I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. –John 14:18
In a way I feel like I am cheating a little. This is a favorite scripture of mine, and both it, and the above image always touch something soft within me (I really would like to get a framed print of this painting–“Security” by David Bowman). I decided last week to choose this verse for the ponderize challenge because I wanted to study into it more, as well as share it (and why it is special to me). In a way there may not be as much to analyze as I have done in previous scripture-based entries….but what I did look at, and consider, strengthened my personal reason for feeling drawn to this verse. I will share some personal history that explains why it is that I find comfort in this passage.
The context is Christ preparing the disciples for his departure. In Greek “orphans” is the word used in place of comfortless, but the translation is one and the same because to be an orphan/ without the love, guidance, and protection of parents is considered to be the most comfortless kind of person/ state. Essentially, Christ was as a father to his disciples, and referred to them as his children. In their grief of being told that his death was approaching, he gave them this message of comfort—it explains both his resurrection that would follow his death, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit that would be a constant companion, guide, source of comfort …and connection to Him. Thus, he was explaining that he would not truly be abandoning them, or leaving them without His guidance and love.
This was not just a message, or promise for the disciples…. but for all of us. We are never alone, or abandoned. His love surrounds us always.
Orphans are those who are neglected, alone, forgotten…abused……no one to love them, protect them, care for them….no one to hold them, or provide comfort from pain, suffering… or from the cold heavy weight of feeling unloved, and unwanted. It is indeed accurate to use “comfortless” in exchange for the word orphans….for they are one and the same. We all likely face our moments of feeling lost, and alone in the world…..as if no one can see us, or understand….or that we are without love. For some, it could even be a truth that no mortal comfort or love is available for them. However, no matter what lacking we endure in regard to the love and companionship from other humans, we always are loved, heard, and watched-over. Our suffering never goes without notice, and our tears are all counted. I say this with strong personal testimony.
The reason that this verse touches me so deeply, is because I had a very difficult childhood.
My mother took me to a friend’s church for a short while when I was a toddler, and taught me how to pray. I still have memories of that nightly routine even though I was only two or three. There was a yellow blanket on my bed, and wood paneling on the wall. In particular, I remember how much I loved to sing “Jesus Loves Me” ( which was part of the bed time ritual). It may sound typical and insignificant, but despite only being for a brief period (things changed), it stayed with me. Those specific words/ lyrics stayed with me as well. Throughout my childhood when I was alone, scared, or in pain…I gripped those words and beliefs. That knowledge gave me something to cling to, and I believe helped me to survive through the silence and lack of human comfort when I faced difficult things that I did not really have the ability to understand. I constantly was directly told (and was shown/ treated as such) that I was worthless, not wanted, not loved… and never would be. Those song lyrics were important, because they said that someone loved and wanted me (“little ones to him belong…”). I always hid my prayers, and felt that I had to keep it secret that I believed (and knew/felt) that I was loved, watched over…. and heard. I knew that if my prayers/ beliefs were discovered, that every effort would have been made to ridicule and strip it away from me..…because it contradicted with everything that was told to me. I had learned not to reveal attachment or love for anything because it often would be harshly criticized, destroyed, or taken away from me. So I guarded it.
As an adult convert amongst those who were accustomed, and even raised to freely share their testimonies, I know that my minimal vocalization was sometimes perceived by some as a possible lacking in that area. It hurt to know that I was seen that way— most especially when I directly heard it. It did not diminish my truth… but it hurt regardless, and made it all the more difficult for me to share. It just was hard for me to break the habit of clutching it all tightly within me (that, and it meant having to reveal things about myself that were hard to talk about, and that I worried would make people uncomfortable). It was the one thing I could not bare for anyone to criticize, or take away from me. I knew that I would be lost without it.
