Lately I have come across information that is both troubling and enlightening to me. Last week I read an article about women wearing makeup in prison and the reason why it is so important to them. The article tells how through the ages women in prison have gone to great lengths to wear makeup. In 1908 women were making rouge from the red dye of strings they had pulled out of their prison uniforms and making powder from the limestone walls in their cells. Although it was a very interesting read and I came away more enlightened, I also came away feeling troubled.
The article was asking the question, why? Why do these women feel it so important to find a way to adorn themselves? Prison women have no one to impress inside those prison walls so why would they go to great lengths to wear makeup? And they answered the question saying that every woman has the right to self-esteem. And for whatever reason, we get our self-esteem by the way we look.
The troubling part for me was this… they quoted the following statistics. Almost 90 percent of women in the system have experienced sexual abuse and violence, and most during their childhoods. An overwhelming 86 percent are sexual abuse survivors, 60 percent experienced caregiver violence, and over 90 percent of women who were convicted of murdering a partner were victims of partner abuse. Then take into account that 32 percent have serious mental illnesses and 82 percent suffer drug or alcohol addiction, which often times was used to self-medicate in order to cope with the side effects of their past. These statistics create a domino effect that’s hard to ignore: Those with histories of abuse are 77 percent more likely to be arrested than women who did not suffer that kind of trauma.
As a sexual abuse survivor myself, I read these statistics and think, this could have been me. But for the grace of God, this could have been where I landed. And in the gravity of that understanding, I was deeply troubled about the plight of others.
Two days ago I watched a video on Facebook that brought me to a place of further discouragement but today it brings me to a place of hope. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’s Ted Talk was about how the effects of childhood trauma are lifelong. She speaks in the video about reading a study that changed her practice. In that study, it showed that childhood trauma on a varying scale actually physically alters the brain development. It alters the brain in the areas of impulse control and the reward center. Heightened stress induced the fight or flight mechanism and in trauma where it was constant, that mechanism was constant causing the brain to be altered. In other words, it proves that childhood trauma causes physical issues that impact long term well being in mental and physical health.
In one way this information was a relief. I knew that my childhood trauma had caused some of my tendencies toward risky behaviors before I gave my life to Jesus. But knowing this also troubled my heart because it could make people think there is no hope. It could take you to a place of feeling that if your brain is messed up then there is no way to a better life.
Today however, God gave me a small glimpse of Himself. You see, there is hope in Jesus. There are miracles in Jesus. There is a way out of the darkness and despair that this life can bring at times. The brain may be altered by childhood sexual abuse and women with a traumatic history may be more likely toward incarceration, but NOTHING is beyond the healing of God. NOTHING is bigger than God. NOTHING is to big or overwhelming for God. He is able to change the pathways of the brain. He is able to cure all that ails you. He is able to make all things new. Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is good and acceptable and perfect.”