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  • Writer's pictureDana Arcuri

Spiritual Pruning in Your Sacred Healing Journey

Storms make trees take deeper roots.” ~ Dolly Parton

When I set out to write a book, I never know where it will lead me. As an author, expressing myself on paper has been humbling and cathartic. The following is a chapter from my book, Sacred Wandering: Growing Your Faith in the Dark.

There's nothing more therapeutic than articulating real, raw emotions. Writing becomes a beneficial tool for professional, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth. Writing is healing for our heart, mind, and soul.

This nonfiction took me three long, tiresome years to complete. It was launched in May 2019. My spiritual practices and faith have grown in ways that I had never anticipated. I no longer get caught up in rigid religious systems and dogma. Rather, I have stretched my faith, my spirituality, and have been transformed in ways that support me and uplift me. It is liberating, freeing, and healing.

I've revised this chapter to represent a wide range of abuse survivors. To meet them right where they are at today. Each of us have a very different background, history, and belief systems. Instead of only focusing on one traditional religious approach, I want this blog to cover all walks of life and all belief systems. The goal is to focus on compassion, boundaries, and being respectful of those who may be very different compared to us.

May we never judge each other, nor condemn anyone's spiritual or religious viewpoints. Keeping that in mind, I will be using the terms "God, Source, or a Higher Power" when sharing about faith and spirituality.

What this book, Sacred Wandering, didn't share is the aftermath of exposing family abuse. Right before my book was published, I woke up in the morning sensing an urgent need to contact my dad. It was so strong and uncomfortable that I couldn't shake it. I chose to trust my intuition, which ended up being 10% accurate. My father was in his 80's, living in a residential facility, and battling advanced Alzheimer's. Trusting my gut instincts, I dialed my dad's phone number. When I asked to speak to my father, I was told that a supervisor needed to talk to me. My heart raced with uncertainty.

I will never forget this exact moment in my life. When the rug was pulled out from under me. The supervisor politely stated, "Your father had passed away several days ago."

Completely shocked, I was taken aback. Why didn't any of my siblings or relatives inform me about my dad's death? How come nobody contacted me about this or about his memorial service arrangements? Even more important, why are my siblings so toxic, manipulative, and cruel towards me? Just when I thought they had stooped so low, they descended ten times lower. Even the fiery furnace of hell isn't low enough for them.

The end result is that I experienced a season of brutal storms. It was a lengthy pruning process in my life. This pruning process literally removed people, places, and things from my life. One by one, I observed the end of my relationships with each of my birth family members, including my narcissistic mother.

Now that it's been over three years ago, A LOT has changed in my life. Every aspect of my life has improved for the better. There is a higher purpose for pruning. Thankfully, I have survived loss, grief, betrayal, abuse, and trauma. Despite what I had been through, I am still standing strong.

Today, I am an inspiring voice who awakens courage in others, especially those who were abused and betrayed by their family members or intimate partner. No matter what you are facing, there is hope for healing. Even after abuse and traumatic experiences.

Uprooted Faith

What I never anticipated with this book, Sacred Wandering, is how my writing project affected me. That a tornado would plow through my life, uprooting everything. This story would turn my life upside down. I began to embark on a wilderness journey. It is precisely where I grew my faith in the dark.

Why does God or a higher power uproot our faith? Is it to learn what we're made of? To see if we pass the test? To detect if we're grappling with little faith?

Today, if you are low in faith, take heart. This, too, shall pass. "If you had no faith bigger than a tiny mustard seed, you could tell this mulberry tree to pull itself up, roots and all, and to plant itself in the ocean. And it would!" Luke 17: 6 (CEV)

The purpose of sacred wandering is to explore the foundation of our faith. To prove if it's authentic. Whether your faith is like sinking sand or a solid rock, God/Source wants to take you on an adventure. To spiritually strengthen you. To awaken you to your core essence and who you were created to be.

Steven Furtick, an author, speaker, and song writer sums it up nicely by saying, "It shouldn't freak you out to realize that God's eyes are on you. Because He doesn't see you through eyes of disapproval or disappointment. His presence is not a sign of condemnation. It's actually an invitation. God is present with you, through His Holy Spirit, because He intends to uproot you from the tyranny of the familiar, shatter the monotonous life you've had. And take you on an adventure."

