Healing From Battle Wounds
About the Guest
Are private wounds keeping you from intimacy with your husband? Today on the broadcast, author and wife Shannon Ethridge tells Dennis Rainey how women can find healing for the sexual scars of their past.
Are private wounds keeping you from intimacy with your husband?
Healing From Battle Wounds
Shannon: Those things that were etched in my mind at 12 years old; that it's okay to flirt; it's okay to play this game; that it's okay to arouse one another sexually, in my mind, thinking as long as you don't go all the way; that those things led me into a very compromising situation when I was 14 years old. I put myself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person – and 18-year-old boy and, in hindsight, I could have fought back. I could have left the room, but I had been taught that it's just a game it's no big deal and, in my mind, I was thinking, "Well, this boy isn't related to me, so it's probably more okay."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, February 22nd. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Many women who experience a struggle guarding their hearts from sexual temptation can trace that struggle back to a history of sexual abuse. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. You know, my dad was in World War II. He was a part of the Normandy invasion. He was on D+1. D-Day was June 6th, he was a part of the wave that came in the next day on the beaches at Normandy, and he was wounded that day in battle, and actually had to go back to England and had to recuperate before he could rejoin the fighting force.
I was thinking about his experience in D-Day because I was thinking when a soldier is wounded, you take the soldier off the front line; you take him out of the battle recognizing that it's pretty tough to keep fighting if you've got an injury. You wait for them to heal, and then you put them back into the battle.
We've been talking about a different kind of battle this week that every woman faces – a battle over sexual temptation and, frankly, Dennis, some of the women who have been listening to us talk about this, it's been frustrating for them to think about because the battle is swirling all around them, but they've been wounded, and nobody ever pulled them off to the side and gave them a chance to heal.
Dennis: Bob, there are no such hospitals for wounded soldiers where you can send them to receive attention, care, and healing, and especially women. You think about it – some of the wounds that women bear are so private, so personal, that many times they are never free to talk about it until years later in their lives.
All this week we've talked with Shannon Ethridge about every woman's battle and specifically we want to talk about some of those secret battles that have occurred in times past.
Shannon is an author, she's a speaker, a lay counselor. She and her husband live in East Texas, and, as I mentioned, has written a book called "Every Woman's Battle." Shannon, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Shannon: Thanks so much.
Dennis: You had a private battle, a secret battle, that – well, where you were wounded, and your husband didn't know anything about it.
Dennis: You had not told anyone.
Shannon: I didn't think that there was anything to tell. I had an experience where I had different uncles in my family pursue me sexually. But, in my mind, because they hadn't succeeded, there was nothing to tell, and I did not understand, at 12 years old, that the pursuit itself planted very dangerous seeds in my heart and in my mind.
I did not understand that the flirting game that they started playing with me was a game that I grew to enjoy and that the flirting became a staple in my relationships with men; that it just taught me a very inappropriate way to relate with me that I don't think that I would have learned otherwise. But I felt as if my parents might take their side over mine, and so I didn't want to get them in trouble, and I didn't want to look bad myself, and I did not understand that I needed some counseling for that, and so I just harbored that secret in my heart until years later.
Bob: How old were you when it clicked for you? When you said what was going on back there wasn't right, and there are still scars on my soul as a result of that today?
Shannon: I was 27 years old before I recognized that I still was carrying wounds from things that were taught to me.
Bob: And how did it click for you?
Shannon: There was a person who called my attention to the fact that the reason that I had a neon sign on my forehead, the reason that I looked for love in all the wrong places.
Bob: The neon sign that's saying, "I'm here, I'm available, talk to me."
Shannon: Hungry for attention and affection – that was placed in my life at a very young age. He started asking questions about my relationship with my father, and had I ever been incested, and I just always assumed, again, that because my uncles did not succeed that it had not affected me, but it did. It affected me in a very great way.
As a matter of fact, I had never told my husband about it, and going through counseling and understanding exactly what my uncles did to me, and the impact that it had on my life, I understood that I had a major distrust of men, that I had a major fear of intimacy, and that I even had painful memories that were inhibiting my ability to intimately connect with my husband.
What had happened with one of my uncles is that he would wake me up in the middle of the night when I stayed the night with my cousin and forced me to kiss him, and I remembered the cigarette smoke on his breath, and I remembered how his bushy, bushy mustache just tickled my face and just really hurt my face.
And I finally worked up the courage to tell Greg why I could not stand cigarette smoke, because it just sent back all those memories of my uncle's breath.
Dennis: And Greg also had a mustache.
