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Recovering from Abuse

I was in an abusive relationship. And even though it ended almost two years ago, I still cannot get over it.

How Can I Get Over This Breakup?

Q I dated a girl for five years. She was a Christian, but we broke up nine months ago because we felt we weren't right for each other. I haven't been out on any dates since, and lately, I've gotten really down about everything. I want God to fill the void left by my ex-girlfriend, but I feel like he's just putting me through trial after trial. I'm so angry, and it makes me want to quit going to church and quit everything that has to do with God. Yesterday I almost left my Bible at church because I didn't want to have anything to do with the pain it brings me. What should I do?

A First, realize God is not the cause of your pain. Breaking up with someone you love is always hard. While it may have been the right thing to end the relationship, that doesn't keep it from hurting. It hurts because you were very close, and now you're not. But God didn't break you apart. He allowed you to make the decision and to deal with the consequences that followed. The suffering you're now experiencing is just a part of life, something every single person experiences sooner or later. As Job said, "Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward" (5:7).

Second, don't let your frustration push you away from God. Rather, express your anger to him. I don't think God minds when we complain bitterly to him. (The Psalms are full of complaints to God.) Keep your thinking straight, however. You could leave your Bible, leave your church, leave God, and you would still be hurting just as much as ever. Most likely more.

Third, begin to appreciate what suffering can do for you. That may sound like strange advice, but it's true that God can teach you a lot through your trials. He can use them to shape you and make you more of the man he wants you to be. The book of James says this: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (1:2-4).

During these hard times, I'd ask God to show you someone who will listen to you. You don't necessarily need advice. You don't need a girlfriend. You do need an ear from someone who can sympathize, care and listen patiently but not get dragged down into your worst feelings.

Most of all you need time. Healing can be a long process. You're in a marathon, and right now you have reached a point where the race seems hopeless and you want to quit. No shortcuts are available. You have to keep going.

Eventually it will seem worth it. Put your trust in God, continue to live in a way you know is healthy and good, and just keep going. In time you'll discover that you have an occasional good day. Then you'll have almost as many good days as bad. Eventually, the bad feelings will only occasionally intrude.

Hold that in your mind as a hope. You will survive, and you will someday smile again.

I Can't Express My Feelings

Q I have a hard time expressing my feelings, and this causes problems in my relationships, especially with the opposite sex. Something holds me back. I guess it's the fear of getting hurt. It's probably also because I feel like I'm a very boring person. I don't talk a lot because it makes me so uncomfortable. What can I do to not seem so boring? What can I do to improve my communication skills?

A Congratulations for asking a good question. Rather than complaining, you've pinpointed your inability to express yourself well and to connect with other people. You've zeroed in on an issue that lies behind many problems in relating.

The solution is mostly hard work. It's a lot like a person who has always hated exercise and finally decides to get in shape. First, that person has to pick some form of exercise and start doing it daily. Let's say the person chooses running. Being a runner myself, I'd say a beginning runner needs to run five days a week for a month before he or she can even begin to imagine that running could be enjoyable. For that entire month, he or she will probably hate every single moment of running. A month of that seems like a very long time! But, if a beginning runner keeps it up, he or she will start to feel OK in the second month, and by the third month will likely feel the best ever.

Learning how to communicate is similar. You have to put yourself in situations that are painful. Change will only come as you open your mouth and use it. For example, you could take a class in public speaking. In it you'll learn some techniques for speaking in a way that's lively and interesting. More importantly, you'll be forced to stand up in front of people and talk. You'd probably prefer to have your fingernails jerked out with pliers! But it can definitely change you, showing you that you're perfectly capable of communicating in an interesting way, if you put in the effort.

Another possibility: take on a role in leadership. And don't tell me nobody wants you to be a leader. You might not be elected class president. But volunteer to help organize the school tutoring program, or to contact volunteers for the church blood drive, or to publicize a picnic for your youth group, and you'll find that plenty of people are willing to look to you for leadership.

Of course, you have to follow through. Leaders must communicate! You have to call people on the phone, talk to them about your plans, even motivate them to participate. That's painful for someone like you. However, it will become less painful as you do it, and you'll begin to learn how to express yourself in a way others can relate to.

Finally, take a look at each of your relationships and set goals. Suppose you're in a car pool with someone. Set a goal to ask one good question each day. Also set a goal to share one piece of information about yourself each day, doing it in a pleasant and interesting way. (It could be a comment about a TV show you watched and enjoyed, or something your dog did, or your favorite memory of your grandmother.) Then, with these goals in mind, rehearse in advance what you're going to say each day and how you're going to say it. Good conversationalists do this all the time, without having to think about it, but it might be hard work for you! Do it for a month, and you'll start to find it's OK. Do it for two months, and you'll be having interesting conversations.

