A New Name

By Sandra Aslesen

After numerous episodes of childhood sexual abuse, I had no idea who I was. A total lack of personal boundaries led me into eight years of lesbian relationships and extreme emotional dependency.

My childhood was marked by repeated traumas. I was separated from my mother at birth due to jaundice, a reaction to a blood Rh-factor problem. When I was thirteen months old, I was scalded with coffee. Second- and third-degree burns covered over sixty percent of my body.

Though I have no conscious memory of the event, that same year I witnessed my 13-year-old brother accidently shoot and kill my 11-year-old brother. Within five years of my birth, three of my siblings had died.

At age seven, I was hospitalized for stress-related ulcers, pneumonia, and other medical problems. Over the next six years, I was hospitalized at least once a year for pneumonia. The hospital was the only secure environment I can remember while growing up.

My father was a passive, non-abusive alcoholic. My mother avoided her own pain by being very talkative, but only on surface issues. We were a household of emotionally-frozen people. There were no rules or boundaries placed upon me by either parent. "Just let us know where you are and what you want to do," was all I heard.

Sexual abuse and incest occurred in my life numerous times. One brother abused me a couple of times when I was only four and five years old. Later in childhood, I was molested by three other people on separate occasions. All these molestations, coupled with the shame of having a leering uncle who always made me feel naked, left me with a rather warped perception of sex. My basic coping method was to view everyone as genderless; I also avoided men as much as possible.

"I would never hurt you," my Dad used to say, which I interpreted to mean that he would not force me into an incestuous relationship. In that sense, Dad never "hurt me" but I never remember being hugged, affirmed or told "I love you." After his eventual death in 1985, it seemed like he had never lived or had any impact on my life at all.

From the time I was very young, I looked after myself. I simply didn't know of any other option. Ironically, the brother who molested me was the only family member who said he would defend me.

Growing up, I didn't feel attracted to either men or women. I dated a couple of guys, but didn't become emotionally involved. The relationships were strictly platonic.

When I was 18, I rented a room in the house of one of my professors. Another guy living there had just broken up with his girlfriend. He began to initiate a relationship with me, but I was keenly aware that he just wanted an "interim fix" while his girlfriend got over her anger.

This guy was not subtle in his invitations. "Hey, Sandy," he asked me, "would you like to make love?" I kept declining, but finally let him kiss me. Unexpectedly, I felt myself powerfully responding to him. Then, suddenly, came the turnoff. "I gotcha," he murmured, and my heart turned as cold as an ice-covered rock.

I will not yield control any further, I thought. This man will not win. I will not be used and then discarded! I slammed the door on my emotional and physical response and left the room and the relationship.

Less than a year later, my affections became fixated on women. My lesbian activities began as an emotional dependency with a girlfriend, and led to sexual relationships with numerous women over a period of eight years.

My struggles with emotional dependency centered on two factors: A deep longing to be protected, and having no sense of personal boundaries, the latter stemming from my alcoholic family and the sexual abuse of my youth.

I became a Christian in the fall of 1983, but my "crash and burn" cycle of emotional dependency continued to repeat itself for the next five years. By then I realized this cycle wouldn't be broken without a major catalyst.

I still had not accepted the fact that homosexuality was an issue in my life. I merely considered myself an opportunist. If I happened to fall in love with a woman, well, that's just the way it was. What bothered me most wasn't the sin cycle itself, but that it kept blocking my walk with God. I desperately wanted to know Him, but I couldn't see any possible escape from my sinful patterns.

Then, with perfect timing and incredible love, God set up a "divine appointment" when the time was ripe for me to begin facing my lesbianism.

In July 1988, I saw an old acquaintance from college who had moved away a couple of years earlier. He told me about his past struggles with homosexuality and emotional dependency, and what the Lord had done through Love In Action's live-in program.

I want that, too, I thought, knowing that I desperately needed a structured situation to help me quit running. Within a few weeks I'd applied to Love In Action.

However, by the fall of that year, I was out of fellowship and making many wrong choices, based on a horrible "last fling" mentality. My last six weeks before moving to California turned into one long chain of sin. It was Satan's last-ditch attempt to keep me in bondage.

In great denial and rebellion, I arrived in San Rafael on January 1, 1989. I was completely shut down emotionally but still the healing process began. By now, Jesus had been my Savior five years. I was well-grounded in His word and had ample knowledge about Him, but He was still not in control of my life.