Shannon: And that was it, and then he asked me, he said, "Is the reason that you don't kiss me near as much as you used to before I had a mustache, because of what your uncles did to you?" And I had never put those two things together, but I told him, "Yes, I don't like the way that a mustache feels on my face because it just makes me feel slimed. It makes me feel incested and molested," and the very next morning he shaved it off, and he's never grown it back again.
But we need to understand that all of us need healing from those childhood wounds that were inflicted upon us, especially if we have a tendency to drag that emotional baggage into our marriage relationship, and if we have a distrust of our husbands or if we have a bitterness or resentment toward men, in general, especially our husbands, that's an issue that needs to be resolved.
Bob: If I had asked you when you were 22 years old, were you ever sexually molested, were you abused?
Shannon: If you had asked me if I had been molested, I would have said no, because, in my mind, I was thinking that that would be a family relationship who had had sex with you. And so my thinking would be, "No, my father wasn't sexually inappropriate with me, and my uncles didn't succeed," so I would have said no. But in my mind I didn't understand that because they pursued me, that was inappropriate treatment that left wounds on my heart that needed to be healed.
Dennis: I think what we fail to grasp is the magnitude of how these incidents when we are children or when we are young men and women growing up into maturity during out adolescent years, how any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage can be damaging to the soul.
And I think what happens to a young girl or, for that matter, a young boy, who experiences any kind of sexual activity. Their souls are like little DVDs, little CDs. At that point, they're etched. There is a message recorded, and I think we tend, as human beings, to discount that impact. But what the enemy of our souls, the devil of hell, I believe wants to do is, I think he wants to distort God's image in our lives, and one of the ways he can do that is by taking young people off into experiences that God never intended for them.
Shannon: Those things that were etched in my mind at 12 years old; that it's okay to flirt; it's okay to play this game; that it's okay to arouse one another sexually, in my mind, thinking as long as you don't go all the way; that those things led me into a very compromising situation when I was 14 years old. I wasn't even allowed to date yet, but I put myself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person – an 18-year-old boy with a very strong sex drive that forced me to have sex with him and, in hindsight, I could have fought back. I could have left the room, but I had been taught by my uncles that it's just a game it's no big deal and, in my mind, I was thinking, "Well, this boy isn't related to me, so it's probably more okay to let this happen," but I had a sense of it wouldn't be okay if I did that with my uncles." And so I allowed that to happen at 14 years old.
Dennis: Would you have called that date rape had it happened to you today?
Shannon: Had it happened to me today, yes, but back then, in my 14-year-old mind, I just thought that I did not have the power to say no, so I passively let it happen. Yes, in hindsight, it was date rape, but at the time I did not go telling anybody that I was date raped. I didn't tell anybody anything. I was afraid I was going to get in trouble for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person.
And so then when I was allowed to start dating at 15, which, in hindsight, was way too young, I just thought that, "Well, my virginity has already been stolen from me. I may as well go through with it. If this is what they want, then this is the price that I have to pay to get the attention and the affirmation that I'm craving." I felt as if my body was a small price to pay.
And it was about five or six years later before I woke up to the fact that I am living a double life here. I was truly – I wouldn't have used this term back then, but in my late 20s, I came to understand that I was sex and love addicted, as a woman, and the scary thing is, is that people who looked at my life, they would have never known this. I was a straight A student, I was the president of my youth group. On the outside, I looked as if I had it all together, but my private life was an absolute wreck.
Bob: I think we would be shocked today to find out just how many women come to marriage with some level of scarring like you've described.
Dennis: I think men, as well, Bob.
Bob: It's the vast majority. It's the rare individual who arrives at the marriage relationship today and says there are no wounds, there are no scars and, as a consequence, it's no wonder that we're dealing with all kinds of issues in the marriage relationship around our sexuality, because it's a place where we have been profoundly damaged, and it's also a place where, oftentimes, nobody has said anything to the other person about what's going on – just as you and Greg – he didn't know anything about your past.
Shannon: It's the silent sin. I think that I was afraid that if I told my husband I had been molested or sexually abused, that he would have seen me as damaged goods and would not have the same level of passion and commitment to me, because that's how I felt about myself. I thought, "I don't deserve this guy."
I remember thinking, in my early years of marriage, "You know what, Shannon, you may as well just go ahead and have that affair so that you can give Greg the free jump-ship pass that he deserves so he can go out and find a woman that he truly deserves."
