“Removing the Debris:
From Victim to Wounded Healer”
Prayerfully I (Pam) thought about what God would have me write in this testimony (I have many testimonies/miracles to share.). Initially, I want to point out that I believe I have both the life experience and educational background to guide you through disordered eating, anxiety/depression, and/or issues dealing with abuse. I am a survivor of physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. My educational background includes both a Master of Arts and an Educational Specialist Degree in Adult & Higher Education, Counseling Specialization and an Advanced Diploma in Biblical Counseling. I am a Board Certified Christian Counselor, an Advanced Christian Life Coach, Public Speaker and have been blessed to write and edit four Biblically-based books . I am a member of American Association of Christian Counselors, International Christian Coaching Association, and Christian Association for Psychological Studies. That’s a lot of professional accolades one might think. However, these accomplishments did not come easy. Here’s a glimpse into my life story:
My life alone is a sermon as in many ways I am a walking miracle. I could write a book about having my childhood stolen from me by having to grow up in a family with mental illness. But I won’t do that here. I want to begin with June 26, 1988, the day that changed my life forever. I lived in Nashville and was a member at Two Rivers Baptist Church at that time. On this date, I fainted and fell down a flight of stairs crushing my left ankle. Ten days later July 6 doctors performed surgery that included a bone graft from my hip and the insertion of 2 metal plates and 16 screws to rebuild my ankle. Doctors told me that I would probably never walk again. They said if I did, I would have to use a cane. As many know, the great physician can heal when modern medicine fails. Throughout my recovery after the accident, I struggled with depression but didn’t seek help at that point. Then May 9, 1989 my cousin the late entertainer Keith Whitley died. At the time of Keith’s death, I was feeling exceptionally low, even to the point of contemplating suicide.
“If you have a problem…It doesn’t have to be alcohol and drugs . . .any problem, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, psychological, or emotional, get help,” said Ricky Skaggs, country music artist during Keith’s funeral. “Don’t let this happen to you. I know this is what Keith would want me to say.”
The words spoken by Ricky penetrated deep into my soul. Shortly after the funeral, I sought professional help. Doctors diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and codependency. In November that year I faced a second surgery on my left ankle to remove the metal and scar tissue. During recovery from the surgery I faced the blow of Mama Owens’ death and due to still being in a cast, being unable to return to Kentucky for her funeral. That really hurt and set me back a lot. Though I still pressed on to find healing from the pains in my past.
Recovery from any type of past abuse is similar to the grieving process depicted by Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 1:4, Nehemiah began his journey with weeping, mourning, fasting, and prayer, all key elements in the recovery process. Nehemiah 1:6 reveals how Nehemiah continued his journey with repentance for his sins and those of his people. Repentance involves breaking through denial, which many individuals prefer to live in after being abused.
Before anyone can move on from being a victim of abuse, the damage from that abuse must be surveyed as Nehemiah went from gate to gate viewing the devastation of the temple walls. This scene is depicted in Nehemiah 2:13-15. On any road to healing, you can expect opposition just as Nehemiah (v.2: 10, 19; vv. 4:1-3; vv. 6:1-14) faced opposition on his journey. Nehemiah responded to opposition with four things. First, Nehemiah turned to prayer for deliverance when faced with opposition. Secondly, Nehemiah called for help and unity among the Jews (vv. 2:16-18). Thirdly, Nehemiah and the Jews building the wall kept watch for their enemies and were always ready for battle (vv. 4:16-18). Fourthly, Nehemiah and the others helping persisted in working to complete the task (vv. 6:15-19).
With Nehemiah as the scriptural basis for needing to ponder or recount the effects of my past abuse, I applied Nehemiah’s journey to my recovery process? Complete recovery of “removing the debris” left by abuse requires a connection with and release of one’s emotions. Recall how Nehemiah wept over the devastation. The recounting process for me involved three things, which allowed emotional connection and release. First, journaling helped me discover my feelings and unlock repressed memories. Journaling also helps a person keep track of his or her progress through recovery.
Secondly, emotional connection and release were found for me through psychotherapy with several different professional counselors. Different counselors and therapists have different styles. I recommend anyone considering counseling find a qualified therapist he or she is comfortable with preferably one who incorporates Christian ideology and techniques.
Thirdly, emotional connection and release can be found through the help of a support group. Recall how Nehemiah recruited and organized other Jews to help him complete the building of the wall. My primary support group became my church family. Other support groups include the numerous 12-step groups, such as Codependent’s Anonymous, Overeater’s Anonymous, etc.