At our opening house retreat, a gifted leader prayed over each one of us. I was very afraid and skeptical of charismatic activity, but his words pierced my heart.

"You are like a wild black stallion," he told me, "strong and powerful, but needing to be made gentle and tamed. God will change your fighting into submission, so that at His slightest whisper, you will obey." This man knew my deep desire for total obedience to the Lord. I was amazed.

A month later I went to an all-church women's retreat held in the redwood forest of Northern California. There my life irrevocably changed, as God birthed in me the reality of our theme song:

On a drizzly, chilly Saturday in the stump of a burned-out redwood tree, I yielded my whole heart to God. He became my Lord; I knew there was no turning back. He promised to change my name from "rebellious" to "yielded," and turn my inner desert to a lush, verdant garden.

As my memorial to this event, I began to use my full name from that day on. Sandy became Sandra. I dropped all abbreviations and nicknames. My "official" signature went from a scrawled set of impersonal initials to the fullness of my whole name, an indication of God replacing the cheap imitations in my life with His truth and reality. From that point on, my life began to change significantly.

God gave me a key to unlock my emotions: singing. I love to sing, so He showed me that if I would sing out my hurts and feelings, they could come to the surface and be healed.

Through the vehicle of song I brought up and experienced anger toward my parents' injustices for the very first time. A veritable storm of emotions came bursting forth.

Then, in the quiet aftermath, God's love broke into my heart as never before. I had a wonderful sense of being a newborn baby, cradled in her Daddy's arms. I felt warm and secure, and looked up to see His eyes of love for the very first time.

Later I ran across a field with outstretched arms, shouting and laughing in my newfound discovery. "Daddy loves me! My Daddy loves me!" I yelled over and over again, my heart bursting with joy.

The next morning God confirmed that my hungry, desperate quest to be known was ended. He spoke to me through a verse I had read countless times: "Oh Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me" (Ps 139:1, NASB).

God was creating in me a new sense of identity. Throughout my life, my personhood had been vague; I had no sense of self or boundaries. I didn't know where I stopped and someone else began. What I'd done since childhood was simply transfer my emotional dependency from person to person. They weren't separate relationships but more like one single "serial dependency."

Sometimes these friendships had taken on subtle, civilized forms, giving the illusion of "normal" relationships, when actually they just kept growing uglier and stronger.

Once I could see the whole picture, God asked me to renounce my identity of being an idolatrous, emotionally-dependent person. I was terrified. How can I give up what little identity I have, I wondered, no matter how wrong or false that identity is? It meant being laid bare before the Lord and trusting Him to build a true identity in me, revealing the woman He created.

As I yielded, I gained an awesome sense of freedom from old thought patterns. It was really fun getting to know myself for the very first time. My new identity developed gradually. While God was preparing me to renounce the lies, simultaneously He built up my new sense of self.

Interestingly, as my life and identity came into sharper focus, so did the healing process. What was vast and unknown in 1989 has narrowed down to two key issues: a need for boundaries, and a need for protection.

Now I'm much more prepared to face these old issues. My security in Christ has increased dramatically. I still face the challenge of fully dealing with past sexual abuse and my problem with trust, especially toward men.

But the Lord is walking me through these issues, one step at a time. A new beginning came in the fall of 1989, when I became friends with a man at my church. What began as a casual friendship gradually deepened into a desire for lifelong commitment.

On November 16, 1991, my name changed again, this time from Sandra Spencer to Sandra Aslesen. My wedding marked another miracle, one of the most exciting days of my life! Now I continue the healing process while walking side-by-side with Steve, my life companion and friend.

As I continue to obey God's loving guidance, my relationship with Him grows sweeter and deeper. That is what healing is all about-the freedom to receive His love and then share it with others.

By far the greatest reward of all is getting to know God, and becoming a reflection of His love, redemption, and restoration. I delight daily in the new name and identity He has given to me.

Sandra,her husband, Steve, and her daughter, Claire, are members of Church of the Open Door in San Rafael, CA. This testimony is adapted from Out of Egypt: Leaving Lesbianism Behind by Jeanette Howard (Monarch Publications). Copyright c 1991 by Jeanette Howard. Used by permission. Distributed by Love In Action, PO Box 753307, Memphis, TN 38175-3307; 901/542-0250