By Mary Lee Weaver, LCSW
“’If you are human, you have experienced trauma,’” really? It was strangely comforting to hear. I knew I had experienced some traumatic events in years past, but because I kept them private, I often felt alone and isolated in dealing with the aftereffects. Hasn’t every single person really experienced trauma?” That’s what a woman asked on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. “If so, then why am I so alone? But how is it that everyone else seemed so….fine? Even, happy? Well-adjusted? Normal? And I did not? At least, I certainly didn’t feel that way on the inside. What if someone finds out? I know that I will be judged.”
We all use different coping mechanisms - strategies of behavior - to survive in life. Behaviors that might look to others like we “have it all together.” Of course, it’s a mirage, and many wear a mask in order to appear “fine.” Only those close know the struggles battled on the inside. For example, the fear of failure, fear of rejection, a perfectionistic approach to family life, work and home projects, and self-criticism and self-condemnation is a daily struggle for many. Often, after abortion, women and men struggle when others talk about babies, hearing babies cry and often resulting in refusing to attend baby showers, having depression and guilt on the due date of the baby that was lost.
Deep down, all of us want things to be “perfect” (whatever perfect is!) Decisions were made, things have happened, and often women and men regret those decisions after abortion… sometimes immediately and sometimes for their entire life. “If I wasn’t who I thought I would be, can I face that?” It’s hard to face.” It’s overwhelmingly tough… feeling vulnerable to the possibility of being rejected, shamed, tossed aside, and left feeling unworthy of love and acceptance if others were to ever know the truth.
Being aware of these inward beliefs and behavior patterns does not set one free from the bondage. The thing is, a large percentage of those who have an abortion know and have tasted the love and mercy of Christ. 47% of those who have abortions are Protestant and 27 % are Catholic. Yet, many have not forgiven themselves and have not experienced a deep level of transformation to be free to take the mask off. A deep root of fear still operates in daily life.
When God speaks to Israel in Isaiah 43 during their captivity in Babylon, He reminds Israel that He created and formed the Israelites: He is their Creator. He says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” In other words, “Don’t give in to fear, don’t let it overwhelm or control you. Trust in Me, My voice, and My love that never fails. I am FOR you. Not only have I redeemed you, but I have redeemed everything you have been through. I have already paid the price for you to walk in freedom from your past.”
Spiritual and emotional transformation requires us to bring these hidden parts of ourselves into the light…into the light of God’s healing presence, and the light of safe and grace-filled community. When we acknowledge our needs, mistakes, wounds, and fears, and let ourselves receive acceptance from others, we experience a little more freedom. When we begin to hear the gentle voice of God and others on the retreat, who reassure us of His unconditional love and delight, we experience a little more wholeness and healing on the inside. When we imagine the tender embrace of God - or sense Him weeping with us over our wounds or mistakes - we experience a little more comfort and joy on the inside. Fear continues to loosen its grip on the inside of us as we choose to connect with the experience of God’s grace, through His presence and His people. “I’m not a captive to my past hurts, regrets and fears like I used to be.” Grief and sadness are real and so is forgiveness.
What wounds or fears linger in your life? Are there disappointments, mistakes, or hurts that keep you from experiencing freedom and healing “on the inside?” Take the next step to healing after abortion, and trust God.
There are various post abortion healing programs and I am most familiar with Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. Retreats are open to women and men, grandparents of the child lost and others. Each participant is in a unique place with his or her spiritual journey and relationship with God and with the Institutional church. On some retreats, not everyone is Christian. Everyone is welcome and the team, who has also been on the retreat, will accompany each person in the journey toward healing and recovery. There is a retreat in almost every state in the US and in 47 countries. For more information about attending a retreat or starting a retreat in an interdenominational format or Hispanic format, go to https://www.rachelsvineyard.org/weekend/sites.aspx. I am also willing to visit with you about additional information and resources at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Lee Weaver, LCSW is a licensed Clinical Social Worker residing in Tulsa, OK. She is an abortion recovery counselor working with Eastern Oklahoma Catholic Charities.