Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Only Way Out is Through

Child abuse is a very lonely business. The child going through abuse goes through it alone. S/he may have others witnessing what is going on, other siblings who are suffering as victims, too, but the bottom line is that it’s very, very lonely. And the child has so little ability to understand or cope with the horrors happening to her. All she can do is quickly adapt to her perpetrator’s patterns of abuse and try to decrease their frequency if she can.

You’ve heard me say that the healing process from abuse was like peeling the layers of an onion. And one of those layers was the loneliness and sadness because of all the years I spent without parents being present in my life. Oh, my parents were physically present in my house. And I was provided a roof over my head and food to eat. And I had profound sadness because for years I had watched my father mistreat my mother and brothers and sisters. My father may have been physically present, at times, but he was not available emotionally. No person is perfect and no parent is perfect. But most parents are ‘good enough’, giving their children basically what they need. Each child needs a Mother and a Father physically present and emotionally available in their lives and to not have this gift is very sad and causes great loneliness in our lives and significant hurt to our hearts.

I worked in therapy on the sadness of the loss of not having a father who spent time with me. The therapists would use the example of my having missed out on playing catch with a baseball and gloves or heading to an amusement park or even going to a park just to relax together, all with my dad. I could remember other boys whose dads spent time with them or supported them and loved them. I imagined what it would have been like to have had a dad who was safe, with whom I could speak and get ideas or encouragement or support; a dad who would listen to me; a dad who was healthy and could help me plan a future – education, career, a family, to eventually become a father – to be creative, to assist me in living up to my potential. Each of us needs the hand of a loving, solid, stable, nurturing father and it is very sad when this is missing from our lives.

I did a lot of grief work! I learned ultimately you can’t fool the mind. The exact precision with which God made our minds is stunning. Our souls have a father ache and a mother ache. As children we need our mothers and we need our fathers! God has apparently put into the core of our beings - deep in our souls - what we need - and He has set it up for us to get what we need from our parents. But when parents don't parent - or when they abuse their children, it leaves holes and scars in those children’s hearts. And the scars are as real, or more so, than scars left on our bodies from physical injuries.

It took me many months to grieve the loss of the father I never had. I fell into a black hole that felt like the size of China! When doing this work with my therapists it seemed like they were rescue workers having to go down in and rescue mine workers who have been trapped in a mining accident. My therapists had to go down very deep into the caverns and tunnels and holes of my life to get me out of where I was trapped. And while they were down there it was very difficult work for everybody; extremely painful, tedious and agonizing work! But the only way out is through; back through to the surface! Every dark tunnel and cavern needed to be traversed as I slowly worked myself out of the dark blackness back to the light of day. I cried and sobbed and grieved and wept and screamed and gradually raged my way out of the black hole back into the land of the living. And that land had good in it I could not have imagined.

During this work of grieving I was experiencing the profound sadness of a small child who was feeling the destruction of himself and his mother and his brothers and sisters at the hand of his own father. I was so sad for all of my family! I wept and grieved for my own mother and father who had to have been such broken souls to allow their lives to reach such depths of despair that they would end up abusing and neglecting their own children the way they did. I cried such deep tears of sorrow and grief for my father and mother. This specific work was a significant part of the hard work I did that allowed me to reach the point of full forgiveness of both my father and mother. I was able to sufficiently understand, and feel their brokenness so I was able to genuinely forgive them from deep within my heart! Truly that was an amazing day in my life where I reached that point.

There were times when I physically could not do any more grieving work. I had to take a break and come back later in the day, or in the evening. Some of my recovery work required four or five sessions a week with my therapists. When I would hit an especially intense pocket of pain I would work and work until I fought through the anguish, despair and sadness and reach a new plateau of relief and calm.

My stomach and chest would burn with pain, I had pounding, throbbing headaches, and I often spent every ounce of the emotional and physical energy I had to do this work. It was during these experiences I realized how closely linked our bodies are to our emotions and how profoundly our emotions effect our bodies. In the Bible mankind is presented as having a body, soul and spirit that are inextricably linked. That we are not just parts, but one whole amazing being and that all parts are beautifully connected. I now believe that in a new way as I went through therapy and experienced healing in my whole being.

Perhaps you are wondering how I handled five sessions in one week that were that intense. When I would return home after doing this hard work I would be like a wet noodle, all rung out. It would feel so good to get back home where I felt safe and loved. And it gave me such joy to get to pick up my little girl and hug her and spend time with her and my wife. I would read to my daughter and spend quiet time with my wife. For just a bit, all was right with the world!

Sometimes I would take time to walk in the park or go down by the beach and look at the water and listen to the waves. The beauty of creation would allow me to relax and restore my mind. I discovered that allowing my mind to relax was very important and it gave me time to reflect on all I was doing. I realized I was making progress and eventually could really tell a difference in how I was feeling. At times I could tell I was starting to feel some relief from emotional pain because of the work I was doing. And it allowed my mind a chance to rest and would enable me to be ready for more work. And taking time to relax helped me to feel grounded again. With so much moving and shifting within, it was important at times just to get regrounded.

