Our guest blogger is Christina White. Christina is a survivor of a traumatic childhood in which she was subjected to persistent and pervasive abuse. She was hidden from her father and he died before she could reconnect with him. Eventually, she was raised by an uncle. Through her strong spiritual commitment, she has achieved forgiveness, healing and purpose. Christina proves that the human spirit can be immeasurably resilient.
In response to questions from GIFT coach, Gayle Swift, we are grateful to be the recipients of her honest and vulnerable sharing. You can find more about Christina on her website.
Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. I hope that it will help you to heal as you work to reduce the suffering of children who face the same issues today. You have a wisdom that is only achieved through the fire of tough experiences.
1. As a survivor, what advice would you give to us and the parents with whom we work? What do you wish people had done to better shelter you from your circumstances?
When trying to help people who have had a horrible past I would start with telling them things like, "You are amazing for surviving" instead of saying, "I'm so sorry for you". Try to help them turn what happened to them into something they can use to grow from, instead of something damaging. No one wants to be damaged. It's easy for someone with a dark past to fall into self pity parties, don't support that. For me personally, I would encourage a Christian counselor rather than a psychiatrist. I found psychiatrists to help by numbing emotion with medications rather than helping you to move on. Moving on is all about forgiving. Opra said it best, " Forgiveness does not mean you have to accept the person back into your life. It does not mean you are condoning their behavior or that you are in any way saying that it was ok. Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different so you don't hold on to wishing that you had a different kind of family. You let that go, and you move forward with the Grace that God has given you from this day on. I don't want the spirit of me to die because of what you did."
When I was younger I believe the adults around me thought I was "just a kid" and had no idea what was going on. I knew exactly what was going on. Don't under estimate what children can comprehend. At 6 years old I understood that my mother was on drugs and slept with men for them. I'm not sure anything could have been done differently for me. I am who I am because of what happened. I believe everything happened for a reason. My favorite quote: "The Phoenix must burn to emerge", by White Oleander.
But if you are trying to protect someone who is being abused now and you want to know how to shelter them, I would say to try to put them into an environment where they can be a kid as much as you can. Any time you can take them out of their horrible circumstances will be an opportunity for them to learn. They will be able to see what a normal healthy environment is and contrast it with how they are living. As a child, contrasts like that created a burning desire in my heart for something different. You have to want a better life to change the cycle.
2. During your childhood, you experienced a lot of trauma. As a child, from what did you gather strength? What is the root of your resilience?
I would say the root of my resilience was my desire to survive. I used whatever situation came my way. I learned the "ways of the world" and was a sponge. I don't believe I had strength as a child... what I had was a feeling of acceptance. Things were the way they were... so now how do I get to school? How do I eat? How do I keep my mother's boyfriend from beating her to death? I developed a way to block out things that hurt me emotionally and looked at problems in a very factual way. I need food... so I will steal it. A man touched me in the wrong way... I'll just pretend it didn't happen.
3. What role did school--and teachers--play in encouraging or assisting you?
School was my safe haven. I loved school. Without the love from those teachers and the food that was provided there, I doubt I'd be where I am today. They showed me "normal" and love. I grew up wanting to be a teacher my whole life.. then one day I realized I didn't really want to teach.. I just wanted to be like the teacher. I wanted to be "normal and loving."
4. What are some ways that you protected your family?
I use to steal food for me and my mom. I felt like it was my responsibility to take care of her. She was crazy. I had to feed both of us, I had to make sure her boyfriends didn't kill her. It was very frustrating be "the child" to a person who couldn't even take care of herself.
5. How did you protect yourself?
I tried to keep quiet and not be noticed.
6. What advice would you give adults who suspect a child is being abused or neglected?
First I would try to discover how "bad" the abuse was. I wouldn't call social services unless the child's life was in danger or they were in a place where they were sexually abused. If the abuse is just neglect, I would try to step in and be something positive in that child's life.
7. Of the many ways in which you were abused or neglected, what is the most difficult to heal?
I'm still trying to heal from a feeling of not being loved as a child. It hurts me even now as I type these words. My mother didn't love me enough to protect me, to care for me, to give me "normal". The sexual abuse pales in comparison to that. I feel nothing about the sexual abuse. I have no emotion. It's like I have decided that the things that happened to me as a little girl.. happened to some other little girl and I just remember it. I think this is my way of protecting myself. God's way of protecting me. He created a new person in me with Christ's blood.. I don't want to step in the shoes of the person I was before and relive those emotions of fear.
8. How were you able to open yourself up to healthy relationships and to break the cycle of abuse and addiction?
I had to first have a relationship with Christ.. and love myself. Before I was saved I went down the same road as my mother. I used men the same way she did. I was on a path of destruction. I knew I wanted something better, but I wasn't strong enough to get it on my own. Then I found Christ... and He was strong enough.
9. What else would you like us to know?
Don't question God's will...Our struggles make us stronger.. We are being prepared for something great. Praise God!
10. What would you say to a child who is currently facing the kind of trauma that you also endured?
I would explain to them what a phoenix was and then I would tell them "You are a phoenix, and one day you won't have to burn anymore... and you will emerge from your sufferings and become something great. Only the strong survive. You are strong. God is always with you. He picked you for this life because He knows you can make it... one day.. you will be a solider in heaven and God will be so proud of everything you endured to make you so strong. You will be the strongest angel he has! Always try to do the next right thing.. the next good thing. God will help you."
I'm happy for you to share my blog also, and I'm willing to answer any questions.
Sally: 612-203-6530 | Susan: 541-788-8001 | Joann: 312-576-5755 | Gayle: 772-285-9607