are not wasted, broken, ruined, or tainted. There are many of us who have suffered similar trials and we bear witness to God's ability to "make all things new." (Rev. 21:5) If you have any questions, please feel free to email me or contact me using the anonymous contact form to the right. Be assured of my prayers. 

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