Before a person sets out to rebuild a life that was damaged by abuse, the losses and damages to that life must be surveyed. Recall how Nehemiah surveyed the damage before rebuilding. Abuse can result in losses in five different areas of life. First, losses from abuse can come in the form of missed opportunities. I think of how the chance for having a “normal” life was stolen from me. Secondly, negative effects of abuse may be cognitive in nature. For example, sometimes I experience problems concentrating. Thirdly, negative effects of abuse may include stress-related physical illnesses. I have had problems with TMJ, gastroesophageal reflux, nervous bladder, and other similar health issues. Fourthly, abuse damages our emotions. For example, I often felt that I could never be good enough so I strived for perfectionism, which is harmful because it’s impossible to obtain on earth. Fifthly, relationship problems also occur as a result of abuse. The lack of trust created during abuse is a key factor here.
My “surveying” process included a lot of self-education. I especially sought resources related to my particular issues. This education came from reading books and articles, viewing documentaries, and tapping available community resources (for example, support groups and specialized counselors).
A quick “forgive and forget” mode encouraged by some does not lead to ultimate peace. The injury and its consequences must be acknowledged. Offering forgiveness does not condone the actions of the offender. Forgiveness acknowledges the complete work of Christ’s blood on the cross.
Even with the help of a therapist, a support group, etc., I had relapses. Anyone in recovery can expect to face opposition on the journey to wellness. For example, opposition can come in the form of family or friends embarrassed by the abuse. When I first entered psychotherapy, family members begged me to not look back. However, I knew I had to in order to find peace and the answers I sought. After the memories returned and I confronted relatives with what I knew, I was accused of lying and became the black sheep in the family.
Another example of facing opposition in recovery is how Satan will throw stumbling blocks on the road to recovery (I Peter 5: 8). Just as Nehemiah faced attacks of criticism and ridicule (e.g.: vv. 4:1-3) and even an attempted assassination plot (v. 6:10), we too can protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks. How? There are three ways to guard against Satan. First, put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11). Our spiritual weapons of defense based on Ephesians 6 include truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. Secondly, resist the devil (James 4:7) and thirdly, never compromise your convictions and try to deal with the devil. Note how in Nehemiah 6, Nehemiah held fast and refused to give in to the enemy’s tricks.
In my concluding remarks about recovering from abuse, I stress that when a person has been victimized or experienced loss similar to Nehemiah, he or she must recount the experience and survey its effects before offering forgiveness and moving on with one’s life. I would add two important points to remember. First, although circumstances may seem to get worse before they get better in recovery, it is only through Christ that you can grow to become known as a survivor rather than a victim of past abuse. I base this on John 15:5. Secondly, although relapses occur, it’s important to move on and not get stuck along the way. I found motivation to move on from my past in Philippians 3: 12-16. Just as Nehemiah and the Jews reached their common goal of rebuilding the wall, I too rose above above the pain and obstacles in my life.
In 2000 after completing treatment for the depression and other related issues and following my surrender to a call into full-time vocational ministry, particularly Christian counseling and education, I quit my position at Thomas Nelson Publishers to return to graduate school at Morehead State University in Kentucky. In Morehead there were no Southern Baptist Churches. When a cousin invited me to visit Morehead First Church of the Nazarene, I knew I had found a church home.
After finishing my education at Morehead in 2009 and being unable to find work in Kentucky, I decided to return to Nashville. I came back to Nashville under the pretense of having a position working as a counselor working with women in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction at a retreat center. The position was to provide housing and a car to drive with a small income. When the position turned out to be a scam and I refused to work with the con artist, I ended up at the Nashville Rescue Mission. In walking distance of the mission, I started attending Nashville’s First Church of the Nazarene. That’s where my husband Milton comes into the story. We met at First Nazarene Church. Within two weeks of our meeting, Milton had proposed to me and I accepted. That’s how sure both of us were that God was calling us into matrimony together. On December 5, 2010 Milton and I married. Since Milton and I married I have completed an Advanced Diploma in Biblical Counseling through the American Association of Christian Counselors/Light University. Additionally, in 2012 I received certifications as a Board Certified Christian Counselor through the Board of Christian Professional and Pastoral Counselors and as a Board Certified Advanced Christian Life Coach through Board of Christian Life Coaching.
I look forward to how God will be using Milton and me both as individuals and as a couple in ministry down the road. Thank you for your time and attention given to reading the first of many testimonies I hope to share. I pray the content will motivate others to have the courage to face past or current hurts by “removing the debris” in their lives.