When You See Me When You Touch Me Recovery is Like an Onion

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Recovery is Like an Onion

The focus of this article is on biblical recovery for survivors of abuse, so let me begin the new feature “Dangerous People” by explaining what boundaries are and why they are necessary.

A healthy, balanced lifestyle requires clear boundaries. A boundary is a personal property line that marks the things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Boundaries affect all areas of our lives.

*Physical boundaries help determine who can touch us.

* Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts.

* Emotional boundaries help us deal with our own emotions.

* Spiritual boundaries help separate us from God’s will.

In short, no boundaries, no recovery.

I’ve been thinking seriously lately about who the “dangerous people” are for those of us who have survived abuse and are trying to come to terms. Unless we can identify the different types of threats, we are very likely to derail our recovery.

Recovery is a process. Think of peeling an onion. The first layer of flaky skin is removed. Great! We may have decided that we need help. We seek competent help and begin the journey. Soon another layer of flaky skin is shed. Excellent! Now we can see what the problem is! The first and second layers of onion skin can last for months. As each layer is poured, the smell and sting become stronger, but we persevere because we want a whole, dignified, and healthy sense of self.

Sometimes layers of onion skins are years old. We thought we were doing great and then BAM! Someone slaps us on the face and we feel like we are back to square one. It takes more time this time to process what happened and how we have to deal with it. That’s where committed Christians have an advantage: they have a real source outside of themselves. It is God Almighty who has given us the power to give us insights that actually help. Of course, you must have a teachable spirit and be humble enough to ask for His help.

I know many people, including myself, who have been “in recovery” for many years. And I have seen most of them beset by unexpected pains. Someone they thought they could trust could betray them. Someone found them healthy and surprised them with a piece of luggage they had never seen before. (And we all have secret belongings.)

Or an older child starts making hateful comments and tears mom or dad’s heart out.

Maybe a friend with whom you shared painful memories (and they shared theirs) doesn’t value the relationship enough to make it work. They erase you from their life in seconds and leave you feeling confused, numb and completely alone. Whatever the stimulus, it was the inevitable three-step-back.

Unless you’re guilty. Remember: Boundaries define what we are responsible for. But blamers do not accept responsibility for any of their destructive behavior. It’s always someone else’s fault.

How can you identify criminals before you enter into a relationship with them?

I thought you cared about me. Why would you treat me like this?

I won’t have to be mean to you if you’ll just listen!

You swore you’d never kill me again. You lied to me!

If you hadn’t made me mad, I wouldn’t have had to kill you!

Mom, stop! You’re bothering me!

Look what you made me do?

What are you angry about? I am totally confused.

You have taken away my freedom of choice.

I don’t understand why you are so hot and cold. Why can’t you be civil?

I was abused as a child. That’s why I’m so confused! It’s not my fault!

Why did you leave your wife and children?

She didn’t meet my needs. Had she been a good wife, I would not have had to leave.

Why haven’t you lost weight? I thought you made a commitment to being healthy.

People demand a lot from me. I have to eat to cope with stress!

Do you see a pattern here? These people do not want to take responsibility for their own failures and are not particularly selective about who they blame. Anyone will do.

In recovery, we have to pay attention to these patterns—not only in others, but also in ourselves. I speak from personal experience, as well as experience as a counselor to those who repeat the cycle of abuse in the next generation.

Absorb the smell and sting of each lost layer. Get your hands dirty, tear your eyes out and cleanse your soul. Even if you don’t get rid of all the layers, this process will enable you to feel better about yourself, about God, and give you a sense of dignity. It’s smelly, hard work, but it’s worth it!

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