I was careful not to traumatize my family with aspects of my healing work though I would, from time to time, describe a little of the work I was doing with my wife. I would tell her I had an important breakthrough or that something was particularly difficult or painful. But for the most part, my family was a source of love and joy and laughter and support in my life that was a solace and a help to me, and a way to give myself a break from the painful work for a while. It would be wonderful if those of you thinking of starting into therapy had a few friends to support you in your journey. And if you would like to, you are welcome to connect with me as you are going through it.

During this healing work I came to a full realization of the profound loss of not having a father in my life. And I realized the consequences of being without my father even in my present life. Without a proper foundation being laid as a child, the work a father might have done has to be done later on in adulthood, on your own, with the support of friends and family. Years pass and time is lost. What could have been; what should have been; will never be. But there is hope! A person can go forward with what is learned, and keep making more of a life in the present. Life truly does have the opportunity of new beginnings.

Learning how to want a future was very difficult for me; that part of me that was deeply hurt as a little boy. I am talking now specifically about that little boy (or little girl) part of the heart. That part of our being that was present when devastating abuse took place! In that part of my heart it was more natural and much easier for that part of me to feel despair and just want to quit. When father’s fail to actively love their children, and abuse them instead, the effects are devastating!

During one particularly significant therapy session I was able to speak plainly to my therapists about my despair and my desire to just quit; I wanted to just stop and get off the merry-go-round of life because of all the pain I was experiencing. I told my therapists that my honest feelings were that I just wanted to bring an end to my life so I could end the pain. I was not suicidal but was describing the feelings in this deep inner early part of my heart. I mentioned the inner thought I had of just pulling my vehicle into on-going traffic as a quick, effective way to kill myself just to end the pain.

To help me with this, my therapists, who knew how crazy I was about my wife and our new little adopted daughter, decided to do some role playing. At the time I did not know specifically what my therapists had planned.

As we were working, all of a sudden the therapists started making the sounds of an ambulance siren and police sirens, as they began to act out a scenario. My therapists role-played a call going out to 911 because there had been an accident on the road between my house and their office. As their role play unfolded I soon realized it was me involved in the accident. In a fit of despair, I had suddenly pulled my car into oncoming traffic and there were several life threatening injuries as a result of the accident. Remember, this was just role playing!

When the ambulance arrived, (in this role play) I was in critical condition and the therapists suddenly started asking me questions:

‘What are you going to do Mark?’

‘Can you hear your wife crying? She is screaming in horror!’ (The wife therapist screamed)

‘What is your little baby girl going to do without her Daddy?’ (The wife therapist cried out in the voice of a little girl – ‘Daddy, oh Daddy’)

‘Can’t you see what this is going to do to your little girl?!’

‘Are you going to just lay there and die?’

‘What will they do without you?’

‘What will their lives me like?’

‘What’s going to happen to them?’

‘Mark, what are you going to do?’

‘Are you going to live? . . . or are you going to just lay there and die?’

As they asked me these questions, they would shake me like they were attempting to awaken me.

At first I felt this was kind of stupid and I was really embarrassed. I just lay there completely still with my eyes closed, frozen on the floor. Even though I tried, I just couldn’t feel any emotion. I just told my therapists that my life insurance policy would be more than enough to take care of them. So, again my built-in childhood protective mechanisms were trying to help me not feel.

Then out of nowhere, I started crying, then more crying, then suddenly I was crying so hard I couldn’t stop. My crying became just very deep, hard sobbing and crying until my body began to writhe with the sobbing and deep crying. I had finally begun to connect with the hopeless despair in my soul!

It may be that way for you in your recovery as you begin to recover normal feelings and emotional connections you would naturally have to situations. If this happens you may find yourself going from a moment that seems emotionless to one that is a tidal wave of emotion. This is actually a very healthy reconnecting with your emotions that you have shut off for years. We were designed by God to be a very connected mind/spirit, will and emotions. As this process of reconnecting with your emotions happens you are reconnecting to your whole self.

My therapists were helping me to feel the reality of me not being alive; my not wanting to live, and I began to connect with these feelings of despair and hopelessness deep in my heart. I realized it was not just some selfish lack of concern for my wife and daughter when I was pondering driving directly into oncoming traffic. I was truly hopeless at that moment and didn’t know how to recover hope.

After a long period of intense emotion that night, and with much assistance from my therapists, feelings of wanting to live began to quietly stir in me. I began to realize, emotionally, that I really had some amazing, wonderful reasons to live! Of course I already knew this in my adult intellect and heart. But this process allowed me to begin connecting with my early heart; the young heart of me; the part of me that had wanted to die. The work we all did that night was the beginning of profound change in my life!

Of course, after that evening, I continued working for many more months. In that process I learned more and more and slowly changed my heart toward a feeling of hopefulness. Ever so slowly I began to develop a sense of excitement and passion for life.

I don’t know where your heart is today as you read this blog. Some of you may be in the throes of despair and honestly believing there is no climbing up out of the cavern of hopelessness. I was right there with you the day I imagined the “solution” being my own death. But now that I am on the other side and have experienced hope and dreams and passions and simple pleasures again I want to encourage you. There is a beautiful Psalm that says “Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Let me encourage you to hang on for some joy in your life. What a wonderful day that will be…

Mark Phelps

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