The Child We Left Behind

This morning Lynne, who wrote the letter which I answered in yesterday’s post, As a Christian, must she forgive the brother who raped her?, left a comment to that post which I wanted to share here.

Part of what Lynne wrote in her comment was:

Hello, this is the writer of the letter. I have not been able to read all of the comments, as they were a lot.

Last night I had a dream that I think came from many of the comments on the blog. I woke up and wrote a note to my counselor which I would like to share with you:

I had a dream last night that I went off on my mother. I know I’ve had these dreams before, but this one was more vivid. I have absolutely no idea what I said. I didn’t actually have words in the dream; I was just screaming a bunch of syllables at her. My entire family was sitting there at my grandmother’s dining room table.

I woke up feeling like I had been in a complete rage. My entire body was stiff. The one thing I think odd is that I felt like in the dream I was actually angry for somebody else. In the dream I think it was me as a little kid yelling at my mother. I felt like a little kid screaming at her, like I had a complete temper tantrum, and I think I would’ve thrown my toys at her if I had any around me.

Oh my God the dream was so raw and so vivid and talking about it just makes me more angry.

I think this started because I sent a letter to John Shore, where I told my story, and he asked for permission to post my letter on his blog. My letter and his response to it resulted in so many comments. Many of the comments were compassionate; a lot of them expressed anger against my family. Some of the comments talk about prosecution against my brother, and prosecution against my family.

I had to stop reading it was too much. It was good to read but I just had to stop .

It’s one thing to try to get angry for yourself. It’s another thing to have a couple of people in your life getting angry for you. But when that many strangers get angry on your behalf, it makes the reality a little easier to connect with.

I have been way too kind to my family. I’m doubtful that I’m going to go off on them. I don’t know that this will change how I interact with them currently.

What I do know right now is that I want very much to grab hold of that little girl, and hold her tight. They don’t matter here, but she does.

And she’s never been as angry as she was in my dream last night.

This is exactly how healing happens.

As threatened children we very quickly learn all kinds of coping mechanisms. One day follows the next; we don’t die; we survive—and sooner or later we find ourselves out in the world, to whatever degree functioning.

We become “adults.”

But the innocent, threatened child we were is still back there, in the safe place where we had to keep them in order to make sure they remained protected.

We went out into the world and “made it.”

But they’re still back there, patiently sitting on the edge of their bed, awaiting our return.

My little guy’s holding his baseball mitt. He’s wearing his Giant’s cap. He can’t wait for me to come play ball with him.

The threatened children we protected and kept safe by first surviving and then “making it” out in the world love us. About that we must never, ever be mistaken.

How could they not? We saved them. We protected them.

We’re their heroes!

And every step of our way they’ve been there, watching us, cheering us, awed by all the great, big, grown-up things we’ve learned to do.

We have jobs! We can drive cars!

We’re so awesome!

But when we’ve spent enough time doing grown-up things—when we know we really have survived, that things are now for us safe in a way that we can trust and depend upon—we can, finally, turn back around.

We can place ourselves in that long-ago hallway. We can walk back toward the bedroom in which we know our inner child sits waiting for us.

We can open the door of that bedroom. We can go inside.

We can sit on our old bed beside that child.

And we can hug and hug and hug them, until both of our arms are near to bursting.

And then, with one arm around the shoulders of that child, we can finally begin to listen to all that they’ve been waiting so patiently to say.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Nirakia Karin Kloppers via Facebook

    Your reply.. the whole process.. is just awesome.

  • Lori Olmstead Cipot via Facebook

    Just – WOW!!!

  • Susan Edwards Love via Facebook

    Every time I read one of these — the letter from someone hurting, your response, others’ comments — all I can say is wow. Thank you for being there.

  • Ashley C

    John, this honestly made me cry. Beautiful. Just Beautiful.

  • Valerie

    Lynne, I am amazed at your strength and courage. It takes a lot of both to do what you have done and move toward the healing that you deserve. It is easy to get lost in our own misery and think we are the only ones dealing with problems but trust me we are all in the same boat, we all have problems, some just have bigger ones than others. Sometimes we just need to know that someone cares, even a stranger, cares what happens to us. Keep up the faith and the counseling and I will keep you in my prayers.

  • Cynthia Haug-West via Facebook

    YES. Beautiful! Lynne’s words and yours are exactly what I mean when I say I am learning from my anger and learning to love myself–my WHOLE self, including my hurt little child *and* my present, still-hurting, grown-up self. Bless you both. And thank you. Thank you.

