Proudly Working Class

I’ve been having ponderings and Twitter conversations with various people about class over the last week or so.  The big influences in this have been @jo_planet and @siansteans, two awesome, working class women who were sharing their experience of being working class and THIS post by @psycho_claire and something clicked for me.  They were describing various experiences that I have had; being excluded, being patronised, being passed over, yet they were placing those experiences within a context of class based oppression.  It’s been a real lightbulb moment for me, shining a light on something that has niggled at and deeply affected me for my whole adult life.  Suddenly this stuff has a name and a shape.

Until this lightbulb moment, I always saw being working class as something to be proud of.  With no framework to label my negative experiences as class based oppression, I was left assuming that the way I have been disadvantaged were due to my personality, that it was a “me” thing, not a “working class” thing.

I am proud because my working class identity means…

1. Community: Our homes are closer together, we don’t have detached houses.  We don’t get to opt out of each other’s lives, we can hear what’s going on next door, our kids play together and we have to navigate conflict and disagreements, while still having to live close together.

2. Honesty: We don’t have all those “airs and graces”, we say it how it is. You know where you are with each other, if someone’s angry, they tell you.  It doesn’t make for serene lives void of conflict, but your friends are your friends and they’re loyal even if they tell you when you’re being an idiot.

3. Compassion: My brother and I have taken very different paths; he left his working class roots behind as he went to university, becoming a corporate barrister.  He socialises with judges and (I kid you not) celebrates the wonder of Margaret Thatcher.  He is oblivious to the disabling impact of poverty and mocks homeless people suggesting they lack a good work ethic.  His blindness to poverty leads to a compassion deficit.

I’ve always had the vague prejudice against posh people middle class people, assuming they are heartless and unable to get the reality of poverty.  I have had to address that prejudice and have met some awesomely kind and generous posh people.  But there is something about the working class people who’ve come alongside me and known what it was to struggle with poverty and disadvantage.  We’re advantaged in the compassion department because we’ve known what it is to struggle and continue to struggle.

4. Faith: This for me has been the biggest thing.  And it’s not a working class thing per se, but my experience of the intersection between faith and disadvantage.  I became a full-on Jesus follower at the worst time in my life; in a hospital as a single parent with a very sick baby and a traumatised toddler.  I had no home, I had lived on benefits for a number of years, having been raised in a poor working class family with middle class aspirations.  In a place with nothing and nobody I discovered the awesome grace and provision of God, and I haven’t veered from that in the last ten years.  The greatest blessing for me of being working class is I’ve got nothing to rely on but God. Jesus was right, blessed are the poor!

What I’ve discovered in the last week is that these very aspects of my class identity that I’m most proud of, are the things that disadvantage me in middle class contexts (including church).  People see me in this way:

1. Community Too intense: We shouldn’t be THAT involved in each other’s lives.  There should be distance and space.  We need to be independent of each other, there’s boundaries and appropriateness that must be ADHERED to.

2. Honesty Too impolite: I don’t say things gently enough, with enough prefaces or in a way that doesn’t offend.  I say it as it is, and that’s too much for people to manage.  They need it to be POLITE.

3. Compassion Too simplistic: I don’t understand know about complex theories like trickle down economics and so if I’m going to challenge equality, my offering is going to be too simplistic.  When I say that people SHOULDN’T BE POOR, I’m told that it’s much more complicated than that and that my personal experience is always trumped by academic rigour.

4. Faith Too stupid: This year Stephen Fry used the example of a fly that burrows into a child’s eye as justification that God can’t be real.  Yet we find that the children and families who actually have dealt with the burrowing eye fly are more likely to believe in a loving God than Stephen Fry is.  Because when you have nothing, God can become real very quickly.

I read Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” in the summer and in it she ponders this, “I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence is attributed to God’s will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend in material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at commensurate speed.”

