‘Why Me?’: Incest, Suffering, And Why God Isn’t My Answer

By Laura LeMoon

flickr/Jim Forest
If everything happens for a reason, then what was the reason for the years of abuse I suffered?

Content warning: discussion of rape

T he way I saw it, god abandoned me the first time my father raped me.

I’m a survivor of incest, of childhood abuse, of trafficking, domestic violence, and rape. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I hate god.

Even as I sit to write this, there is still a part of me that wants to ask god, “why?” When I meet people who have never experienced abuse, who seem to have made it through life and accomplished great things without the baggage of abuse strapped to their backs, I wonder why god gave me all these boulders and told me to swim upstream when others were given yachts and a life jacket. But I’ve found that the only way forward is to stop asking “why,” because I know god isn’t answering. Chaos, not god, has allowed me to let go.

I’m going to be really real with you: These feelings will never go away for me completely. I’m not the only abuse survivor who’s ever asked god, “why me?” Being abused as a child set me up for a lifetime of believing I was broken, which turned into feeling like I could never not be broken. This feeling really congealed when I reached my late twenties. My Bipolar was spiraling after I got fired from a job and was desperate for money and a purpose. My purpose became self-annihilation. Who am I if I’m not being victimized? What is my identity if not a victim? I had suffered, but now, I was aiding in my own suffering.

If your first memory is being raped by your father, you’re probably going to hate god. But I believed in god for a long time. I was always highly spiritual as a kid and always in search of what I wanted my relationship to a higher power to look like. Because I was not raised in any one religion, I decided to try them all on for size; being Hindu for a time, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, even atheist. At age 6 I had a friend who was very Christian — which my family was not — so I would go to Sunday School with her every weekend and I begged my mom to buy me a Bible. I spent every night reading the stories of the new testament. At 10 years old, I invited friends over to celebrate the birthday of Ganesh, the Hindu remover of obstacles. At 13 I began going to the synagogue near my house and by 16 I was wearing the hijab, praying five times per day and reading the Quran every night.

Even though I had experienced immense trauma as a child, my resilience and my ability to see and believe in good was endless. But the lifetime culmination of my experiences with abuse all led me to believe, in adulthood, that there must not be a “god.” That god had abandoned me long ago.

If we’re taught god is good — if god is the opposite of evil — then why would he allow senseless suffering? Especially of innocent children? I’m not the first to ask these questions about god. There is a common thread amongst most major religions that god knows best and god has a plan. To an abuse survivor, this is like being told to accept being out of control when we often feel like having no power got us abused in the first place. Trust and surrender are hard for people who have experienced an egregious breach of trust and that “surrender” means giving up agency or the ability to fight back or say no. And while I’m sure there are many abuse survivors who have been able to surrender, I am not one of them, and it should not be required for us.

There is a Buddhist saying that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. This approach at least takes the power dynamics out of a person’s relationship to god in a way that is much more accessible and approachable for people who have suffered through childhood abuse. It is no coincidence that abuse survivors often have issues with letting go of control, and only when the power hierarchy is removed can our relationship to a higher power feel emotionally safe. I started wondering if suffering has a purpose, and what was in and out of my control? Maybe the existence of god is so hard for survivors of incest and childhood abuse to believe in because the question of suffering hinges on so many others, which cannot be easily answered. We would have to be able to answer why god lets bad things happen to good people, and nobody, not even the faithful, can answer that for sure.

However, not even Buddhism could bring me peace. According to Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh, “the Buddha called suffering a holy truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation.” The Buddha says “suffering is not holding you, you are holding suffering.” Suffering is therefore akin to emotionally running away from oneself — one’s higher self — to seek out numbness in the external world. Which only prolongs one’s misery. Suffering will stop, says this philosophy, once you are able to let go of the idea that there is anywhere to hide. Like many religious practices, it teaches acceptance and letting go of control as key to finding peace within. But if our suffering is our responsibility, then I am left again asking “why me?”

When religions tell us as survivors that “god knows best” or “just let go,” it sounds like reasons abusers give children as to why they must inflict pain and suffering upon them. When god calls for us to blindly trust, how could an adult abuse survivor not think of when their abuser told them “I’m doing this because I love you; I’m doing this because you wanted me to; I’m doing this to help you.” It can’t be an expectation of abuse survivors that they just let go and accept that god knows best, because we might feel like this is something that allowed us to be hurt in the past. For whatever reasons god “allows” incest to happen, we will probably never know while we walk this earth.

Maybe everything that happened to me was just random; like a tornado that skips one house only to eviscerate another. With a number of years of intensive therapy under my belt, I’ve learned that the “why” becomes not nearly as relevant as the “how.” How are you going to move on? How are you going to let go of suffering, of victimhood? How are you going to believe you’re worthy of a healthy, safe, happy life and people in it who treat you accordingly? The “why” is probably the most vexing part of surviving incest. I still would like to know why.

But I’ve learned that asking the question neither affords me any peace nor the ability to move on with life. Which ultimately is what it comes down to for childhood abuse survivors. Being an incest survivor is part of my story, but it’s not the whole story, nor is it all of who I am as a person. That is the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my healing journey; whether or not it was god who decided what happened to me, as famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

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