When Abuse is More than Words

All my life I have dealt with the language of men that was designed to belittle, devalue, and intimidate me. Most of my life it worked and left me feeling vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Most of the time it also opened the door to actual sexual harassment or aggressive behavior. As a person who experienced sexual abuse at a young age, I was ill-equipped to understand the difference between acceptable behavior and unwanted attention. I was so overwhelmed by the behavior of others that I wasn’t capable of pushing back or reporting it. This was true until I came to terms with my own behavior and made a personal change in my response. 

So what did that negative behavior from others look like? There were teachers in school who openly held sexually charged discussions with impressionable teenage girls. There was my father who made comments about my size and used language that today we find deplorable. There was my brother who said I dressed like a whore. There was the friendly neighbor who took advantage of my vulnerability-grooming me with language and images. 

There was the workplace that thrived on adulterous relationships and encouraged young women to have affairs with managers to be part of the ‘in crowd.’ There were bosses who made snide comments about my age, my appeal, and my sexuality as a single person. There was the time I witnessed women who fell prey to the sexual abuse of their management, lose their positions. At one point I was warned that I could be reprimanded if I accepted their advances without reporting these predators. As if we were responsible for their action! Ultimately there was the man in a leadership position who drove me to a nervous breakdown and into retirement to escape his advances because of the earlier warning.

There were the women at a church who shunned me and uninvited me as a single woman who ‘might’ entice their husbands into affairs–with no evidence that I was interested in there spouses. I learned that single women were a threat to marriages and avoided conversations with men in my new church. And finally there was the man in my ministry field whose attention caused me to leave and avoid a ministry into which I felt called.

These examples don’t begin to describe what it was like growing up in an environment in which these things were not only viewed as acceptable, they were encouraged behaviors. One way or another, an attractive woman was seen as fair game. At one point I even dyed my hair because I was told no one would take me seriously as a blond! And then there are the eating disorders- anorexia or over eating- to make me more attractive or to protect myself.

I could not change the men in my world. I could discover more about myself and learn a new way to react to these advances. Thankfully I had a great recovery program at The Meadows and a wonderful healing minister that brought change in my life.

I have my struggles. I’m still afraid to lose the weight and become ‘attractive’ again because I worry that I will trigger old patterns. More healing to be done there. However, I no longer accept behavior from men that includes sexually innuendo, inappropriate body language, or intimidating tactics. I stand up for myself and have passed that on to my daughter. 

Change is hard. 

  • We begin with ourselves. We find an inner strength and the will to call out and push back when someone demeans us. 
  • We can see ourselves as the valuable women God created us to be. 
  • We can experience new life as persons of worth with the right to demand respect.
  • We can call out negative behavior for what it is, stand against it, and stop running.

I encourage those of you who see yourself in my story to reach out to someone and tell your story. Ask for help to recover from abusive behavior. Step into a new life! 

We don’t have to take the abhorrent behavior of others anymore. 

The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. The Lord is my inheritance, therefore, I will hope in him. Lamentations 3: 22-23

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The Darkness of Singleness

Living alone often can amplify the negative voices in our head because we have no one to counter them. Our feelings of discouragement, sadness, or incompleteness may overcome us at times. Being honest about our struggles isn’t always easy, especially if we already feel alone and unwanted. It may be difficult to believe that we are capable of change or that our lives will improve. We may be afraid to admit  to someone else what is going on because we fear judgement, when in reality; the people around us already know something isn’t quite right.  They may not know how to tell us, or they have tried to tell us and we couldn’t get what they were saying. We thought—you don’t know how lonely I am, you don’t know what it is like to not have that special person, you don’t know….fill in the blank. Continue reading

Fifty Shades of Pain

There are a number of reasons I am skipping the Fifty Shades movie. Yes, I read part of the book, until it became too sad and painful to continue. I am not a prude. I love sex; good fun adventurous sex. I, however, abhor abuse. I abhor someone taking advantage of my vulnerabilities. I abhor pain inflicted in the name of love–physical or verbal.

