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Emerging from the Cleft in the Rock

Trauma rips a person wide open and uncovers past wounds they didn’t even realize they had, while at the same time layering new wounds onto an already-wearied soul. When the trauma presents itself in the form of repeated relational abuse and marital betrayal, a victim’s entire universe continues to spin madly. Nothing can stop this head-long dive unless the abuse is eliminated, to be replaced with healing love.

I often turn to Sacred Scripture for comfort and inspiration as I continue to traverse my own healing journey.
When I recently opened my Bible at random, I came upon these words:
I said, ‘I wish I had wings like a dove!
Then I could fly away and be at rest.
Yes, I would stay in the desert
I would quickly find a shelter from the raging wind and storm.’
(Ps. 55:6-8)

And that’s just what I’ve done. I’ve found shelter from the storm, beneath God’s protective wings (Ps. 91:4).
I’m in a safe space now, but it took too many years for me to get there. I’ve hidden, but not always in healthy ways. Isolation is a natural result of betrayal trauma and domestic abuse, for a variety of reasons such as shame, guilt, avoidance of the truth, depression, an erosion of self-worth, and sheer exhaustion. To name just a few.

When a person’s sense of safety is ripped out from under them, it taints their entire lives. Nothing feels secure
any longer.

Not even the self.

Especially not the self.

Reality becomes surreal as a result of prolonged trauma. Our beliefs about the very nature of our lives, futures,
and even the world itself are interrupted and often contradicted. Everything has been turned inside-out, upside
down, and scattered like the inside of a snow globe. The intense betrayal of domestic abuse changes the story
we assumed we were a part of, turning our fairy tale into a nightmare.

Disassociation is common among trauma victims, and it’s the cause of a sense of unreality in one’s daily life. It
interferes with memory as well as cognitive functioning, and is such an important topic that I plan to discuss it
in depth in a future article.

For decades I wandered through my life in what felt like a fog, due to disassociation and the traumatic memory loss that causes betrayal blindless—partnered with the continued shock of cognitive dissonance.

My relationship was good … my relationship was bad …

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it
was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of
Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing
before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
(Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

In the midst of continuous heart-shattering trauma, I hid in the cleft of the rock. I flew to the wilderness of my
inner self, and I didn’t let my loved ones near, including the safe ones who longed to help me.

I couldn’t let them draw close to me—not because they weren’t safe, but because I wasn’t safe.

Or at least I didn’t feel safe, deep inside myself.

Paradoxically, the only one I would let into my innermost chambers was my abuser, during the “love-bombing”
or “grooming’ stage of the abuse cycle.

That’s the nature of the intense and perverse psychological torture of domestic violence. We’re all social
creatures, designed for relationship with one another (Gen. 2:18). Yet when we’re being abused, social
relationships become fragmented and even dissolve.

And then, with a dreadful sense of hopeless horror, we suddenly realize we have only one relationship left.

With our abuser.

I hunkered down inside myself. I was like a dove, finding myself in the wilderness of my inner turmoil, alone
and frightened, with two broken wings. I had to find a safe place to rest and recuperate—but where?

Take these broken wings
And learn to fly again
Learn to live so free
When we hear the voices sing
The book of Love will open up and let us in
(Broken Wings, Mr. Mister)

Yet I continued to cower in the cleft in the rock, alone and isolated, where I could weep and no one would see
me—because I could never allow my loved ones to realize the depths of my pain and anguish. I withdrew to the cleft in the rock, safe from the incoming tide and the furious ocean storms that I knew would keep coming,
again and again, as predictable as the tides themselves. My little rocky cleft was so small only I could squeeze
into it, with my two broken wings pressed close to my sides.

Alone. Isolated. Where no one could hurt me any longer.

Alone. Lonely.

My loved ones walked along the beach, laughing and having fun and enjoying the sun that would never reach
me, deeply hidden as I was.

They searched for me, they called to me. “Come then, my lovely one, come” (Song of Songs 2:10), yet I didn’t
listen. I couldn’t hear, I was completely deaf amidst my blindness. The rock walls surrounding me were thick,
and it would be too risky to crawl out of the cleft of the rock. I couldn’t bear to expose myself even to reach the
safe people in my life who were longing to draw me close—to hug me, to bind up my wounds with their love
and support.

I was terrified that if I left the cleft in the rock where I’d fled, the tide might sweep me away. Surely I’d drown,
or faint from the sheer pain of my broken wings—a pain I could keep in the background as long as I remained
tucked away, safe in my isolation.

Yet I was tucked away with my wings pressed so close they were losing strength, losing their gift of flight.
Healing seemed more and more remote.

Come then my love,
my lovely one, come.
The only way to recover from trauma is to allow those wings to stretch. Yes, it hurts. A lot. But so, too, does
childbirth—yet the rewards are profound.
Rebirth is just as painful as birth—and just as magnificent. When I was able to stop hunkering within myself,
willing to thaw from disassociation and numbness, I began to hear the call. My Divine Bridegroom had been
gently singing to me all along, through the voices of my safe loved ones.
My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock.
in the coverts of the cliff,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet
and your face is beautiful.
(Song of Songs 2:14)

My face has been darkened and marred from carrying a shame that hasn’t even belonged to me; from complete heartbreak and a sense of disbelief; from the minimization of my story, which then accumulates in my physical body in toxic ways; and from such severe cognitive dissonance that I can barely make sense of anything else in my life.

But then my Divine Bridegroom sings to me again. He sings to me in the voices of those who surround me with
their love, with their encouragement and healing strength. He tells me that although I may be dark, although I
may be exhausted from tending another’s furious outbursts and poisonous tirades while neglecting my own
emotional health, I am still beautiful (Song 1:5-6). Through the caring and empathetic love of my safe people,
He has shown me His own love.

And that’s what I’ve needed most.

My Beloved lifts up his voice,
He says to me,
‘Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
For see, winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth.
The season of glad songs has come,
the cooing of the turtledove is heard
in our land.
The fig tree is forming its first figs
and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.
Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.
My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock,
in the coverts of the cliff,
show me your face, let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet
and your face is beautiful.’
(Song of Songs 2:10-14)

As a domestic abuser survivor, advocate, and author, Jenny duBay knows what a huge impact intimate partner violence (IPV) has on an individual. She founded Create Soul Space to help cultivate awareness of domestic violence within a Catholic setting. Jenny is associated with Catholics for Family Peace and works with various organizations within the Catholic Church to spiritually support victims and survivors of domestic violence. Author of the Create Soul Space and Prodigal Parishioner blogs, Jenny also writes for Missio Dei along with various other Catholic publications. Her upcoming book, Don't Plant Your Seeds Among Thorns: A Catholic's Guide to Domestic Abuse will be published soon.

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