A Letter to My 13-year-old Self

as I embark on the task of telling my story in the form of a memoir, I wrote a letter to my younger self, Charlie. Charlie is the nickname given to me in the 7th grade. For some reason, I felt she needed reassurance that she is safe. Writing the letter eased my anxiety about starting the memoir and allowed me to voice my fears about the project.

A New Adventure Begins

On Monday, March 18, 2019, I begin the final class for the Master of Arts in Cultural Apologetics program at Houston Baptist University. The class provides the opportunity to complete a capstone project of our choosing. My project is beginning my memoir about the abuse I endured. However, the memoir chronicles more than the sexual, physical and emotional abuse inflicted on me. I wrote the detailed chronology of the abuse about 20 years ago but did not publish it. At sixty-six, I have the luxury of reflecting on my life much differently than at age forty-something. I see the consistent thread of God’s grace and the constant presence of Christ in my life. The memoir is not a testimony of instant relief or dramatic healing through deliverance; nor is it a clinic account of healing through intellectual and psychological understanding. There was no quick fix to the distress and chaos in my life. As I stated in other posts, I healed from the trauma by integrating faith, reason, and imagination. Letter writing is one of the most effective tools in my recovery toolkit. Writing letters, poems and journaling helped me express feelings and thoughts that were difficult to articulate any other way.

Who is Charlie?

Charlie is the nickname given to me in the 7th grade. I used the nickname throughout my teen and young adult years. When I started remembering the abuse at age 34, I went back to Charlotte, but I changed my middle name from Louise to Bethia.  I legally changed my middle name when I divorced my first husband. Charlie represents the child who could not speak for years because my mind silenced her.  For some reason, I felt she needed reassurance that she is safe. Writing the letter eased my anxiety about starting the memoir and allowed me to voice my fears about the project. For those who endured similar experiences as a child, think about what you might say in a letter to your younger self. As you read, imagine what your younger self needs to hear from you.

Dear Charlie,

Next week I begin to tell our story in a way that I never thought I would. I want to honor you in that telling, but I also must reveal things you may not be comfortable with other people knowing. You may feel betrayed by what I share. You want to hide or run away to one of your safe places. I understand because as I write, I sometimes want to run away too. The problem is that I can’t run anymore. I know you are afraid that somehow the bad people will find you and hurt you again, but I promise you they can’t find you. Most of them are dead and my name has changed so even if someone reads our story, they won’t know it’s you. I know they told you they would always find you no matter what and that you belonged to them, but they lied. They can’t hurt you anymore.

Remember how Jesus always came when you needed him most. He will not abandon you now. He will not leave you. He understands how frightened you are and will stay very close as I tell the world how badly you were hurt. He will help me explain how he kept your soul safe even when the bad people said they were stronger than him. They could not have your soul then and they will not get it now.

There are so many that need to know what you can tell them.

You never gave in to the demand to become like them. You fought them every day. They tried to break you, but you survived to fight another day. Yes, some who read the story will not believe that one little girl could endure so much pain. Some will say you made up the stories you tell. You heard the words, “that didn’t happen,” so many times that you believed them and forgot all they did to you. You invented a life that was absent of pain, a life that kept you sane.

You are Stronger than you think

When I remembered all you sought to hide, I nearly died. Sometimes I wanted to die to stop the pain. I did not understand that what happened was not my fault, nor was it your fault. I understand that now and want you to believe that you are not the evil person they said you were. You are a beautiful little girl who was robbed of innocence. You survived to tell the tale. You are not the frightened, defenseless child that hid in the corner. You are the beautiful, pure young woman who stood your ground when darkness engulfed you.

Charlie, our story will help other children who suffered in darkness. By telling the truth and sharing the light, others may finally see beyond the pain and finally be free. Put your fears to rest, little one. You are safe and no harm will come because the same Jesus who held you in the darkness stills guards your heart and your soul.

I love you,

Charlotte

What would you say in a letter to your younger self?

