Click here to view Committed to Freedom’s latest issue of Roadside Assistance. This article discusses the stress and tension that many abuse survivors live with and how to better manage being overwhelmed and out-of-balance.

Please take our survey

October 10, 2011

Committed to Freedom is thinking about offering Abuse Recovery Coaching sessions. Please click this link to take our survey.

Self Sabotage

October 6, 2011

Food, Glorious Food!

September 29, 2011

Food by artist Lynette Yencho

The most immediate and terrifying realization that any abuse victim comes to is that they have little control over what is happening to them. What little power they have is not enough to fend off abuse. What’s happening to their bodies is beyond their control. This sets up a vicious cycle for dysfunctional survival that can last a lifetime if you’re not careful.

The set up goes something like this: Your abuser misused his or her power against you. When that happened, they took away your sense of personal empowerment and hijacked the control you should have had over your body and your life. That damaging experience of being without power and control placed you on a lifelong quest to regain power and control over what happens to you and your body.

This quest can impact every area of your life, but there is one issue that’s a struggle for many, many abuse survivors: the relationship we have with food. Food is not a luxury, it is a necessity, but it is one that can easily get out of balance for anybody. This is especially true for abuse survivors when we hate our bodies.

It’s common to blame the weakness or the gender of our bodies for the abuse we experienced. But let’s be clear about this: your abuser is the one to blame! Not your body, your size, your strength, your gender, or your appearance. Please remind yourself of that fact often as you navigate through the debris that your abuser left behind for you to deal with.

This negative view of your body carries over to the struggle many survivors have with food. Abuse is traumatic and often impacts your brain function in such a way that your internal regulators, designed to tell you when you’re hungry or full, may be malfunctioning. In addition, food can be viewed as a way to self-comfort or exert some degree of power and control over what happens to your body.

When food is used to comfort, the food choices are often high in fat, sugar, and calories, probably ingested in portions that are too large, and consumed too quickly for the brain to send out the “you’re full” signal. This is why many abuse survivors are overweight or obese. When food is used to exert power and control, it is your way of convincing yourself that you have some degree of say in what happens to your own body. For example, to starve yourself when everyone is telling you to eat is a dysfunctional way to claim control over your body. After all, abuse takes away the power to control what happens to your body, but the way you eat returns some degree of that power and control.

Eating disorders are highly complex, and this is a very superficial treatment that doesn’t touch on many key points, such as body image. I encourage you to seek professional help if you struggle in your relationship with food.  I encourage you to begin with information from the National Institute on Mental Health by clicking this link if you want to know more about eating disorders and treatment.

For abuse survivors, the tentacles of being powerless reach far into the heart, mind, and body and throw everything out of balance. Yes, others struggle with obesity, anorexia, bulimia, and food hoarding, but the inner workings for an abuse survivor include a relentless search for power and control over one’s own body. This takes on different forms for different people, but at the heart of it all is the insatiable appetite to reclaim the right to decide what happens to your own flesh.

Recovery involves learning how to live in your own skin and appreciate your body in a way that reflects the dignity God created for you to enjoy. This goes beyond diet and exercise. It goes to the heart of what it means to reclaim what was hijacked. To treat food as a friend and not an enemy. To shift your focus from “I live to eat (or not eat)” to “I eat to live.”

Your relationship with food extends to making a spiritual transition that cares for your body as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19, New Testament Bible), a temple that is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14, Hebrew Bible), and to be celebrated as a holy vessel. This, in turn, helps us to reclaim the balanced relationship God designed us to have with food.

Food! Glorious Food

I added this just because, well, I love the song. This is from Hey! Mr. Producer!, a concert to honor Cameron Mackintosh and performed as a benefit for the Royal National Institute of the Blind and the Combined Theatrical Charities. It was staged by Bob Avian and presented at the Lyceum Theatre in London on June 7 & 8, 1998.
 

Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom - Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

Just a Reminder

September 27, 2011

You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
-Psalm 58:11
Hebrew Bible

Secret Self

September 22, 2011

This is a picture of me when I was seven years old. At first glance, this is a child who is happy and innocent, but what you see is a master secret keeper. A convincing liar. Only one part of the whole story. You see, the same year that this photo was taken, my grandfather was sexually abusing me. No one else knew. It would be decades before I told anyone other than my husband.

Living a secret life is a skill set that most abuse survivors develop early on. It’s also a skill set that can keep you unhealthy and isolated. Shame and fear become the brick and mortar of your secret self, keeping unhealthy habits and dangerous behaviors walled in and unreachable.

You learn to be a chameleon, able to change into whatever role that the world you’re in requires of you. In the real world – the world of work, school, family, faith, and community – you present yourself one way. In an alternate world, you cultivate secret emotions, secret actions, and secret behaviors.

Even with your secret self, it’s important to understand that there is a balance to all this. Indeed, there are times when revealing your true feelings and real self might not be respected or appropriate. Those are the times when you make the decision to leave parts of yourself unknown to others, and that’s an entirely healthy thing to do in many circumstances.

But I want to return to those secrets that fester because of shame and fear. These are the ones that keep dysfunction and self-sabotage alive. These are the ones that prevent you from reaching out for help for fear of rejection or negative consequences.

One of the biggest shock for most survivors is the discovery that their struggles – be it with rage, sexual issues, intimacy and trust, addiction, or self injury (to name a few) – are not unique. You see, when you’re a victim of abuse, you have to figure out a way to deal with your reality. What started out as a means of survival often takes a toxic turn as we age and the secrets can become infected and self-destructive.

One of the great avenues that people of faith have is to include God in the abuse recovery process. We have been given an open invitation to share our load without fear of rejection. One of the most comforting passages of Scripture – at least to me – is when Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, New Testament Bible). This is an ongoing invitation without a limited number of times we can go to him, and without an expiration date.

Including God in your recovery doesn’t mean you ignore the help of mature, wise friends or the expert guidance of a therapist. It means you have many options to help lance the infected wounds of your secret self and find healthier ways to manage the issues that have come about because of abuse.

This week, take some to time write (or draw or collage) about your secrets and your secret self. Destroy it after you’re done, if you need to, but get it out of your inner sanctum and start to deal with it on the outside rather than the inside. Sometimes an act as simple as that can be a powerful step in your journey beyond abuse. Consider reading it as a prayer to God and asking for help to carry that heavy load. Also consider discussing these secrets with a mental health professional or a trusted, mature friend. Be careful about who you share this with, because the last thing you need is a person who might not handle you or your secrets well.

Getting healthy is risky, at times. If nothing else, share those risks with a piece of paper or a computer screen. The next step – seeking God or human help – will be a bit easier if you do.
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom - Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

Just a Reminder

September 20, 2011

The worst prison is a closed heart.

- Pope John Paul II

Addicted to . . . Everything

September 15, 2011

Addiction.  When you hear that word, you probably think about substance abuse or gambling or smoking, but those are merely the vehicles for addiction – not addiction. What does this have to do with you? Well, abuse survivors are often people who live in extreme ways and have behaviors that could be characterized as addiction.

It may not be liquor or drugs, but there are many behaviors that survivors struggle with to the point that they become addictions. Food. Shopping. Sex. TV. Facebook or Twitter. Video or online games. Texting. Self Injury. Work. Sports. Working out. Hobbies. On and on the list can go, but the common feature is that a behavior becomes intrusive and often destructive. 

For any addict, the problem isn’t the behavior, it’s the addiction. New research by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) found a link between brain dysfunction and addiction – regardless of what that behavior is. The behaviors are considered symptoms – the brain dysfunction is called addiction. So let’s unpack this and take a good look at the behaviors you might practice in such an extreme way that they interfere with your life, your job, and your relationships.

One reason that abuse survivors often struggle with addiction is the impact of trauma on how the brain functions. The study cites that “psychological and environmental factors, such as exposure to trauma or overwhelming stress, distorted ideas about life’s meaning, a damaged sense of self, and breakdown in connections with others and with the transcendent (referred to as God by many, the Higher Power by 12-steps groups, or higher consciousness by others) influence how addiction develops.”