I was raped as a young girl. I was raped as a young woman. I was battered in the name of love by two of my husbands. I was verbally abused and talked into things I wish I could undo. It was not fun. It didn’t get easier the more I complied. I also was in a number of emotionally twisted relationships that evolved into the kind of sex in this movie. It was not fun. I was not happy. I was naive and wanted to be loved and so I went along with it. A movie that replicates and romanticizes a similar abusive relationship rips off the scars that have taken many of us years to heal. And it sends a message to women still in these kinds of hurtful relationships that it is a good thing.

We watch with outrage as sports figures and their abusive relationships are paraded in front of us. Celebrities take to the screen to say “no more,” while they line up to endorse the same sad harmful relationships played out on screen. Real people are fired for what this man does to this young woman. Nowhere in this book or movie do we hear this is wrong—that this destroys women’s self-esteem and sense of worth. Rather TV show after TV show glorifies the bondage toys that are flooding our market and laugh that although they would never do this; they can’t wait to see some other women be emotionally and physically tortured.

The kind of relationships I was trapped in made me feel like I belonged as they left me in fear that I would be alone if I didn’t comply. I won’t go into vivid details here but I can tell you that those men manipulated me, they broke my spirt, and they caused me to make decisions that I regret. I regret allowing sex to take the place of love. I regret allowing men in power to make me think I had no choice. I regret staying in these situations far longer than I should have and for thinking this was the best I deserved. I allowed them to use me for their perverse need to be in power and control.

Today I am free of that bondage. I was freed from sexual and love addiction with the help of the good people at The Meadows. More importantly, I was set free through my understanding that Jesus loves me far more than these hurtful men. I was made new and able to leave the past in the past and forgive myself for my behavior. I was able to accept God’s forgiveness for believing when others told me that I was not important to him. I came to believe that I have worth and value on this planet. God transformed me into a person who respects herself and has earned the respect of others through this healing process. I learned to say “no” and to protect myself.

If you are in a relationship where you find your partner making demands on you that leave you troubled–tell someone. I didn’t for many years. If you find yourself searching for sex in the hopes that someone will love you, find a counselor who will help you to see your value. You are valuable! If you are afraid your partner will leave you if you say no to what he/she is asking–leave before you are hurt. Don’t allow the secrets they ask you to keep about your relationship destroy who you really are. You ARE stronger and more powerful when you walk away.

As women we need to encourage each other to look for and to expect the best in all of our relationships. As Christian women we need to pray for each other and to inspire each other to seek the face of Jesus in our relationships. As humans, we need to remember that we are created in the image of God and to treat one another as valuable treasures. We need to turn our hearts and our minds to the things that motivate us toward that which is positive and purposeful. We need to speak truth to each other and to listen to the words that might change our lives. We need to speak the truth to one another and we need to listen when we hear words that could change our lives.

I hope that in sharing our stories we will bring truth to what this movie really represents—violence against women. Were we to hear this woman’s story in the news I doubt we would celebrate what happened to her. This is not a story to celebrate—it is NOT entertainment. It is glorifying what many of us have spent years fighting against—oppression of women. Let us stand as survivors and encourage and celebrate healthy relationships. The kind of relationships where the love is great and so too is the sex. Let us honor the joy of sexual pleasure rather than sexual bondage.

Today I pray you will skip the popular movie and spend and evening encouraging and loving on good friends. I pray you will know true love and joy. I pray you will seek the best God has for you in all your relationships.

Will the Real Me Please Step Forward??

Are you a different person with your friends, your colleagues at work, and the people at church? How do does your personality change as you shift from environment to environment? Do you put on facades with friends so you fit in, doing things you wouldn’t do say if you were around church folk? Do you use language with them that you would never use in front of a pastor? Do you treat people at church nicer than you treat the people you encounter in the grocery store? Is the person at work a reflection of the person God wants you to be and whom you want to be?

When we are inspired to transform our lives we need to look at all aspects of our life. People will be watching to see if we really are who we say we are. The change in our character and our behaviors might not happen overnight; however, if we are committed to change, each day should bring us closer to who we desire to be. This journey of change is just that—a lifelong journey that hopefully draws us closer to the image of God in which we were created. It’s a committed journey of transformation inspired by the Holy Spirit.