The wilderness journey is most certainly an adventure. Mountaintop highs and valley lows. Growing my faith in the dark—and writing about it—has stretched my faith. It has forced me so far outside my comfort zone.

The crazy thing is that I’ve been hit with hard lessons. I've confronted old baggage. Painful things that I thought were behind me. My sacred wandering uprooted my life. There are shattered pieces, which I'm not sure I can mend. It has led me to reexamine my past. By doing so, I've confronted grueling memories, which haunt me.

Me Too

In 2017, after the Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault scandal went viral, the #MeToo movement grew like wildfire. It triggered my trauma. Flashbacks of horrific injustice. Old memories resurfaced. My body was flooded by cortisol as I tried to make sense out of my horrifying trauma responses.

Like when I had been a preschooler and abused by a babysitter; physically, sexually, emotionally, and spiritually. Or when I was fifteen years-old and my blind date turned into statutory rape. In mid-life, I suffered a sexual assault by my sister's husband. The atrocious incidents were a reminder of my broken, dysfunction family.

Each was a nightmare, which I didn't want to revisit. Layer upon layer of deep wounds stung badly. Feeling betrayed, I questioned who I could trust. The illusion of my “happy” family system was dismantled.

In 2006, after the sexual abuse by my brother-in-law, I felt crushed. It's like one more brick in the wall. The painful wounds ran deep into my soul. The unexpected atrocity disrupted my life. I felt shocked, numbed, and re-traumatized.

In the mist of overwhelm, I battled humiliation, betrayal, and despair. I couldn't believe this happened to me. The vile actions of the offender disturbed me. After all, he was related to me. Sadly, the aftermath of the assault destroyed my relationships with all of my family members. Why do family members take the side of the perpetrator? Why did they have more concern for the sexual offender and his wife, rather than me, the victim of a violent, sexual crime? When someone sides with the predator, they are equally complicit to abuse.

Add insult to injury, my sister coerced me to forgive and forget fast. She demanded that I put the sexual assault behind me. She insisted that I quickly make amends with the perpetrator, her spouse.

My family of origin pressured me to be a “good” Christian. To stop talking about the sexual violation. To get over it quickly. As if it were no big deal. Or not a sinful crime.

According to psychiatrist, researcher, educator, and author of The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk said, “Trauma is not just an event that took place in the past. It is also the imprint left by that experience on the mind, brain, and body.”

Trauma is stored in your body. When you suffered trauma, your nervous system began to dysregulate in the midst of overwhelm. You didn't feel safe. You may have disconnected to yourself. You disconnected to your body, mind, and soul. You disconnected because your pain hurts badly. If you’ve experienced this, you are not alone. Sound familiar?

Due to toxic family dynamics and multiple sexual abuses, my world unraveled. Relatives' victim-blamed and they dumped toxic-shame onto me. Their unspoken message: "Be silent. Don't taint the family's reputation." (Minimizing the abuse, plus gaslighting and manipulation.)

Why didn't I report it? Because when you are sexually assaulted by a relative, it's terribly complicated. Initially, I felt shocked, numb, and powerless. Keep in mind, sexual abuse is an act of violence, not sex. In addition, sexual assault is about power. It's common for victims to feel helpless.

What hurt me the most was my sister who accused me of causing my own sexual assault. As if it were my fault, which it most certainly was not. NOBODY ASKED FOR IT. NOBODY DESERVES TO BE VIOLATED AND TRAUMATIZED.

Instead of believing me, she defended the predator. She took his side and stayed loyal to him. By shifting the blame onto me (the victim), our relative (the perpetrator) didn't take responsibility for his crime (rape). Ultimately, it led to my diagnosis of compounded trauma Complex PTSD, chronic pain, a back injury (when I tried to run away from the attacker & I sustained a serious low lumbar injury), and fibromyalgia. Ironically, many trauma survivors may experience medical conditions, including physical pain, flashbacks, triggers, emotional dysregulation, nightmares, insomnia, brain fog, memory loss, anxiety, auto-immune conditions, illnesses, depression, hypervigilance, dissociation, and a variety of common reactions to trauma, such as avoiding people, places, or things that remind you of the initial abuse.

