I was fortunate enough to be invited to be part of a counselling team going to Mozambique this past weekend, to minister to some inner city youngsters.
My first session began, and whilst the person was polite, I sensed resistance, and the reason soon came out.
“I didn’t ask to be here. They booked me.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Because I can’t ever say ‘no’.”
I felt such empathy hearing those words, that I laughed. Throughout my life I have struggled with this very issue: how to say ‘no’.
Why is that small word so enormous? I don’t have an answer. I still battle with it, although I have got better over the years. It is almost as if, when some part of the essential you is violated, when you have been forced to submit to another’s pernicious will, you lose the ability to resist for ever after. Some false sense of guilt makes you feel duty bound to do whatever someone else wants you to do.
Which brings me to the topic I have been dreading discussing: sex.
Needless to say, the thought of having sex absolutely terrified me. My mother had firmly instilled the ‘no sex before marriage’ axiom with threats ranging from hell to complete rejection by all society, but my teenage years coincided with the sixties, the dawn of a new ‘morality’. I was quite shocked at the laxity I saw all around me, so ended up being almost a chaperone, standing guard for my friends as they disappeared into dark corners with boys who seemed happy to treat me as a little sister. I was the archetypical wallflower, and it hurt. I longed to be led off for a snog, even if the thought of it was terrifying.
At seventeen I fell in love, and fell hard, with a man twice my age. My mother was horrified and made every attempt to ensure the relationship ended. He, for some reason, did not want to be responsible for my deflowering, so asked me to manage that with someone else. Which I did. Never has the loss of what should have been so precious, taken place in such cold and calculated manner. I chose the partner and the place and the deed happened one December night. Painlessly I might add, because there was no hymen. I put that down to a horse-riding accident I had, when I landed hard on the pommel of the saddle shortly after the incident in the hut.
I was then given the chance to study drama, my first love, my dream career, in Johannesburg. Here I came of age. I learnt to drink, and then not to drink because it simply made me sick. But I also discovered that I was attracted to men older than myself. The first affair came to a tearful, guilty end when I discovered the man was married – I was the only one who didn’t know it seemed.
Thereafter the status of the men I took up with became less important. I was happy to continue ‘loving’ in secrecy and guilt – sex was a ritual that had little meaning, and less feeling. I’d been comforting myself in this regard for years, and was only able to reach any sort of climax after indulging in cruel, demeaning, sweaty fantasy. Secrecy, guilt, sex and love became synonymous – no wonder I made disastrous choices when it came to marriage.
My first husband was a sexual deviant, which repulsed me completely, but how did I refuse him? He was adamant my reticence was because I was ‘bent’ , that I resisted his ideas of fun because I was scared to admit my own perversion. Close to the bone that was. The result was total and painful frigidity. In order to prove that I was not bent or frigid, I had an affair. But finally my need to love in secret, in this particular way, meeting in small rooms in out of the way places, was one step too far and I ended it.
I felt dreadful. I had broken my marriage vows, my mother had died by then so I was all alone, my marriage was a disaster. Broken, guilt-ridden, in the deepest pit of despair, my only choice was up or out.
And here is really where my journey begins.
As I sat in my office that day, I heard a soft voice reminding me that a faithful witness had given me a bible many months previously. I had to find it. I flew home, dug around in a trunk of books that were not unpacked from a home move, and found the bible right at the bottom. I sat down and began to read right there in amongst that pile of books. In those pages I found the Father I had so longed to believe in all my life.
I remember the local village priest in Piggs Peak coming to see my parents to report that I attended his church on a Sunday morning. They seemed shocked, somehow, or amused, I’m not sure. But it was enough of a reaction to stop me going back. Over all those years, at least twenty of them, God had kept me in His sights, just as He has you!
Shortly after giving my heart to the Lord Jesus, I attended a revival where I was baptised in the Holy Spirit and began to talk in tongues. I was filled with joy, and for weeks felt as if I was walking above the ground.
The first evidence of new life in me, was not wanting a cigarette. I had smoked since my early teens. Automatically reaching for one a couple of weeks after my baptism experience, I suddenly didn’t want it. But, a word of warning here. I didn’t understand how huge that cleansing was, and a few weeks later when my husband asked me to light a cigarette for him, I carelessly agreed. Within three weeks I was hooked again, and it took me many decades to finally break free again.
‘My people die for a lack of knowledge’, the warning given by the prophet Hosea, (Chapter 4v6) is not one to be taken lightly. That freedom from nicotine addiction cost my Saviour dearly, brutalised with whips, and hung on a cross, and I did not esteem His sacrifice. Which might well be the reason I was not freed from the need to masturbate. I always put that together with smoking as my biggest sins.
Those habits, and sucking my thumb, were my means of comfort, my security blankets. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that masturbation is normal, and alright, because that is yet another lie from the pit of hell, that causes massive anguish in the hearts of those who are unable to resist the need.
The relief for me, of discovering that masturbation was listed, together with thumb-sucking, bed wetting, gluttony and other comforting activities, as a recognised symptom of childhood abuse was enormous. Since then I have counselled precious child after precious adult, devastated by their need for self-gratification, and having to deal with the self-loathing that it induces. The battle to stop is almost impossible in your own strength. The cord that binds that demonic power to you that was unleashed when you were abused needs to be broken in the name of Jesus, and His blood brought to bear against it.
Much research has been done on neurological cell memory, and given my own experience I believe they do retain memories. I just have to read a description of rape, see it suggested on screen, and I feel a sexual reaction. I’ve heard similar s from other people who have suffered molestation. Some cannot allow children to sit on their laps, or hug them in a certain way. Other interactions, which are completely normal for most people, may trigger a sexual response.
I said in an earlier blog that one way to defeat the effects of abuse is to bring what happens into the light. Once you understand what has happened to you, and what continues to happen to you, you can begin to deal with it.
The first step is to shed the shame. As I have said before, the shame belongs to the abuser, not you. God wants you to walk in freedom, His forgiveness and cleansing is absolute. If you need help with this, don’t hesitate to go for counselling. No counsellor will ever think less of you, so don’t be afraid.
The second step is to remind the devil of your status in Christ. I sometimes say out loud: “Satan, you may not touch me because I am bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.”
This has been a tough blog to write. I don’t know if some of my friends will look at me the same way after reading this. But the need to reassure others who have, and are going through much of what I have been through, is more important than my feelings. I’ve held too many young girls while they sobbed out their anguish to keep quiet any longer. They need to know they are not alone, they are not freaks, they are not condemned to a life of despising themselves, having that guilt taint every relationship.
My God is in the restoring business. He says in Joel 2, from verse 25 that He ‘will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten’. Twice He reassures, in verses 26 and 27, ‘My people shall never be put to shame,’ so take hold of those promises, precious child, and run with them, straight into the arms of your loving Father!
He set me free, He will do the same for you.