“Broken but Beautiful” is a weekly column by Faith Gor, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She shares her story and healing journey to offer hope to other survivors.
I love singing. I always thank God for my musical ear and the ability to enjoy music deeply. Unfortunately, I do not play any musical instrument, but I shall learn how to play one someday soon. I enjoy listening to well-blended vocals, and I particularly get an inexpressible feeling for minor harmonies, especially when the vocals are deep and rich! Blame it on endorphins and oxytocin.
I grew up in a family where everyone sang. Each one of us has sung in a choir at some point in our lives. My mother sings alto, and my dad has a clean tenor. I have fond memories of our family singing hymns on Friday evening after eating supper, before we went to bed. I also enjoyed when we would be in the kitchen cooking and singing along to some of our favourite songs. That’s where my singing culture came from. I would learn a song and then sing it to my mother. She loved it and felt that I could sing in church.
One day, she asked me to prepare a song to sing in church the next week. I panicked and got confused. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have the language to express myself. I tried telling her that I was shy, but she wouldn’t buy that. I just couldn’t do it.
See, after the sexual abuse, I had a facade of confidence which helped me hide the guilt, shame and self-hate that I had. I appeared brave and outgoing, and that made my mother believe that I could sing alone in church from the pulpit. I wished that I could escape. I even prepared a different song to sabotage the situation, but one of my brothers helped me learn the song. Boy, I didn’t have a way of escape!
The D-day came, and my mom made sure that I had white nylon, floral pantyhose in a white frock dress. (I didn’t like the pantyhose; they made me itch when I had them on). My mother took me to church early and made me sit at the front, not so far from the pulpit, so that when I was called to sing, I wouldn’t have to struggle walking from the back. I was a bit nervous, but I still stayed there.
When I realised that I was almost going to sing, I began having self-demeaning thoughts. I imagined how ugly I was and that other children would perform better than me. I allowed fear to overwhelm me, and negative criticism thrived in me. I felt choked by every thought, then my stomach started rumbling. This was not normal because pain followed, then I had a strong urge to use the toilet. It was a running stomach.
I ran to the toilet and stayed there for a while. By the time I came back, the service had ended, and I didn’t have to sing. What a relief! I could breathe again. My mother was concerned about me, and she got me some remedy. She was sad that I got sick. These reactions continued for many days, until my mother gave up on me singing in church.
I felt bad that I couldn’t sing when she requested me to, but I had no control then. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I was happy that she stopped focusing on my singing. But my body did not stop causing chaos when I was asked to use my talents in public. It somehow adopted that reaction, and that followed me to my adulthood.
The first sermon I ever preached in a main church lasted 12 minutes. This is because I had a running stomach. I actually got sick after that sermon, and going to the hospital didn’t help much because it was a psychosomatic illness. This is when your body gets sick due to mental pressure. I didn’t understand this at that time. I just associated public speaking with a running stomach, and this made me avoid such opportunities because I would get anxious about being anxious.
I never knew that all these were trauma responses, until when I was diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). That’s when the doctor explained the connection between the gut and my thoughts. I began following through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This helped me train my mind to do what the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 10:5 – “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (NKJV).
I learnt to acknowledge my thoughts and verify them against Philippians 4:8 – “…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (NKJV).
Slowly, I began having fewer panic attacks, and if I got a relapse, I would still pick myself up and continue with the journey. Today, I’m not ashamed of the anxiety attack when I panic. I speak about it and find someone to pray with me. When we put a name and acknowledge what we feel, we gain control over it.
Here is a chart that I use to identify my emotions. This helps me separate what I’m currently feeling from feelings that randomly check in for attention and are not part of the current event.
The Feelings Wheel (designed by Gloria Willcox)
Do you ever get anxious about something you’re expected to do? Here’s something you can adopt.
- Identify the self-demeaning thoughts, e.g. “I’m such a loser; I can’t do this.”
- Capture the thoughts, e.g. “I may be feeling like a loser, but I’m not a loser. I’m just scared.”
- Replace the thought, e.g. “I will give it a try, and I know I’ll do my best because God is working in me to will and do His good pleasure. I’ll ask for help when I get stuck.”
You can be free! You don’t have to be a prisoner to the lies that Satan is whispering in your ears.
Here is my challenge to you today:
“Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.” Romans 12:2 (TPT)