I have been using this blog ( both past scripture-based posts, and the current ponderize challenge), in an attempt to break out of my shell, and share more of myself in this area. I also hope that it will help me get past an anxiety/phobia issue that has held me back from direct participation for many years. It is beginning steps of working on “outer issues” that I hope will help me eventually solve the core per se. It is good for me to write, study, and explore regardless if anyone actually reads any of my articles. In the past I did not share my views very often, because I feared I would somehow make mistakes (say something “stupid”), interpret things wrong, reveal what knowledge I was lacking (convert) etc… The fear of appearing “stupid” has always been hard for me due to aspects of my childhood—there was an extreme lack of patience, and no understanding that children need to be taught how to do things. So, even as an adult, sometimes all it takes is a couple snaps and impatient/ irritated comments by someone implying I should know something…and I instinctively clam-up (and avoid that area/topic thereafter). Even now I can’t help but worry I will “get things wrong” here in this blog, and people will see my understanding and views as being incorrect or naive. Its hard to break that, but its what I am trying to do.
I grew-up believing that who I was, and what I had to offer was not “good enough”…everything from physical appearance, intelligence….and even the love that I felt, and tried to give. I always felt apologetic for not being more, and automatically assumed that it was a given that I was “not enough” (thus why some unhealthy situations as a young adult felt normal/ given, when really it was due to having been preconditioned to believe that I was of little worth to others). I often kept quiet, and concealed myself in part due to thinking people would reject, and not like who I was (see fault), when in reality I had it backwards. I spent my childhood constantly trying so hard to love, give, please… and be of worth to others…only to be ridiculed, harmed, and denied. I was not allowed to express when I was in pain, hungry, sick—anything that would “burden” or create annoyance. I was essentially trained from a young age that my needs, and what I felt did not matter, and would make others angry or upset in some form…. or would result in punishment/ harm. My core instinct/reflex is to hide pain, because it will upset others. I still tend to quietly curl-up into things on my own, and keep so much held tightly within…..but I do not want to do that anymore. In general I have made it a goal to stop “concealing” who I am on all levels/ areas, and sharing my beliefs is one of the areas that I am working on. It is not easy for me. I was programmed from an early age to conceal everything for various reasons, so I have lived most of my life under tight constraints……be it intelligence, my history (and the battle with c-ptsd that resulted), as well as core beliefs….and love.
So, for the sake of sharing more, the following is personal information I typically would not reveal in a public format. I am not seeking pity, and do not like to feel sorry for my own self either. I am sharing this information in relation to “comfort”, as well as to help increase awareness, and improve understanding/ response to those who struggle with abuse in their past. It is not all doom and gloom, I also will share how I overcame things.
Through my childhood I experienced years of constant traumatic experiences that were physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive/painful, and I almost died from severe medical neglect. I was always alienated and isolated, and left to cope with everything on my own—of everything, I think that is what was most damaging. I thought that what happened to me did not matter, and also believed that I was different/ less than other kids. I did not understand that anyone was supposed to care (not even when I knew that I was dying due to the medical issue). I did not experience affection or comfort, nor was I ever physically held. I had to of been handled and loved when I was a baby/ toddler, but the only memories that I have are a couple involving sitting on the laps of my grandparents, and the bedtime prayer ritual. I now know that there were family members who would have provided, but I was trained to keep out of reach, and to conceal (via shame/ being made to believe it was my fault, and further “punishing” me when I reacted to pain, or revealed injury), so they did not realize. The abuse taught me that touch was painful/ harmful, and something to avoid. I did not understand that those things could be “good”, or helpful. I do not recall ever having the thought, “I wish someone would hold me” when I was an actual child. When I self-soothed with rocking, blanket weight, sleeping with my arms folded tight to my chest/ under me etc…I did not really understand what it was that I was simulating. I was seventeen when I truly discovered “hugs”…..and unfortunately people did not understand, and were just annoyed by my out-stretched arms. I also was delayed in social skills, and with learning how to connect with others. My smiley-perky cover for my shyness and insecurities resulted in people assuming that I was not very bright, and thus they did not take me very seriously (and unfortunately, I think some people were never able to let go of those impressions, despite anything else I later tried to share). My need, and quiet/ darker moments when I would let go of the “bounce”….were misinterpreted as being a “Lost Little Girl Act” (direct words that I heard), and ploys to get attention. They did not understand that it was real, and that a different kind of attention was needed than what they assumed.