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Angel in the Cellar

My last post, The Problem of Evil, began with a description of an event that I experienced at age 9. Since writing the essay, the introductory vignette has haunted me. As those who experience Post-traumatic stress reactions will understand, managing such occurrences are part of the healing process. However, I had not experienced such a flood of physical and emotional reactions to memory in years. So the experience was unsettling, to say the least. As I processed my emotions and physical reactions, I recalled another aspect of the experience that I briefly mentioned in the essay.  Throughout my life, I always felt God’s presence. Sometimes I did not understand it, but as I look back on my life, God always showed up. I have said that before, but the experience in the cellar was such an experience. Each night an angel came to the cellar and held me until I fell asleep in her arms. The constant presence of God, Christ and angels gave me glimmers of hope that kept me alive throughout my childhood.

What is a Cellar?

For you to fully understand the setting of the Sonnet that follows, I want to describe the cellar. Basically, a root cellar is a hole in the ground used to store fruits and vegetables. The temperature is a constant 57 degrees F. The room is small, damp and smells of rotting food. There are shelves for storing the fruit and vegetables, but the walls and floor is packed dirt.  In my case, there was no light except when my uncle came back to get me because the light hung from the ceiling and I could not reach the cord to turn it on.

The Game

The game I talk about in the essay and in the sonnet is the term my father and my uncle used to describe the sexual abuse. The rules of the game changed, but for most of my childhood the dominant rule was, I had to pretend to enjoy the abuse. I was a fighter from day one and rarely acquiesced to the rules. As the result, I endured days in the cellar or other absurd punishments for failing to play the game. I think my determination to fight and resist kept me alive, but it also led to substantial pain. The Sonnet describes “The Game” and my thoughts about my situation as well as the comfort of angels in the darkness.

 

Angel in the Cellar

As the door slams above the earthen cell,

Walls of dirt surround my shivering frame.

What must I do to escape from this hell?

To be free, must I always play “the game?”

“The game” that my Daddy says is my lot.

“The game” that now my uncle seeks to win.

“The game” my soul and body always fought.

“The game” that always ends when I give in.

But every time I cry and scream in pain.

I cannot pretend his touch brings me joy.

I cannot let him know that fear remains.

I cry out, “I am more than just your toy!”

The darkness fades and once again I see

An angel comes to hold and comfort me.

 

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The Problem of Evil

The Child Left Behind

 

The Hidden Child

Between my Sophomore and Junior year of college, my anxiety and depression grew more profound as did my compulsion to act out sexually. If I dated someone who was not interested in a sexual relationship, I broke up with them. I felt trapped and believed I must be evil.

Between my Sophomore and Junior year of college, my anxiety and depression grew more profound as did my compulsion to act out sexually. If I dated someone who was not interested in a sexual relationship, I broke up with them. I realize now, that my unconscious mind recalled my father’s threats and declarations that my purpose was pleasing him and anyone he brought to me. The problem was, I did not remember anything about the interactions with my father. I did not remember that he was the one who first ignited the flame that I could not extinguish. I felt trapped and believed I must be evil. I continued to feel the tug of the child in my dreams. I wondered whether the child held the answers to my questions. She remained hidden, but I believed that she might hold the key to my freedom.

The sonnet, “The Hidden Child,” describes the continuing battle between my conscious thoughts and the child who wanted me to listen. After the first quatrain, the sonnet is a list of questions that demonstrate the anguish I felt as hidden memories struggle to be set free. In the sonnet, I tentatively accept the existence of the child but am not certain what to do with her.

Why can’t I stop this all-consuming flame?

Oh Lord, I do not like who I’ve become.

I can’t contain what lurks within my brain.

Fire that won’t quit once it has begun.

Will I someday know who first struck the match?

Who ignited the flame that will not die?

Who’s words told me that love comes with a catch?

Does the child know why love must be a lie?

Who is the hidden child that screams for peace?

Who is the hidden child that haunts my dreams?

Who is the hidden child whose cries won’t cease?

Does the child hold the key to what love means?

Will she reveal what I don’t want to see?

Tell me, Lord, how can the child be set free?

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The Child Left Behind

The Child Left Behind

Childhood trauma often causes the child to retreat emotionally and mentally into a safe place. Sometimes such mental retreats become a new reality for the individual. The child creates a new persona that is happy, playful and safe from harm. In cases of extreme abuse, the created safe place replaces the memory of the trauma for the child, particularly if the child leaves the abusive environment. However, as I pointed out in “The Forgotten Fire,” remnants of reality remain tucked away in the brain. Once ignited by a touch, a smell or sound, the remnants often surface with a vengeance. When that happens, sometimes years later, emotional chaos often ensues. The actual memory may remain hidden, which may lead to confusion, self-loathing and doubt. 

