Healing Out Loud
I learned recently about the theory that we remain stuck at the age and maturity level we were when wounds were created. We only mature to wisdom in better alignment with our age when we experience healing of that particular wound.
For example, my stepfather, the person who made it unsafe for me to have opinions and age normative—and simply human—reactions, entered my life at 5.5 years old. My ability to think for myself was stunted at that tender age.
Once, at age 13 or 14, it was Saturday morning, a day my parents typically drove into town. I hoped, always, that they would take my brother and me. Usually they made us stay in the car whether it was errands or a visit with friends; regardless, for me to get out of the house was an insatiable craving.
But on this particular morning, as I stood at the sink washing dishes (we had no dishwasher and I washed all dishes plus the vast majority of the cleaning in our home from a young age), my mom began listing off all the chores she wanted done while they were gone. I tried to keep my body relaxed, my breathing steady, but as I stood scrubbing piles of plates, pots, and forks, I unwillingly rolled my eyes ever so slightly.
I didn’t know that just out of my peripheral vision, knowing what my mom would say and knowing how frustrated I would feel, my stepdad was watching and waiting. One moment I was processing the disappointment and the next I was on the floor. He had vaulted himself over our kitchen peninsula and smacked the side of my head so hard that, without knowing it was coming and unable to brace myself, the blow knocked me to the ground.
My mom did not defend me. She seemed content to have me reminded of my place. I was lucky to have clothes on my body, food to eat, and a bed to sleep in; she always nodded in agreement when my stepfather would tell me how grateful I should be that I wasn’t charged for any of those things, and how quickly that could change if I didn’t hold them in high esteem. Never mind the government assistance that came as a result of having children; that, I knew, was unmentionable.
This is just one example of the oppressive home culture in which I continually erased myself in order to survive. It also exemplifies the mentality of living in chains, a mindset which led me at 16.5 to conservative evangelical Christianity. Evangelicalism had a demanding and oppressive Father God at the helm, and it felt very natural to continue the habitual practice of diminishing my humanity to appease his jealous and angry nature.
As a Christian, I was a True Believer.
I was all in.
I was a god-bot; my favorite scripture was this from Colossians 3:
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
The literal meaning was that my sin-filled humanity was dead. My life’s singular purpose was to be a vessel glorifying Christ by allowing his Holy Spirit to fill me up and flow him out to others. My own thoughts, my opinions and ability to ask myself what I believed and valued, were evil. I believed that part of me—my very ability to have sovereign personhood, a sense of self, autonomy—was sinful, evil, and needed to be put to continual death with every attempt at resurrection.
This teaching came from every preacher, teacher, leader, and “godly” peer; I also led, taught, and exhorted others toward this mindset.
As you might see, I was stunted at my 5.5 year old self. I lived out of fear of severe punishment for something so simple as an eye roll imperceptible to myself. Injustice was meted out both consistently and at random in my home; Christianity as I knew it was the same. I walked through life in a constant state of soul asphyxiation and lived in fear of failing God, yet these were comfort as the only way to live that I knew.
In order to stay sane I cleaved to every teaching that the abusive and cruel god I worshiped was pure capital-L Love, that we dumb and finite humans were too corrupt to understand his infinite ways and wisdom. The only true and ultimate good for ALL humans was to trust and obey him.
At almost 35 I fully broke free of Christianity; that allowed me to begin healing the wounds created at 5. Healing has been both rapid and painstakingly slow over these two years. But I am healing and I no longer respond to life by erasing myself. I am maturing and catching up to my nearly 37 full revolutions around the sun.
As I heal and mature, I share my story.
I share for me and for those who don’t have the words for their stories. I possess the gift of and love of words; I tell my story so both others and myself can continually proceed with our healing.
This isn’t about the ones who did the harm.
This is about me, healing my wounds by sharing my words, and the healing of others who read and engage in my story and my progress because it allows them to engage in and progress through their own story.
For some, like my stepfather, I hold only compassion and forgiveness. I had that long before he apologized, but at his baptism a few years ago he sought me out to specifically own his wrongdoings and tell me how truly sorry and filled with regret he was. I was able to look him in the eye and tell him I held nothing against him and have pure love for him in my heart.
That doesn’t mean I will bury my truth; rather, I best honor him and others by shining light into the darkness of buried pain. By healing out loud perhaps someone else will not do as he did, or if they have, choose to change now instead of when their child is grown and gone.
To share a favorite quote of mine by Anne Lamott, she says:
You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.
For myself, I am not angry or defensive when others share their story of me wronging them. I want to grow as a person, and embrace that I have failed before and will again. The beauty of humanity is our ability grow in compassion and empathy because we know what it is to fail.
What I value is that I own my failures and apologize when I have done harm. This is crucial for learning, growing, and changing. Thus it is invaluable to me that people speak up even if I am the one who caused the pain. I believe this is the stance any healthy—and truly sorry—person has.
So share your story. If that is what you need to heal, stop wounding yourself in order to protect those who have done harm.
If your healing requires talking about it but others feel threatened when you share your truth?
It ain’t about them.