The Lazarus Project

Resurrecting hope for Christian victims and survivors of family violence.

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How long does it take to heal?

Tell me, Christine, how long does it take to heal completely after leaving a life of abuse and divorce?  Sometimes I feel absolutely free of my past life, but often times I do not.


 There are three answers to your question, actually.

     First, healing is a process. A process takes time. Now, please note that I did not say that the passage of time would bring the healing. The saying, "time heals all wounds" is a fallacy.  Things that bring healing emanate from the Author of Healing. But it is not an instantaneous or overnight process. A farmer would not sow his seed one day and expect a harvest the next. Time is an element of the germination, growth, and maturation of his crop--but it is not the source of growth.

     Some may flippantly say, "you should be over it by now." That is not sage advice or anything that you should follow or even waste your energy contemplating. The emotional wounds from a divorce can go very deep. But the wounds caused by a divorce resulting from abuse go even deeper.

    The second answer to our question is this: for some, it will take longer than for others. To some degree, the length of time required for healing depends upon the depth of the wound. A superficial wound will heal much more quickly than a deeper wound, such as those following surgery, for example. 

    The third answer to your question is a little less straightforward.  The healing process is dependent upon one’s willingness to engage in the work of healing.  What on earth do I mean by that?  Well, it may be easier to first define what I do not mean.  Healing is not pretending that the abuse is over (or that the relationship is over) and that now everything is fine. I have known several people who have been out of their abuse experience for many, many years and have not yet taken a step toward their own healing.  In my opinion, they are just as captive outside their abuse experience as they were in it.  They were free from their abuser, but they were not free from the abuse.

    In my research, I identified two detours on the pathway to healing.  One of those detours is pseudo-recovery.  In pseudo-recovery, one appears to be doing well, managing the affairs of their life, but without ever having dealt with the pain and the loss and the shame and the brokenness that comes with having been abused.  Sadly, one of the participants in my study had been stuck on this detour for 30 years.  She had finally realized that she needed to work on these things, and had just begun to do so at the time of our interview. 

    Experts on rape and sexual assault know this well.  Rape victims are told by counselors and police alike that they need to talk about the trauma and work through it in order to heal.  Those that don’t talk about it find that stuffing those emotions and suppressing them is far more damaging, in that these bottled-up emotions will erupt in an explosive way later on.  The same is true of abuse victims.  John Bradshaw once said, “the only way out is through.”  One must be willing to work through these difficult emotions, learn from the experience, develop an understanding of it, and then, they can move on.  But how long that takes is different for each person. 

    One of the participants in my study really did the work of healing.  Although she had barely been out of her abuse experience long enough to qualify to be in my study (a minimum of 10 years), she was further along in her healing process than many who had been out of their abusive relationships for 2-and-a-half or 3 decades.  She had come so far in her healing that she had forgiven her abuser, felt compassion for him, and wished him no evil.  She had given up the need for revenge.  She no longer felt guilt or shame for the abuse experience, and even the pain of it was gone (These were all markers I noted along the healing pathway).

    It is hard to define "work" of healing; since everyone's abuse experience is slightly different, some tasks of healing may not be necessary for one, but indispensable for another. In some ways, doing the "work" of healing is a bit like administering first aid after an injury. A broken bone must be "set" in order to heal properly; improper function may result if this step is overlooked. A laceration must be cleaned, and in some cases debrided, before applying antibiotic ointments and bandages to prevent infection.  Victims of  disasters like earthquakes, flash floods, major fires and bridge collapses should never be expected to just get up and walk away from the scene without professional medical care and counseling. So too must domestic violence victims take the time to dress their emotional and physical wounds from the abuse if they expect to move from a place of being a victim to one of being a survivor.

     To a large degree, the willingness to let go of bitterness and the 'right' to be angry and wounded determines how far and how fast one is able to move down the healing pathway. Another woman in my study, who had been out of her abuse experience for 12-13 years, had held on to her bitterness even though she was a Christian.  I happen to know this woman, even outside her participation in the study, and that bitterness has infiltrated into every aspect of her life. It has affected all her relationships, as well as her ability to remain employed, to have meaningful friendships, to have workable relationships with her own children, and to obtain stable housing.  Although she knew the One to whom she could give all her pain and bitterness, she chose instead to hold onto it and, because of that choice, she became defiled. Interestingly, two other women in the study who had moved much further on in their healing process had given up their bitterness were not Christians at all--one, in fact, had completely rejected Christianity.

    But the good news is that we know the Healer of Broken Hearts. The One who set the stars in place is able to shepherd our wounded souls onto the path of healing if we will but let Him. We can trust Him to lead us, showing us what we need to work on, one task at a time. He will never lead us astray, or neglect or batter us, as our abusers did. It takes courage to do the work of healing. If we are willing, He will show us the way.

 —Christine Hagion Rzepka

Posted on 02/08
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