The big difference between middle class and working class people is the Middle Class Cushion. When working class people fall, there is no cushion to catch us.  There’s no spare room in our parent’s house sleep in, no Trust Fund, nothing.  And the lack of that Middle Class Cushion affects all aspects of our life.  The risks we can take, the choices we make, the careers we embark on.  I was talking to Hannah Mudge (who has written THIS great piece about Christian culture and class from a Middle Class perspective) about gap years and ideals of faith that are celebrated from the platform; of young people taking on unpaid internships, of missionaries supported by large financial donations.  But for working class people, even if we get a good job or embark on a career that will give us security, we are still plagued by the risks associated with not having a Middle Class Cushion.

The decisions we make and the risks we do or don’t take, the way we spend our money and the priorities we have are judged as stupid or primitive by people with a Middle Class Cushion.

I have much more to say about this, but time is limited with our family circumstances having changed, so part 2 will have to wait for now…

Supermarket Christianity

After doing a one-woman protest at the Hillsong Conference last week, Christian Today writer Mark Woods interviewed me. He asked whether I thought the protest had been a success. It got me thinking about what “success” is.

The Christian model of success seems to mirror the world’s view; it’s numerical… The more people that buy into your brand, attend your event, buy your books. That’s how you know you’re successful. There are Christian courses about building your online platform, growing your personal brand and blogging for success.

By those standards, my protest wasn’t very successful. It was me. On my own. By numerical standards it was 8000 (or more) to 1. By those standards, it was a failure.

However, Christian culture’s valuing of things isn’t God’s valuing of it. The kingdom of God is in the weeds that push through the pavement cracks, in the birth of a human child over 2000 years ago, in the smallness and in the whisper.

It seems in the Bible there is something significant about numerical growth. In Acts we hear of people joining the faith constantly, of meetings where thousands were added to their number. We hear of Jesus feeding the five thousand and the crowds that followed Him wherever He went. Yet, within Christian culture it seems success is measured solely in numerical terms.

I’ve been pondering Christian culture’s tendency towards numerical success. It’s led me to thinking about mega-churches and Christian brands. Hillsong, HTB, Bethel, New Wine, Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest. And the human brands within the wider brands; Osteen, Meyer, Houston, Hybels, Warren, Dollar, Driscoll, Gumbel.

It seems we currently have a dominant Christian model of “Supermarket Christianity”. Everything is pre-packaged. Shiny and new. Every taste is catered for. You can go to one church and have all your needs met. Supermarkets aren’t fundamentally evil, they meet the needs of people with busy lives. People who don’t have the time or skills to grow their own food or milk their own cow (if the even have a cow at home any way…).

In the same way, most mega-churches (and even a lot of regular churches) aren’t evil. They provide for people who don’t have the time or skills to take on their own spiritual growth. In a church where there are few creative people, an Alpha Course is a great package to begin conversations with non-Christians about God. Many amazing ministries have been birthed out of events like Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor. Supermarket Christianity is not evil.

However, though supermarkets are not evil. They are perpetuating injustice. There has been an enormous increase in food insecurity as supermarkets buy food overseas and have it shipped over to the UK. They don’t pay staff a Living Wage. They prioritise profits over ethics. And now we are all reliant on them. We can’t live without them. We are dependent on them. I don’t know how to grow vegetables. I can just about keep children alive, but give me a plant and it will be dead with a week.

In the same way, it seems that Christian culture has become reliant on Supermarket Christianity. Rather than learning to hear God’s voice for ourselves, we seek out another book/sermon/worship song to tell us what God thinks.   We read more words about the Bible than the Bible itself. We expect Supermarket Christianity to meet our needs. With pre-packaged courses and sermons for every situation. Instead of considering the needs in our community and how best to represent Jesus to those who don’t yet know Him, we simply put on an Alpha Course. Supermarket Christianity isn’t wrong. Supermarket Christianity as the default is.

I’ve been part of Christian culture long enough to have seen Supermarket Christianity as the answer. Growing up in a medium sized Anglican church, I was attracted to the idea of thousands of people in one place, cool preachers and the general largeness of Christian youth events. I thought that’s where people grew in their faith. And for some people, large events are where growth is found. Yet, there’s something slightly off kilter about our relationship with God being reliant on things that aren’t God. That aren’t local church or the Bible. That are branded and shiny and new.

