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My Personal Redemption

My Personal Redemption

As a survivor of child abuse, Passover has special meaning for me.

by Sara Sheiner

I got married without knowing it. I may have looked like a sophisticated 20-year-old to the guests at my wedding, but if you were a child who has been abused, there is a part of you that is still a crying baby, an uncomfortable adolescent, a rebellious teenager, screaming and protesting every step of the way.

I never noticed growing up. I doubt if I did grow up. It all passed in the blur that absorbed my childhood, with its unspeakable and unspoken abuse. Then, one day, several years after my wedding, I woke up. I was ready to wake up. I found myself married to a wonderful man and the mother of small children -- and my memory suddenly came back. Perhaps that is not quite true. Rather, it seeped through slowly, drenching my personality with a new identity: incest survivor.

It was the month of Nissan, before Pesach time, and I thought: "Good, it's the month of redemption." Perhaps I thought recovery and redemption would take just a month, and next month I'd be on to other things.

That was seven years ago. My redemption has been a slow one, but miraculous nonetheless. Every year at Pesach time I have new insights into the redemption from Egypt, and every year, the redemption of the Jewish people, as recounted at the Seder, gives me a new insight into my own experience.

Last year at our Seder, my 4-year-old son blithely mentioned how "they threw the Jewish baby boys in the river…" When I heard this I was sickened at the sheer cruelty and domination -- abuse -- of the Jewish experience in Egypt. I felt it viscerally, because it so closely paralleled my own. And it came to me: this is why it had to be God Himself, as told in the Haggadah: "With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, I took you out of Egypt -- I and not an angel, I and not a seraph, I and not a messenger… I am He, and no other."

The Jewish experience was worse than what I went through, which could afford be healed with a delayed recovery.

The Jewish experience was worse than what I went through, which could afford be healed with a delayed recovery. The subjugation was total, physical and mental, no slave had ever escaped from Egypt. There was no rescue service, not the United Nations forces, not an army of angels, not anything but God Himself Who could have redeemed us. It was ultimate, primary healing.

And that's why to me, it is the most dramatic part of the Exodus story.

Slow Unfolding

Sometimes I feel frustrated at how far out from the source I am when it comes to healing. Not the ultimate rescue of being redeemed from bondage, with the added drama that had God waited a split-second longer there would have been nothing left to redeem. I never experienced any intervention into intolerable cycle of abuse and neglect, no rescue, no rehabilitation. It just passed in its own time. I waited out the secondary and tertiary waves of trauma, for safety and stability to build, until the memories could resurface and I could consciously start to heal.

In that time, I have grown up. I find, to my great sadness, that I cannot heal with the immediacy and intensity of a child. I feel frustrated at how slow, tortuous and undramatic is my unfolding from sickness to health, from bondage to freedom. But I wouldn't be able to do it any other way. My system has sustained so many shocks that it couldn't take another one. I would recover, then expire.

While I mourn that the child in me was injured but never had a chance to heal as a child, and even while the child in me may still be screaming for the revelation of miraculous, supernatural redemption, I can still celebrate that my healing has the more mature flavor of reality about it. My healing is happening within nature, not above it, but it is no less an act of God.

I was born into bondage which has the safety of familiarity.

There is even an advantage to a protracted redemption: the very slowness of my healing engages my volition every step of the way, and in that sense it is a more conscious way to heal. Also, it's not everyone who could go through with it. Just as there were, among the Jews redeemed from the Egyptian bondage by God Himself, a segment of the population who wanted to go back to Egypt, there is a part of me that wants to go back. Like them, I was also born into bondage and it has the safety of familiarity.

But like them, I also have a destiny.

I don't know how I survived. I don't even think it was conscious. Just an indominatable survival instinct that must be an essential part of my character, a part deeper than I ever knew about. It kept me hanging on by whatever means I could until I came to a safe place where I could start to heal.

It's not very glorious; my children won't tell it to their children for generations. But it has its satisfactions. Now I delight in modesty; while once this would have been a travesty, considering what was going on behind closed doors. Now I have children and precious memories; once I had no memory, no baby, no nothing. Now I can, with God's help, take care of myself; not so long ago that wasn't even a possibility.

