January brings a great sigh of relief as the holidays can be tough for those of us with fractured families. As I’ve spent the past several weeks thinking and praying about what this means for myself and for the many others like me, I’ve struggled to accept that there is precious little written about life satisfaction as an adult who is estranged from a family of origin. The social stigma is stifling, within the church it is even more so. It leaves myself and those like me with an unavoidable sense of isolation. Most people just don’t understand. They want to fix the problem and will often suggest to me things that I could/should do to mend the relationships with my family. But what they don’t see and can’t possibly understand is that I spent the first 34 years of my life fighting to mend relationships that were broken from the get-go. I fought so hard that I almost died. When the symptoms of complex trauma threatened to swallow me whole, God intervened and pulled me to the emotional safety of physical estrangement from my family of origin.
We are born into families because God intended that to be the place where love, safety, education and tradition set us on a path of lifelong success. But when those families have traditions that contain toxic threads of abuse and dysfunction, we have to make the agonizing decision to walk away from the family parties, happy moments and precarious relationships of fleeting trust. I miss the Christmas Eve dinners of stuffed pork-chops and Mom’s rolls and then opening Christmas Eve gifts of pajamas and a book. I miss my Mom and Dad’s hugs so much that I physically ache. I miss Sunday dinners with buttermilk biscuits and Diet Coke. I miss curling up in a big, oversized chair and listening to the happy chatter of family. Why then, are we estranged?
Underneath all of the happy traditions and precious moments there is a dark thread of sexual abuse. Not by my Father or Mother, but it was there just the same. The numbers of family members that it touched was few but for those people, it was devastating and all consuming beyond belief or comprehension. God designed physical intimacy to be a sacred thing and when something sacred is violated, the end result is devastating.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said,
“Physical intimacy is not only a symbolic union between a husband and a wife—the very uniting of their souls—but it is also symbolic of a shared relationship between them and their Father in Heaven. He is immortal and perfect. We are mortal and imperfect. Nevertheless we seek ways even in mortality whereby we can unite with Him spiritually. In so doing we gain some access to both the grace and the majesty of His power….[There] are moments when we quite literally unite our will with God’s will, our spirit with His spirit, where communion through the veil becomes very real. At such moments we not only acknowledge His divinity but we quite literally take something of that divinity to ourselves. One aspect of that divinity given to virtually all men and women is the use of His power to create a human body, that wonder of all wonders, a genetically and spiritually unique being never before seen in the history of the world and never to be duplicated again in all the ages of eternity. A child, your child—with eyes and ears and fingers and toes and a future of unspeakable grandeur.”
This kind of pain scars our very souls, but it isn’t something to be ignored. On the contrary, it’s the kind of pain that demands that we respect the violation that was committed against us and do whatever is necessary to prevent it from happening to our children. My pain is a reminder of the sacrifices that I’ve made but it is also a testimony that speaks against my abusers. This pain isn’t about something that needs to be fixed anymore because with God’s help, it’s already been fixed. Instead, I choose to embrace my pain and to be grateful for the reminders that it contains. It reminds me that I’m human and will make mistakes. It reminds me that my family is human and that I must hold onto the forgiveness that I’ve already granted them. It’s also a tangible reminder that even though they’ve been forgiven, they cannot be trusted. Our pain is a resolute statement.
And so I breathe a sigh of relief. One more year down. One more year of progress and healing under my belt. One more year of watching my amazing children grow and thrive, free from the effects of abuse. One more holiday season wrapped up – the good, the bad and everything in-between.