What behaviors or personality traits are you hanging on to? For me it is my language. I grew up in a house where swearing, in multiple languages, was part of the vernacular. Those tapes of swear words are engrained in the recesses of my brain and try as I might, they still bubble out. Additionally, those words have become part of everyday American language, which reinforces my use of them. They are, however, not the same words I would use at church or around ministers, or people whom I respect.

As part of my acting out from the sexual abuse, I was an unashamed flirt. It got me in trouble. It was the way I had learned to communicate and often it was how I got my way. It was also how I ended up in damaging relationships and with a huge lack of self-respect. It took a while to realize what was happening and when I did, I sought help to change who I was and what I did. The Meadows turned my life around. It taught me to set boundaries and to respect those boundaries. Over the years I have found how to carry myself as a professional, capable, and respected woman. It has changed everything about who I am today. Transformation is a good thing!!

I want to be the same person on Sunday that I am the rest of the week. I need to commit this desire for change to prayer. I need to pay attention to what I say and work harder not to say the words my brain pops in my mouth. I have been working on this for many many months—ok let’s be honest—my friends would say years! I keep trying. I want this change. I want people to see I am a Christian by my actions and behavior.

There, I said it aloud. I am motivated to change this character flaw and I need your prayers to do it.

What areas in your life are you clinging to and refusing to let God change? What steps can you take to begin the transformation journey? What does the Bible say and how could that become your verse of inspiration? Find it, pray it, do it!

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1 The Message)

No Regrets: No Do-overs, No Repeats

I came to the place of a transformed person the hard way. I had a strong Christian heritage but it took a few walks on the wild side to solidify those beliefs for myself. As I write and share the story of my transformation journey, I do it so that others may learn from it. So that others may avoid some of the errors of my ways. So that others who have jumped off the path can get back on. So that those who have never thought they were on the path will see that God does indeed have a path set ahead for you and he is waiting for you to put one foot on and begin the healing.

When I reflect on my life it is easy to get hung up on the regrets. If only my parents had protected me more. If only I hadn’t acted out as a result of my family and sexual abuse. If only I had been less naïve in the financial decisions I made. If only I had _____: fill in the blank. So many times I have asked God to turn the clock back, just this one time so I would not do what I did. He never does. I never get the do-over I would like to have. Truth is, I probably would do something else equally stupid!

I actually have no regrets though. Each of the things that happened to me and that I did to me is part of the fabric of my salvation story. From the moment I personally accepted Jesus and asked the Holy Spirit to become my guide, God has lifted the veil on my behaviors and healed me. Layer by layer; step by step, I have been able to let go of the past and move forward.

It is a moving forward process, this forgiveness thing. God doesn’t want us to remain trapped by our behavior and bad choices. He wants us to learn from them, to grown from them, and to never repeat them. It has been harder to accept God’s forgiveness for some of those things and it has been harder to change some behavior than others. But I had a willingness to change. I was inspired by the lives of others around me. I was motivated to become a different person and slowly it is happening. Happening. I am still growing and changing and God is still revealing and I am learning.

This Sunday morning, leave your regrets at the altar. Pray a prayer of forgiveness. Let go of what you can’t change and ask what you can change today. Commit to not repeating those things which you consider sins or poor behavior. Move forward today. Accept a brighter future.

Have you had to let go of something and have you seen the change in your life? I would love to hear your story. Please leave a comment below that others may grow from your experience.

Blessings,
Maggie

© maggiemarcum.com

“These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who lives at the end of the age.” 1 Corinthians 10:11 New Living Translation

Living with Disgrace

“No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.”
Psalm 25: 3 New Living Translations

I grew up believing in Jesus—I went to church and I prayed. We lived in a time when being a Christian was a proud thing, until you did something awful and then that was pretty much that! And if someone else brought evil into your life, they were out of there too. As a young woman I lived somewhere between these worlds. I was disgraced by the behavior of the men in my life and I was disgraced by my behavior as a result of these actions. And I tried to hide all of it.

