In each of my books I write extensively about the need to be real, to be transparent, to remove the masks we wear, to come out from hiding and share openly. This is a key to unlocking healing; but it is a daunting task for survivors of abuse.
We learned early on that the world is not safe.
Being vulnerable can be frightening.
People will hurt you.
In Hush I explain
“sexual abuse is like a bolt of lightening that strikes us at our very core. It’s more than an attack on our body; it’s an assault on our emotions, mind, and spirit. Part of our being is completely frozen in that moment of betrayal, confusion, sadness, hurt, and shame.” (page 28)
For some of us, that is when we first dragged ourselves into our shell of protection.
I remember it well as a teenager:
“I believed that if I created a tough outer shell, no one could use my weaknesses against me because, as far as I was concerned, they could never get close enough to find any.” (Hush, 59)
Eventually, in college, I got some healing…found some courage…felt some freedom…came slowly out of my shell…engaged in healthy community…picked safe people…found my identity in who God said I was…gained some confidence in myself…and ran with it.
God blessed that brave season.
But our story doesn’t end in a few solid steps.
This is a lifelong healing journey.
With ups and downs. Round and rounds.
If you are a survivor of abuse, like me, there was a time when you wondered if every person would eventually be found out as a liar or addict and would inevitably stab you somewhere, somehow. Your hiding place was necessary. It was all you knew to do considering what you had experienced.
But your pain does not equal your purpose.
Your life is not meant to like a hermit stored away along the side of the road.
On the other hand, some us have to learn that it is unwise to give everything we have to others—to remain open, vulnerable and handing your heart to any new pal along the way—looking for love, validation or identity. And it is especially harmful to keep giving yourself to old “friends” you’ve allowed to tag along on your journey, the ones who seem to hurt you over and over and over…
Finding freedom to thrive means accepting that there are people who can be trusted, people who are safe and loving—but engaging carefully, because the fact remains that we cannot trust them all, or all the time. So, though I am a loud voice on finding your freedom and loving people deep, I am also a warrior, and it is in my blood to be fierce and to protect the young and the victimized. I have given everything in my life to fight for others. But I am now finally learning how important it is to fight for and protect myself, too.
Matthew 10:16 says, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” It is possible to be kind and gracious and giving, yet still tread carefully.
AKA: Keep your shell within reach.
Being a public figure, especially an activist on issues of sexual abuse and human trafficking, many of you know I have had to live within some pretty strict boundaries. Even still, I care for people. I care deeply for broken people. I can get my hands pretty dirty when I feel called to it. I bleed for those God calls me to meet in the trenches. I will run naked to the ends of the earth for them to find hope and healing. But in doing so, I have lost sight of my shell. And that has cost some things. Some things I don’t regret at all, and some things I painfully do. And, in those situations where I have felt hurt, belittled, forgotten, defeated or destroyed, I have had to spend too much time wandering off the path, looking for my own shell, my protection, my peace.
So, though I have advocated for years about breaking out of your safe place, finding your voice, and knowing who you are, I want to use my voice as a warning to my survivor friends to, at the same time, understand the importance of your shell and keeping it in sight.
The shell is not only a place of protection but a symbol of self-care.
You can’t invest in others if you don’t invest in yourself.
You can’t love others if you don’t love yourself.
You cant care for others if you don’t care for yourself.
On the spiritual side of things, if we fail to clothe ourselves daily with our spiritual armor, we leave ourselves open to Satan’s deception. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Like me, you may have broken out of your shell many years ago and may be many strides down the healing path, even speaking out and reaching out to other survivors. There will most definitely be times of celebration and true freedom along the way…so take off your clothes and party your guts out!
But don’t give up when you come to those barren places on your journey, when you need to put on some layers, or you may just need to crawl into your safe place for a season and let God restore your soul. Hibernate for a while. This is not a step back in your healing…this is self-care. This is your protection.
My pastor, Rich Nathan, said recently, “Sometimes your day or your season is not about forward progress; it’s about just being able to stand.”
You may be up against so much opposition, surrounded by so much dysfunction, drowning in so much pain, heartache, feelings of betrayal and grief, that your biggest victory will simply be in resisting —pushing back against that thing that is trying to destroy you.
If you are pickin up what I’m puttin down right now, I encourage you to find the strength to pause; go into that safe space where you find your peace; spend some time doing self-care; fight for yourself.
There is a time to be open and a time to retract.
Retracting to self-care doesn’t make you weak, selfish or insensitive; it has the power to make you stronger and smarter, working out of a place of peace, so that when it is time to break back out there you will be able to give it your best.
You can only truly love the ones around you when you are truly loving yourself.
So take care of you. Care for your heart.
Breathe. Listen. It is okay to take a pause now and then. It is ok to hide inside your protection and choose peace when things outside are too painful. It is okay to soar above all the games and confusion when you cant handle being immersed in it. It’s okay to rest and it’s okay to be alone.
Find yourself and your Creator within that pause, within that place of hiddenness, brokenness, unraveledness.
The place of learning when to hold on and when to let go.
Of left foot, right foot.
You are getting somewhere.
Even when you are not moving.
Sometimes God does His greatest work when you choose to just be still.
~Nicole Bromley, A Hero in a Half Shell