This makes abuse survivors prime candidates for developing intrusive addictions. It explains why so many of us struggle with compulsions and addictions that require every ounce of energy we possess to refrain from acting on them. The ASAM recognizes that this is a “bio-psycho-socio-spiritual illness characterized by (a) damaged decision-making (affecting learning, perception, and judgment) and by (b) persistent risk and/or recurrence of relapse . . . The bad behaviors themselves are all symptoms of addiction, not the disease itself.”

If you find yourself in the endless cycle of addiction – be it with heroin or credit cards – you need to know that you’re dealing with a brain dysfunction – a reward system imbalance – that must be addressed holistically. See your doctor, find a recovery program, get support to maintain your sobriety, take steps to maintain accountability, and enlist your spiritual resources – such as prayer, meditation, participation in a faith community, or Scripture study groups. As anyone in recovery will tell you, the longer to you remain abstinent from your addiction, the more you have an opportunity to re-wire how your brain makes decisions. Every healthy choice you make re-adjusts the reward system imbalance and gives your soul the opportunity to prosper and grow.

(If you’re interested in reading the entire story, go to this link.)

Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom - Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

You boss loses her car keys. You feel responsible to find them. Your neighbor’s cat is stuck in a tree. You feel responsible to rescue it. Your community center needs painting. You overextend your credit card to buy the paint.

Abuse survivors are notorious for taking on responsibilities that aren’t necessarily theirs to assume.

There’s a fine line between being a passionate and compassionate helper and carrying the weight of the world as if it’s yours to carry. Yes, sometimes we help people and causes because we genuinely care and want to make a difference. That’s a positive legacy of being neglected and abused: you’ve got a lot of empathy and want to help others. That’s noble and we need more people like that!

But if you haven’t done that important interior work of sorting out WHY you want to help, you can find yourself used, exploited, and burned out. If you’ve got an unhealthy need to be needed, or if you help others in order to create a debtor relationship, then you’re helping for unhealthy reasons that will eventually consume you.

The darker side of this tendency is when you not only take on responsibilities that aren’t yours to assume, but you actually FEEL responsible for anything that goes wrong. You believe it might somehow be your fault that your boss lost her keys or that kitty got stuck up a tree or that the community center is in need of repair.  For many of us, it can actually create a sense of horrific panic.

For most abuse survivors, the pressure to take on these tasks AND also feel responsible for anything that isn’t right goes deep. It stems from having to navigate across the constant shifting sands of an environment where abuse was possible. The way people cope when they’re threatened varies, but the one thing we all have in common at such times is our desperate search for ways to control the uncontrollable.

When you’re in an unsafe and exploitive environment, you’re scrambling to do everything you can to protect yourself or protect others you love. You do whatever it takes to accommodate, avoid, or overpower the abusive person. At very deep levels, you believe that if you hide enough or fight enough or run fast enough, the abuse will stop. Of course, that’s rarely the case, and when you discover your limitations, it feels like you could have – should have – would have done more . . . and then things would be different.

If you’ve been reading my thoughts for any length of time, I’m a firm believer in getting mouthy with false beliefs once you recognize them as false. The way you get to that point of recognition involves using pain as an ally (an archived series from last month.)

Being a kind, compassionate, and merciful person is a beautiful quality born from a pure heart willing to love and serve others. Feeling responsible for everything that goes wrong and trying to be all things to all people is born from a heart full of fear – old fear – that must be understood in order to become healthy.

The funny thing about doing the deep interior work of abuse recovery is that – on the outside – it may all look the same. You may still help your boss find her keys. You may still get the cat down from the tree. You may still help paint the community center – but not by overextending your credit card (but you might lead a community fund raiser to pay for the paint!). 

The difference is that you help and serve because you’re a caring person, not because you have internalized responsibility for these circumstances. You help – not because you hope you can make unreasonable people happy – but because you can help. There’s a sliver of distance between these actions, but there’s a world of difference between these motives.

