More Than Conquerors! (Jan-Feb 2004)

By Matt Dabbs

by Sheri Swaim
January – February, 2004

When I was about eight or nine years old, a family member who my parents frequently trusted to care for me, repeatedly abused me sexually. My feelings were betrayed, my wants—such as affection and acceptance—as a little girl manipulated for his pleasure, and my body was used to later become my enemy. As is common with sexual abuse victims, I grew to hate my own body, my own natural desires, and to hate myself. The abuse didn’t kill me, but for a long time, it killed part of me. I was a victim for years. I was a victim, raised by a victim, my mother. She also was sexually abused, but in her day you didn’t talk about it because no one would believe you. So she stayed a victim; a victim not only of the abuse, but of her society’s naïve views on sexual abuse and of her own shame. Despite her victimization, she did a good job raising me—for what she knew about me. She had no idea about my abuse until well into my adult years.

There are two ways people deal with danger or the possibility of it: fight or flight. I chose flight. I became quietly complacent. On the outside, I appeared to be the quiet, well-behaved straight-A student that teachers dream of. The part people didn’t see was the constant stomachaches, nausea, nightmares, self-doubt, the fits of rage, and depression.

A few years ago, it was popular for people to declare themselves “victims” in order to begin healing. We had “victims” everywhere. There were victims of cancer, victims of heart failure, victims of robberies, victims of rape, victims of sexual harassment, victims of spousal abuse, victims of child abuse. I was a victim.

As a victim, the most significant coping mechanism I developed over time was denial. But denial doesn’t make things go away. I recently heard Joyce Meyers say, “If you bury feelings alive, that doesn’t mean they die.” Despite trying to ignore it, the effects of the abuse continued to gnaw at my soul. My experience is that those feelings not only don’t die, they grow! All the time I was keeping myself busy so I wouldn’t think about my past, bitterness was taking root and growing. Hebrews 12: 15 says, “See to it…that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Not only was the bitter root affecting me, it grew to affect those around me.

When I was twenty-one, I married a wonderful, sensitive man (to whom I am still blessed—by the grace of God—to be married, nearly twenty years later!) There is nothing that will bring up past sexual abuse faster than being regularly involved in an intimate relationship. Outside of marriage, it was easy to hide my true feelings, but it isn’t easy to do with the same man day in and day out. Unfortunately for many abuse victims, the marriage relationship quickly crumbles due to sexual coldness. Why would I want to continue to do something that made me feel guilty or dirty? I experienced this feeling. I withdrew physically and emotionally. Being vulnerable was too difficult. Someone might find me out. Or worse, I might get hurt again. It didn’t matter that I was married to Mr. Wonderful. It wasn’t worth the risk. Or was it?

Early in our marriage, my husband and I worked with the teens at our church. Knowing that my openness might allow me to help them, I began to occasionally mention my past. I soon realized that I had become a survivor, rather than a victim. I had realized along with many others seeking healing, that “victims” stayed “victims.” So, in an effort to help the healing, the word “survivor” was coined. For instance, instead of being victims of alcoholic parents or sexual abuse, we were now survivors of alcoholic parents or sexual abuse. As survivors, we proclaimed a measure of hope after the pain we experienced. Yet the scars remained fresh. Like those with battle scars and scarves who overcome breast cancer, we are survivors with wounds that can still be hiding under the surface.

Eventually, I became comfortable with this new term, “survivor,” and developed a desire to help others who had similar backgrounds. But, I was only safe talking to others who had been abused. I would mention my past only if I was fairly confident of the other person’s victimization. Either they had to tell me first, or their interaction with other people caused me to become aware of their previous abuse. I instinctively knew their truth. I was realizing the difference between a victim and a survivor is that an adult victim may choose to remain hurt or disabled, to continue to be victimized, while the survivor chooses to overcome, to make the best of a bad situation; even using it to help or encourage others in the same situation.