And that kind of thinking – I just recognized that – that was just Satan trying to use all those things in my childhood to drag me down and to destroy my marriage, to destroy my family, to destroy any potential ministry that I would ever have, and I'm just so grateful to God that people spoke into my life and said, "You need to get some counseling. You need to get that neon sign off of your forehead. You need to understand the impact that those abusive situations had in your life and how you think."
Dennis: I have a point I want to make here, but I'm going to take a second to make it. I recently went on my first, bona fide diet that I've ever been on. I lost about 25 pounds, and still have kept it off, but it occurred to me one day that, back when I used to weight the heavier weight, I was carrying around an extra 25-pound sack of flour on my body.
And I thought, you know, no wonder going up three flights of stairs here at FamilyLife has resulted in me being out of breath, and if I was carrying that down the hall to go visit Bob or taken that sack of flour out on a date with Barbara, carrying it all around throughout the day, and no wonder I'd be exhausted in the evening.
Well, I think in many marriages, there are couples coming into a marriage relationship who both are carrying some emotional sacks of flour that probably weight more than 25 pounds, and the emotional strength that it zaps to carry it into the relationship, we don't realize how much it is siphoning energy away from the relationships that matter most to us.
Shannon: Absolutely. The emotional baggage that we drag can become so heavy, and what's funny is that so many women, and myself included, we think, oh, but it would take so much effort to try to unpack all of that; that we would just rather keep it all tucked away. And what we don't understand …
Dennis: And keep carrying it.
Shannon: And keep carrying it, and what we don't understand is it would take more energy and effort to continue carrying it than it would just to stop and unpack it and get to the root cause of why you're carrying it around in the first place. That's what sets you free.
Dennis: And, Shannon, it's our fear – because that's what controlled you – it's our fear of what our spouse will say to us, as you were afraid of how Greg would respond to you; that he would retreat from you; that he wouldn't be as passionate about you; that he'd view you as damaged goods. Something quite to the contrary occurred in your marriage, didn't it?
Shannon: I get emotional just thinking about it – there was a whole new level of compassion, of understanding, of commitment. He basically said to me, "Shannon, I don't care how much the counseling costs. If I need to go out and get a second job just to cover the counseling, that the most important thing in my life is for you to feel free of all of this junk that has weighed you down for all these years." And that was the best gift that he could have possibly given to me.
And it wasn't expensive, and it wasn't really all that time consuming, you know, once a week for six months, and I was completely a new person. God just did a radical healing in my life, but it wasn't until I found the courage to start talking about it that I could truly process the impact that it had on my life and on my marriage.
Dennis: And as you shared this story in your book, as well as speaking around the country, you've had women come up to you and say, "I have a similar secret."
Shannon: Mm-hm, and they get as emotional as I do because freedom feels really good. It's so wonderful to take off your mask and to be known for who you really are, and a lot of us think, "Oh, but that would be such a scary thing for people to see me without my mask." I want them to think of me this certain way.
We do not find fulfillment in relationships where we think the person likes us because of who they think we are. We find fulfillment in relationships because people know who we really are – the good, the bad, and the ugly, the dark secrets, the emotional baggage, and love us, anyway, and that is what I found with my husband and with my close friends and with my parents, my extended family. No one has rejected me because of this information. If anything, they've embraced me, and they have thanked me for speaking out on it, and it tells me just how many people there are out there who are – they're carrying around this emotional baggage, too, and I want them to stop and unload.
Bob: You know, when people have these kinds of scars because of sexual abuse in the past. Oftentimes, it's going to manifest itself in one of two ways – they are either going to become promiscuous, as you described yourself, a sex addict. Or they're going to shut down sexually, even in a marriage relationship.
Shannon: And they actually can do both because, for years, I was promiscuous as a teenager and considered myself unable to control my desire for love and attention and affection, even if that meant having to give sex.
However, in my marriage relationship, it resulted in the frigidity of – I had that fear of intimacy, and one of the things that my counselor encouraged me to do to overcome my frigidity is to talk with my husband about the fact that because I had been abused before that I do not connect the act of making love with intimacy, I connect it with being taken advantage of, and that I needed a time where I knew, for sure, that that was not an expectation in our marriage.
And so I verbalized this to Greg, assuming that he would just say something to the effect of "Well, you can't do that. We can't not have sex in our marriage because you're my wife. You have to submit to me, and this is just part of the marriage relationship," and that wasn't his response at all. He said, "Take the time that you need. I would rather you come to me whole and healed and our sex life will be much better then than for you just to give in because you feel obligated but yet you feel abused.
And I asked him for six months, and it didn't take near that long. I think that it only took about two to three weeks before I felt like I want to give my body to this man because he is so understanding, and he is showing me a love that I have never known before.
