“There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”
--Corrie ten Boom
In Chapter 4 of C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength a room is described that on the surface seems normal but if one considers it carefully it is discovered that it is not just ill-proportioned but has several distorted if not disturbing details. Growing up was like living in a small distorted room--the distortion is internalized and thought to be the reality. One internalizes the whims of a broken abusive person who slowly warps another to feed their own ego and gaslights to hide from condemnation.
And yet, I had more than that distorted reality. The Bible and reality of God entered my reality and placed it in a new context.
I was at the mercy of an ill individual who was most likely consumed by narcissism. They were a family member who also had many interactions with me at school. They were physically, mentally and emotionally abusive and would get violent and sometimes sadistic when they felt their authority was being questioned. For the longest time I had horrible images that would replay in my head over and over again of the person's face when they were angry and feel their hand around my throat or slamming me into a wall or again their face before they would slap me. I would also get hopelessly lost in contemplating the dynamic of someone who supposedly cared for me would abandon or harm me. Some of the more disturbing images I have in my mind are things done to other children I knew. Thankfully, nothing sexual happened to me--I only mention this because some people get more twisted ideas than I have in mind.
In my middle school years, I was yelled at almost every day and lived in constant fear. To make matters worse I was also bullied by the kids becoming one of two kids who had cooties to such a degree that no one would even stand on the same crack in the ground as me. Unlike most childhood games, this lasted years and was concentrated towards me and another boy on the autism spectrum. I was exhausted every day from crying and being yelled at and did not have the resources to defend myself verbally or physically since I learned quickly that I would only get in trouble for any outbursts. As a result, I spent every moment at school on high alert and completely isolated when someone was not trying to hurt me physically or emotionally.
Not surprisingly, I did not do well in school. I seldom paid attention and preferred to read a book, study Egyptology or try and learn hieroglyphics. Really, I engaged in anything that I was interested in and that allowed myself to completely drown out everything around me so that I could escape my constant fear if only for a moment. I would focus so much that I would not hear anything else around me even if a teacher was yelling at me to pay attention. If I had anything taken away or was told to pay attention I would retreat into a world of superheroes I created in my mind and go on adventures. Being put in the corner was never a problem as I would just resume a number of stories I was playing in my head. I only did homework when my mom forced me to and would constantly appeal to my "disability" when I would somehow "lose" it.
My abuser had decided I was not doing well in school because I was disabled and convinced my parents and teachers to have me tested. In the end, my parents took me to a school that did preliminary testing, but only on the condition that my parents consider putting me in their special ed program. Not surprisingly, I was said to be probably disabled though apparently, the exact preliminary disability didn't match since I could put a story that was told to me back in order and several other key details. My ability to learn hieroglyphics? I was such a "pictorial" person that I could memorize pictures and somehow retain information that way. The hieroglyphs represented sounds, not pictures. Everything I did was explained through the lens of my disability. My test scores were all over the map too since I used to fill them in randomly when I had a headache and didn't want to do it anymore. I didn't know any of my diagnosis was fake. I was just told that I was tested and found to be disabled and this was why I couldn't learn like "normal" people.
Since then, I always wanted to be a "normal" person. Not the smartest or most talented, but minimally competant.
For much of my life I had constant headaches every day that also made it difficult to concentrate when I wanted to. I've actually had them until about 3 years ago now. Later I found out it was probably connected to whiplash injuries from a possible "accident." I was never in a car crash but can think of a few instances when they could have happened. When I got chiropractic help as an adult my fatigue and tension headaches went away.
The person would also drive me angrily to remote locations and pretend to leave me there when I would challenge their authority. Possibly when I would stand up for other children or question something (I was always asking pesky why questions). They didn't always leave me for good but once when I was older they left me miles out surrounded by dirt roads in scorching heat. Thankfully a cop found me and took me home. For a very long time and even still a little bit I was terrified of people leaving me or being lost. For a while, it crippled my ability to drive anywhere new by myself. My family thought it was because I had bad direction sense rather than severe PTSD and would make fun of me for it. I believed I was just too incompetent too.
Not surprisingly, I was miserable almost every day when I was younger and wanted to die constantly. I believed no one loved me--except maybe my dad and cat--that I was abnormal, unlikeable and stupid. I truly believed no one would miss me and just wanted the constant pain to go away. Far worse than the constant dread was the isolation and feeling like I was under a constant microscope. As a result, I would dress exactly the same every day. Any change was scary because I did not know if I would get harmed or picked on for it. I also developed many internal coping strategies to get through the day where I could numb myself and feel nothing for long stretches until I was somewhere safe. I was extremely compartmentalized. After a while, I resisted any physical contact from adults and would shudder and hide if they wanted to give me a hug. I was usually forced to and so I would disconnect and go through the motions so it would be over soon. For a long while as a young adult, it would feel like acid if someone brushed up against me and I couldn't stand the thought of a single loving touch and I avoided hugs like the plague. I made exceptions if someone was in pain and needed one.
However, in my isolation, I was not alone.
I already had a relationship with God (see part 1) and thankfully, church itself was a refuge. No one tried to hurt me there and I loved learning more about God. I was always encouraged to ask questions and follow my curiosity or be part of adult conversations whether they were with men or women. I still believed myself to be disabled and even thought the way I thought was disordered, but I was just so curious! I would even ask God questions sometimes and get answers in that quiet voice (so quiet you never quite know if it is him or not). I wanted to know why he loved us--I was in the habit of asking many why questions--and got a "because" of who he was. All love came back to him.
And God was with me throughout my days. I talked to him throughout the day and would try and listen. As a result, I believed paradoxes. And thank God for paradoxes! I understood that all worth was based in him and that he was a God of love. I knew this already by experience and when he would tell me he loved me and that I was valuable I believed him in tears even though in moments and seasons I believed I was unloveable. I also read the Bible. I read about Jesus hanging out with the untouchables and chose to use the unlikely in powerful ways and was encouraged. I knew that if Jesus visited our school he would sit with me since I was the one by myself. I knew he loved the other boy who cried when his giga pet was taken away because it was his only friend. God would also encourage me to help classmates in little ways, even if they were unkind. I was always afraid because I was untouchable, but if someone would drop everything and no one else was around I would help. This was probably one of the more difficult things for me because of the fear. God taught me through that inner voice and through the Bible that he loved everyone very much and very precisely, kind and unkind.
During this confusing time, I was on constant alert always feeling threatened and constantly turning inwards to hide. At the same time, God gave me a sense of value, an aspect of my identity that was not warped and also turned me outward to see others and to do my best to love them. I could love others because God loved me and saw all that was hidden, lost, ugly and crushed.
I am not perfect by any stretch, but I will say it is nice being an adult now and on the other side of ample processing.
Part 3 to come.