The Sonnet, “The Child Left Behind,” describes how I struggled to make sense out of my sexual acting out and desire that consumed me once the flame was ignited. I still had no memory of the abuse. Even as I felt the tug of a little girl who was frightened and angry as I yielded to old patterns, I rejected that child. I longed for control but lived in emotional chaos. I wanted answers, but none came.  The sonnet conveys the doubt, fear and questions that tortured me as I tried to make sense out of my life. The last quatrain sets the stage for the third sonnet in the series, “The Hidden Child.” 

 

Lord, who am I? Why do I act this way?

Can you douse the fire within my brain?

How do I know the tricks and how to play

The game that stifles fear yet causes pain?

I should not know what brings the boy delight.

I should not know what things ignite the flames.

I do not know how to can make this right.

I don’t know who I am or who to blame.

What’s wrong with me? What don’t I want to see?

Who is the frightened child that cries in pain?

This can’t be all I am. This can’t be me.

What child? What pain? No part of her remains.

Tell me, Jesus, am I the one to blame?

Why can’t I stop this all-consuming flame?

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How do I Change?

 

The Forgotten Fire

My first two years of college seemed magical, but I didn’t feel completely safe or comfortable. My thoughts sometimes drifted to desires and behaviors that I did not understand.

When I left home to go to college, I forgot everything that my family did to me.  I knew that my family was a bit quirky but had no idea about the abuse I endured. I laughed, played, and made friends in ways I never had before. I didn’t want to be around my family, but I didn’t know why. I felt free for the first time in my life, but the freedom scared me. I became afraid that I would make someone angry and I could not bear the thought of that. I had no idea how to make healthy friendships, so I clung to people often overwhelming them and pushing them away. I wanted so desperately to be loved, but I had no clue how to make that happen. For that matter, I did not know what love was.

My first two years of college seemed magical, but I didn’t feel completely safe or comfortable. My thoughts sometimes drifted to desires and behaviors that I did not understand. In my mind, I was a virgin, because the memories of the abuse I experienced were gone. However, the emotions, desires and physical components created by the years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse remained. 

A major component of Post Traumatic Stress is how our body responds to triggering events. Even without a conscious memory of the physical intimacy that my family forced on me, my body remembered exactly what to do when a boy touched me. The body remembers what the mind does not. My response to physical intimacy was automatic, much like muscle memory that allows me to complete repetitive motor tasks without conscious thought. 

The Sonnet, “The Forgotten Fire” describes my experience as I navigate between the incomplete conscious memories of my childhood and the unconscious emotional and physical memories of the abuse I endured, which were triggered when I met a boy who wanted physical intimacy.  The sonnet provides a glimpse into my struggle to understand the emotions and my reaction to something I thought was a totally new experience.

I thought I had to play the game or die.

At eighteen I could not recall what made

Me think that men would only make me cry.

I forgot the lies and the price I paid.

No more in his grasp, can my heart take flight?

Free to be a new and beautiful me.

No longer the child made for his delight,

I laughed and played for all the world to see.

Then I met a boy that made my heart burn.

His touch ignites a forgotten fire.

I fear the flame but don’t know where to turn.

When have I felt such fear and such desire?

I wonder how do I know what to say?

Lord, who am I? Why do I act this way?

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Painting Pictures of Egypt

leaving the security of familiar coping mechanisms is terrifying. Especially when nothing seems to ease the fear and pain like what I knew. When the “new life” became difficult or not what I expected, I wanted to return to the comfortable. I wanted what was comfortable even though it was dangerous and painful.

As I reflect on my healing from childhood abuse and my recovery from sexual and food addiction, I am reminded of a song by Sara Groves entitled “Painting pictures of Egypt.” I always liked that song because it illustrates how hard it is to move forward from a place that is comfortable.  Even when the comfort is painful or unhealthy, moving forward is very hard. Leaving the security of familiar coping mechanisms is terrifying. Especially when nothing seems to ease the fear and pain like what I knew. When the “new life” became difficult or not what I expected, I wanted to return to the comfortable. I wanted what was comfortable even though it was dangerous and painful. “I was dying for some freedom/But … I hesitated to go. /I was caught to between the Promise/And the thing I [knew].”[1] I was often like the Israelites who constantly complained and rebelled even though God had delivered them from slavery.

