Cult and Abuse Survivor Comes Full Circle

I love the title of Athena Dean Holtz’s book, “Full Circle.” Picture a half moon, and now, a full moon. When you hear the words, full circle, you know it means completion or the fullness of a thing. You’re hopeful from the outset that things will be set right in the end. The author’s story will lift you up, pull you back, fling you sideways, and then twirl you back around. And then you get to do it all over again! So, fasten your seatbelts. In reading Full Circle, you become an armchair traveler in the author’s very personal journey of restoration, reconciliation and redemption. Including periods of time trapped in childhood sexual abuse, deception, false religion and cults, along with poor personal choices. Choices that led to a ripple effect of mistrust, fear and damage in her personal and business relationships. As is so often the case, early memories of abuse, dashed expectations, not fitting in, or outright rejection can become false guideposts for what is to come, and what we are to become. They help fuel the flames of a morphed personal connection to our God-given destinies, dreams, reality and/or future.

We revisit her places of affluence and privilege, influence and prestige to places of failure and shame, false accusations, heartbreak and loss. A constant juxtaposition between having and losing, success and failure, fullness and emptiness. The author candidly shares of her great love for her father. The father who chooses another woman over her mother, redefining the family as they once knew it. A perfectionist mother who she never fully bonded with and whose approval she struggled to win. And early influences that shaped her perceptions about life and God. She walks us through her entanglement with cults, deception and legalism. And her inner struggles with identity, control, workaholism, perfection and perceived wants and needs. We see how her choices mixed with others’ controlling and manipulative influences made for lethal concoctions. A colorful, sometimes toxic, sometimes confusing, sometimes simply human whirlwind of individual pieces to an ultimately beautiful puzzle.

At the conclusion, we are gratefully relieved and encouraged as we see the necessary course corrections put into place. We are relieved and encouraged in part, because readers can find bits and pieces of their own stories within her story. Places in our own lives where we drifted, (purposely drove, or were manipulated/coerced) off course without our navigational systems fully functioning, only to find ourselves shipwrecked and suddenly wondering how we got ourselves so off course.

The author touches on a multitude of issues in Full Circle. Issues that were no doubt difficult to deal with, much less admit. It serves as a painfully transparent reminder that we all have choices. Choices that will reflect what we believe. What we believe about ourselves, others and God. And because we are a part of a greater entity called humanity, choices that will, for better or worse, ripple out to effect the lives of those who touch ours.

Full Circle is the real and personal story of Athena Dean Holtz. But we all have a full circle story of our own. And even if our stories are stuck at “half-moon,” the best message in this book is that by making wise, discerning, healthy choices coupled with the faithfulness and grace of God, we too can come full circle. The stars can shine that bright for all of us! He is a God of restoration, reconciliation and redemption. He never leaves us alone. That’s his promise. If we seek him, we will find him. That means, step-by-step, thought-by-thought, choice-by-choice.

Thank you Athena Dean Holtz for being vulnerable so that others can be more alert, learn, change and grow. I love that when we give, we receive. As the author chose to give, forgive, “do the work” (reconciled business issues, restored personal relationships, redeemed the time and resources God had placed in her hands from an early age, took personal inventory, underwent counseling and now shares her “lessons learned” with others), she received. Not only wholeness, but forgiveness, restored relationships, healthy perspectives, new opportunities, and so on. I love that God’s plans and purposes for us are always for our good. And they are always so much better than we could ever imagine.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

You can purchase Athena’s book, Full Circle, online. Visit her website athenadeanholtz.com or blog. Athena also produces and hosts the Always Faithful radio show where she interviews authors, artists and women of faith spotlighting the faithfulness of God.

Athena Dean Holtz is an Author, Speaker, Radio Personality, Pastor’s Wife and Publisher. She has been speaking to groups, large and small, for over 30 years. She is passionate to see women recognize the faithfulness of God, no matter how difficult life may be. 

(I received an advanced reader copy of Full Circle. This writing represents my personal and honest review.)