Abuse survivors respond differently from one another. There's no right or wrong way to react after being sexually abused or physically assaulted. The traumatic event can be so overwhelming that we may respond in four ways; fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.

For me, I first responded by freezing. I blacked out and dissociated, which is a normal trauma response. After the sexual abuse, I verbally fought with the perpetrator. I became angry and yelled, "Get the hell out of here! I am going to tell my sister what you did to me." Due to my history of compounded trauma and CPTSD from early childhood neglect and abuse, teen rape, and various trauma, my body went into survival-mode.

Sexual trauma is quite complex and individualized. The magnitude of my trauma felt paralyzing. I couldn't face it. The severity was too burdensome for me to process. I felt powerless to help myself. Part of me wanted to erase the nightmare from my mind. Yet it kept cropping up out of nowhere.

My coping mechanism was to dissociate from the trauma. Mentally, I withdrew from the situation. I tried to bury my horrible memories. Meanwhile, I had no one to confide in. I couldn't discuss it with my husband because he was justifiably outraged. He was so upset over what my brother-in-law did to me that he wanted to hurt him badly. In effort to protect my husband, I kept silent.

My relatives didn't want to be in the middle of our family feud. They avoided taking sides with me and the offender. Due to the sensitive nature of sexual abuse, I wasn't comfortable sharing it with my friends, coworkers, or anyone. I wasn't going to risk being judged, blamed, or shamed.

Whether people believed me or not, the sexual assault wasn't my fault. No doubt, the perpetrator refused to take personal ownership and accountability for his crimes. He used the "DARVO approach." DARVO is an acronym. Here's what it stands for: D = Denial (Perpetrators deny their evil actions.) A = Attack (Perpetrator attacks the victim.) R = Reverse (Perpetrator reverses roles with their victim.)

V = Victim (Perpetrator plays the 'victim card.")

O = Offender (Perpetrator turns the "real" victim into the offender.)

My lack of emotional support left me isolated with no helpful resources to heal. It literally took me 12 years BEFORE I sought therapy. Unfortunately, my therapist wasn't trauma-informed, nor educated about narcissistic abuse, sibling abuse, or anything pertaining to trauma. She insisted that I contact the abusers and "play nice." I reported the therapist to her supervisor, and I never returned, again. It was unethical, unprofessional, and outright destructive and dangerous advice for the therapist to say that I should get back in contact with each of my family members who had abused me; physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, and financially. MAJOR RED FLAGS FOR THE MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM.

Sacred Healing Journey

They say that time heals all wounds. I guarantee, time didn't heal mine. For well over a decade, I remained quiet about my abusive experiences. Deep inside, my anguish was bottled up. For twelve years, I couldn't confront the pain I carried.

Sexual trauma isn't a onetime event. It's something we battle for a lifetime. No matter how much I tried to mute troubling memories, I couldn't. Flashbacks occurred without warning. Seeing the predator at social events was a constant reminder. I was a broken mess.

Joining family functions for holidays and birthdays were quite awkward for me. It was like an elephant in the room. Yet nobody talked about it. In essence, there was an unspoken code of silence. If we could pretend the abuse never happened, then all was well. At least for them. Not so much for me.

The sacred wandering is a healing journey. It gives us the courage to face old wounds. We bravely face our past hurts. If we don't give ourselves permission to feel the pain, we cannot heal the pain. We must feel it to heal it.

We must sit in the muck. We acknowledge our troubling emotions. We no longer stuff it, bury it, or pretend it doesn't exist. Instead, we confront it head on. The grief. The toxic shame. The betrayal. The anger. The humiliation. The hurt. The nauseating disgust of being sexually assaulted and feeling powerless.

I found a book that met me smack center where I am. It's been a lonely, painful wilderness season. The book, No More Faking Fine: Ending The Pretending, by Esther Fleece, offered comfort, understanding, and insight for my weary soul.

It had me in awe that finally someone "gets it." That she had the courage to write about trauma, grief, and emotional suffering. The author shared how God calls us into a language of lamenting.

Most people who we confide in are well-meaning, but they don't know how to respond. Not to child abuse. Not to family dysfunction. Not to betrayal by loved ones. Most certainly not to sexual assault. Oftentimes, they use empty clichés, saying, “God never gives you more than you can handle. Or just pray harder.