Q I was in an abusive relationship. And even though it ended almost two years ago, I still cannot get over it. It's hard for me to date anyone because I'm afraid the same thing might happen again. I am so sick of being like this. It's even made my dad and me grow farther apart. He and my mom just found out about two weeks ago that this happened, and they were upset with me for not telling them. My boyfriend would always hit me in places I could cover up with clothes, so no one knew. How can I get over this and make my parents see why I didn't tell them?

A You need to see a counselor, somebody who has experience helping people in your situation. Ask your pastor, your doctor or your school counselor for recommendations. Enlist your parents' help. They need some counseling too, to help them understand what you've been through and how to support you. Those who have never been abused find it hard to understand why the victim would keep silent. A counselor can serve as an interpreter to get you and your parents communicating positively again. There is help available, and you can recover from this awful experience. You might try one of the following phone numbers: 1-800-NEW-LIFE or 1-800-383-HOPE.

I hope your letter will help others who are in abusive situations to get out of them now, and to talk to someone about what has happened. You never "help" an abusive and violent person by putting up with his or her behavior.

I'm Scared of this Guy

Q I have a big problem. This guy is always touching and grabbing me in inappropriate places. I've tried to fight him, but he's about 100 pounds heavier than me. I'm forced to be around this guy often, sometimes with nobody else in the room. I'm very scared of him. I'm also afraid he may try to make me do other things when no one is around. My mom knows about him, but she lives 800 miles away. I'm afraid to tell my dad because he's already so strict. If I told him, he wouldn't let me do anything. Every day I wish I was ugly so this guy maybe would stay away from me.

A You need to say no to this guy. And you need to say no to ever being alone with him. You're in a dangerous situation, and there is no room for taking any chances. Say no and mean it.

You also need to tell your dad. While he may be strict, he's your dad and he's supposed to protect you. If you can't face him alone, get your pastor, a school counselor, or someone else you trust. If you get desperate, call the police and tell them you're being sexually abused. They are trained to find help for people in your situation.

Am I Sexually Messed Up?

Q I just turned 18, and I have a girlfriend—my first in over a year—but every time I kiss her I feel guilty. The problem is I just don't find girls attractive—not even supermodels. I don't have homosexual thoughts; I just don't have heterosexual thoughts. Should I go to a doctor?

A Going to a doctor might help, if only to set your mind at ease that there's probably nothing wrong with you. People are different. Some have very powerful sex drives, and others don't. You might have the impression from watching TV that sexual attraction is the most overwhelming force in the world—and it is for some people. But it isn't for everybody.

And that's OK. You don't have to search for some factor that will change you. You don't even have to have a girlfriend! If you have a girlfriend you enjoy, it's not mandatory that you kiss her. Kissing can sometimes get in the way of developing encouraging, communicative relationships—especially when that's all a guy can think about. So consider it a good thing that physical contact isn't your top priority.

Perhaps at this point in your life sexual attraction doesn't drive you. Maybe friendship is far more important to you. That doesn't mean you'll never feel sexual attraction. When you become deeply attached to a girl whom you care for as a friend, you'll likely find that kissing becomes a more desirable experience. Regardless, don't feel obliged to act and feel the way you think you're supposed to. The only person you have to live up to is yourself—and God. You're made in God's image, as a unique individual. Live up to that.

Forgive My Abuser?

Q I was sexually abused by the pastor of the church I went to. He was put in jail. But now he's out on parole, living in a different state. I know he won't hurt me again, but I'm having a hard time forgiving him. I know you are not supposed to have unforgiveness in your heart, but I feel as though I do. I want to know how to forgive him for the awful things he did.

A When something so terrible has happened, forgiveness can be a lifelong process. You may never completely lose the dreadful feelings you have toward him, but you can move steadily in the right direction. Just the fact that you want to forgive him reflects an act of God in your life, giving you grace.

I think it's extremely important to get help in the process. I'd suggest a woman counselor. You can ask your new pastor, your youth leader, Sunday school teacher, or any trusted Christian friend to help you find a female Christian counselor who can help you with forgiveness. If you don't have the money, many Christian counselors can help you anyway.

Also, these two hotlines can help point you in the right direction: 1-800-new-life and 1-800-383-hope.

Due to the volume of mail, Tim cannot answer every letter. Questions should be sent to: "Love, Sex & Real Life," Campus Life, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188. You can also reach "Love, Sex & Real Life" via fax (630-260-0114). Look for more on love and dating