Tips For "Moving On" From An Abusive (Church) Experience
Full disclosure: I think "moving on" is probably a happy-slappy lie we tell ourselves. Whenever someone tells me they've "moved on" or "found closure" after escaping an abusive situation, I think they're in denial. Then again, that's just my own mess talking. Maybe what I object to are the connotations of "moving on" and "closure." Those words seem to imply an easy, convenient, quick-fix. No mess. No fuss. Just a simple, formulaic prescription for Your! Best! Life! Now!
I think a better description for what happens after escaping/surviving an abusive situation is the word "recovery."
Because, I do believe in healing and recovery. Sort of.
Anyway, here are a few of my own failures (which have taught me more than my successes) on the recovery journey. Maybe some of these will be helpful for you, too:
- Recovery Isn't Linear. There are setbacks, regressions, detours, revisiting the same old thing over and over. The key seems to be in not fighting the circuitous route. Let the recovery lead your journey--not your own ideas about where you should be, or how far you should have progressed by a certain date.
- Your Past Will Show Up Without Warning. I'm consistently surprised when new situations evoke old fears and old behaviors. Something completely unrelated to my past will happen and before I know it, I'm blindsided by "old brainwashing" and start behaving the same way I did in the abusive situation. Frank, honest communication with helps others understand where I'm coming from and why I'm reacting this way.
- Boundaries Seem Boring and Unnatural. Newly emerged survivors of abusive situations are especially vulnerable to entering another abusive situation. Since I did not have my boundaries myself, I attracted people without boundaries. I kept wondering why I was drawn into similarly dysfunctional churches and co-dependent relationships. Learning to draw and enforce boundaries felt very unnatural and even....boring. But it created safety, stability and well-being.
- Don't Let the Abuser Tell YOUR Story. I don't care how many parents claim their children turned out great because they used Michael & Debi Pearl's "child-training" methods. The truth is that many successful, functional adults turn out well IN SPITE of their abusive childhoods. For years I couldn't admit to my abusive past. I kept qualifying all my abusive experiences by saying, "Well, so-and-so didn't mean to hurt me!" Owning my story, telling my story and refusing to let MY story be framed by my abusers was a huge step in taking responsibility for my own happiness.
- You ARE Lovable and DESERVE Love. Unconditional love and acceptance are your birthright. You don't need to 'earn' love or settle for performance-based acceptance. For me, this began by learning to love and accept myself---GASP! I know, I know. But let me explain: I had been taught self-hatred, self-loathing. I was trained with a harsh, judgmental, critical eye toward everyone. This also meant I was my own harshest critic. Learning to give love and receive love must start with ourselves. For me, experiencing unconditional love was a turning point and the beginning of deep healing.
- Practice Gratitude & Acceptance. This is the hardest one for me. I really suck at gratitude lists. I also suck at accepting brokenness--I'm always hoping people will change! Things will get better! But scribbling down the daily blessings (even inconsistently) remind me I am loved. Gratitude helps me accept things I cannot change.
Lastly, I cannot recommend highly enough the benefits of professional mental health counseling. None of us were meant to recover from painful situations by ourselves. There is no shame in seeking help. It is not weakness to admit you need help. We all need a little help from our friends.
Speaking of friends, I need YOUR help! Please share your own tips, stories and ideas about recovery.