I knew a guy who would always start to lose his connection to God in September. “But don’t worry!” He told me, “This always happens around this time, then I’ll go to Spring Harvest at Easter and I’ll get time with God and everything will be okay again.”

Maybe it’s partly that my faith didn’t grow large at an event or through a popular Christian book. Maybe it’s just my experience that makes me sure that Supermarket Christianity is not that way. And if so, then I’ll just keep walking the road that God has placed me on. But it feels like more than just my experience.

It seems that Supermarket Christianity allows us to vicariously live faithful lives through the testimonies of people who give up everything for Jesus. Just as the Tesco aisle invites us to have a “taste of India”, believing we have become more exotic for eating a pre-packaged meal made somewhere in Milton Keynes, so we hear the stories of people who are doing amazing things for God and we feel filled with a sort of confidence that Christians are doing good things.

We can now donate to a food bank and buy fairtrade produce on our way round the supermarket; either ignorant or avoiding the many ways supermarkets contribute to the need for food banks and fairly traded goods. In Supermarket Christianity we can donate to projects or even set projects up, while still living our lives in ways that exploit the most vulnerable.

My faith was founded in the crucible of suffering and through learning to be obedient. I have learned that the measure of my faith is not the amount I am on the church rota nor the number of people who stand with me in that which God has called me to. Not everyone has the “opportunity” to find God in losing everything, so maybe this is my truth and not The Truth.

I am trying to live a “Smallholding Christianity”. One which relies on the weather that God sends, that involves taking full responsibility for my walk with Him. Learning to grow my own spiritual food and not rely on the pre-packaged kinds. It’s a lonely road as most people are still living out Supermarket Christianity. I think I might be allergic to Christian events now. The last event I went to I cried all the way home. Just as people who re-enter the UK after a prolonged time in the majority world experience culture shock going into a supermarket, with the choice and shininess. So I think I have developed Christian culture shock.

Someone sent me this quote the other day,

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Mark Twain

I responded to Mark Woods by saying that I thought the protest was successful. God has taught me that success isn’t found in the numbers of people by your side, the number of books you sell, the size of an event. It is found in being fully obedient to God’s call. And we can only become obedient to God’s call if we learn to hear Him above all the other voices in our lives. Success is not found in this life, but in hearing, “Good and faithful servant” on the other side of eternity.

So you’re welcome to join me in discovering “Smallholding Christianity”, but I don’t mind if you don’t, I’m okay over here on my own…

Always Broken.

Content Note: This blog talks about self-harm.  

Today was difficult. It was one of those days where my brokenness presented itself to me, stark and true. Fissures in my soul, opening.

There’s been some challenges recently. My mum died in January and my grief is the sometimes realisations that comes with my mum’s terminal illness being less than four months from diagnosis to death. Personal and professional challenges collide in me, not big enough to be a crisis, not small enough to shrug off.

I’ve written before about my ex-husband; about what male violence does to the soul, about the reality of PTSD.

I hated myself. From age eight through twenty-two I was subjected to abuse. There’s specific ways men’s choice to sexually abuse destroys the soul. Shame and self-hatred reign. The feeling of being less than, of being impure and defiled drill deep into a person’s core. I began cutting my wrists when I was sixteen. I legitimised it the first time by making the shape of a cross on my skin. I’d been in church long enough to know “my body was a temple” and that cutting myself was a sin. I’d poured out my feelings on pages and in poems, yet in self-harm I found a coping mechanism that “worked”.

It’s been years since I cut myself, at first because of my children then through my experience of Jesus. Yet, no one tells you there’s no such thing as being an ex-self-harmer. When life is challenging, the desire to cut rises unbidden.

I was shaving my legs today and the razor twisted, an inch long cut, bright red blood. The need rose within me. I panicked. Alone in the house I knew it would be easy to go back to that place. I gathered the razors and rushed to lock them in the car

Out of the house. Out of harms way.

