Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sally: Part 2

As Sally finishes her timeline, we come to a question that will apply to all of us, regardless of the various levels of opinions or thoughtful input we might have about her truths and lies. It is one we've all considered at some level at a point in our lives:

When did "It" become Sally's fault and how is she responsible for her own suffering?

We have all sat with a Sally at any given point in our lives. Sally may be a parent, a spouse, a friend, a church member. We have listened within a moment of time hearing Sally's problems and we have either thought or said,"It is your fault. You need to get over it. You are causing the problems in your life."

No reasonable person would look at seven-year-old Sally and tell her that her poor choices caused her suffering. But she could've called 911. She could've confided in a teacher. If she would have done those things, then perhaps she wouldn't have had to raise her siblings. 

Then what? Foster care? Parental retaliation? It would seem that in the timelines of many there are the "what-ifs" that cause the most frustration either because we'll never know what might have happened or we acknowledge that in choosing another path, suffering was inevitable either way. 

Let's go back to the original question--was Sally responsible for the care of her younger siblings? Factually, yes she was. She became the caretaker. Intrinsically, was she responsible? No one would ever put the responsibility of other children primarily upon their siblings, but it was a difficult choice made by a fearful seven-year-old. As we are forced to consider her timeline we recognize that she was betrayed by her parents, that she must have lived in constant anxiety of someone finding out what was going on at home, and as the caretaker of her siblings often neglected her own needs. She would have also had to rely on her parents in some measure as she could not pay bills, buy food, or operate the washing machine, stove, or any other number of appliances. Instead they often went to school hungry and dirty, welcoming ridicule and more suffering. 

What lie did Sally internalize at a young age? I am responsible for my siblings. I can't buy food. I can't wash clothes. It is my fault they are hungry and dirty and when they are bullied, that is my fault too. 

As Sally details her timeline, she recalls other painful moments that stem from the years of neglect. The helplessness that arrives when you cannot stop an adult from molesting you or your siblings. The anger and outrage in the aftermath when it is your own mother who welcomed in the abuser and denies the abuse occurred. The guilt and disgust felt when you are faced with betraying a parent's secrets or revealing them only to endure the terrifying unknown. 

When lies produce negative emotions, these emotions solicit more negative emotions that help feed the lie. They also produce unhealthy oaths that we use to reinforce the lie's destructive path. 

Sally's negative emotions caused by years of neglect and abuse were fear, helplessness, anger, depression and outrage. As a result, the oath she made to help protect herself became close to her as her only ammunition in a world of chaos and disorder:

I will never allow anyone to hurt my siblings like that again. 

This oath gave Sally a feeling of empowerment. She was older now. She received praise from her teachers concerning her academics. She was smart--too smart to allow drugs and alcohol to overtake her life and hurt the ones she was supposed to love. She could work and take advanced classes--just like she could mother young children and still go to school and get good grades. She would show everyone. She would prove that she was capable.

And Sally did achieve great things. She never did drugs. She never got pregnant. She earned her scholarships. She married a man who did not abuse or abandon her. These are tremendous accomplishments given Sally's history. 

So why is Sally almost 30 years old and still terribly depressed and unfulfilled? 

Sally at 30 shares her frustration, anger, and sadness. It falls on deaf ears. Why is an adult woman still caring for her adult siblings? We would readily give love and compassion to the seven-year-old who lived in constant fear and neglect. When Sally the adult comes to us with her brokenness, it is time to tell her she needs to leave the past behind and move on. 

Sally believed the lie and made the oath. Therefore when her siblings continue to make mistakes and suffer, she relives the failure--and all the emotions that accompany them. If Sally does not accept her brother at 3 AM, drunk and on a methadone binge, he might get arrested. He might crash his car. He might find more drugs and overdose. 

And it would be all her fault. She knows that it disrupts her family, which causes more guilt. In her anger as a child and young adult she vowed she would never let them feel that pain again. Now she is hurting the people who love and need her the most--the ones who need her in a healthy, appropriate context. She is failing everyone, including herself. And she is isolated because no one really understands. They reinforce what she already knows--it's all her fault. No matter what she does, she can't win. She is tired of the failure. She is ready to finally give up as depression, uncertainty, and hopelessness take hold.