You’re not responsible for everything that goes wrong. Yes, there are times when we are all responsible for messing things up – and when that happens, well  . . . that’s yours to claim and make corrections. The next time you feel that deep seated panic that you’re somehow responsible for things that go wrong, take a few minutes to really examine those thoughts. If that’s not the case, then do what you can to help – but not because you have to . . . because you want to.
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions - providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

I totally love the honesty that comes across in a well known New Testament Bible story. It’s taken from Mark 9:14-27. A desperate father brings his son to Jesus for healing. In this passage, the text reports that the boy was demon possessed – but the symptoms certainly sound like grand mal epileptic seizures.

Regardless, the boy was in serious trouble and his dad was frantic. He explains the situation to Jesus and then states, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Jesus is a little sharp with his comeback when he said, “IF you can?” He goes on to tell the man anything is possible if he believes. The urgent father quickly replies, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

You see, this man had already been failed. He had already experienced dashed hopes. If you back up a few verses before this exchange, you’ll see that the father had already opened his heart and hopes that his son would find help. He took the boy to Jesus’ disciples. The dad really put himself out there by taking such a sick boy out in public. Just the fact that he did this and brought him to the disciples tells you this man had some degree of faith – or at least a little chutzpa!

I imagine he felt pretty foolish when the disciples delivered nothing. Zip. Nada. I imagine that his inside voices were laughing at him, chiding him for having the nerve to hope anything would change, and probably calling him stupid for expecting something other than a catastrophe.

That’s what happens when you experience dark things like abuse. That’s what happens when you were vulnerable and looked to family and friends for protection, but instead received abuse and exploitation. That’s what happens when you reach out for help later – help for your broken heart and body, help for your shattered soul and mind – and don’t get what you need. Those inside voices will scream bloody murder at you for actually having the audacity to expect anything but negative experiences and failure.

Abuse survivors can be a cynical bunch. We’ll usually only take risks – vulnerable risks – when we’re in so much pain we really don’t have many options left. We tend to be the “half-empty” crowd rather than the “half-full.” That’s because it’s easier to have low expectations or no expectations than to risk opening your heart up to being failed, used, or exploited again. We shrug our shoulders and say, “Ah . . . never mind.” We convince ourselves that we don’t want to bother other people or reveal our weaknesses.  Why? Because that’s a heck of a lot easier than putting your energies and heart into positive expectations. !

In other words, we generally snatch failure firmly from the jaws of success and expect the other shoe to drop – as the old saying goes. For example, if we find a partner who loves and respects us, we expect we’ll eventually be abandoned or betrayed. If we get a good medical report, we expect the doctor to call us back and say they gave us someone else’s results. If we set our sights on something that is completely within our reach – like an education, we expect the school to burn, the teacher to die, or the dog to eat our homework.

The double edged sword for abuse survivors is the desperate need to hope and the devastating reality that we have been failed and used by others. That’s the inner workings for most abuse survivors.

We’re so much like that terrified father who cried out to Jesus, “I DO believe!!” Then he followed it with extraordinary honesty, when he said, “. . . help me overcome my disbelief.”

That’s a great challenge for you in your journey beyond abuse. You measure your hopes and expectations today with the abuse and failings from the past. They are both legitimate realities and they must both be acknowledged or you will be paralyzed.

The battle for abuse survivors to be positive and hopeful is epic. Faith may come easily to some people, but for abuse survivors, it’s the story of this desperate dad every single day. But I want to point out that despite it all, that terrified dad showed up with his horrific reality, asked for help, was failed miserably by the disciples, and asked for help AGAIN until he found what he needed.

In your conversations with God this week, be honest. If you doubt and struggle, that’s not a news flash to God. If your faith is unwavering and strong, that’s not a news flash either. Either way, God gets it and somehow lifts us to our feet, like Jesus did with that sick little boy (Mark 9:27).
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions - providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

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