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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20 Quotes about Abusive Control

Control comes in many forms including physical, sexual, and/or emotional/psychological abuse. It may involve controlling a person through finances, controlling their comings and goings, what they wear, how or when they speak, who they spend time with, what they do with their time, and so on. I’m not referring to parents who place healthy boundaries around their children out of love here. I’m talking about adult relationships and adult relationships with minors that involve a destructive or unhealthy force of control. Put simply, anyone who tries to exert strict control over another person in a way that is harmful or degrading is abusive. When a person restricts or restrains another’s freedom to think or act according to their own free will while squelching their individuality or dignity, it is control. Abuse is always about control.

Violence never belongs in relationships. Control does not equal love. -Dr. Lynne Namka

One of the prevalent features of life with an angry or controlling partner is that he frequently tells you what you should think and tries to get you to doubt or devalue your own perceptions and beliefs. -Lundy Bancroft

When people encounter controlling behavior, they often feel “erased”, as if, to the perpetrator, they don’t exist. -Patricia Evans

Controllers may target someone’s emotional, social, financial or physical well-being, but their most effective target is a person’s self-identity. -Mary Rose

If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. -George G. Woodson

Emotional abuse exists apart from physical or sexual abuse, as incredibly destructive to an emerging sense of self. -Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D

Power is embedded in our society and makes its way into relationships through control. -Mary Rose

The violence committed by a serial bully is almost entirely psychological, for psychological violence leaves no scars and no physical evidence. -Bully Online

Manipulators often know what buttons to push, when to do so and how hard to press. Our lack of self-awareness can easily set us up to be exploited. -George K. Simon

Covert aggression is at the heart of most manipulation. – George K. Simon

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence.

Her insecurity about herself and her idealization of him offer the perfect opening for his manipulation. -Dr. Robin Stern

…All forms of sexual manipulation carried out by the perpetrator with the intention or perceived intention to cause emotional, sexual, and physical degradation to another person. -M. Abraham

Whether you were emotionally abused as a child or an adult, the messages were meant to belittle, devalue, shame, and ultimately control. -Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D

The objectives of serial bullies are power, control, domination and subjugation. -Bully Online

…An ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another. The essential ideas, feelings, perceptions, and personality characteristics of the victim are constantly belittled. -M. T. Loring

Abusive behavior and violence is a deliberate choice made by the abuser in order to control you. -Dr. Jeanne Segal

Sexual abuse includes behaviors that fall under legal definitions of rape, plus physical assaults to the sexual parts of a person’s body, and making sexual demands with which one’s partner is uncomfortable. -L. L. Marshall

One thing most abusive relationships have in common is that the abusive partner does many different kinds of things to have more power and control over their partners. -National Domestic Violence Hotline

Controllers have beliefs of entitlement that they get to do harmful things to others. -Dr. Lynne Namka

Anyone who tries to convince a woman that she is unworthy or deserves psychological, verbal, or physical abuse, is wrong and needs help. Even if a woman consents to acts of harmful aggressive physical or sexual behavior by another, it is still a form of violence and it is abuse.

Join me on Twitter @DestinysWomen

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

Warning Signs & Red Flags: Abuse Defined

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Freedom Series: Abuse to Favor

 “For me, my dreams were shaped out of a childhood that was fenced in by fear”

Abuse to Favor is a 96-page minibook that is a part of the Freedom Series created by popular author and speaker, Michelle Borquez. Each booklet shares a woman’s true story about her journey from brokenness to freedom.

In Abuse to Favor, Jo Ann Aleman shares her story, struggles, and triumph over abuse.  It begins with her father, a man she recalls as generous and loving with his children, but extremely abusive to their mother.  Her “normal” was a violently abuse home life fueled by alcohol binges. A home (a life) that healthy families would see as filled with fear-invoking, pain-inducing, spirit-shattering chaos.  Time and again, her mother would pack the children up and flee for safety, then return when things seemed more settled, and so it went on and on.

The cycle brought on by her father’s rage and abuse directed at her mother caused her to go to a place she felt more secure–her mind–a place that no one could touch, a place that seemed safe. Like so many others in her situation, she dreamed about how her life would be different. She fantasized about someone coming to rescue and protect her: a savior.

