Sunday, October 7, 2012

Becoming a Survivor by Linda N. Driscoll

For some years I have been president of Network Against Child Abuse. It is much easier to speak in that capacity or on any other subject than to speak about my own personal experience. On my own journey from victim to survivor, I'd often say to my therapist, "I'm not going to make it, am I?" And no matter how often he assured me that I was going to make it, I had a nagging doubt inside, until I talked to another survivor who had been through the abuse I had been through, who had also been through the journey into the dark woods and had come out the other side. Her assurances- "I felt that too," "This is what you'll probably find next," and "You're right on track"- helped me to take each blind next step faith. I hope that I can offer reassuring hand to some of you who are victims, who are struggling to become survivors- whether or not you know that you are victims.

Know the truth and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32) That is my husband's favorite scripture. After joining four different religions, I finally joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I thought that I had at last discovered the truth- and so I had, doctrinally. But that is not the only truth upon which you base your life. I had built my self image and my life on lies- personal lies.Lies number one: my father loved me. Every child needs to believe that she or he is loved. Lie number two: since he loved me, the horrifying things that happened to me as a child must have been my fault. If only I was bigger or "gooder" or smarter or something. In reality I wasn't bigger because I was born prematurely. Beginning life at only two and one-half pounds, I hadn't caught up to my own age group yet. If would have been impossible to be a "gooder" child: I was trying to be the perfect child. I wasn't smarter because I continuously daydreamed through school about the things that had happened to me at night. In reality none of the abuse or the and bad grades  or my small size had anything to do with me. Not was there anything I could do to fix it. But that was not what I believed- I believed everything was all my fault.

As I grew I began to repress my conscious awareness of the abuse. Eventually I had no memory of it whatsoever. But I did not forget the lies, and I continued to build my life around them. What was my life like? First of all, I had terrible self-esteem. I thought of myself as the thirteenth article of faith in reverse. Second, I was always in a crisis. If there wasn't one, I made one. I had becomes addicted to adrenalin rushes at a very young age, and I didn't feel alive unless I was experiencing one. Third, I was constantly over-involved. I was a human doing instead of a human being.

There was never a still moment. To relax was to be selfish or lazy. This constant movement had several rewards. First, I held the world's record for unfinished projects. Second, I could feel superior. After all, I could move three times as fast as anyone I knew, and they told me so. I believed that my self-worth depended upon what I could accomplish and how fast I could accomplish it. Third, I never had time to allow myself to recognize or feel the pain ad anxiety that lived inside of me. My busy-ness was an attempt to avoid my childhood memories...

Although I didn't remember the abuse, it came out in other ways. I felt chronic, misplaced, inappropriate anger. A slip of the tongue and the offender became the target of all my anger from the time I was three years old. I had chronic, varying problems with my health-one after another after another. I experienced wide mood swings and deep depressions. But rather than address these problems, my solution was usually just work harder and faster.

Finally it became apparent to me that I could not to any faster, and my defenses against despair began to collapse. I reasoned, "If I'm not good enough now and I can't go any faster to be better, then there is no reason to live." My wish to be dead and my suicidal thoughts heightened. The constant unhappiness I felt even after I joined the Church-in fact, especially after I joined the church- became proof to me that I must be a wicked person. I knew deep inside that I must be inherently faulty unfixable, and unloved even to God.

:God moves in a mysterious way his wonder to perform" (Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1985, no. 285) Ironically, my next escape into non-stop crisis and busy-ness finally led me to face a real problem. A dreadful case of sexual abuse came to light, and a ward member who had abused many children in our ward was convicted of six counts of first-degree felony. When after only seven months he was let out of prison on bail pending appeal, I began a campaign which was the founding of Network Against Child Abuse. Although I did not yet remember my own abuse, that was the beginning of my healing process. For the first time I was fighting back. I was big enough; I was smart enough, and I was definitely angry enough to do something about the injustice on behalf of the innocent children I knew and loved. The more I learned, the more I realized the problem of abuse was enormous. The angrier I got, the harder I worked and the longer the hours. I was sleeping two to four house a night. I was falling asleep at the wheel of my car. I even fell asleep pushing a grocery cart in the store and ran into a woman. In short, I was obsessed.

I read everything I could find. I wrote to everybody in the state... And finally after two years of nonstop activity I began to realize, "Hey, I have a problem; it's not the ward's problem. It's not the children of the state of Utah's problem. It's something within me." So finally, I went to a therapist. Of course, I had been to therapist before. In fact, I had been to therapist off and on for twenty-five years- most of my adult life. We had coped with lots of problems, but we had never delved down to the core issues.