  • Melissa Chamberlin

    Getting angry is key. You have to stick up for yourself, no matter how irrational you feel in your adult self. You child self needs to be heard and then often needs to be “held” when the rant is over. I have never been able to get over anything without expressing my anger. Does this mean I am an angry person? It does, only if I leak out at people who do not deserve it. Leaking means that I have not dealt with something. Children are not rational beings, so to expect that child inside of you to be rational is expecting way too much. You can do this. Healing will come over time. Don’t rush it. This is for YOU, and no one else. Take your time and take care of yourself.

    • Melissa Chamberlin

      And don’t worry about hurting those that have hurt you…they can handle it. It is ok. Sometimes we have to blurt things out to get them out of our heads to examine them. You will realize your humanity and YOUR need to be forgiven in your life when you deal with forgiving others. It is a great process and one you will cherish once it is over. I have found myself much more willing to forgive after going through about a two year process of forgiving my horrendous childhood. It was the hardest two years of my life, but I am as free as I can be, and now see what I have learned as a result of my experiences. I am a pretty awesome person with much compassion. I am afraid much of who I am came from much of what I endured.

  • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne

    Oh John, thank you for writing this again. I will say that only a few months ago that “little girl” that got so ferociously angry last night laid in her bed, unable to move. I remember talking to my counselor about how I thought she was dead. I wasn’t even sure she was breathing. Through my own healing process (of which this is a part) she’s moved from the bed. A few weeks ago I saw her clinging to my leg. I’ve told her many times since I realized that she moved that she could climb up my body if she wanted to… that I would hold her.

    John, I could so easily cry over what you wrote. But alas, I’m at work, compartmentalizing it all. I pray so hard that what we’ve all written here will help heal the horrorible wounds of at least one person out there.

    Thank you… just thank you…

    Lynne

    • danielle

      Congratulations, Lynne; you don’t get this kind of breakthrough without a lot of courage and hard work. Now you can begin to heal and help that little girl to heal, too. God bless you on this journey.

      John–beautiful, perfect response.

  • http://www.facebook.com/phoebe.fennell Phoebe Fennell via Facebook

    Lynne, lady, you rock. That’s the way to do it. Step by step. And it’s true, when people are angry on our behalf, we suddenly realize that, jeeeez! Maybe it’s not so crazy to be angry about this after all!

    It’s Lent, it’s time to give up things that harm us, that keep us from God or that we hold tightly, but get in the way of our awareness of the sacred. Maybe this Lent, you could think about giving up being a “nice girl”. You don’t need to be quiet anymore, or ladylike, or polite, or in a box. You just need to be you, all of you, your whole experience. I’m working on giving up doing things the hard way; it’s a little bit of an addiction for me. Just a little. Because a big part of me doesn’t believe that I deserve to have anything other than hard work and suffering. But I’m working on that. And Lent is a good place to start. Sending you blessings, strength, and permission to be. Because sometimes it helps to have that from some one else. Even though you don’t need it.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/poetry Ric Booth

    I love what is written here, John.

    Lynne, I’ve gone through (and truth be told, am going through) much the same awakening process you’re experiencing. I remember once being asked by my therapist when some event occurred and I replied, matter-of-factly, “Oh, that was before I witnessed my little sister being molested.” My therapist gasped as I continued to talk, causing me to stop. That was how I divided my childhood. I’ll try to write more later. I’ve been praying for you.

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    That little girl has every reason and right to be angry. I’m so glad you are there to hear and make room for her anger, to acknowledge her and to hold her. What a remarkable journey you are on.

    • Sharla

      Indeed. And no forgiveness that is worth anything can happen until you experience your anger, then let it go. If you fight against it, bury it, pretend it isn’t there, it will destroy you (and do nothing to those who hurt you). Once you experience it and express it, then you can move forward, and that may one day include forgiveness (although in this case I wouldn’t recommend restoring relationship with monsters), but that happens when you’re ready, not on somebody else’s schedule.

  • Leslie

    Lynne, to me this sounds like a major breakthrough. Major. Anger so often is something we learn (especially abused kids learn) is not acceptable. Reclaiming anger towards something that is totally worthy of that anger allows us to move past that in our healing journey. I personally found that once I got really pissed off my healing started going much faster. I stayed in the anger for awhile and had to do lots of things to express it–art, breaking mirrors, throwing rocks in the water. But wow that anger is refreshing!

    • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne

      Yeah, no kidding Leslie. When I started counseling I was like a stone. I couldn’t feel a thing. I remember the day when I finally got pissed off enough to throw a glass bowl across the house (and boy did it SHATTER!) LOL!!!! Now it’s not so tough to get mad! It’s still a challenge but I can at least “feel” now.

      • Don Rappe

        I’m glad you can feel. I have a friend who, I think, can still not feel much. But, now you are safe. You can feel if you want to.

        • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne Garcia

          Your friend will probably feel when it seems safe to do so.

  • Mindy

    I can’t even touch this, yet. But thank you, so very much, for writing it.

  • Gillian Butler via Facebook

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  • anon.

    All evidence to the contrary, this left me speechless. And hopeful.

    I hope what you describe is a two-way street. Several decades back, there is a kind, guileless, happy child who knows the world can be a wonderful place. He disappeared, or I disappeared. Reading your post makes me hopeful we’ll find each other again.

  • Don Rappe

    There are many ways to understand the Resurrection of the dead. This is one of them. I believe it is the resurrection which comes before the healing which comes before the forgiveness. Resurrection is a miracle of God, to me.

    • Joe Snavely

      Well said Don.

    • LSS

      i have been listening over and over to the Leonard Cohen song Come Healing (lyrics here http://www.leonardcohen.com/ca/music/old-ideas/come-healing) as an easter song because i have trouble feeling anything about religion through the typical channels. and your comment made me realize why this song works.

      the whole lyrics apply to some survivor situations, but maybe especially something like these:

      “Behold the gates of mercy

      In arbitrary space

      And none of us deserving

      The cruelty or the grace

      O solitude of longing

      Where love has been confined

      Come healing of the body

      Come healing of the mind

      O see the darkness yielding

      That tore the light apart

      Come healing of the reason

      Come healing of the heart

      O troubled dust concealing

      An undivided love

      The Heart beneath is teaching

      To the broken Heart above”

    • Elizabeth

      Beautiful Don!

  • Amy

    John, thank you so much for what you’ve written. I needed to hear this message as much as Lynne did. I’ve been undergoing reiki therapy with a Christian practitioner as I try to overcome some health problems that have affected me after years of bullying and bad relationships. In my first reiki treatment, my inner child and I were dancing on a beach. I know she’s ready to tell me what I need to know, and I’m so anxious to hear what she has to say. I hope that she can help me learn to love myself again.

    Lynne, sweet lady, I cannot wait to hear what your inner child has to say! You will be in my thoughts and prayers. Isn’t it amazing to finally feel something? I’m coming off years of anti-depressants, and this morning it was an amazing experience just to rail on about something had happened and to tear up a couple of magazines and yell and cry. Whew…healing is beginning! Sending love and hugs your way!

  • Don Rappe

    Great picture John. Couldn’t be better!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thanks, Don–and thanks for all you do here.

  • Jeannie

    As a disabled child anger was dangerous to me. Anger expressed made people angry with me. I couldn’t fight back. I couldn’t even run away. I was nice, sweet, obedient, and happy. And I was oh so mature for my age. I took care of everybody’s problems. and didn’t ask for much. Eventually the anger had to come out. As a teenager I found it was safer to turn it inwards. Thus began my struggles with depression and eating disorders. Of course, those were risky too. Those were sin. Those made people angry and digusted with me, but not in a super dangerous way. And besides, I was already disgusted with myself.

    Gradually, very gradually, I have become more at home with all my emotions. My children scream at me sometimes. Some people ask me why I let them talk to me that way. You know what? It’s okay. I may not like it, I mean who likes being screamed at. But they aren’t afraid to show what they feel or be who they are. And they know I am not disgusted with them. They know I am safe to be with even if they are not being so wonderful. I hope that they will be a little more happy and authentic then I ever was.

    • LSS

      You bring out some really important complexities of how this kind of thing works out differently for different people.

  • Moreyn Kamenir via Facebook

    Mind officially blown. So simple. There are the steps for me to finish this job of healing…right there…you laid it all out for me. Now if I could just start to be aware in my dreams…daydreams should count though, right?

    • Don Rappe

      I believe so. Daydream and quite likely night dreams will also follow.

  • http://stitchinguptheseams.wordpress.com Stitch

    Thank you for this. So, so much. For the first time since I was a child, little Stitch is starting to show herself in little things, and it’s so precious to remember some of the sweeter moments of my childhood. Not that I had a horrible upbringing. I really didn’t. I was just…encased in fear and loneliness and anxiety all the time, never believing that I had any worth. And I still tend towards that…a lot. But sometimes revisiting my childhood, the fantasy games I would play after the lights were out, the songs I would sing to myself to calm me down enough to sleep, how I would hug myself and sing to myself after being bullied or while fearing that God was going to leave me behind…my old self-comforting mechanisms are sweet to me now. I feel as if I’ve rambled. Sorry for that. This just struck a chord with me.