But, as with any story of abuse, there’s always more than what appears on the surface. Why did her mother stay in that abusive situation? Her mother stayed because of her own experience with abuse. She and her siblings experienced great physical, emotional and mental abuse by their stepfather.  So she promised herself that her future children would never be subjected to a stepfather. But it wasn’t that he was a stepfather. It was that he was a broken abusive man.

“Many times we think of abuse as being only physical; however, abuse takes on many forms. Sexual abuse, verbal abuse, and emotional abuse—even neglect–are all perversions of real, unconditional love.”

Fast forward to Jo Ann Aleman’s adult life… with her childhood promises to herself still with her, she married someone she thought would take her in a direction that was new and better. To a place she could only recognize in her dreams. But he didn’t.  She shares about his abuse and the ultimate disintegration of the marriage.  So longing to be loved, she quickly found herself in another marriage, this time to an older man. She hoped he would bring the security she so desperately wanted. Again, it was not to be found. He too, abused her both physically and emotionally.

“Many nights I was awakened by his fists pummeling my face. He would get so drunk that he would black out, and the next morning we would wake up to a house that looked like a tornado had ripped through it… He was bent on compete destruction.”

As you may have noticed in your own life, there is this resilience about human nature. No matter how bad things get, no matter how improbable the odds, in our little broken torn-apart state, we still somehow find a way to reach out like a flower in the shadows, straining toward the sunshine, hoping against hope for something good.  Jo Ann Aleman was no different. Her heart reached out yet again, longing for love. She spent twelve years in “prison” with her third husband. A man who abused her through fear and intimidation, lashing out through physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse. But this time, it spilled over onto her daughter.

That’s when something shifted. This time, she didn’t reach out to a man, but to God. She writes, “Although we are all somewhat conditioned by our environment, something deep inside of us reveals the truth.” There was more for her.  She wanted once and for all, to be free.

Sharon Kay Ball (a professional counselor) uses biblical illustrations to define healthy and unhealthy thinking and behaviors, and speaks to the issues of conflict, power, authority, power struggles, and abuse that can affect any type of relationship. She also walks readers through common abuser behavior:  using rage, silence, intimidation, altering your sense of reality, criticizing, and blame-shifting to control their victim.

“His words only confirmed my feelings. They shaped me, took root in my heart, and I believed the things he said.”

Ball breaks down the phases in the cycle of abuse and talks about making a “safe plan.” Although it’s crucial to get out of an abusive relationship physically, it’s not enough. Victims need to purge themselves from the damaging affects of abuse that are left embedded in their minds and spirits. That means talking about trust, low self-image, forgiveness, anger, and learning how to move forward.

Aleman writes, “I was free on the surface, yet broken and deeply wounded inside.” That was, until she decided to no longer allow herself to be defined by abusive men, but by a loving God who offered hope and healing.

You may also be interested in:

Domestic Violence: But He Really is a Good Person

What is Emotional Abuse?

Quotes From Women Who Have Suffered Emotional Abuse

Sexual Violence Against Women: Rape, Abuse and Incest

Innocence Lost: Women and Childhood Sexual Abuse

Note: Rose Publishing provided me with an advanced reader copy of this booklet.

Join me on Twitter @DestinysWomen

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™–”Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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Freedom Series: Fear To Courage

Unhealthy fear is a liar. If not stopped, it will always seek to bully us into believing lies about ourselves and about others, ultimately morphing our reality. It is a thief. It robs our peace and joy, and in many cases, the faith and courage to follow our dreams and live healthy fulfilled lives. But the worst part about unhealthy fear is that it can become a slave master. Its single focused goal is to destroy the truth and any potential goodness in our lives by disempowering us and holding us captive.

From Fear to Courage is a 96-page minibook that is part of the Freedom Series created by author and popular women’s speaker, Michelle Borquez. Women desperately want to get to the other side of fear, shame, low self-esteem, hopelessness, or any other issue that keeps them from finding their ultimate freedom in life, but often they don’t know how. The book’s authors use biblical truths to guide readers out of their unhealthy fears into a place of understanding, healing, and freedom.

Have you (or someone you know) kept a secret that has bound you in chains, choked off your voice, drowned your hopes, or silenced your dreams?

