If you’ve ever been sexually abused, you may find yourself struggling with the long-term and crippling effects of it. It took me years to realize that I was more than what happened to me.
I am M.O.R.E. than the bullies at school, or the title 1 classes I was placed in, or the preppies who denied me a seat at the lunch table.
I am M.O.R.E than the shack I grew up in, or the food stamps that fed me, or the hand-me-downs I wore.
I am M.O.R.E. than the negative thoughts that took up space in my head, or the secret society of self-loathing I subscribed to, or the labels placed upon me by others.
I am M.O.R.E. than the resentment I held on to, or the depression that encroached upon me, or the suicidal thoughts that pressured me.
I am M.O.R.E. than the sexual abuse I endured as a child, or the rape I suffered in my youth, or the guilt and the shame associated with it.
I am M.O.R.E. than the intimidation tactics used against me, or the twenty-days in jail my assailant got, or the rejection received by those who took his side.
I am M.O.R.E. than a conqueror…and you can be too!
Call me crazy, but don’t call me a survivor
I don’t like to refer to myself as a survivor, and neither should you!
Because words have power, like light switches and toaster ovens and V-8 engines. The term survivor can carry the connotation of “I barely made it” or “I’m hanging on by an ever-thinning thread,” and in return, generate sympathetic responses, like: “You poor thing,” or “However did you manage?” and If not careful, we can subconsciously become dependent on the daily sediments, in order to fill a void.
Alexander the Great isn’t known for being a survivor. He’s known for being a conqueror; I didn’t merely survive the debilitating effects of a rampant childhood disease, or should I say, sexual abuse—I overcame them! I didn’t settle for a mental wheelchair or emotional leg braces or spiritual crutches--I triumphed.
I rehabbed my way to walking free!
Firstly, the term survivor can put a cap on our emotional and spiritual healing, which can cause us to settle for mediocrity, like the wheelchair and braces and crutches and excuses and hang-ups and dysfunction and hyper-sensitivity and overactive-defensiveness and drop-of-the-hat rage and waffling self-talk. Need I say more?
Secondly, the word survivor is like a weed. Before you know it, you're standing in a toxic pond; neck-deep in sludge; surrounded by mental marsh, and leeches, and lily pads, and hungry alligators; while waiting to be rescued from the despairing, persistent, mundane, tie-dyed word that you’ve labeled yourself.
There is healing, and then there is wholeness
The difference between the two is driving through life on four good tires versus driving through life on three good tires and a spare. Here, let me show you.
There’s a story in the Bible about ten lepers; all were healed, but only one was made whole (the leper who came back). Maybe, just maybe, the one that came back said to Jesus, “Call me crazy, but don’t call me a survivor.” Nonetheless, Jesus said to him, “Your faith has made you whole.” Not only was the man cured of his terrible skin disease, but grace showed up, and did that amazing thing it does; it restored fingers, and toes, and ears—and not, in a hack-job kind-of-way.
Here’s how I know. The Greek word for ‘whole’ is holos or holokleros meaning, entire and complete or physical wholeness.
In my adulthood, I was left feeling pummeled and disturbed. Although my childhood wounds had healed, meaning, I wasn’t in emotional pain anymore; I still found myself operating from a place of dysfunction.
How do you mean?
Let me explain. Many years ago, I had my nose broken in a horrific accident; it relocated to just under my right eye. The plastic surgeon waited fourteen days for the bone to heal, and on the fifteenth day, he re-broke the breaks, moved the bone back into place, and reconstructed a new nose with a chisel and a hammer. Was all that necessary? No. Not if I was content to stay that way. I wasn’t experiencing any physical discomfort or pain, and my sniffer, in spite of having a new home, still worked. I can say, however, it was necessary if I wanted to avert the stares and glares at the super market, and avoid the number one question asked of me: “Did your husband do that to you?”
Thankfully, the surgery corrected the damage that left me maimed and feeling like a circus freak, which in return boosted my self-esteem, and lastly, prevented me from carrying resentment for the kid at the park, and the parent, who had an untimely lapse in judgement.
Time, Space, and Visibility
Earlier this week, my dog, Truitt, hurt his foot, and for half the week he hopped around on three legs. As I was walking him, and he became preoccupied with the sniffing, as dog's often do, he went from hopping on three legs to using all four, that is—until he realized he was doing it. Even though, he was able to walk on all-fours, the hesitation and sudden withdrawal came from a place of fear, which prevented him from moving past the hurt.
However, after my surgery, I was sent home with a protective mask to wear for two weeks. The mask was uncomfortable, and sweaty, and made it difficult to breathe, but months later, I found myself still reaching for it. Without it, I slept with my back to my husband to avoid the occasional sleeping-elbow or forehead bump, I held my head away when holding my baby to guard against head-throws, and I walked with my eyes glued to the ground, as the first line of defense against flying objects, like baseballs, and footballs, and Nerf darts that rained from the sky.
Consequently, every sudden and quick movement gave me a knee-jerk reaction. Why? Because it caused me to remember, if only for a millisecond—that moment. It brought back the fear of feeling around with my hands on my face for my nose, the popping sound of the bone breaking, the pain, the trauma, and let’s not forget, the blood! It caused me to recoil, and like Truitt, it prevented me from moving past the hurt.
We do this all the time. We allow for time, space, and visibility, in hopes to avoid emotional nicks, fender benders, and full-on accidents. There’s a verse in the Bible that says, “…but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.”
Moving Past the Past
So, how do you get all-fours on the ground? Well, following the incident in the park, I went to the plastic surgeon, and was astonished at the cost of fixing what someone else had done. The plastic surgeon showed me the x-ray and explained that it was the worst break he’d ever seen, even worse than a boxer’s nose. Unfortunately for me, my husband was laid off from work just days prior. I remember all too well, sitting in the office and telling the doctor, “I don’t have insurance. I can’t afford this.” Fighting back tears, I said, “I’m just going to have to leave it this way.” The doctor asked me to wait there, while he stepped out of the room. Several minutes later, he returned and said, “I can’t leave you like this. I’m going to fix it for free!” The surgeon’s willingness to do the work was not just grace, but amazing grace. Thankfully, we have a Merciful God, who won’t leave us twisting in deformity. He offers wholeness, at no cost!
The leper that came back wasn’t just healed, he was made whole, so call me crazy, but don’t call me a survivor. However true the word may be, it lacks wholeness and progressiveness—it reaches backward and not forward. It points to a specific time, and place, and event, causing our human mind to do that thing it does: give time, and space, and visibility, and keep people at arms-length. I am more than what happened to me, and, as cliché as it may sound, my past doesn’t equal my future!
Keep in mind, you’re only as strong as your weakest think. Change starts between the ears, and like my husband says, “You’re the only person in your head.” I’m challenging the way society has conditioned us to think and to speak, by pulling back the curtain to reveal the little change that could make a huge difference for the thirty-four million, who like myself have suffered from sexual assault.
Kind of petty? No, not really. Just ask a chiropractor—one bone out of alignment can affect the entire human body. In the same way, one word, can affect the way we talk, walk, and view ourselves. The term survivor gives you a few inches of light to stand in, while the word conqueror, gives you the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Finally, I ask: when have you ever heard someone say, “I survived my fear of bridges,” or “I survived my fear of spiders?” Dare I say, never. I’m not content with being called a survivor, because my Bible tells me a different story. Romans 8:37 inspires me to believe, I am M.O.R.E than that—I am a conqueror!
I Am M.O.R.E., and so are you!