    • Christy

      Hugs to you.

      • http://stitchinguptheseams.wordpress.com Stitching Seams

        (hug) Thanks, Christy.

    • http://Www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne

      . I remember the “night time games” so clearly… Staring out the window, watching the stars, thinking that god must live on one. I remember the spots I saw on the ceiling… There were dots all over the ceiling and I would draw little pictures with my “god” by connecting the dots.

      Hug to you Stitch. I wish the little one in me could play with the little one in you

  • Brighid Rose via Facebook

    john…you are the absolute best!!

  • Mindi

    I’m crying to hard to say anything but thank you. I needed to read this right now – Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, and for that little girl inside me – thank you.

  • Kathy Gheen

    So very moving. Amazing post and response(s).

  • Christy

    I’m a mascara-running, nose-dripping, lump-swallowing, sobbing mess. Whooo, man. Thank you seems hardly enough.

  • Jenna

    When I was a little girl, all I wanted was to be big, strong, and amazing. I thought it couldn’t happen.

    Well, now I’m all big, strong, and amazing. I love, and am loved. I touch people’s lives, and leave behind beautiful footprints. I’ve cried so hard, and the tears have softened my heart. I’ve laughed so hard, and it has opened my heart.

    I thought I would leave the organized church. I thought I could be strong in the knowledge that being queer was okay with God and that’s all that was necessary, but the human hate and the silence, it gets to me.

    Just as I thought about leaving, I went straight to my church home after work and prayed in the dark and quiet sanctuary, just me and God. I was soothed. I came to your blog, John, and was reassured. There is still a place for me, in God’s heart and His church. Thank you :).

    • DR

      That made me cry. I’m so glad.

  • Brena

    Perfect.

  • DR

    Speechless.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cindy-Wood/1130734009 Cindy Wood via Facebook

    John, you have a gift. Thank you for sharing it in a hurting world.

  • Josie

    Ok…third time I’ve tried to write this through the tears…

    John, you said, “The threatened children we protected and kept safe by first surviving and then “making it” out in the world love us. About that we must never, ever be mistaken. How could they not? We saved them. We protected them. We’re their heroes!”

    Oh… My… I spent so long believing that my interior innocent teenager HATED me for not doing a better job of protecting her. I always imagined her yelling at me for even going to the place where I got raped, for confiding in exactly the wrong person, and for “letting” my life fall apart for so long because of it. I wasted so, SO much time waging a totally, completely, wholeheartedly unneccessary battle… That young girl and I are okay now, but I never really put it in the amazing, loving terms you’ve described here, John.

    John, Lynne, and all of the wonderful posters here…I can’t thank you enough for the many and various ways you’ve helped me forge new thought patterns. God is SO working through all of you…what an awesome community has been formed here. I am eternally grateful to the supportive comments I received when John printed my post (about a pastor who told the 16-year-old me that I would have been better off dead than raped), and I have been SO deeply moved–both heartbroken and uplifted–by the stories that are shared here.

    Lynne, and so many others…prayers for you are on my heart and mind…love and peace to all.

    Damn…I’m crying again…

    • http://www.raanedrop.blogspot.com Lynne

      Wow Josie, I remember reading your story and was so moved by your experience. I remember being so puzzled and angry on your behalf. I’m so sorry for your experience. I will also pray for you. Wow, just wow.

  • Lee Walker

    John, this may be one of the most powerful, beautiful things you’ve written.

    Lynne, you are an inspiration. I don’t say it lightly. Truly you are. May your healing be full and soon now.

  • Dave Bowling

    John: Wow! I will never get over the way you ‘get it’ on so many levels with so many subjects. Your compassion shines through as you help a letter writer come to terms with an event and assist us (the readers) in a better understanding. Not sure where my inner little boy is sitting at this moment, but I know he related to your words.

  • http://MaleSurvivor.org John

    There are no words… Wow doesn’t seem to cover it. The tears flowed throughout that read to the point where it was difficult to see the screen. Thanks Lynn, John, and everyone for sharing your journey. Your words DO HAVE IMPACT, not only for yourselves but for countless ones who read or hear them.

  • louise

    I don’t have adequate words to say how much this meant to me. It is an “I get it” moment.

    Thank you.