So, I thought I was fine and was using my story to minister to others. I thought I was healed because I could talk about my abuse. Even my husband knew about it by this time. But my marriage wasn’t getting better. I thought that if my husband knew about my being abused, he would be empathetic and then we would be fine. That’s not the way it works, I quickly found out. Yes, I was a survivor. But being a survivor only meant that I had lived past my abuse. The term “survivor” does not define the quality of life lived, nor does it indicate complete healing or wholeness. I survived a horse falling on top of me. But I have had back trouble my entire life because of it. If someone survived a shark attack, they might still be missing part of their body. Somehow, being a survivor wasn’t enough anymore. The quality of my life as a survivor was lacking. I needed something more.

After a few years, my husband and I accepted a position at a children’s home in Nebraska. Two years into our work there, a family therapist was hired to be the director. After spending several months getting to know the staff, the director seemed to zone in on me. At least, that’s what it felt like. After a few rounds of goat-like head butting, he wondered out loud to me if I had a problem with men. “No,” I said. “I have a problem with authority.” After a few more “sessions,” he recommended a book for me to read: The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan Allender.

Reading that book took me on one of the most emotionally difficult journeys I have ever experienced. It made me realize how I had allowed the bitterness and resentment in me to grow and actually cause me to sin: being sinned against had led me to sin! Realizing this became the jump-start to true healing. First, I needed to realize my innocence in the abuse. That has taken some time. It began as more of a logical decision than an emotionally supported belief, because warped guilt is a horrible part of surviving abuse. Next, I knew I needed to forgive my abuser. So, I went back to him and after talking frankly, I forgave him, through many tears on both our parts. Then, I needed to repent. Not of being abused, but of allowing that bitter root to grow up and “cause trouble and defile many.” So I began addressing the sin in my personal life that was affecting my marriage and other relationships. I need to add here that while there was a definite beginning to this part of my healing, the end will only happen in heaven. Repentance, the sorrow that leads to life, is a continuous process for an imperfect person. But progress, however slow, has been steady and laced with many blessings.

One of these blessings came to me through God’s word a few months ago in one of our church’s small group meetings. We were reading through a very familiar passage in Romans 8. I don’t even remember the topic of that particular night’s discussion, as this was actually just a small part of it, but as I read these words, my emotions welled up and my eyes filled with tears: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (verses 35-39)

It occurred to me then, I don’t have to be just a survivor. God offers me more. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for [me]—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (verse 32) As a survivor, I only depended on myself for change. That gave me very limited resources. What separates a survivor from a “more than conqueror” child of God is Who they rely on for change in their life. As a child of God, I became not just a conqueror, but “more than a conqueror” by depending on Him for whom nothing is impossible—His resources are un-limited! He wants to graciously give me all things! No one can or will ever diminish His love for me, or my worth as declared by that love. No amount of abuse (is that not considered trouble, hardship, persecution or danger?) would separate me from the love of the One who created me, who breathed life into me, and who sustains me through the storms of life.

The One whose anxiety caused Him to sweat drops of blood removes my fear with His perfect love, which continually guides me to see that punishment doesn’t await me, but only blessings! (I John 4:18) The One who was betrayed by all, sympathizes with my lack of trust and fills me with His Spirit of love, which enables me to love and to feel loved. (Romans 5:3-5) The One whose closest friends denied Him and left Him to bear His burden alone provides me with more deep, spiritual, loving Christian friends than I can count. He uses them daily to remind me that I’m not alone and that I have value. Their love for me completes God’s love in me. (1 John 4:11,12) And the One who was forsaken for a time by His Father understands my despair and gives me hope.

So, who can condemn me to a life of anger, bitterness and despair as a victim, or even the incomplete life of a survivor? No one! Jesus, who conquered death and was raised to life, intercedes for me! He promises that nothing can or will separate me from God’s love. Because of Him, I am whole. I am already healed. I am not a victim. I am not just a survivor. I am more than a conqueror!New Wineskins

Sheri SwaimSheri Swaim grew up in Dallas, Texas where she spent her teen years riding and showing horses. After moving to Maryland in 1981, she began working with the teens at the University Park congregation in Hyattsville. Sheri and her husband, Denny, spent four years mentoring children at Cornhusker Christian Children’s Home in Nebraska. They now reside in Annapolis, Maryland, with three kids of their own. Sheri works as the church secretary and enjoys teaching both adults and fifth & sixth graders at the Bowie Church of Christ.
Contact Sheri Swaim

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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