They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?” Exodus 14:11

“the place they used to fit me/[Could not] hold the things I’d learned.”

I remember times memories flooded me and I forgot the strength of the woman I had become. I became the frightened child curled up in the corner wishing I could magically teleport to somewhere, anywhere that was not my parent’s home. I convinced myself that I could hold on to the “what if’s,” that “it wasn’t so bad.” and the “let me tell you about…”I told myself so many times, “I’ll get it right this time, but let me just stay here for a little while.” “I’m not ready to leave this yet.” Sometimes I took baby steps out of Egypt. Sometimes I took giant leaps. Each time, I would forget the downside of dissociation, promiscuity or overeating because “the future [felt] so hard/And I [wanted] to go back.”[2] But as Groves writes, “the place they used to fit me/[Could not] hold the things I’d learned.”[3]

I felt the old patterns, “calling out to me/Like a long-lost friend.

I wasn’t comfortable in my new life, but returning to my old habits wasn’t an option because “Those roads were closed off to me/While my back was turned.”[4] I longed to escape reality even though dissociation was frightening to my adult self, mentally disappearing brought momentary relief to my ravaged soul. I tried to revisit the past because as Groves writes, “The past is so tangible. /I know it by heart. /Familiar things are never easy/To discard.”[5] Letting go of addictive behaviors and temporary mental escapes that kept me sane for so long was excruciatingly painful. I held on for my life. I knew there was something better because I experienced it in moments of sanity and clarity. Groves words rang true to me so many times during those early years of recovery and healing, “I don’t want to leave here/ I don’t want to stay/ It feels like pinching to me/Either way.”[6] I felt the old patterns, “calling out to me/Like a long-lost friend.”[7]

Wanting to return to old patterns wasn’t about “losing faith…or about trust/It [was] all about comfort.” My addictive behaviors were comfortable. They weren’t perfect, but they were comfortable. I depended on them for my life, or at least I thought I could not live without them. Then I learned I could live without them and I learned new healthy ways of managing anxiety and stress. Memories did not send me into a spiral of irrational thought.

no longer caught between the Promise and the things I know.

After years of work I realize, “I am no longer caught between the Promise and the things I know.”[8] Groves ends the song with “If it comes to quick/ I may not appreciate it. /Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?”[9] I firmly believe there is no quick fix for healing or recovery. While I believe in miracles, I also believe sometimes the journey is the most important part of healing. A quick fix might rob you of the ability to appreciate the change in your soul. However, change requires taking the first step out of Egypt. Waiting too long might cement the habit or thought pattern and makes it harder to leave it behind when you walk toward your Promise.

Leave Egypt once and for all

To move forward, we must take a close look at what we are holding onto.  What is keeping us stuck? When we keep one foot in Egypt as we look toward our “promised land,” we hinder our ability to move forward.   Through Christ, you have freedom. In Christ, you can move forward. We can leave Egypt and not be trapped by, “Painting pictures…leaving out what it lacked.”

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[1] Sara Groves, Painting Pictures of Egypt lyrics © Music Services, Inc

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

The View from the Foot of the Bed

Dissociation is a common occurrence for traumatized individuals. We escape to a safer place. The new sonnet is written from the point of view of the source of my escape and relief, Jesus Christ.

Introduction

The sonnet below is based on two lines from Sonnet I -Are Daddy’s Words the Truth or Does He Lie?, “With hope, I shift my eyes and look above/The bed. Escape and find relief again.” Dissociation is a common occurrence for traumatized individuals. We escape to a safer place. The new sonnet is written from the point of view of the source of my escape and relief, Jesus Christ. While He did not stop the abuse, He was always there to provide comfort and relief. Why He didn’t stop what was happening to me is a topic for another day.

 

From the foot of your bed, I see you hide

From what you fear. Your eyes reveal the pain

Of knowing that he will not be denied.

Your eyes fill with tears when he comes again.

If you are asleep, maybe he won’t stay.

He is not deceived that you are serene.

I want to shout to make him go away.

But I can only gaze upon the scene.

Frantic, you seek a way to find relief.

Finally, you understand that I am here.

You call out to me, “Jesus, help me please.”

He does not know I take away your fear.

I will not leave you. I ‘m always here

To shield your soul and wipe away your tears.

 

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