This is why as we write our own timelines, we will be asking God to show us through each word, each event, each struggle and moment of pain, what lies we believed, what oaths we may have pledged, and rely on Him to mend our brokenness. It is God who has seen each moment. It is God alone who can address the most painful wounds we carry for ourselves or on behalf of others. 

This is also why as we journey with one another through healing and restoration, we will never have to address how Sally or anyone else is to blame. Each will be accountable for their own journey. Each will focus on their own pain and suffering, their own shortcomings, and their own sin. As we seek God to deliver us from the issues we have failed to address, we will allow Him to direct and guide us through our own faults, and rely on Him to show us where forgiveness, repentance, confession, and truth meet practicality. We will trust God to address our wounds in love and compassion.  

Our role in the healing and restoration of others is not to establish blame and punishment--it is to pray, to encourage, and to ask God how our own attitudes are blocking our opportunities to help other broken people find wholeness. 


If Sally renounces the lies in her past to embrace the truth, what do you think she would say to herself as a 7-year-old? As a 17-year-old? What compassionate, encouraging words would she have for herself now?

What do you think is more difficult for Sally--to realize the lies she's believed about her mother or the truths? What are the lies and what are the truths? What are the judgments? 

What are some of the lies we believe about forgiving others? What are the emotions we experience as we consider forgiving the people who have caused us the most pain or who have caused pain in the lives of loved ones? 

Sally: Part 1

Sally is the oldest of four children. As she began to construct her personal timeline, she was asked,"Start at the beginning--whatever the beginning is for you--and as far back as you can remember, begin documenting the events that were meaningful in your life. It's important that you don't follow the direction that others might feel are important--a graduation, a marriage, a birth. It's important that you recall what events or circumstances were important to you."

Sally's father left when she was seven and her mother started abusing drugs and alcohol. Sally recalls getting up for school one day, while her mother was passed out with a stranger, and her two younger siblings were on the kitchen floor eating dog kibble from the pet bowl. That was the first of many days she would be responsible for dressing herself and her younger siblings, fixing breakfast and school lunch (when there was food in the house), and ensuring the babies had a bottle and were changed before getting on the bus.

Let's stop here to ask a few questions about Sally's timeline:

Was she responsible for the care of the younger children?

What do you think was her inner dialogue as a seven-year-old child during school hours?

What was her inner dialogue concerning the truth about her parents? How did it relate to her and her siblings specifically? How did it inform her decisions?

Fast forward ten years and Sally has not only "assisted" in raising her siblings but is about to graduate High School with several scholarship offers to universities. As she constructs her timeline she recalls her graduation, not just because it is a life-marker for most of us, but for her it is a unique demonstration of her hard work and effort despite all odds and statistics.

Several years prior, Sally's mother entered a drug and alcohol program which was successful. She got remarried to a man who, although not perfect, was supportive to her mother as well as her brothers and sisters. At a glance, we are happy for Sally's accomplishments given her revelations about her childhood.

Let's stop here to ask a few questions about Sally's timeline:

What has been Sally's dialogue about her mother during all the years she has raised her siblings?

How has that inner dialogue colored her perception of her mother's ability to raise the remaining siblings? 

What emotions did Sally internalize in her youth that are still her personal truths as she considers graduation and leaving home?

As Sally continues her timeline she shares some of the struggles in her first semester. She places a marker on her timeline near the end of her second semester because that is when her younger brother got into trouble at school, endangering another youth to begin a lengthy record he would continue to have with law enforcement.

Sally left college to go home and intervene. She never returned.

Sally had finally earned the opportunity to go out on her own and enjoy the rewards of her hard work. She was free of the stressful circumstances at home. College would be difficult, but certainly could not be as difficult as a child alone, raising other children.

What lies did Sally believe that would cause her to interrupt her life in order to leave behind an open door to freedom and opportunity?

Sally recalls meeting her husband at age 25. She finally met someone that loved her for who she was and was joyful that her oldest sibling Mary was her maid of honor. He realized she had some family problems, but remained supportive for the most part. She got a decent job working at a bank and they started talking about having their own family.