Bob: I'm thinking of a woman who is listening who may say, "You know, I found myself being shut down. I've found myself kind of locking up," and she's never stopped to think, "Is that because I've got scars that have been unaddressed?" Or a woman who finds herself seemingly compelled to act out sexually, and she's never stopped to think, "Is that because I've got scars that have not been dealt with?"
Oftentimes, tracing this back to its root can be helpful, Dennis, to begin the healing process that brings you to where you need to be in a marriage relationship.
Dennis: Who you are today is really the sum total of the choices you've made and what's happened to you over your lifetime. That results in a decision that we make – how are you going to respond to your past? Are you going to be embittered, angry, full of resentment, or are you going to deal with it, admit it, talk about it, begin to process it, and venture out courageously as Shannon has done here on FamilyLife Today.
And, Shannon, I just have to applaud you for your courage to share that because there are a lot of our listeners going, "I could never do that with a person let alone to a listening audience of several hundred thousand people," and yet you're modeling for them how they can go about getting help and hope.
I've got one last question that I want to ask you here before we're done.
Bob: Hang on, before you do that, and I don't mean to interrupt you, but I want to let our listeners know how they can get a copy of Shannon's book, which is called "Every Woman's Battle." It's a book that we've got in our FamilyLife Resource Center along with the book that you wrote, Shannon, for moms and their daughters called "Every Young Woman's Battle," and this is perfect for a mom to take a high school daughter or a daughter who is headed off to college – take them through this book.
Go through it together and open up some conversation and share a little bit about your own struggles like you've modeled for us here today. Both of these books are in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, and if you click where it says "Today's Broadcast" on the right side of the screen, it will take you to an area of the website where there is information about these resources.
You can order online, if you'd like. Again, the website it FamilyLife.com. You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can get your more information about how you can have these resources sent to you. Again, the books are called "Every Woman's Battle," and "Every Young Woman's Battle." You can get more information online at FamilyLife.com, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.
And, again, when you get in touch with us here at FamilyLife, let me also encourage you if you can help this ministry with a donation of any amount this week, we are listener-supported, and those donations are what enable us to be on the air here in this city and in other cities all across the country. We appreciate your financial support and, in fact, this week we would love to send you a copy of the new book from Dennis and Barbara Rainey called "Moments With You," a devotional guide for couples as a thank you gift for your donation.
So if you make your donation online at FamilyLife.com, and you'd like to get a copy of the book, just type in the word "moments," and we'll know to send a copy to you, or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone, just mention that you'd like the devotional book for couples, "Moments With You," and, again, we're happy to send it out to you. We do appreciate your financial support of this ministry, and we hope that the book is an encouragement to you and your spouse and that together you can grow closer to one another and closer to God in your marriage. Dennis?
Dennis: All this week we've had the privilege of talking with Shannon Ethridge, and, Shannon, I want to thank you for being on FamilyLife Today and for sharing around the subject of every woman's battle. I said there was one last question I wanted to ask you. You mentioned that your parents found out how you'd been abused by an uncle. Did your mom or dad do anything about the perpetrator?
Shannon: It was a situation where these uncles had divorced out of the family by the time the knowledge was made known, and so it wasn't a situation where they had to go and correct this, because they didn't know this until I was almost 30 years old, and so it had been years and years later, and the comment that my mom made to me, the way that they found out is I encouraged them to read my first book called "Women at the Well," and shared this testimony in that book, and my mom said to me, "I wish so much that that had never happened, but I am so pleased that you are willing to talk with other women about it, because I know that you're not the only one who has experienced that."
And my dad has even said, "I know that our past has been rough and rocky and that a lot of the reasons why you looked for love in all the wrong places as a teenager is because I didn't know how to meet your emotional needs as a dad." He said, "But I want you to know I give you complete freedom to share whatever you need to share about our relationship, our father/daughter relationship, in order to help other women heal from their father/daughter relationships." And that just has given me such a peace and a freedom that my parents love me, encourage me, support me, and don't take it personally that I speak out about the wounds of my childhood because it wasn't necessarily their fault. All of our families are dysfunctional in certain ways and to have the freedom from my husband, from my children, from my parents, from my peers and co-workers to speak the way that I do – that's what puts wind underneath my wings.
Dennis: You know, as we conclude the broadcast, I have an exhortation to parents – protect our daughters. This culture is not resulting in less of what we're talking about but more. If I'm only speaking to one parent right now who needs to hear these words, it's worth me saying them. Ask God for guidance and protect our daughters and your sons.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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