4.09.2009

Walking with the Wounded


Last weekend, I got a chance to catch up by phone with a dear friend of mine from college. To honor him and help redeem his story, I asked him if I could share about him on my blog, as long as I blurred some of the details.

My friend (let's call him Roy) was severely physically and sexually abused by people and in places he should have been able to trust: home, church, school. Even worse (as if it's possible for there to be an "even worse" in this story), in each case, his abusers absolved themselves and scarred Roy by telling him he deserved the abuse.

Not surprisingly, these scars carry to the present. They cause him at times to rage against his own body, they greatly hinder intimacy and trust in his marriage, and they strain certain interactions with his young school-age kids because of the ways those interactions take him back to when he was their age.

Over the years, I have come to know that when Roy is doing well in his therapy and recovery, those are also times when he struggles mightily. Paradoxically, this makes perfect sense, for it is exactly when he pushes through to new places of acceptance that he is most emotionally vulnerable on account of the waves of vivid feelings he is now able to feel more acutely. Progress in naming and owning past brutalities also means extra panic as old voices reverberate in his head about the physical and eternal consequences of ever telling anyone.

I share Roy's story because one of the most challenging aspects of his life is the isolation he feels, as if he is living in a parallel world from the one the rest of us live in. The few times he has tried to let someone new into his world, he has been met with confusion and surprise and even denial. Roy's psychic distance from so-called normalcy is reinforced by many in that sphere who affirm that Roy's experience is literally unbelievable.

And yet there are sadly so many Roys among us. We humans - even and especially parents and pastors and teachers and counselors - are capable of inflicting terrible evil on the youngest and most vulnerable among us, as well as of compounding our physical and sexual violations by feeding those yet-to-be-fully-formed worldviews with the notion that they are the ones who are dirty and deserving and damned.

In other words, simmering just underneath the veneers of normalcy that govern our interactions in the home, at church, in the workplace and community, are thousands of wounds and thousands of dysfunctions. The grim reality for the Roys of the world is that their world is in fact a parallel existence, which makes it so relieving and refreshing when they are allowed to park that parallel existence into the rest of the universe, whether within a therapy session or through a hobby or in a conversation with a trusted confidante.

I do not at all consider myself an approachable person: as much as I try, and I have improved, I am still not naturally a good listener, an empathetic heart, or an observant friend. I don't think I have earned Roy's trust because of any particular positive trait of mine; rather, I think Roy has let me in because I call him regularly enough for him to know that I care.

It is a fine line to neither trivialize a friend's wounds nor discount the power of a Great Physician to heal them. I know that, however much pent-up guilty feeling and not-so-good coping mechanisms have piled up in Roy's life, he is kept by Jesus; and so even if there is no relief on this side of glory, some day he will be dancing and twirling freely in the presence of his Creator and Guide.

Would that we walk with the Roys in our lives until then, and maybe just maybe have the good fortune of every once in awhile seeing some of that dancing and twirling even on this side of glory. It is for that reason that I stay in touch with the Roys in my life, and encourage you to do the same.
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