Whenever I did try to share, people seemed to conclude that I was lying, or exaggerating….or that it was some kind of tactic (even now, just explaining these things makes me cringe… because my instinct is that people will roll their eyes, see this as me being melodramatic, or seeking pity etc..). I was accused of faking flinch/ startle responses, when in reality it was mortifying for me whenever it happened, and something I cannot control (just as our bodies remember the pain of being burned, and thus reflectively flinch away at the sensation of heat…. mine was programmed to expect pain, and to protect itself whenever anyone moved too fast towards me, swung anything near my head, and sometimes even when touched/ reached towards unexpectedly). I understand now that those kind of skeptical reactions are common, because it is safer to believe that someone is lying, than to truly consider those we care about experiencing painful things that people naturally want to reject, and not think about. However, in the past I did not understand that. The rejection was very painful, and sometimes served to confirm, and contribute to mistaken/ingrained beliefs about my own self, and “not belonging”. It is always stressed that those who are abused are not “damaged goods”, but the result of rejecting/ignoring someone struggling with those experiences is that they are given that impression — thus why it is important to remember that in wanting to object against, and not look at ugly abuses/ uncomfortable things… that we do not also alienate, and push away those who were hurt, and are most in need of support and love. Otherwise, in a sense, when we ignore suffering….it allows the abuse, damage, and isolation to continue—it succeeds in making the abuser’s intentions and words come true ( that no one will love, want etc…). It unintentionally contributes.
I did not know how to explain myself, and the reasons behind my quirks and behaviors. I assumed attempting to explain would result in either not being believed, or people not wanting to be around me. Friends would snap, and get annoyed with me for my habit of frequently apologizing for things that were not my fault, or in my control. They did not realize it was due to having grown-up the target/blame for everything, thus it was a self-protective reflex/ programming of sorts to instantly apologize, and try to diffuse any tension others around me experienced (it developed in childhood as an automatic response in attempt to avoid being beaten….and I also would keep saying it to try to convince them to stop, even when I did not know what I was apologizing for). There was a time when a friend was in a very agitated mood, which in turn put me on alert, and resulted in automatically apologizing .They became more irritated, and demanded that I stop saying that I was sorry (when I had not done anything). They then asked in anger and exasperation, “Why do you do that !?”. I remained silent. It was extremely difficult for me to reveal those things about myself (and my history), so I only ever shared bits and pieces/ main events…not the full extent. I primarily shared in written form, and only outright spoke about things a small number of times. It is also typically hard for me to ask for anything, but most especially anything in that area. I don’t like to feel like I am an inconvenience. I don’t recall ever directly asking anyone for “help”…. I just kind of hoped that maybe someday someone would offer. The last thing that I wanted was to burden, or upset others. I especially did not want to be pitied, or seen as being weak….needy… (and I knew those impressions made me appear undesirable/ annoying, and thus caused people to retreat). I also did not want to “infect” anyone with what was inside of me, or for anyone to feel obligated. However, sometimes some of it would just “leak” no matter how much I fought to keep it contained. I didn’t want special treatment, I just…..didn’t want to remain alone.
Touch has the power to connect us. It communicates love, protection, being valued….cherished. It shows that someone wants you to feel comfort, and good things. When we love something, we keep it safe, care for it’s well being, and are gentle with it. In reverse, abuse disconnects. That is why the scars and pain go beyond the physical, and can be so far-reaching. It communicates hatred. It devalues, it degrades, it violates…and it projects a desire to inflict harm and pain, and even reveals pleasure gained when those things are achieved. It says, “I want you to break.” It isolates.
