Arguing with Ghosts
(written in 2017 as I worked through the Shelter From The Storm: Healing From Childhood Sexual Abuse workbook - fake names are used for characters to protect my own heart from outside judgement and denial)
The memories come full force when you open the door in the back of my mind hiding in the shadows of who I claim to be, what I claim to believe. A rampage of flashbacks and fragments of nightmares once lived as real life come racing in with even the slightest of cracks in the iron walls that once held them firmly in place. And on the back of each piece of the tainted puzzle of my childhood come the emotions that led to the building of the fortress designed to control the screaming beasts. Like demons circling my heart and laughing with glee they screech onto the scene of my current life, adamant that I face them, determined to finally consume me, destroy me.
As each fragment comes into view, and each emotion consumes my bruised heart, the shattered image of who I was becomes more and more clear, still distorted by the lies I accepted as truths. Pieces of a warped mirror are placed before me as each enemy finds his way to me. Looking at the girl I once was, I can see no glimpses of the girl I was designed to be. Is she lost in the sea of fear? Is she forever destroyed by these taunting memories? Or can she be found in the rubble of my life? All I can see is the dirty, scarred, warped little girl left by the disaster of stolen innocence in more ways than one can count. And standing behind her, the image of three ghosts still trying to control her every action. It’s these three that I have come to confront, the sheer image of the people who chose their own desires over the welfare of a girl born with promise hidden in her heart. It’s these images, these ghosts, that I’ve come to finally face, to finally tackle … if at all possible.
My eyes shift from the swirling memories, the jeering emotions, the demons attempting all they can to distract me, and I place my sight firmly on the face of each of these people, one by one. From him, to him, to her, my gaze travels seeking a place to rest, a place to start this battle. I’ve faced these three individually more times than I can count through endless nights of terrors gripping my body with shaking, headaches, vomiting, tears, and even screams in the night. But now, things have changed. Now, I not only face them one-on-one, but I face them armed. My hand grips tightly to the Sword of my defense, my Sword of Truth, my Bible.
Tonight …. it has to end tonight!
Looking into each of their faces I notice how dark and hollow their eyes seem, as if void of any light, any remorse for what was taken, or any insight into the damage they caused or the ripple effect of their actions on the hearts of the most vulnerable. A smirk comes across my face as I stare down first her, knowing her power is not as strong as it once was; her grip on my heart loosened by the progress of recovery.
“You’re first, Curtis!”
Squaring up with her, I demand she come out of the mirror placed before me and face me, address me personally.
“Coward” I mutter as she approaches.
My thoughts drip with passion. Instantly she stands before me, no longer towering over me as she did when I was eight years old. I now stand eye to eye with this woman, her stick still in her hand as if she were ready to strike me once more. Anger ignites my soul and I swiftly grab the instrument from her hands, breaking it over my knee and throwing the pieces into the vast sea of my mind. With the sound of the cracking stick, the demons take notice and freeze, realizing something is different this time. Looking her in the face for the first time in my life, I let release come.
“How dare you?! How dare you bully innocent children? What gave you the right to take from us so very much? Who convinced you that throwing children in closets and locking them away for hours on end was a good way to teach? Who told you that breaking sticks over children’s backs was discipline? Who told you that you could touch my friends? Who told you that you could touch ME?! Do you understand now what you’ve done? Do you understand the path you carved for each of us? Do you see the damage you added to me and my friends? We were already so vulnerable, so broken. Was that what attracted you to us? Was that why you picked the three of us to bully all year long? Did you not realize that it wasn’t just the three of us you were tormenting? To this day I have fellow students contacting me asking me if I’m okay, if I’ve moved on, if I’ve recovered. I lie to them and tell them I’ve forgiven you and moved on, for their sake. But the realization that you damaged their lives as well breaks my heart all over again.”
She shrinks in size before my very eyes, crumpling under the weight of my accusations.
“I will forgive you, soon enough. But first, I have to face you! And tonight, I’m doing just that. I’m looking you in the eye, you coward of a human being, and I’m telling you right here and right now, your power over me ends here! You can no longer be a part of my life! You can no longer be a part of my decisions. You can no longer be a part of my relationships. GET OUT!!!”