I rarely swear, but the f word forced itself out of my mouth as my brokenness rose from within me. Tears flowed. I wailed. Still broken. Always broken.

My twelve-year-old daughter and I went to the cinema to watch Pitch Perfect 2 this evening. It was wonderful. I left the cinema delighted vaginas had been mentioned, touched by the film’s primary focus on women’s relationships and lives. A scene towards the end with women of different generations singing together left me weepy. As we stood up to leave I was so pleased to have such films for my children’s generation. For me, Ten Things I Hate About You and Cruel Intentions were the most popular movies; the messages within them about gender and relationships are appalling.

My warm feeling didn’t last long. As we left the cinema, a drunk teenage boy and his friends were walking past. He asked me for a cigarette. I explained that I didn’t smoke. As I walked away, arm in arm with my precious pre-teen daughter, this young man shouted, “I bet you those two are twins. I would so bang them.”

Pitch Perfect immediately became a drop in the ocean. A momentary lapse within patriarchy. I drove home hiding the terror rising within me after witnessing one of the many ways my amazing girl is going to be objectified and diminished. In a space where boys have been raised on pornographies and girls are “banged”.

Yesterday my son’s six-year-old friend began objectifying the teenage girl who delivers papers. A little boy shouting after a teenage girl, displaying his understanding that girls are for looking good and being shouted at by boys.

It’s easy to see three isolated incidents. My personal struggles. An offensive teenage boy. A shouting little boy.

Yet the personal is political. The isolated incidents follow a pattern. I am broken because men broke me. They chose to break me. Men who started out as little boys believing that girls are for looking good and being shouted grow into young men who comment on how much they’d like to “bang” a twelve year old and her presumed sister.

Self-harm is very often a symptom of male violence. The man may not be pulling a razor across skin, but he rips her soul into so many pieces that it becomes logical to tear her skin into pieces too.

As we travelled to the cinema today, my daughter placed herself In Charge Of The Tunes. “Clean” by Taylor Swift came on. I’d never heard it before. She sang:

You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore

Hung my head as I lost the war, and the sky turned black like a perfect storm

Rain came pouring down when I was drowning

That’s when I could finally breathe

And by morning

Gone was any trace of you

I think I am finally clean

The Bible declares that Jesus died for our sins. That we are washed clean by His choice to give up all power, coming to earth, living a life of Truth and dying on a cross. We are “washed clean” because of Him.

This teaching has been warped by many. Responses to the Hillsong/Mark Driscoll petition have told me we should be forgiving him, not petitioning against him. Wiping the slate clean.

The Duggars talk of their son’s abuse being resolved in him finding Jesus. Wiping the slate clean.

Yoder’s sex offences are a gap between aspiration and behaviour, his important teaching is more significant than his choice to sexually abuse. He is a “well-known pacifist” despite violating over 100 women. Wiping the slate clean.

Women are not slates.

We are not slates that are wiped clean when an abuser repents, or purports to have. A woman’s healing is not linked to an abuser’s redemption. It simply does not work like that.

As I listened to the Taylor Swift lyrics I realised no amount of standing in the rain is going to make me clean. Jesus can stand with me in the brokenness, but He can’t wipe away the abuse and violation. It’s not Men In Black. There’s no zapping and the memories are gone. Women live with the consequences of men’s violence for the whole of our lives.

I’ll move beyond this day. Life will become joyous again. I will be okay. But the patriarchy continues. Little boys objectify teenage girls. Teenage men want to “bang” girls. Adult men rape, violate and decimate women in every country in the world. And the church colludes. And Jesus weeps.

The truth after the storm

On Friday I wrote a piece articulating my struggles with PTSD.  I’ve only recently begun writing about the ongoing consequences of my ex-husband’s choice to abuse me, mainly because I had this fear of people judging me as incompetent to do the work I do.  That somehow the ongoing impact of male violence on me would preclude me from contributing fully to addressing it.  I guess it revealed to me some of my own fears and prejudices.  That even though I work full time on ending violence against women and wider issues of gender injustice and though I would be the first to challenge language and attitudes which blame women for the abuse men have chosen to perpetrate, deep down the truth has been that I believed I needed to be fixed, no longer affected, in order to offer myself to the cause.