For many years I had an intense constant longing to experience positive physical contact. To be held. To be touched with care. Comfort. I think the best way to describe it, is that it was akin to always being deeply cold, and desperate to find a way to get warm. I had not experienced affectionate touches, so I was missing “basics”. I wondered what it would feel like to have my hair stroked, back gently rubbed etc… I yearned to know what those things felt like—to feel cared for, and protected. I needed to experience something good to hold-up against the mass of dark/cold memories that pushed at me within. Unfortunately, lacking trust in most people when it came to being touched… limited, and restricted options in that area. I know that my need likely seemed annoying and childish to others, but it was due to not having experienced those kind of interactions when I actually was a child (but rather, the “opposite”…and seeing wicked pleasure gained from the ability to hurt me). Over the course of my childhood I had to of been hit a couple thousand times, in addition to other forms of abuse that occurred routinely, and I experienced assault at a young age. I needed to know that touch could be something good (like it was for others), and not something that always results in harm, pain, or being used like a disposable empty object.
In a way, the very damage and need in me seemed to create barriers and obstacles that prevented those needs from being met. People retreated quickly when they got glimpses of it (I think often hoping/ assuming someone else would provide). I felt like an inconvenience; a chore not worth giving time to. I felt shame and embarrassment for the pain within me due to the discomfort, annoyance, and burden that it created for others. My lack of experience with the fundamentals for connecting with others (communicating, affection, touch etc…) caused me to fumble around, try too hard, over-give etc… and often resulted in being taken for granted/ advantage of, and remaining empty-handed. I just couldn’t seem to get it right. I made mistakes. What appeared to be so elemental for everyone, felt so elusive to me.
They always phrase overcoming abuse/ trauma as “recovering from”, “rehabilitation”, and “regaining this, recovery of that”, but when things happen at a very young age, there is no “before” to recover or regain….nothing else to reference. This is especially true when the abuse was constant, without anything else provided. Thus, the only way to break free and learn something else is to be shown, and to have new, positive, loving experiences. Yet, everyone seemed to want me to “just get over it”, or to somehow grow out of it as I became an adult. There was an expectancy for me to magically be “normal” without the needed elements, or filling of “holes”. I tried so hard to be, and act normal…. and was harsh against myself in my efforts. Sometimes it felt like I had pain-filled darkness pressing behind me, and locked… chained-up doors in front of me. Trapped. Eventually the darkness exploded on me, and dragged me into it.
I developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Essentially, for several years I experienced frequent flashbacks and nightmares that were akin to being pulled into time warps of past traumatic experiences….complete with emotions, terror, physical pain/sensation, feeling small and helpless, worthless etc….It impacted me the same way it would have had those things been currently/ truly happening again. I had a massive storage, including a great deal that I had not been aware that I had been repressing. When attempts to get help failed/ backfired, I ended-up withdrawing, and dealing with it in the way that I was previously trained to cope with pain—in silence. I now know that wrong, but at the time I did not see other options. I went through it all again (some things many times over) without anything to “counter” it, and it took additional toll. Something inside of me broke, and the craving for affection I had previously battled with….. disappeared. In it’s place, for a long time I could not bare to be touched (even arm taps, hugs etc.. caused me to feel sick/ extreme panic). However, I am human, and needed something. I harmed myself by misusing food for comfort, and to achieve the “full” feeling in attempts to mask the pain of the non-physical emptiness that I could not fill by other means. The physical size I gained provided a sense of safety from harm—it combated the sense of feeling small, alone, and exposed. Additionally, I had an intense need to feel in control, and to protect myself (even from the rejection of help), so I isolated my own self, and withdrew from everything (including church—I never lost my faith, just my trust in people). However, it was not until the storm passed (many years later), that I was able to see what I had done to myself, and why.
