My Personal Redemption

May 9, 2009

5 min read


As a survivor of child abuse, Passover has special meaning for me.

I got married without knowing it. I may have looked like a sophisticated 20-year-old to the guests at my wedding, but if you were a child who has been abused, there is a part of you that is still a crying baby, an uncomfortable adolescent, a rebellious teenager, screaming and protesting every step of the way.

I never noticed growing up. I doubt if I did grow up. It all passed in the blur that absorbed my childhood, with its unspeakable and unspoken abuse. Then, one day, several years after my wedding, I woke up. I was ready to wake up. I found myself married to a wonderful man and the mother of small children -- and my memory suddenly came back. Perhaps that is not quite true. Rather, it seeped through slowly, drenching my personality with a new identity: incest survivor.

It was the month of Nissan, before Pesach time, and I thought: "Good, it's the month of redemption." Perhaps I thought recovery and redemption would take just a month, and next month I'd be on to other things.

That was seven years ago. My redemption has been a slow one, but miraculous nonetheless. Every year at Pesach time I have new insights into the redemption from Egypt, and every year, the redemption of the Jewish people, as recounted at the Seder, gives me a new insight into my own experience.

Last year at our Seder, my 4-year-old son blithely mentioned how "they threw the Jewish baby boys in the river…" When I heard this I was sickened at the sheer cruelty and domination -- abuse -- of the Jewish experience in Egypt. I felt it viscerally, because it so closely paralleled my own. And it came to me: this is why it had to be God Himself, as told in the Haggadah: "With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, I took you out of Egypt -- I and not an angel, I and not a seraph, I and not a messenger… I am He, and no other."

The Jewish experience was worse than what I went through, which could afford be healed with a delayed recovery.

The Jewish experience was worse than what I went through, which could afford be healed with a delayed recovery. The subjugation was total, physical and mental, no slave had ever escaped from Egypt. There was no rescue service, not the United Nations forces, not an army of angels, not anything but God Himself Who could have redeemed us. It was ultimate, primary healing.

And that's why to me, it is the most dramatic part of the Exodus story.

Slow Unfolding

Sometimes I feel frustrated at how far out from the source I am when it comes to healing. Not the ultimate rescue of being redeemed from bondage, with the added drama that had God waited a split-second longer there would have been nothing left to redeem. I never experienced any intervention into intolerable cycle of abuse and neglect, no rescue, no rehabilitation. It just passed in its own time. I waited out the secondary and tertiary waves of trauma, for safety and stability to build, until the memories could resurface and I could consciously start to heal.

In that time, I have grown up. I find, to my great sadness, that I cannot heal with the immediacy and intensity of a child. I feel frustrated at how slow, tortuous and undramatic is my unfolding from sickness to health, from bondage to freedom. But I wouldn't be able to do it any other way. My system has sustained so many shocks that it couldn't take another one. I would recover, then expire.

While I mourn that the child in me was injured but never had a chance to heal as a child, and even while the child in me may still be screaming for the revelation of miraculous, supernatural redemption, I can still celebrate that my healing has the more mature flavor of reality about it. My healing is happening within nature, not above it, but it is no less an act of God.

I was born into bondage which has the safety of familiarity.

There is even an advantage to a protracted redemption: the very slowness of my healing engages my volition every step of the way, and in that sense it is a more conscious way to heal. Also, it's not everyone who could go through with it. Just as there were, among the Jews redeemed from the Egyptian bondage by God Himself, a segment of the population who wanted to go back to Egypt, there is a part of me that wants to go back. Like them, I was also born into bondage and it has the safety of familiarity.

But like them, I also have a destiny.

I don't know how I survived. I don't even think it was conscious. Just an indominatable survival instinct that must be an essential part of my character, a part deeper than I ever knew about. It kept me hanging on by whatever means I could until I came to a safe place where I could start to heal.

It's not very glorious; my children won't tell it to their children for generations. But it has its satisfactions. Now I delight in modesty; while once this would have been a travesty, considering what was going on behind closed doors. Now I have children and precious memories; once I had no memory, no baby, no nothing. Now I can, with God's help, take care of myself; not so long ago that wasn't even a possibility.

I am proud of changing myself, changing the pattern of dysfunction that has been with my family for generations. I am grateful that God took me out. I know that just as God took us of Egypt to serve Him with our fullest heart, He redeemed me for the very same reason.


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