 

I regularly stand up and share my story.  A few years ago I spent time working at a few large Christian conferences for men.  More recently I have begun working with perpetrators.  And in all of those spaces, either telling my story, spending time within all-male spaces or working with perpetrators, I feel a responsibility to represent women well.  To not perpetuate the issues which lead to stereotyping of women, to challenge the misrepresentation of women, and when telling my story, to do it in a way that will challenge misconceptions, preventing anyone leaving after hearing me thinking that abuse happens to “those women, out there”.

 

I once spoke at a conference where I had been billed as “THE VICTIM PERSPECTIVE”.  I walked into the building with some other people attending the same event.  As we chatted about the day ahead, one woman said to me, “I’m very interested to hear the victim perspective.”  I responded, “Oh yes, it will be very interesting won’t it?”

 

After the event that same woman came over to talk with me, she told me I had shocked her, she would never have expected me to be a victim, that she would never hold those same views again.

 

Yet perhaps by sharing a story of being okay I have misled those who have heard me speak.  Perhaps those who are currently dealing with the impact of male violence or those with family and friends who have been hurt, I have suggested that there will come a day when everything is sorted, that being fixed is the aim.  Yet there is a sense that no matter how far we come, how good life gets; the pain of male violence doesn’t end.

 

This is why we must prevent it, why addressing the root causes of male violence; ownership, entitlement and inequality are so important.  Because once the damage is done, life will never be the same.

 

I attended an event called “Woman at the well” run by an organisation called Transformation Powerhouse a while ago.  During the evening one of the women leading the event said she had a word from God for me (I know those of you reading this without a faith may be a bit like “okay…” at this point, but bear with me).  She basically said that God had told her I have so so much love to give, but that fear is getting in the way of me offering it.  She (and God) are right.  My fear of being honest, of being judged too broken, of being patronised or disparaged has prevented me from offering my all.  Thinking that by telling of the pain as well as the victory would diminish me.  And yet the story shrinks if it is not told fully.  The ending of being fixed denies the truth of being broken.

 

I attended a session with a Human Givens therapist on Friday. I only needed one session in which she did something called the Rewind Technique.  It is an effective treatment for PTSD symptoms and basically resets the brain to factory settings and moves the trauma that has led to a serious episode from the lower brain (which deals with trauma) to the upper and then mid-brain which sees the trauma as a memory rather than an ongoing, current event.

 

I arrived at the session unable to communicate much, numb, exhausted and incapable of making decisions (anyone who knows me will realise that’s basically me losing my entire personality).  After the session I was back, my brain worked, I decided to go for food (both deciding and eating were impossible for me to do ninety minutes earlier) and I was able to think, laugh and generally be myself again.

 

Over the weekend I’ve felt quite fragile.  Although I’m back, social interaction is tiring and I’m vaguely subdued.  But I’m on way back to being normal.

 

So many people have offered their love, prayers and kindnesses over the weekend.  Texts, tweets, emails, direct messages, cake and offers drive miles just to sit with me.  Even when I felt unable to respond, the love and care has been much appreciated, so thank you if you are one of the many who have loved me!

 

I’m still the same person I was before I began sharing the downs as well as the ups, the feelings as well as the doings, but hopefully now I’m over the fear of being so vulnerable, I will bring more of the truth to this battle and as we know, it is the truth that sets us free.

It feels like my soul has died

On Sunday I awoke from a dream and everything changed.  Since then I have barely been able to eat, talking wears me out, even typing these few words is a huge effort.  I have done very little work, the meetings I have had to attend require me to fake being myself which, although possible, is exhausting.  My usually super fast brain has slowed almost to a standstill and in the middle of sentences I will lose the thread of what I’m saying.