  • Holly

    I don’t know what else to say but thank you. Your writing has inspired me, made me laugh and cry, made me think… but this one did something else. I have no words.

    Lynne- You telling your story – and your following comment- is appreciated beyond measure.

  • Holly

    I just read the other comments. Ha! You’ve left your commenters speechless John! What the hell!? =)

  • Lauren

    Wow. I needed to read this, and didn’t even know it until i did. I didn’t go through anything nearly as traumatic as Lynne, but the hurts and betrayals in my childhood were very real, nonetheless. But until now i’d never given a second thought to the kid-me i’d had to leave behind. Thank you, John, for sharing, and thank you to Lynne for writing her letter.

    I know the damage it does when we’re betrayed by someone who was supposed to love and protect us as children. I have no advice to give Lynne because i don’t really know how i got through it, myself; but she’s in my thoughts and prayers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Francesca-Arduini/1330194043 Francesca Arduini via Facebook

    <3

  • vj

    Hi John

    When I read Lynne’s comment, I was immediately reminded of the previous times you have written about ‘caring for the child you used to be’ – I’m so glad you’ve done so again. I remain in awe of the power of both your compassion and your ability to translate that into the written word.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thank you so much, vj.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/LostMyV/166054303459356 LostMyV via Facebook

    I thought it was fascinating how she wrote “But when that many strangers get angry on your behalf, it makes the reality a little easier to connect with.” Reminds me of the healing power of humanity and how important human connection is, especially coming from strangers. Thanks for sharing these letters!

  • Meloney

    Thank you.

  • sarita

    This has been well said and gently attended to on your site,

    John, and for that i thank you. When you survive the sexual abuse by a family member there is no way to really get rid of all the anger. you do move on, you do the steps, the things that you need to do. You confront if you can, but often families are just so embarassed that you are walking around, evidence of their failures that its hard to get resolution. i was lucky in that my abuser went through a very serious transformation in his life and when i finally confronted him, was genuinely ripped to his soul, confessional, not self serving or self justifying.. real.

    I once said to my mother, ‘I can forgive this family for chopping off my arm with an axe so to speak.. but it still means i live with one arm.’

    one strong arm.

    thank you for sharing and thank you for being a vehicle of grace and communication..

  • Chris Gillespie via Facebook

    The inner child does, in effect remain inside us for our whole life, often scared or ashamed to express itself because of repression. Our society encourages us to repress anything spontaneous, “emotional” or anything it qualifies as child-ISH. This tendency leads to extreme disfunction in our adult life, because we dissociate from and reject what is, in effect a part of ourselves. Today’s adult URGENTLY needs to reintegrate the scattered parts of himself back into a functioning whole.

    And that goes 100 times more for the inner child who has lived through powerlessness and abuse. To try and function in an adult body in the adult world… with a traumatised inner child… is an exercise in futility. You can only sit on this pressure cooker for so long before it will explode.

    I have some excellent material that can help anyone get in touch with their inner child for whatever reason. They are exercises you can (and should) do on your own, and are totally compatible with any religious belief system, as they are psychological rather than spiritual or religious. In effect you are your own psychologist.

    As the material is a copyright book, I will not make it publicly available, but if anyone would like the Word document I would be happy to send it to you as an email attachment. No cost, no pack drill, as is where is.

    Drop me an email to chrisofcolombia@gmail.com and I will send you the book as soon as I have an opportunity, no questions asked.

  • Michelle Mema Brooks via Facebook

    it’s hard to forgive an abuser, especially one that abused you as a child… it is possible, took me 30 years & a LOT of mistakes.

  • http://lichencraig.yahoo.com Lichen Craig

    Wow. My first novel was about this very thing – forgiving a rapist. Of course, my victim was an adult and lover, so it is different, but still painful.

    I think that as a Christian you are called to try to forgive. BUT I also think it helps if the perpetrator is remorseful and has understanding of the depth of the damage he has caused. Perhaps that is the key to helping the victim begin to heal and thus forgive.

  • http://smudgesonthewindow.blogspot.com Rudy

    I must say that I was initially a bit concerned about John’s initial response to this letter, but the more I read, the more I agreed with it. Miroslav Volf has a book out called Exclusion and Embrace which deals with this kind of forgiveness; however it looks at forgiveness from the perspective of the Serbian/Croatian conflict of the 90′s which were just as horrendous (if a comparison can be drawn). It is a difficult read, but one that is well worthwhile if one is to truly understand how forgiveness works, and John’s comments mirror these concepts perfectly.


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