I am proud of changing myself, changing the pattern of dysfunction that has been with my family for generations. I am grateful that God took me out. I know that just as God took us of Egypt to serve Him with our fullest heart, He redeemed me for the very same reason.


April 16, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 25

(25) Lisa Aiken, March 10, 2013 6:05 PM

effective therapy is available

EMDR is a therapy that has helped thousands of children and adults who were abused or otherwise traumatized. Research has repeatedly shown that it helps much more rapidly and is much more effective than conventional therapy.

(24) Anonymous, April 13, 2009 9:19 AM

Thank you for sharing. There are many of us who are or have been in situations or relationships with people who degraded them until the person herself felt so enslaved that she didn't know she had a tzelem elokim. This is my first Pesach free, released from my personal bondage. While reciting the Hagaddah, it was difficult for me to say, This year we are slaves next year we will be free, I already feel free. I realise that for the Jewish nation we aren't yet totally free, yet as I renew my life as a free person, I'll give myself time to reconnect emotionally to the rest of klal yisroel. I was in an abusive marriage for 21 years. I got out 8 months ago. I was in denial for so many years because I wanted to have an intact family, for me and my children. I tried to cover up all the abuse. We looked good to the outsider. I also feel very connected to Pesach, and see a lot of parallels in my life. If Hashem didn't redeem the bnei yisroel from Egypt they would have sunk down to the 50th level of Tumah and not have been able to be redeemed, I feel like Hashem took me out of my house, before I sunk to the point of know return, and as the bnei yisroel were taken out "bchipazon" I ran away from my home, and city with my children with out our belongings. Now I am free, even though to my community, it looks like I ruined my life. I'm gratefull to no longer be controlled and subjagated. it's a long healing process, I'm gratefull to Hashem for revealing the truth to me and gratefull that I was given the gift of life and freedom to choose.

(23) Anonymous, April 8, 2007 8:34 PM

Thank you

Thank you for sharing...I was shocked when first reading and then relieved to know that I am not alone. There are others who have survived and have begun to heal too.
Thank you

(22) Anonymous, April 4, 2007 8:41 PM

my son has gone through this.

my son is not yet 12.when he was a child and toddler his mothers family commited incest with him.he has the scars fromit still.the courts ,when made statements,only accused him and threatened him for making this up.i gave him a vocabulary to speak these things and end it.yet the system only said he was too young to have a vocabulary like wonder these people act with immpunity and committ multiple offenses with no punishment.the courts protect them and preserve their right to prey on our children. my son has supressed these memories.he only his mom and grand parents on her side "hurt him".the scars remain,mental and physical.the courts still require contact with these takes months to get him back on track from these is rupted and all facets of behavior. thanks for speaking out.i will share this with him. because at some point he will recall all this.i would much rather be there whern this happens than him be alone as you were with this and confronts these disgusting he said this Pesach" this is my favorite season" Hashem has delivered him from these people.he has little or no contact with them due to attrition not the courts or any other form justice except that of HaRochaman HaShem. with an out strched arm.

(21) Anonymous, March 27, 2007 1:06 PM

I have been there......

I am proud of you even that I do not know you.I have never experienced incest and I am very grateful for that.
I have experienced physical abuse and definately emotional abuse and neglect from my family and I, too think of Pesach as a personal redemption.
I use to be resentful of kids my age(at that time)because they did not have the same experiences that I had and how dare they not understand.
Now, that I am in my thirties and have healed, Thank G-d, I am grateful to have a family-also with a wonderful man and three beautiful children.
It took years for me to unfold the trauma as well. It was not easy also.
For me, Pesach is not a holiday of complaints with regards to the amount of cleaning. I can never answer for anyone except myself. So, when the rabbeim ask the question outwardly of others, "How are we suppose to see PEsach as though we personally left Egypt?" I can answer inside myself that I have my own personal story of slavery and freedom and somehow, this smaller version helps me as well as the author to bring this seemingly impossible task much closer.
Thank you for being brave and sharing. May Hashem grant you continued strength and something that I have learned That I find valuable:
There is no closure, only resilience. It sounds harsh, yet actually it is strong. It really means that no one can change what happened, yet I can be strong thru it all.
Be well
Chag Kosher and Freilichen Pesach

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