My father recently passed away of COVID. He lived in Southern California with my older sister in the home, where horrible memories of my past childhood still lay. When I first began my recovery journey,
I wasn’t ready to dive into my past childhood trauma and haunting memories.
It took me a few years and a lot of therapy to even begin to process this and forgive and lay those haunting memories away. It was some of the roots and underlying issues of how I got sucked into my gambling addiction. I was using gambling as a coping skill and an escape from the pain of my childhood trauma until I finally could not stuff away any longer.
Even when I began writing and journaling for my book over a year to see what gambling addiction had taken from me, I was just not ready to share that part of my past. Now that my mom and dad have passed on, it has again begun to surface slightly.
One of the many amazing things about truly working through childhood sexual abuse is the act of taking every single thought and terrible memory captive and watching Christ redeem them, facing them, and feeling them. Without making excuses. Without placing or taking the blame. Finally, today the abuse and abuser no longer linger in the darkest parts of your mind controlling or tainting the memories you have because I have many happy childhood memories despite what happened to me.
But with my dad’s passing, it seemed they were front and center. I was begging them to be defeated. Way back then, every day, and sometimes minute-by-minute, battles are fought to reclaim simple things, innocent objects, smells, and sounds. Things that may seem trivial to others represent a great victory. That being said, today, I fought a battle and won. Today, I reclaimed what should have been a pleasant childhood memory. Today, I ate an Italian wedding cookie and enjoyed it. That won’t mean much to you, but to me, it is a significant victory.
The significance of this? As a little girl, we would go on weekends to see my aunt Anna and uncle Frank who lived in Palm Springs, CA., and my uncle Frank would always prepare a special dinner to eat for our visits which included terrific desserts. I loved my aunt Anna as she bought and gave me my very first Bible.
And I would love to hear my uncle Frank talk and share about all the famous people who came into his restaurant and who he cooked for, like Bob Hope, former President Ford, famous golfers, and many others. I loved going swimming too, as they had a fantastic pool in the backyard.
My uncle would always make one of my favorites, Italian wedding cookies. However, I didn’t get to eat them until my parents brought them home because my oldest brother would talk me into staying home; he’d beg and entice me with all kinds of lies.
And that is when the trauma would occur. It was only then, after being a good girl, until our parents got home late that evening, I would have access to my favorite cookies. It didn’t take long before those cookies became like poison. For the mere smell of almond or amaretto to make me physically ill.
After hiding the sordid details of my childhood back then, I believe the Holy Spirit, moving, convinced me it was time to process and bury my demons and began for me around age 30. But now it is time to rebury more old demons, and the only way I could do that was to reclaim the territory my enemy had taken so many years ago—Italian wedding cookies. As I paused before taking a bite, I reminded myself of where I was today within my recovery journey, and I took a bite. It was wonderful. Not only did it taste good, but I felt strong.
As if I was declaring to my abuser, “No! You may not have these cookies! (Yes, my brother had apologized, I forgave him, we have made amends as he shared with me & my husband that had been molested by our uncle Joe when we lived in NJ.)
You defiled my innocence, not knowing his was to. Still, you may not steal my ability to enjoy a cookie!” My life is full of moments like that. Every day there is a battle fought and sometimes won. They often go unnoticed by the people closest to me. However, they are mighty victories. There are often things we carry from our childhood that restrain our ability to enjoy simple things.
Abuse and trauma can destroy our ability to accept and receive the good things God intended for us to have. Love and intimacy are some of those things. Just as the smell of a particular type of cookie triggered a reaction of fear and shame, the idea of love can seem meant for destruction. Therefore, the very idea that God “loves” us terrifies us.
Love to an abuse survivor often means manipulation and pain. So it took me a while to grasp the concept of God’s unconditional love. Why? My parents did not understand it, so I was not raised with it. Of course, not blaming my parents at all. They may not have been taught knowing what unconditional love was either.
It took me years to begin to understand that Christ chose me; He loves me not because He needs me for anything. He did not send His son to die for me in an attempt to guilt me into trusting Him or doing things for Him. He chose me and loved me because He is God. He is all-sufficient.
I may not be able to reclaim my childhood. I still battle with depression, flashbacks, and agoraphobia. However, I chose the love of Christ to reclaim how I react to things. I can select feeling pleasure over feeling fear, and I can choose love over hate. I can pick these things because Christ has given me the power and ability, just as my recovery is a part of the freedom found in Christ.
He has given me the ability to and the freedom from addiction and bondage of addicted gambling!
He gave me the freedom to love, freedom to forgive, freedom to rejoice, And the freedom to enjoy a cookie!
Catherine Lyon, Recovery Advocate