 

I am irritable and my ability to parent has become vastly depleted.  I have become impatient and snap at the littlest thing.  At times I become unable to move or speak and my husband has to physically move me and help me with basic tasks.  By early afternoon I am exhausted and have to sleep.

 

It feels like my soul has died.  All that’s left is a shell.  All that makes me who I am has been enveloped by deadness.

 

The dream wasn’t even that bad.  Nothing dramatically awful happened within it.  It involved me being almost physically transported back ten years and spending time with my ex-husband.  And now I am broken.

 

It turns out it probably wasn’t a dream, but rather a flashback.  A flashback isn’t a nightmare or a memory, it’s like whatever you are seeing is happening in the present.  And the brain and body cannot distinguish between the flashback and reality.  So for all intents and purposes, on Sunday I was transported back ten years to spend an hour with my ex-husband.  And it has messed up my entire life.

 

Over a year ago I had a similar incident when I was watching a programme and a violent assault suddenly took place on screen.  My brain stopped working on anything but a superficial level for about 6 weeks.  This is what I wrote back then.

 

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I can go for months, over a year without any problems and then, without warning, everything will change.  A friend of mine likened it to someone suffering epilepsy, “it’s like you’re walking across a stage and you know that at some point a trap door may open up underneath you, but you don’t know when.”  Which is basically what it’s like.  The challenge is that PTSD is not socially acceptable.  If it’s not a physical illness, it doesn’t really exist for many people.

 

Reporting of the recent cases of Oscar Pistorius and Ched Evans have often focussed on the perpetrators’ rights to continue with their lives.  That justice has been served and regardless of our opinions, we must respect the process.  Yet the problem is much greater than individual cases.

 

What does justice look like for me?  My ex-husband has received no court based consequences for what he did to me.  And even if he had, at most he would have served two and a half years in prison.  The majority of what he did wasn’t even technically illegal.  Still, ten years later and I am still coping with the consequences of his choices to hurt me.  As are my husband and children.

 

In many ways punishing him won’t change things for me, the trapdoor will still open underneath me, life will still stop when something unpredictable triggers my PTSD symptoms again.  But maybe it would make a difference for the next girl he hurts, maybe it would prevent him having the same access to girls and young women?  Maybe it would change the perception of the impact of abuse and rape on the individual?

 

Regardless, I am still broken.  There is this deep pain that simmers below all the symptoms and ways in which the trauma affects me; that I will always be broken.  That no matter how many years pass, who I am or what I do; I will still be broken.  And don’t feel you need to rush to reassure me that I’m not broken.  Because to do so denies the impact of abuse and rape.  It breaks people forever.  It smashes and breaks people in a way that cannot be repaired.

 

In the least awful parts of this week I have some confidence that things will improve.  That I will become myself again.  In the darkest minutes and hours, I wonder if this time the damage will be permanent, if this will be the time when I lose myself forever.  I am going to have a session of something called the Rewind Technique this afternoon, which will hopefully sort some of this out and repair the damage that has been done to my brain by the flashback.

 

I know I should write something to complete this piece, to bring it to a close, but my brain has shut down again.  So I’ll leave it here for now.

PTSD

I didn’t want to write this. I didn’t want to admit it to the world. I didn’t want to be one of those people who seem to have a barely disguised compulsion to tell the world all their nasty bits, a bit like an emotional, online version of Embarrassing Bodies. I also didn’t want to be a mess or a failure or anything like that.

 

I wanted to be the fixed one. The one that in spite of the things done to me, conquered it all and was okay, always okay. I felt a pressure to be okay, to represent all those who have experienced abuse, to show the world we’re not stupid or miserable or mad. We’re just people, regular normal people.

 

Yet, a month ago I watched a scene on a TV programme and my brain broke. Since then I’ve been broken and messed up. I’ve stopped being able to talk much, or think much or feel anything. I have occasions where I become unable to move or speak, where I can’t be touched and I feel a darkness in my head that is pure hopelessness. I can’t pray, or spend time with God because I can’t feel anything or think straight.