Esther Fleece, stated, “Far too often, it seems the response we get to our hurt and disappointment is to suck it up or pray it away. But Scripture reveals a God who meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be. No More Faking Fine is your invitation to get gut-level honest with God through the life-giving language of lament. Lament, a practice woven throughout scripture, is a prayer that God never ignores, never silences, and never wastes. It is the unexpected pathway to intimacy with God.

No More Faking Fine gives us permission to give voice to our pain. Esther demonstrates with lamenting to honestly own our hurt, frustration, and disappointment, which we've silenced for too long. She says to not stuff our emotions or fall into the trap of thinking we must “have thicker skin.”

Instead, we're meant to take our wounds to the Lord. We don't have to pretend that we're okay if we're not. We don't feel the healing that Christ promises us if we haven't truthfully lamented our hurts and allowed for the healing.

What a wakeup call this has been for me. My reality is this: By silencing my pain for twelve years, I deprived myself of the opportunity to heal. I prevented myself to move through, process, and confront my trauma. Maybe you’ve done the same? The good news is that it's not too late to start your sacred healing journey.

Eventually, I invested in my trauma recovery. I did something brave. I started my healing process by seeing a licensed counselor. As I shared my anguish of sexual trauma and family betrayal, tears poured down my face. Instead of hiding my hurt, I voiced my emotional distress.

Lamenting my trauma has transformed me. It has spiritually revived me. My perspective has radically changed. I've exchanged my old faith for a newer, bolder faith. This time, it is on my terms. It is in perfect alignment to who I am today. A courageous warrior!

My sacred healing journey inspired me to take action. To weep at the foot of the cross. In my puddle of sorrow, God weeps with me. His still soft voice whispers, “I know you’ve been violated and you’re hurting, but I won’t abandon you. Dear daughter, take My hand and rise up. Don’t quit before the healing comes.

Oftentimes, when we’re consumed by troubles, we become paralyzed by fear. We don’t discern why we must endure affliction. Usually, we don’t know what to do. Does it mean the greater the suffering will produce far greater gain? I hope so.

The more I spiritually grow stronger, the more I see things in a new light. I realize that being uprooted is vital. God/Source can't change us, teach us, or heal us if we resist making positive improvements in our lives. We were never meant to be stagnant, burnt out, or to bury our pain. Our spiritual transformation is meant to prune us. To uproot our old wounds.

Anything that is unfruitful will be trimmed. Whatever doesn't belong in our lives must be peeled away. Strip by strip, our trauma, false beliefs, unhealthy habits, and toxic relationships will be removed. It's time to loosen your grip. Embrace the sweet surrender!

Is there something or someone preventing you from being who you are called to be? It could be friends, family, jobs, behaviors, old patterns, false beliefs, or misconceptions, which must be purged. On occasions there are times in which if we don't take heed, the same pain will persist. Therefore, if we ignore what must be released from our lives, we may suffer the ramifications later on.

No judgement here. I've already been through the fire. Like the Phoenix, I've been through hell and high waters. I have overcome a lot of intense trials, tears, and trauma.

"Often it's the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self." ~ Karen Salmansohn

Of course, there's no rhyme or reason why God/Higher Power may unexpectedly uproot us. It may have nothing to do with a lack of faith. Instead, it can simply be a new season in your life.

We've all been there. Sometimes we must eliminate, assimilate, and recreate. We enter unknown territory. Our past trauma wounds are uprooted. Like a broken branch on a tree, our pain and suffering must be examined and tended to. Our hearts and souls need to be nurtured in order to heal. To be made whole. To grow our faith in the dark.

Although I don't know how the wilderness journey will unfold, I've clung to God. Journaling. Praying. Reflecting. Crying. Singing. Bird watching. Practicing self-compassion. It's all good because I know a Higher Power works in me and through me for a greater purpose. Being uprooted from my old life will prepare for something new. This is exciting and scary all wrapped up into one!

Could it be that God/Source uproots our faith in order to realign us to the truth? To come home to our inner child? To ultimately have genuine faith rooted in something bigger than us?

The most comforting thought is that we will someday reach a better, more beautiful place. A blissful sacred space where we will be completely healed and whole.

For those interested in a copy of my book, Sacred Wandering: Growing Your Faith in the Dark, here is the link on Amazon. It is available as a print book and an eBook.

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