Following the sexual abuse I was taunted by the boys in the neighborhood. I was an innocent child thrown into a world of sexuality, before I knew what that meant. One day I was the princess being carried around on a makeshift throne. It seems the next day the boys were trying to take advantage of me at every chance. I was now free game and the attention I was getting set a thinking pattern for me that said, “Sex brings attention—sex must be the way to go.” Those I once trusted now became my foes. My belief system faltered because I no longer had the same compass leading me. Some translations of this verse say: “Do not let anyone that hopes in you be ashamed. Let the people that say false things without a reason be ashamed.” I was ashamed to be a Christian who felt tarnished and who also was now drinking, drugging, and sleeping around while trying to convince others that I was still this “good girl.” I simply lost my way.

Through my teen years and those as a young woman, I made a lot of bad choices for myself. I had ‘relationship’ after ‘relationship.’ And yet I kept a foot in the church door. I went to church on Sunday. As a good Catholic, I went to confession, only I never confessed my sexual acting out. I taught Sunday school and brought a number of my hurting girlfriends to church and laid a foundation for their belief in Christ today. I went through the motions and in my heart I clung to the belief that somehow God understood. Somehow, one day God would make this all right for me. What I didn’t realize was that it was up to me to make it right by first accepting it was wrong. I needed to look at myself and quit making excuses and blaming others and literally lie in front of the cross and ask the man who died there for me to help me. I needed to be forgiven and changed. I needed to stop living ashamed and disgraced. With each step toward him, he pulled me closer. As I was willing to let go of the blame and the shame, he brought me new dignity. It has taken a very long time to get here, and I’m still working on it, but I no longer have shame in this story of my life. I have peace that today I am wiped clean and can share this with you so that you too can know this peace and joy.

Are you living with the shame and disgrace of past behaviors? Are you afraid someone will find out? Do you want to stop being that person? I suggest then that you do what I did and recognize that God already knows so you can’t really hide it from him anyway! Tell him your pain. Tell him your disgrace. Give him your tears and let him wipe them away. Visualize Jesus holding you and telling you he loves you, NO MATTER WHAT you did. Read Psalm 25 or find one that speaks to your hearts and pray it every day until you feel whole again. Share your healing journey with someone you trust. Ask them to pray with you. And then share your grace with someone else that needs to hear.

Be healed. Be restored!

Shamed

“Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.” Psalm 15:2

As a young woman, I carried the shame of being sexually abused with me into nearly everything I did. Pia Mellody, founder of The Meadows, developed the concept of “carried shame,” that which we bring into our adult life from events that occurred in your childhood. These are the events over which we had no power and that sets the stage for negative behavior in our adulthood. Until we can acknowledge this shame, we are somewhat powerless over our behavior. Without validation for what has happened to us, we may think we are worthless and therefore not allowed to be in respected or valued.

The shame I carried with me stemmed from my abuse and the reaction of those who knew back when it occurred. My memories are fuzzy, but I do know that in that era the victim was usually held at least partially responsible for what happened. It didn’t matter that I was only 8 years old. And there was nothing really done to the perpetrator other than to separate them from the child. To this day I am not sure if anyone really understood, including myself. I do know that I went from being one of the girls that the neighborhood boys treated like a princess to the butt of their jokes and sexual harassment. From then on I came to believe my body and my life was of little value. And for the next 40 years I acted that way too.

And then, at The Meadows I found out that this was not my fault. I was not protected by the people who should have protected me. I was a naïve young girl, desperate for someone to notice me, who was noticed and taken advantage of by someone we all trusted and admired. I did not understand how that period of time had polluted my thinking about myself. And in the desert of Arizona I found that God loved me and would rescue me from the shame others inflicted upon me. I could make the decision right then and there to accept God’s love as an incredible gift and to remove the hooks that held me to this carried shame. The shame was that of the man who hurt me. It was the shame of the parents who neglected me. It was the shame of the friends who turned their back on me. It was not mine anymore. God created a new person that day. I began to walk without shame, having sought forgiveness for my own behavior and a willingness to live a different lifestyle.

I was freed.

© maggiemarcum.com