A letter (with thanks to M.R.)

Image: Ulrike Mai, Pixabay

Trigger alert
Today’s blog is about emotional abuse, and its consequences.

Introduction
The following quotation sets the scene, though its relevance might not be clear until you have read the whole article:

Turn your steps towards these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. Your foes roared in the places where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees. They smashed all the carved panelling with their axes and hatchets. They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name. They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshipped in the land (Psalm 74:3-8; NIV).

An open letter to my mother
Mother, despite claiming to love me, you established control over me from my early childhood onwards. You did this through scorn, criticism, bullying, condemnation, rage, and bouts of violent destructiveness. These behaviours made me fear you deeply. I lived in dread of your next outburst.

You continued to maintain control over me during my teenage years and adulthood, too, using intrusion, disapproval, and anger when I dared to express personal feelings, thoughts or beliefs you didn’t like. Similarly, you reacted with fury and threats of coercion if I tried to make my own decisions about what I wanted to do with my life. When I made mistakes, or got things wrong, you never forgave me, or forgot it. All this made me dread seeing you and spending time with you. I particularly hated the sound of your voice, and loathed you touching me, but was afraid to stand up to you, or to say “no”.

Your ways of controlling me have had severe, pervasive, long-term consequences for my mental health, in the form of low self-esteem, anxiety, dread, panic attacks and agoraphobia. I have also had to cope with a constant sense of not wanting to be alive, with chronic depression, and with episodes of acute depression. Furthermore, one question has always preyed on my mind:

How could you say you loved me, yet behave as you did towards me?

It didn’t make sense. I just couldn’t square what you said with what I experienced.

Then, on the 24th of May, 2020, a friend sent me a message she had seen on a Facebook site about domestic abuse. It read:

It’s not CONSENT if you make me afraid to say no.

I stared at these words, instantly electrified by their brevity, clarity and profound truth. Within seconds, a personal variation flashed into my mind:

It’s not LOVE if you make me afraid to say no.

Deeply stirred by this insight, further phrases began tumbling out of my unconscious mind. Here are just a few examples:

It’s not love if you make me afraid to disagree.

It’s not love if you criticise me all the time.

It’s not love if you make me afraid to be myself.

It’s not love if you make me afraid to choose for myself.

It’s not love if you belittle my achievements.

It’s not love if you only approve of me when I behave like you.

At last, in my late sixties, my friend’s message had given me the answer to my question: your behaviour towards me shows clearly that you did not, in fact, love me in any meaningful way at all.

This shocking realisation made me consider what kinds of behaviour do, in fact, reflect and express genuine love. Here are the best answers I’ve found so far:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, or boastful, or proud, or rude. It does not demand its own way (1 Corinthians 13:4-5; NLT).

It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5; NIV).

I know that none of us is perfect, mother, but when I confronted you, you could at least have admitted what you did to me, and said you were sorry. Over the years, I managed to raise the subject of your behaviour with you several times, always at huge personal cost. However, you never responded with genuine understanding or honesty, instead always trying to justify, minimise, or deny what you had done.

For many years now, I have worked hard to forgive you. Sometimes I even think I’ve succeeded. Fortunately, God understands and accepts the intense anger and bitterness that can still occasionally emerge from my mind, heart and soul. Slowly, gently, he gives me the insights I need in order to be healed, for which I am profoundly thankful.

Ruth.


References

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other (Romans 12:9; NLT).

Do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them (Ephesians 6:4; NLT).

I am the Lord, who heals you (Exodus 15:27; NIV).

I’m agoraphobic

Lord,

1. I’m agoraphobic –
It’s a thorn within my flesh,
For I must face the threat of dread
Each day.

2. When I’m away from safety,
And panic strikes afresh,
My desperation urges me
To pray.

3. So I rely on you, Lord,
My Comforter and Guide:
No matter where I am
You’re always near;

4. And you understand completely,
As you walk, Lord, at my side,
For in the grove
You shared this wretched fear.

References

1. To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh. […] Three times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9; NLT).

2. My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking (Psalm 55:4-5; NLT).

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (Psalm 56:3; NIV).

3. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me (Psalm 23:4; NLT).

4. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do (Hebrews 4:15; NLT).

They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” He took Peter, James and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed (Mark 14:32; NLT).

Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44; NIV).

Ash Wednesday 2019

On Ash Wednesday 2019, I had a very unusual experience. I’d been unwell with a virus for several days, although I had still been able to potter around the house.

At about 9.30 in the morning that day, I was suddenly overtaken by a sharp, stabbing pain in my right side, just below the ribcage. It came again and again, with growing intensity, until, within a minute or two, it was continuous, and I couldn’t speak or move. My breathing became very shallow, and my lips, face, hands and arms began to tingle.

My husband immediately phoned for an ambulance, whilst I wailed and panted like an animal. I wasn’t afraid, just utterly overwhelmed by the intensity of the pain. I was sitting down, bent over the kitchen table, with my head turned to one side, so I could see the shopping bag he put beside me, into which he was quickly throwing everything I might need in hospital. I was fully aware that I could be dying, and saw how my soul would simply slip away, leaving behind the bag, my husband, the room, and everything I had ever imagined would make me happy.

The ambulance arrived quickly, and the staff were wonderful. They helped me to slow my breathing, and ran through various tests. All my vital signs were completely normal, although my pulse and respiration rates had been very high when they first arrived.

Gradually, the pain retreated, and I could speak again. They said it was a panic attack, but this didn’t ring true for me at all, as I have had countless panic attacks, and none of them in any way resembled what happened that day. After some discussion, we all agreed I could stay at home, as long as I saw my doctor in the afternoon.

The GP diagnosed an acute attack of pleurodynia (also known as Bornholm Syndrome, or Devil’s Grip), a chronic condition I have had for the last 25 years. Acute attacks are generally triggered by respiratory infections. However, even at its very worst, it has never remotely resembled what happened that morning. A second doctor thought it sounded more like a pleural rub, highly characteristic of pleurisy.

After two weeks of rest, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and steroids, I’m slowly starting to resume my normal activities. However, a troubling question persists at the back of my mind, though I hardly dare express it. The strange attack, which lasted three hours, felt exactly as if I were experiencing the moment when the spear pierced Christ’s side to ensure he was dead. So, was it a symptom of a physical illness, a spiritual experience, or perhaps a combination of both?

References

The soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out (John 19:32-4; NLT).

If we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering (Romans 8:17; NLT).

Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often (Luke 2:19; NLT).

Dreams and nightmares

Like many people, when I’m dealing with significant emotional issues, I often have disturbing dreams.

Last night I dreamed I was walking along a street with my mother, saying firmly to her, “You usually yelled at someone on journeys.” She laughed heartily at this, as if I were joking. “That wasn’t a joke,” I continued, very seriously, “You did usually yell at someone on journeys.”

As I woke, still talking aloud, I was left wondering whether the fact that journeys with my mother were so incredibly tense and stressful had anything to do with the development of my agoraphobia.

Dreams and nightmares

Father,
Without dreams and nightmares,
Trauma would fester
In my unconscious mind,
Generating panic attacks
That seem to strike
Out of the blue.

Instead,
Through dreams and nightmares
You help me confront my demons one by one,
Learning new ways to handle them,
As I slowly come to terms
With my past.

 

References

A dream comes when there are many cares (Ecclesiastes 5:3; NIV).

I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means (Daniel 2:3; NIV).