With this last phrase, her image dissolves into nothingness. Gone. She’s gone. Her power removed from my reality, I find myself standing stronger. I’m worn from the release but energized at the same time. It takes me a moment to soak in the realization that I am free. There’s a place in my mind that was so heavy, so consumed, so dark that now stands light and empty, ready to be filled with love and laughter once again. With her disappearance comes the freedom to forgive all those associated with her who knew and did not save these young girls from her evil. With their freedom, comes the power I’ve been waiting for, the ability to speak out loud the words I’ve fought for far too many years:
“I forgive you, Mrs. Curtis. I forgive you. God have mercy on your soul. God forgive her. Forgive them all. They didn’t know the damage they were causing. Forgive them, Lord.”
The atmosphere seems to shift, no longer controlled by chaos. The very air around me fighting between fear and peace. The war is for more than just my memories. It’s for my very identity.
The Sword in my hand now feels as if it’s fused to my being. It’s a part of me now. I walk through the memories, swatting them aside to make my way back to the broken mirror holding the image of two more battles to come. I feel strong with the release of Curtis, but facing these two, the two who held the strongest grip on me, I suddenly feel small again. Falling to my knees, the tears come…. as do the prayers.
“Lord, help me…..”
A gentle plea for His strength, His reassurance. My Sword now lay on the ground beside me, found open to the words that empowered me to even open the door of this dungeon:
“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness to the prisoners…. to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who grieve in Zion….” Isaiah 61:1&3
I speak the words aloud in an attempt to feel their power once again. I feel Him, surrounding me in this place. I feel His hand in my hand. I feel His arms around my shoulders. I hear His voice whispering the words of the verses along with me.
I lift my head and match eyes with Russell. Fear flashes across the face of the man in front of me. I point my finger at him as I raise up from the ground, standing in a battle stance.
Gently, as if his very memory is scared to face me, he comes out of the broken mirror. With him come the taunting, jeering, laughing demons. They circle us in glee as if they think they will now find the opportunity to destroy me. Momentarily, they distract me from my goal. They steal my peace for but a second, and I am back to the scared child. I turn my face from his and let a tear escape, feeling the smiles of the little monsters surrounding me. I look down and see my Sword back in my hand. I feel God’s hand on my shoulder. I have to do this. I have to face him.
Looking him in his eyes once again, I meekly stand firm before him. Fear still stands between us and he seems to grow in its presence. A voice I know is not my own whispers, “But he’s dead. What harm can he do anyone? Why bother with him now?”
For but a moment I allow this doubt to trickle in. But only a moment. I shake my head violently, “It has to be dealt with. I have to face him for my own sake. Enough is enough.”
Knowing I’m not strong enough to face him with anger, I settle with facing him in tears. I allow them to roll down my face dripping pain and sorrow into the air around us. Perhaps this is the only way to face this monster, this memory. Perhaps this is the only way to conquer him … with raw reality.
“The how doesn’t matter. It just has to be done.” I reassure myself.
I know this man has held power over my existence from the first night he snuck into my bed. Scratch that! From the first time he put his hand on me and called me beautiful. Did I crave his attention? Yes. But did that give him the right to take all that he stole? Absolutely not. Absolutely NOT!
Tears still streaming down my face, I force myself to look into his eyes. His smirk lights a flame inside of me.
“Don’t you dare smile at me! You thief! You despicable human being! I may not have the strength to punch you in the face like I wish I could. But I have enough power still in me to tell you how evil you are! The things you did …. the things you showed us, the things you did to us, the things you took from us… from ME! There are not words enough to describe how deplorable you are!
I did NOTHING to deserve you in my life! Nothing! And I know that now. I know now that I did NOTHING wrong! You were the wrong one in this! You were the evil in my life! You were the one who should have been removed from this world long before you finally died!
To this day I don’t know if those pictures and videos of me as a little girl are still floating around in the hands of other depraved individuals like you. That’s a reality I have to live with for the rest of my life, wondering if some creep might recognize me on the streets one day and smile for reasons I don’t know or understand. Even if you’re gone, your disgusting friends might still be alive. You fed their depravity along with your own. You exchanged my innocence for your selfishness, that was bad enough. But then you sold it further for greed. Really?!
