Celebrate Recovery and Life Recovery are Christian recovery groups that help people deal with a range of life controlling problems. According to the Celebrate Recovery website: "Recovery is a two-step process for victims of abuse. The first step is healing from the traumas done to us in our past, and the second step is healing from the influence these past experiences continue to have in our present lives... We look to God for the power to make us whole." I attend a Celebrate Recovery group and have been working with the Celebrate Recovery and Life Recovery materials for some time. Both are great resources in emotional healing, though I do think that most survivors will also benefit from counseling.
Healing and recovery from the emotional damage of child abuse is a complex process. While recovery and fellowship groups are wonderful, one on one counseling is the best place to explore deep seated issues. Most counties in the U.S. have a Women's Resource Center or Domestic Abuse Center that provides free counseling for survivors of physical or sexual abuse. If you can't find a center in your area you can contact RAINN for a referral. For those who can afford it, private counseling offers a chance to build a supportive, therapeutic relationship. I have utilized resource center counseling and private therapy and can recommend both.
Christian fellowship can help anyone in recovery build or rebuild their support system. Many churches offer separate Bible studies and fellowship groups for men and women. Some host groups like Celebrate Recovery. Pastors may also be able to make needed referrals for counseling. I'm a member of an Assembly of God church. The Assembly of God believes that spiritual healing is available to all Christians (though not guaranteed) which I find helpful. Like many charismatic churches, the Assembly of God offers altar calls and the opportunity to have someone pray for you during services. Although a church should not be your only resource in healing, the fellowship it provides really does help.
To me, refusing available resources because we are relying on God to heal us is very like testing Him, which Jesus Himself didn't do (Mat. 4:7). Having said that, I believe that God is our number one resource in healing. While some people are healed in an instant, I have experienced healing and restoration incrementally through prayer, Bible study and the Holy Spirit. So I do believe that God heals. His timeline may not be the timeline we are looking for, but He knows what He is doing and His plan is always the right one. If you have questions about divine healing as presented in Scripture, please see the following Assembly of God position paper: Divine Healing.
I explore themes of healing and faith through story, writing under the pen name of Barbara Graver. I also write nonfiction and am creating a new blog about faith, emotional healing and creativity. In addition to writing , I study Bible and Doctrine at the Berean School of the Bible, try to keep up with a big old house, go church, attend Celebrate Recovery and spend time with my family.
What follows is my story. While it doesn't cover all the ways that childhood sexual abuse affected me, if you're a survivor I hope it will help you feel a little less alone. It wasn't easy for me to share this. But I believe that God has called me to be brave.
My abuse began at a young age. As a result I had issues with sleep, trouble getting along with others and episodes of anxiety from early childhood onward. By sixth grade I was so depressed that I remember every day as overcast. In middle school the anger kicked in - along with a fascination with the occult that I would revisit several times over the years. By the time I was 14 I had developed an eating disorder and was using alcohol. A year later, I was deeply involved with drugs and from that point on my destructive behavior spiraled.
I had issues with substances into adulthood though I now had a career, a home and a family. I left my marriage when my youngest son was two. From then on, I raised my three boys on my own, supporting my family by working long hours as a registered nurse. I was no longer using substances but I was still troubled by insomnia, nightmares, anxiety and anger. Things looked okay on the outside but on the inside I was suffering - and so was everyone around me.
When I was in my thirties, my oldest son was seriously disabled in a car accident. In addition to devastating our family, this was the death knell in my relationship with the Catholic church. With no spiritual anchor whatsoever, a host of problem behaviors returned full force. I became involved in secular recovery. But the issues my son's accident had triggered were not so easily resolved and I became more and more depressed.
At the depth of my despair, God reached out to me through a beautiful and very unusual dream. But instead of following the guidance I was given, I allowed myself to be drawn into the spiritual deception of the new age and the occult.
Seven years later, a life threatening health crisis with my youngest son led me to question my new age belief system. While I didn't realize it then, this was my first step toward freedom. In 2017, I became a born again Christian. A few months later a life changing encounter with the Holy Spirit showed me that it was time to learn how to forgive both my family and myself.
I joined a nondenominational evangelical church which I ultimately realized was not a good fit. Then I discovered John Wesley and finally the Assembly of God. I began to grow as a Christian. But I knew that I still wasn't fully living the life God intended - or answering His call. Then, thanks to the courage of a woman in my church who shared her own story of childhood trauma, I began to think about how my history had impacted me. I realized that it was no coincidence that I was still struggling with food, overspending and low self-esteem.
Feeling that something was missing in the secular recovery groups I was familiar with, I decided to see if Christian recovery could help. I'm currently working through my problems with food and overspending in Celebrate Recovery and private counseling. But my self-esteem issues are still very much a work in progress.
As most survivors know low self-esteem can be debilitating. In my case, poor self-image undermines my confidence in my writing and my ability to reach out to others both of which I believe God has called me to do. While I now realize that for most survivors emotional healing is ongoing, I feel blessed to be able to lean on Jesus in this journey to restoration. To me, just the fact that I can put this testimony 'out there' after decades of silence is proof that He really does transform us.
Adult survivors of childhood abuse and neglect are at risk for revictimization, physical and mental health problems, suicide, eating disorders , obesity, alcohol and substance abuse, high risk sexual behavior, and homelessness (AIFS). While most adult survivors don't continue the cycle of abuse, sadly some will pass it on to their children (AIFS). Child abuse also negatively impacts self-esteem. Because sexual abuse, in particular, is often normalized in the family of origin, many survivors don't see a connection between childhood trauma and later adult dysfunction. Since survivors often blame themselves for all problem behaviors, their already shaky self-esteem takes additional damage - as did mine. This makes healing difficult.
From the RAINN website: "Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 5 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison. From 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse. 34% of victims of sexual assault and rape are under age 12." Sadly, the younger the child the less likely it is that they will be heard. According to one study, two-thirds of people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children (Swon 1998). I believe that childhood sexual abuse is still grossly under reported and that the collateral damage it causes is impossible to estimate.
Feed coming soon