In Fear to Courage, Kim Vastine shares her personal story of shame, betrayal, loneliness, and anger brought on by childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by an uncle, someone she “should” have been able to trust. Instead, she was lied to, stolen from, and enslaved to her abuser.  Fear became an unwanted and demanding companion. She uses words like torment, pain, fear, and grief to describe how the abuse made her feel.

Adding fuel to the fire, yet another family member compounded her abuse profile. Speaking of her father’s volatile outbursts that would leave the family, “cowering, sobbing, or desperately striving to seem invisible,” she concluded, “as bad as it was physically, emotionally it was worse.” And just when you wonder how much more a child can endure, she tells of yet another abuse in a place she “should” have felt safe and secure.

The images and memories of abuse branded in her mind helped formulate how she saw the world, God, and herself. My voice was silent, but my heart cried out for justice.” Like flecks of emotional shrapnel searing through the skin, unless extracted, they remain embedded in our minds and spirits. In her case, she learned to mask her negative emotions in deceptive and unhealthy ways.

Paige Henderson writes, “When fear dictates, love is silenced.” This booklet invites women to take the critical journey “moving from life-crushing fear to life-changing courage.” None of us can survive without hope or apart from love. She helps readers put fear into perspective. To understand the awe-inspired “fear” of God and positive healthy choices, as opposed to unhealthy fear that distorts truth, steals our voice, and robs us of our intended destiny. Love is more powerful than fear, but as long as we give fear a place, we give it power.

Then she uses examples from the Bible to show the consistency (predictability) of human nature in our reaction to fear: hiding or running in the opposite direction, and then speaks to trust and identity issues and how they inform us on how we relate to ourselves and the world. The heavy burden of abuse and its fallout are real, but remember, we are not alone in the battle. When childhood abuse occurs, children are left to define their trauma through their own experience and feelings, never grasping what it all means and where they fit in the overall scheme of what has happened to them. (Underscore, to them.)

Abused children typically draw conclusions based on false thinking, and as they mature and advance into adult relationships, they act out what they believe. Although a woman’s body matures and changes, for those who have suffered from childhood trauma, their wounded little girl remains still very much a part of them. That little girl is desperate to be loved, feel worthy, and to be seen and heard. She needs healing.

Henderson talks about the significance of fortifying our lives (how we think, feel, and act) in the way we build our life foundations.  How important it is that we build wisely, and with truth, because eventually, we act on what we believe. We live out our lives, based on what we believe to be true. Using a simple Q&A format, she encourages readers to pause and reflect, and then record their thoughts and feelings. The process helps define the root causes of fear and the difference between healthy and unhealthy fears and their effect.

Armed with a healthy understanding about fear, love, and the importance (and power) of taking personal responsibility for our ultimate wholeness and freedom, Sharon Kay Ball rounds out the book with a section called, “Steps to Freedom.” She discusses the devastation of sexual and emotional abuse including disempowerment and trauma. Readers are then given steps to help in the process of healing those broken places.

Victims of abuse will learn how to un-pack and re-pack, so to speak, their belief systems (about truth, themselves, and others), so they can move from fear to courage, and from victim to survivor. That means taking the power away from the perpetrators, and reclaiming it for ourselves. She reminds us that, “secrets only carry power when they are kept secret.” And discusses how to get past self-blame, the importance of not stuffing bad memories, and how to process anger in a healthy way. She also underscores the value of journaling and working with a professional therapist if necessary.

“When fear enslaves us, it paralyzes us and keeps us from having the courage to live out our purpose in life.” –Michelle Borquez

This booklet begins with Kim’s story about sexual and other abuses. Maybe your fears have different origins. But the fact remains: fear is a liar and fear is a thief. Eventually, unhealthy fear becomes a slave master, and until we replace it with truth, it will keep us where we don’t want to be, in a perpetual internal prison.

It’s time to let go of fear and claim your freedom. Commit to the process because you are worth it. Give yourself permission to take the journey that will eventually lead you out of the cage and into your freedom.