 

Google told me the proper name for my brain breaking is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and yet I can’t have a broken brain, because I have to be okay, because that’s what I am, a broken person, made good and just like everybody else.

 

Then God introduced me to an amazing woman called Jenny Edwards. She told me how the horror, terror and trauma of what I experienced has got stuck in the animal part of my brain, which isn’t capable of higher thinking. While it’s stuck in that part of my brain the trauma isn’t considered a historical memory, my brain thinks the trauma is continuously happening to me, to which my body and mind are responding to accordingly. She explained that there are some therapeutic processes which will allow the trauma to move from the animal part of my brain to the human part and that they are easy to do.

 

It turns out my brain isn’t broken, it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.

 

You may be wondering why I’ve written this, if I didn’t want to. I’ve written it because I realised that if I am willing to share my story, I need to be honest about what it’s like to be here. To tell the world that when someone chooses to abuse another person, the consequences will last a lifetime. Not in some emotional feeling, but in very real, neuro-scientific ways. To empower those who are hurting with the knowledge that these symptoms are not something we imagine or can just get over, but a very real problem with the brain. And that help is out there.

 

So while I work with specialists to get back to being healthy, I want to be honest and acknowledge that who I am will be always be marred by the abuse perpetrated against me, and that being healed is not about denying that, but owning it. That forgiving the perpetrators doesn’t happen in the same measure as I feel fixed and normal, but that forgiveness for the perpetrators is offered regardless of damage I continue to live with. Just like if someone had cut off my legs, I would continue to disabled, the abuse perpetrated against me means I am likely to have debilitating episodes for the rest of my life, and telling the world that is okay. It doesn’t reduce me, it doesn’t define me, but it is who I am. And that’s okay.

The Other Side of the Darkness

Almost three weeks ago I wrote “This Is What Male Violence Does”. The response was so encouraging, with people sharing the post and telling me how much it had impacted them.

 

When I wrote that post I was in the midst of feeling hopeless. I was filled with despair. I couldn’t function. I rarely produce anything in those moments of absolute darkness, yet it seemed that writing would make the pain less meaningless.

 

One of the terrifying things about the darkest days is that there is no guarantee the light will dawn again. The desolation is such because it feels like the end of all goodness and life. Practically I wonder whether I will be able to work again; if I can’t work, then we won’t be able to afford to pay the mortgage or eat. Emotionally I wonder whether I will feel that dead and devoid of life forever; will I have to fake happiness from that day forth so my kids won’t worry about me. The fear then overcomes; perhaps I will be lost forever.

 

Yet that day was not the end. By late evening something had changed within me. By the next morning I was filled with gratitude; thankfulness for my life, my family and God.

 

In the midst of the pain I was unable to work, but once the blackness dissipated I had so much work to do that it has taken me almost three weeks to have the time to sit down and write what the other side of the darkness is like.

 

For me, it is in God that I find light. It is in the redemptive power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that I can be raised to new life. Counselling, anti-depressants and practices of journalling, resting and processing pain have been integral to my healing, yet above all those things is the knowledge that I am beloved of God. It is that which has pulled me through the darkest of days.

 

The reality of what was done to me, of the terrible experiences I went through are not the end.

 

Many ask, “Why does God allow suffering?” But as someone who has suffered I have found that to be the wrong question. Bad things happen. People choose to do terrible things. Yet, the question is, “Do we want to go through suffering alone or with the knowledge of a greater purpose, the truth of a God who suffered and died to show us love, the comfort of Holy Spirit?” Some people try to explain what my ex-husband did to me by reducing his culpability, “Broken people break people” is what they offer me, yet understanding the WHY of suffering will never lessen the pain or the consequences. It is those who have shared their suffering with me, those who have walked with me without the simple answers that have most helped me; not those who can reel off a list of verses (Jeremiah 29:11 comes to mind…) that offer a quick fix to my deeply broken spirit.

 

I cannot guarantee I will never have another day like the one I had a few weeks ago. But in this place, on the other side of the darkness, the knowledge of God’s love and a deep thankfulness for all I am and have is stronger than that which has gone before.