How did you live with yourself? It was bad enough the things you did to your own family. But to prey on others?! Trapping me and the other girls in your house time after time for your own sick pleasure?! What kind of human being are you?! What on earth made you think you could do that to little girls?
Over and over again, year after year, you stalked me. While you let the others go over time, you continued to hunt me like a deer in the woods, calling me your “special angel.” Do you know what that did to me? Do you understand fully all that was taken from me for your simple jollies? Do you understand the shame that grew in me, the dirty feeling that set up camp in my heart? Do you understand the shattering of any pride I had in myself? Do you understand the lies that you planted in my life, taking deep root and growing into vines covering every inch of productive beauty that God attempted to grow in the garden of my heart? Like a virus, it corrupted everything I did, everything I thought, everything I felt!
You! You did that! You destroyed me. You killed me while still leaving me to live this life. The very idea of this world became warped because of you! And what’s worse, my image of God was deeply, tragically injured because of you! There were times I almost ended my life because of you! You almost robbed me of absolutely everything!
I still have scars on my body from you. To this day I have to look at my skin and see your face. But no more! No longer will I look at these marks and think of you. No more! From now on, when I see these marks, I will see a warrior still standing. I will see them as battle wounds, proving just how strongly my God loves me, how much He will fight for me, to keep me close to Him. No longer will they represent my shame. Now, they are simply dents in my armor until God decides to remove them completely. They have no power over me. YOU have no power over me! Do you hear me? You have NO power over me any longer! None!!
You were a bastard of a man but now, you’re in God’s hands. And I pray He has some mercy on you.”
Pausing, struggling to move forward, I pray, “Lord, help me….”
Taking a deep breath, I breathe God in until my heart feels warm to His touch. I look up and see God’s smile over me. I release the built-up air in my lungs along with the last of the tears I have for Russell.
“For my sake, I forgive you Russell…. I forgive you. I forgive you for hurting me and my friends. I forgive you for nights that should have been filled with sleepover fun but instead were filled with terror. I forgive you for forcing me to leave a legacy of child pornography. I forgive you for stealing from me what I had hoped to save for my husband. I forgive you for stalking me year after year. I forgive you for disappearing without a word to let me know I was finally free. I forgive you for never apologizing to any of us. I forgive you for never wanting to apologize. I forgive you for not seeing what you did as wrong. I forgive your wife for helping you, and your friends for joining you. I forgive everyone who knew and didn’t do anything for fear of being wrong. But, most of all, for my own sake, on behalf of your “special angel,” I forgive you, Russell. I forgive you.”
Hanging my head in exhaustion with the last phrase, I close my eyes, unable to watch as his image, like the first, dissolves into nothingness before me. My shoulders shake with the sobs of freedom as I feel his presence melt away. The release of this particular weight throws me to the ground. It was such a drastic change in my being.
Holding my Sword to my chest like a security blanket, I cry until my throat burns and my lungs grasp for air. God’s arms surround me, clinging to me tightly to make sure I know He is there. Sweetly, softly, I hear Him sing over me as He did when I was a small child lying awake at night. The rhythmic sounds of His soul-stirring song calm my heart, now gaping wide open from the hole left by the enemy’s presence.
One ghost remains still trapped in the mirror. One figure still holds some power over my mind. But sitting on the ground, wrapped in the arms of my Savior, I know I’m not ready to face that one just yet. Blame attempts to sneak in between my King and I. But with the sound of His voice, He forces it back out.
“It’s okay, dear one. I’m so very proud of you. We’ll tackle the last one soon enough.”
Holding tightly to His love, I find rest. One day soon, I’ll face the last ghost, the one still lingering in real life as well. But tonight, I am freer than I have been since I was seven years old. Wrapped in His arms I feel brave. I feel covered in light. I feel loved, deeply, truly loved, with a love I’ve never known before. The battle will rage on eventually. But for now, I am safe in the arms of Love itself. And I smile.