There is another plague which has deeply affected our country and world for decades, even centuries. It also involves isolation, separation, masks which cover up shame, deep wounds that cry out for healing, and the self-imposed closure of church doors, which represent ways to close off the mercy of God. This also requires the intervention of God and many prayers and sacrifices offered by the faithful for healing and new life.
What is this plague which causes men and women to hover restlessly in the shadows of life? It is the trauma that occurs after an abortion experience. Between one quarter and one third of all women in this country will have (or have had) an abortion during their fertile years. And, too, an equal number of men suffer in silence.
With over thirty years of experience in helping women and men to heal from this shattering decision in their lives, I believe this is one of the most painful sufferings a person can experience. Such a gaping wound needs the loving touch of the Divine Healer, the Divine Physician. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, goes in search of these lost sheep. “The Good Shepherd does not want even one of God’s children to be lost in the chaos of the times,” said St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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The wound of abortion can lead to post-traumatic stress, ruptures in relationships, self-imposed emotional isolation from loved ones, shame, low self-esteem, and unresolved grief. If the pain becomes overwhelming, some people turn to alcohol, drugs, or sexual acting out to deaden the internal dis-ease. Depression, anxiety, and even suicide can follow as a result.
With so many restrictions during this time of lockdown to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, the contradiction between protecting vulnerable life on the one hand and some governors allowing abortions to be performed as “essential medical services” on the other hand cuts at the dignity of each American. And with this discussion on abortion being frequently on the news it increases the triggers for people struggling with post-abortion trauma.
These negative after-effects are like stones thrown into a pond, the waves rippling outward. Living children may be affected by the mother either being unable to attach to her other children, or being overprotective. The hidden secret of abortion in a family, if left unhealed, can lead to generational abortions. This is passed on through the unconscious. Most boyfriend-girlfriend relationships break up after an abortion decision, and even marriages have a high number of divorces after one.
The deepest wound is the self-imposed rupture with God. Many women believe God will never forgive them for this act, and they hide away from God. They do not know that God looks on them with great love and compassion and continues to call their name. God desires only their greatest good.
A mother is traumatized, a father is traumatized, and the family lives in this trauma. Healing one person helps to heal other relationships. Healing a family helps to heal a community. Healing communities helps to heal our nation. And our nation needs much reconciliation in this area.
When people are traumatized, the brain chemistry and overall chemistry of the body changes. We may understand how a woman would be traumatized by having an abortion, especially if it was done without anesthesia. Even with anesthesia, the body has memories and many women report feeling very different immediately after waking up. The trauma is not only physical, it is spiritual, psychological, emotional, and relational.
How are men traumatized? Men are hardwired to be protectors of their wives (or girlfriends) and children. A man sitting in the waiting room of an abortion clinic, whether he agrees with the abortion or not, is on some level ready to jump up, rescue, defend, and save. This preparedness is never acted on, and this uncompleted action can cause trauma. Even more so for a man who did not know about the pregnancy and finds out after the fact about the abortion. This man feels helpless. His power has been taken away by the state, which declares that legally a father has no right to stop the abortion of his own child. And the mother of the child did not consider him either. Men may be left with feelings of rage, a tendency to aggressive behavior, addictions, or acting out risky behaviors as a result of this trauma.
An abortion within a marriage shatters the bond of the vow. The intimacy is broken on all levels. Many couples do not talk about the aftermath and suffer in silence. They try to move forward, but without acknowledging the truth of what they decided, and being able to discuss and eventually forgive, the marriage has a low chance of survival. At a minimum, it will not thrive. Those who do work toward healing and forgiveness do so with determination, great love, and much hard work. With God, all things are possible.
Even with the advent of Project Rachel and other known avenues for healing, only a small percentage of women, and an even smaller number of men, will seek help. Shame and isolation keep a person from reaching out. A new life is possible, for this is what Jesus promises us, and His Resurrection is the sure sign of new life. God’s desire is for each person to reach the fullness of love possible in this lifetime, and to grow in relationship and intimacy with Him Who created us.
The journey to new life comes one step at a time. Yes, I have met a few women who were healed through a life-changing event, but most people experience healing in small steps that build on each other.
Mending the relationship with God is the first step, for a person needs God’s help and grace in order to overcome the many obstacles. When a person is able to accept God’s gaze of love, that person is then able to believe in God’s forgiveness. This movement enables them to explore broken relationships. Those who knew about the abortion, encouraged it, or aided it need to be forgiven. Usually, there are layers of anger that need to be acknowledged and given a safe voice as a way to open up to forgiveness. It is not advised to reestablish contact with people from the past who were involved in the abortion. The healing comes through prayer and exercises which help release anger and negativity in a safe way.
Being able to accept the humanity of this child who was lost leads to a greater understanding and ability to grieve. This grief may have been blocked for years, even decades. The floodgates of tears bring a new vision. No longer does a person see life in the shadows, but the light of Christ shines forth to bring a new experience of the beauty of life and the life of the child lost. Through prayer, and trust in God’s goodness, a woman can have a spiritual relationship with her child. She is able to accept the forgiveness of her child and love is then able to flow between them. She can release this child into God’s mercy and be at peace.
The most difficult task is the forgiveness of self. This is another obstacle that needs to be overcome, yet it is possible and greatly desired by the Good Shepherd and the individual seeker. The healing journey is a lifetime of walking in trust and mercy. When a person accepts the responsibility of her or his role in the abortion decision, then authentic freedom leads to the crucial opening to grace. Jesus promised that the Truth would set us free. So it does. And so He does. Jesus promises new life, and this is what He gives in abundance. To witness this turning point is a great grace and privilege for the counselor to share in.
From a life of isolation, the person seeking help is eventually able to remove the mask of shame and self-hatred. Relationships are restored. Life can be lived in so much more peace. A women or man seeking healing must be treated with respect and in confidence. It is also not advised to share one’s story widely, unless the person feels called by God to be a witness, and this comes only after healing. Unhealed persons can cause more harm than good, to self and others.
Project Rachel is a referral and resource apostolate in most dioceses, staffed with priests and counselors who have been trained to help with this type of healing. Bethesda House of Mercy, Entering Canaan, and other similar apostolate offer spiritual healing.
So let us all pray for this healing of individuals, families, communities, our nation, and the world. These isolated, wounded people need our prayers and compassion in order to step into the light.
“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures: We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son,” said Pope St. John Paul II.