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This is where I occasionally write a piece about the healing process that I began back in 2000. You can provide anonymous feedback (which I'd find very motivating) by clicking one of the numbers under each post, rating it on a scale of 1 (awful) to 10 (awesome). You can also feed the fish by clicking on the water.

If you're looking for specific information on the Child Sexual Abuse issue, please scroll down to the bottom of this page and click one of the links of The Askios Projects. If you don't know which link you need, start with Askios 2010 which has information about all the projects.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Saving the world.

Mother Teresa did it, why can't I?

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only abuse survivor who thinks this way. We can do it, and do it so well. One of the reasons we're more sensitive to other people's pain is that we recognise it. We know how much life can hurt, and it hurts us again when we think of others having to experience such feelings .. feelings of pain, fear, loneliness, abandonment, confusion, loss, grief .. and unlike the college ragger* who feels justified in teasing his juniors simply because he was teased by his seniors, the majority of us abuse survivors will not go on to abuse another generation.

We're out to save the world, and that is a lovely thing on the face of it. The problem is that as abuse survivors, we're usually out to save every single person in the world, save one. Ourselves.

Here's a terrible secret:  we're not Mother Teresa. We're not founts of unconditional love. We're not even noble martyrs.  Apart from our sensitivity to the pain of others, we have a hidden agenda. We want to be loved. We want to feel worthwhile. We want the world to know that we're not the bad, useless pieces of trash that we secretly suspect we are. We want to reassure ourselves that maybe we aren't.

This is such a deep secret that it's a secret even from ourselves. 

In spite of our hidden-even-from-ourselves agenda, we will get a lot done. We will save some lives. We will change some attitudes. We will bring some hope. But we will do all this at the cost of ourselves. It's wonderful, all that we have done, and will do, for the world. But alongside our messages of peace or justice or compassion, there's another. It doesn't negate the fine work we do. But people learn by example. What we do, not just what we say. If I treat myself like dirt, while serving the world, the world will, of course, lap it up. But the world will also learn from us that self-compassion doesn't matter. And it does. I have it on good authority that it does. Jesus didn't say, "Love thy neighbour". He said, "Love thy neighbour as thyself."

If you're not an abuse survivor, you may wonder why I consider this such a big deal. Actually, even if you ARE an abuse survivor, you're likely to wonder the same thing. It's because we survivors are so good at hurting ourselves, because it's almost second nature. We learned long ago that there was something wrong with us. We understood when we were children, that our problems were ours alone, and not worthy of attention or sympathy. Do we really want today's child victims of abuse growing up thinking the same thing?

Mother Teresa did not have leprosy. And if she had, she would have treated herself with the same dignity, care and compassion that she treated every leper she met. She wouldn't have let her own wounds grow septic, or look at herself in the mirror with scorn and disgust, ignore the medicines on her dresser, then head out to tend to others in the same condition.

I think it's something to remember the next time I'm tempted to bend over backwards for someone, IF IT MEANS that I will be harming myself.  Because I now know enough about being a survivor to know that this is just what I will do. I need to set boundaries - limits to what I can and cannot do. I need to learn how to say "no". I need to start telling the difference between truly helping or just enabling. I need to start exploring why it is that I can treat myself with a degree of disrespect and cruelty that I would never dream of imposing upon others.

I need to do all this because my childhood was raped and my life has been affected by that more deeply than I'd like to admit. But now that I know the hows and whys of those effects, it's my responsibility to see that I don't hurt myself any more than I have been.

This doesn't mean being "selfish". It means being loving towards myself, just as I am to others. It means that I value and respect all life, all of God's creations. Including me. I may want to save the world, and I certainly will continue to try and do so. But as a survivor, I have a tendency to give more than I should. Blood donors don't drain their bodies of every drop. They give what they can afford to. They give and it hurts, but it does not harm. And their blood will only help someone else, if they themselves are healthy.

All of this boils down to two things:

1. I matter. My life and my happiness and my health matter. If I can't treat myself with love, then whatever it is I am giving the world, it's not true love, and I'm nowhere near Mother Teresa.

2. Even if I can't yet bring myself to accept that "I matter", I need to understand that no matter how much "blood" I "donate", it's polluted. So whether it's my blood, sweat or tears, I need it to be pure and healthy, untainted by my distorted thinking about myself.

Moral of the story:  Because I'm a survivor, I need to take extra care, more than others would, of caring for myself. We can save the world, and perhaps we will, but we mustn't leave ourselves out in the process.

* ragging is the term used in India. I believe it's called hazing in the USA.

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