It is now four years into their marriage and Sally's husband, who already has an elementary age child from another relationship, is frustrated by the continual drama her siblings initiate but is even more hurt and confused when Sally drops everything to run to their assistance. She's an intelligent woman--why can't she see that her youngest brother has a drug problem and that it's affecting their marriage? He's stolen money from them (which Sally tried to hide from her husband), he's brought drugs in the house. The police have shown up at all hours of the morning when he has to be up at 6 AM. How does she think they will have a baby and continue to enable the bad behaviors of her family? Can't she see that she's compromising his relationship to his own existing son?

Sally makes the last tick on her timeline. She and her husband have separated.

From the minimal examples listed before, what is the most likely to be Sally's inner dialogue at this point in her life and why? Feel free to make up your own:

"Why do bad things always happen to me?"

"People like me don't deserve to be happy."

"If (a person or people) would just do this (whatever "this" may be), I could have a normal life." 

"It's my fault that (parents, children, spouse, etc) are suffering. They would be better off without me."

"No one ever listens to me."

"It's too difficult to try to change now."

"If I forgive (parent, spouse, abuser, etc) they will get away with what they've done and my pain will continue without vindication." 

"People never love me as much as I love them."

"If I wouldn't have made that mistake, my life would be different. My suffering is my fault. I have gotten what I deserved."

"You can't trust anyone because people will just hurt you."

"If I don't take care of it, no one else will."

Based on what we know of Sally so far from her timeline, what are the possible "truths" accepted by her siblings, her mother, her peers, and her husband about her? 

Just Getting Over It

At some point in our lives, all of us have likely heard or said this phrase:

"Just get OVER it!"

If you're on the receiving end of this phrase, regardless of what "it" may be, you're probably aware of how damaging those words can be.

More often than not, we do not have the capacity to "just get over it." Because it is painful. It is angering. It is wrong. And it won't go away.

The It is a wound. People, events in our past, and even our own beliefs that stem from It then start to contribute to the It as if it were a pet. It is fed. It grows. It takes up more space. It metastasizes and even becomes part of our identity so that the idea of parting with It is even more frightening than living with It the rest of our lives.

We all have our version of It. It robs us of our self esteem. It causes problems in our marriage. It makes us angry and resentful at family, friends, and God. It has taken control of our thoughts, beliefs, and actions and has left part of us in a cage.

As we begin to construct our own timeline of our lives, we'll begin to make discoveries. Our goal is to not only document and consider the facts about what have happened to us, what we've done, or what we haven't done, but to thoroughly attain a deep understanding of the underlying emotions, consequences, and wounds that are still affecting our ability to obtain freedom.

What lies have we learned and embraced as we've navigated life within our own unique circumstances and experiences? 

It is inevitable that whether we are a group of 5 or 25, we have shared several life experiences that have caused wounds: grief, suffering, anger. We all have an inner dialogue. It may sound something like this:

"Why do bad things always happen to me?"

"People like me don't deserve to be happy."

"If (a person or people) would just do this (whatever "this" may be), I could have a normal life." 

"It's my fault that (parents, children, spouse, etc) are suffering. They would be better off without me."

"No one ever listens to me."

"It's too difficult to try to change now."

"If I forgive (parent, spouse, abuser, etc) they will get away with what they've done and my pain will continue without vindication." 

"People never love me as much as I love them."

"If I wouldn't have made that mistake, my life would be different. My suffering is my fault. I have gotten what I deserved."

"You can't trust anyone because people will just hurt you."

"If I don't take care of it, no one else will."

If you can relate to one or more of those inner dialogues, then this study and support group will share tools collectively that may be a conduit to healing from the brokenness and wounds of your past and present.

As you begin to construct your own timeline you may:

Share or keep private any of the information that goes onto it.

Focus on timeline events at your own pace.

Feel free of guilt or pressure if there are some events or circumstances you are not yet able to face.

Commit to participation on your own terms.

We ideally would like to meet as a group, but if you are unable to do so we still want you to be able to get the help and support you need. We will offer online forums and you may set aside times of discussion within the group.

Our ultimate goal will be to discuss and consider several issues or questions:

Is "hate the sin, love the sinner" a Biblical principle?

Who are the people I hate/am angry with/fear/hurt me the most?

What are the Biblical truths about the emotions I experience and how do they relate to my life in a tangible way?

My next post will be about how to construct the timeline of your life, what it may look like, and how it may be used to help you answer tough questions and begin a journey to freedom from the lies that play over and over in our inner dialogue.