Experiencing the flashbacks resulted in desperately longing to pull that terrified child into my arms. I think most adults would instinctively want to rush-in if they directly had to watch, and feel/ see the pain of a child routinely harmed, without any relief or comfort… a child who, after months of enduring the torture of constant excruciating pain (that an adult would have instantly rushed to an emergency room for), prayed to die so that the pain would end. She broke-down, and screamed in agony for hours… and was ignored. We typically dash to hug and kiss children who have scraped their knees, or had a bad dream. I longed to comfort her. Rock her. Hold her tight…and gently stroke the shy head that was constantly attacked with hands and objects. I wished that I could allow her to let it out—to cry with the safety of support, and acknowledgment that had never really been provided. I wanted to tell her that she was loved, that it was not her fault, nor her shame to carry….. and that nothing was wrong with her…..that what happened, and was done to her did matter….. and that most importantly… she was not nothing. But I couldn’t…. because she was me. I think it helped regardless—the visualization of giving love to the younger me who had been left broken and needing those comforts, and ingraining those important words into both “selfs”. I did my best to find ways/perspectives to finally provide the needed relief for my own self.
Eventually I discovered that the only way out was “in”….that I had to force myself to face everything. I had to make myself fully feel, absorb, explore, and think about the experiences (and the emotions that were connected) as they surfaced…instead of trying to buffer, push-down, and distract myself. I also needed to learn how to accept it all. When I was a child, I typically had not been allowed to cry, or react… and things happened so frequently that it all was “normalized” for me, and I just constantly pushed things down in order to deal with whatever happened next. That was why I had not had the chance to really process, or emotionally react to the things that had happened to me, and had accumulated years worth of storage that eventually had to be dealt with. One by one I had to battle it all down in order for the flashbacks to stop, and for those things to no-longer have that kind of controlling power over me. It was difficult—sometimes even terrifying—and it took considerable time. Essentially, it was the difference of cowering under blankets and living in constant fear of the monsters in the closet…. or going into that darkness, and facing/ battling the monsters down…so that I could finally sleep with the door wide-open, knowing that there was nothing left to hide from, or that I could not handle.
What truly got me through it all time and again, was my faith. The knowledge that I was loved by Heavenly Father…and ultimately that matters more than what other humans do, or do not provide… and it is what kept me grounded, and away from the ledge. It was not just at a particular time, but throughout—when I was a child through the original events, when I battled ptsd and had to repeat all of it….and beyond into every day in the present. When things were at their darkest, and it felt like I had no one to talk to….I prayed constantly, often for hours at a time. It almost always resulted in feeling a sense of peace, and the warmth of presence that assured me that I was never truly alone. I was also able to recognize the times that I had been “caught”. Always before the absolute worst could happen, I had been pulled-out or protected in some form or another. I know all the “saves” could not have been accidents, or mere coincidences–they happened over and over. So, that is where I put my trust and focus. Through the worst periods, I did my best to trust that I was not really alone, and that I would be guided through my trials. I reminded myself countless times that if I truly ever needed support or affection, that it would be provided. Someone would be nudged/ prompted. I came to trust that there are reasons ( potentially things I need to learn either for myself, or to help others), even if they are hard to discern now. I was not given anything that I could not handle. I always rise-up.
Ultimately, it is that sense and knowledge of always being surrounded in love from the most important source of all that has helped me to overcome difficult things, and finally feel centered. I no-longer have that driving “need” in me—haven’t for a long time. If anything I now am a bit overly-independent. Sometimes I suspect that maybe the purpose was not for me to find love and strength through others, but to learn that I could find it for my own self….and through my faith. They are sources that are solid, and will remain with me. I know that I am loved, and I am also now strong in my own self, and my truths. I may be single, but I am never alone….. and that provides the “warmth” and fuel that I need (that, and through helping others with their struggles….that also “fills” me). I have not given-up hope that someday a door will open, and I will find someone who is kind, and affectionate… and who instead of seeing me as an inconvenience, will understand that a little love given will result in a lot in return.
I realize this may all seem like an odd tangent, but the purpose was to explain why I am so touched by John 14: 18, and that painting. Every time I see them, its as if something inside of me eases, and I feel a warmth/ glow. Seeing that child held by The Savior…. is akin to seeing the child that was me being held and comforted by him as well. It truly gives me a visualization behind everything that helps to solidify what it was that I have always felt…… that I was, and am loved, and that when it was needed…. there was love, and arms of the highest form around me….I was not comfortless.
( From my Baby Book)