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1) This was my season to remember and to learn the truth so that it could set me free. I had remembered some inappropriate fondlings by my stepfather, so I thought maybe that was it. Or maybe there was something else that I was repressing about him. My therapist decided to pursue the matter through hypnosis. When he took me back to three years of age, however, and I began to remember the abuse by my biological father. I nearly came out of the trance. That began two years of grueling, fracturing, torturous memory work.  Besides individual therapy, I enrolled in a ten-week group therapy for AMAC (Adults Molested as Children). I took a class at the University of Utah on interpreting dreams. I started an on-going self-help support group for AMAC's, which offered a much-needed sense of community. Yes, I was pursuing this matter with my usual all-out effort and intensity but the multidimensional approach helped me to move quickly through my memories.

Let me warn you, however, the process certainly did not feel like healing. As a matter of fact, it hurt more than you can imagine. But, as with any festering sore, the poison must first be let out before the wound can heal. Without the hurting, there can be no healing. You cannot simply forget the past and go on from there- not with severe childhood abuse by a primary caregiver. I had to face the horrifying truth. My father used me for his own sick agendas and it did  not matter one bit to him how much it hurt me, physically, sexually, emotionally, or spiritually. And I had to face the lies. I had always been told that my mother was strong, and I believed that. My mother wasn't strong- not then. It took her until I was five and a half to get me out of that abusive situation and only then because my life was in peril. It was hard for her, just as it is hard for many women today to make the decision to leave their husbands in order to protect their children. And there will always be women who cannot make that decision. I am very grateful my mother got me out when she did.

There were many days while living the pain that I wondered, " Why am I doing this?" I wanted the pain to stop. I wanted it to stop right now, but there was no way out and no end in sight- no light at the end of the tunnel- and no way to go back either. But by facing the lies and the truth, I was finally able to put the blame where it belonged. It wasn't my fault. And if you were a victim, it wasn't your fault either. It was my father's fault. There was nothing inherently wrong with me.

To heal you have to grieve first, and you have to be a last angry, enraged at the wrong done to you. That is not easy because we are so often told that we shouldn't be angry and that we should forgive and forget. But I had to get the anger out so that I could let love in. Among other things, I spent a lot of time with hot angry tears, yelling and even swearing at my dead father. I even found it helpful, if somewhat hazardous to my reputation, to go into the forest and beat the heck out of dead trees, with an ax, a shovel, a tree limb, anything I could find.

"Let each man learn to know himself/ to gain that knowledge, let him labor." (Hymns, 19050, No. 91) Now that I have dealt with the lies, the truth, the grief, and the anger, my life has at last begun to change, and I am learning to know myself in a new way, as a human being rather then a human doing. The inappropriate, chronic, intense rage is gone. I can now walk through the crystal department of ZCMI without having the urge to sweep every piece of crystal on the floor and break it into a million pieces. A pot can now fall out of the cupboard without my wanting to throw it across the room. The constant anxiety has diminished. My husband can actually be late from work without my believing he has abandoned me.

I am no longer a crisis-aholic. I do not need to feel an adrenalin rush to know that I am alive. I'm no longer a workaholic. I can slow down- I can even stop. I do not feel damaged or dirty or inferior any longer.

I'm trying new things. I went to the beach in California for two weeks and soaked in the waves and the sun. I meditate an hour each day. I walk when weather permits. I sleep. I find things I enjoy doing, like taking long, luxurious baths and manicures and pedicures- two new words in my vocabulary. Sometimes I sculpt; sometimes I read for fun. No abuse books or Networks... right now. My boundaries are weak, and I can't listen to the horror stories of others without being drawn back into pain, anger and anxiety. So for now I must rest from the battle in order to heal. And when I try to stick my nose back into the fight, which is very easy for me to do, my friends in the Network gently remind me that they can handle it and they do.

It is still sometimes hard to hear others in lessons and in testimony meeting express gratitude for how the Lord has blessed them with wonderful parents, when I know much of my own life has been totally devastated by childhood abuse. But I am now realizing that the free agency of unrighteous individuals, not God, permitted what happened to me as a child and what is still happening to children in Zion. Ana di know it is the Lord who has given me strength to become a survivor and to find help for myself and others.

Lynda N. Driscoll is a convert to the Church, the wife of University of Utah professor Jerry A. Driscoll, and the mother of five children. She is president of Network Against Child Abuse, Inc., a nonprofit organization stressing education and legislation and offering speakers' panels and support groups. A member of the statewide Task Force on Child Sexual Abuse and the Committee on Ritual Abuse, she has recently co-authored a professional paper, "Survivors of Childhood Ritual Abuse: Multigenerational Satanic Cult Involvement," the results of a year-long study throughout the United States and Canada. 
[Women and the Power Within: To See Life Steadily and See It Whole, Talks Selected from the 1990 BYU Women's Conference]

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