Purchase the book: Fear to Courage

You may also be interested in:

Fear is a Liar

20 Quotes about Pushing Past Fear

Live Fearless, Live Free.

Join me on Twitter @DestinysWomen

Note: Rose Publishing provided me with an advanced reader copy of this booklet.

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™–”Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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Violence Against Women: The Last Word

Violence has long been used as a weapon to punish, marginalize and silence women, and to control their behavior, attitudes and actions. In the case of war crimes, it is used to inflict such terror that it causes those who observe it to become paralyzed by fear and ultimately heed the control. The actions of the men who devise, commit and insight others to violence will be considered successful if the violence–and the damage left in it’s destructive path–is allowed the last word.

According to a recent report, Afghanistan’s president Karzai supported a decree by a group of government-sponsored religious leaders that stated women are worth less than men, should not leave their home without a male escort, or mix with men at school or in the workplace. Very young girls can be given as wives to men many years older; and, if raped, forced to marry their rapist. Girls in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and other countries have long been subject to sexual harassment, violence and arranged marriages. In Indonesia, women are being asked not to provoke sexual violence. Though we are aware of specific cultures whose laws and ways are deeply rooted in belief systems unfavorable to women, we still find stories of gender-based violence rocking parts of Latin America, Africa and western nations as well. 

Choose Life, Choose Power

How do victims do more than just “stay alive” after the violence? Is it possible to go back to really “living” , to being whole again, when the loss and torment linger?  Are there women who not only survive, but thrive in the aftermath of such physical pain and emotional terror?  Yes, but how?  They choose to get up in the morning and not give up on their life–family, career, dreams… themselves–because of what happened to them. They choose to move forward.  But it’s easier said than done… In fact, how is it even possible?

By choosing what we think, what we dwell on, and not allowing an act, feeling, circumstance or experience to define us.

There’s the key: “Define”. Does it negate reality? No, but we give power to the things we choose to dwell on. If women who’ve suffered violence make a conscious decision to invoke negative memories, to relive the details of the things that caused them great pain and suffering,  and to keep their abuser at the forefront of their thoughts, they are, in essence, choosing to live there (or at least hang out there), instead of in the present.  In contrast, to think on the equal reality of who they are and their God-given destinies–that they were born into this world for a reason and that their unique life has a purpose that is good–they choose life, they choose freedom…  They choose POWER.

The Experience Does Not Define Her

The pain and fear is excrutiatingly real, but it is only a part of her story. It is not the definition of her life. The violence and marginalization of her personhood are things she experienced, yes; but she musn’t give the experience permission to dictate the rest of her story. She was victimized and had an experience that cannot be erased. Thankfully, it is also true that she has a future and hope. She lived through it for a reason, and that is to live–really LIVE.

While covering the Egyptian uprisings in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, American journalist Lara Logan, found herself surrounded by an angry mob of men and spirited away from her CBS film crew. She was viciously stripped and suffered a “brutal and sustained” sexual assault.  In her testimony, she spoke of learning to live with the triggers of trauma, unwelome flashbacks, incapacitating anxiety and, nightmares and/or fears, joining many other women who have suffered violence.  She pointed out how difficult the healing process can be even when trying to maintain a positive attitude.

What keeps her going?  Like so many others, it is the people she’s met along the way. She thinks about the strength it has taken for others to go on after their families have been massacred, or, those who live in countries where women can’t speak out at all.

The Last Word

She recalled one woman in Africa who was raped and disemboweled, who said she “had to live” because she wasn’t going to give her attackers everything. Lara Logan knows in part, how that woman felt. She had her own brutal experience. She has her own memories and emotions to deal with.  That’s part of what drives her today.  She chose to take back her power, believe in her own destiny, and refuses to be defined by the attack. So, STAND–even if it takes everything in you, because the last word is yours, and you are worth it!

Maybe you (or someone you care about) has been a victim of violence. How have you been able to take back your power by not allowing the incident to define you, or your tomorrow? 

Related Reading: Lara Logan: Life is Not About Dwelling on the Bad, Women in the World Summit, Congo Women: Women of War, Women of Courage

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It is confidential, free and available in more than 170 languages. 800-799-SAFE (7233).

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”
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