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Healing Hidden Hurts helps women cope with abortion

By Mary Ann Wyand
The Criterion
Archdiocese of Indianapolis
Friday, March 7, 200

Second of three parts

A grace-filled Christ Renews His Parish weekend 17 years ago was a life-changing experience for St. Gabriel parishioner Debbie Miller of Indianapolis that enabled her to grow closer to God, return to her Catholic faith with her children and later seek abortion reconciliation.

Turning to God for help and healing from the pain of an abortion that happened early in her 31-year marriage also led her to begin a confidential peer ministry for other women harmed by abortion.

Miller founded Healing Hidden Hurts, a one-on-one post-abortion ministry, three years ago to guide women affected by abortion through a 10-step process that enables them to define and understand post-abortion trauma, determine personal abortion connectors, identify hurts and judgments, restore broken relationships with God and others, establish a relationship with the aborted baby and learn self-help methods.

Symptoms of post-abortion syndrome include anxiety, regret, guilt, sadness, feelings of loss, drug and alcohol abuse, repeat abortions, nightmares, sexual dysfunction, self-destructive behavior, suicidal impulses, anger, rage, severe emotional pain, blunting or denial of emotions, desire for secrecy about the abortion, inability to sustain an intimate relationship and feelings of hatred toward anyone connected with the abortion.

In the process of healing through the sacrament of penance and an abortion reconciliation experience, Miller said she came to know God as the giver of second chances, unconditional love and forgiveness.

"The abortion recovery process is lifelong," she said. "There's always more room to grow and to heal. The pain is so devastating that sometimes you can't put words to it. I don't think you ever completely reach a healing place. A lot of women are really traumatized by it and suffer in silence and alone. But there's no need for that isolation."

Post-abortion reconciliation ministries like the ecumenical Healing Hidden Hurts and the Catholic Church's Project Rachel and Rachel's Companions give women hope for a new beginning in life.

Father Vincent Lampert, pastor of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis and the spiritual director for Healing Hidden Hurts, encourages women suffering from the pain of abortion to reach out for help through these confidential ministries.

"Reaching across barriers like race or religion, the sole purpose of Healing Hidden Hurts is to let women know that they do not have to suffer alone," Father Lampert said in an article for The Mercy Messenger newsletter.

"There are others who are concerned for them and who want to help them experience healing in their lives," he said. "Healing Hidden Hurts allows a woman still suffering the effects of her abortion to go through a 10-step process of spiritual healing with another woman who herself knows the painful realities of abortion."

This 10-week reconciliation process gently guides a woman back to the time in her life leading up to the abortion, progresses through the pain of realizing that she has chosen to kill her baby and to the abortion itself, then helps her accept what she has done, name her aborted baby and ask her baby for forgiveness.

"Most women feel like they didn't have a choice," Miller said. "Can you imagine the pain of knowing that you have willingly and deliberately destroyed your baby? Can you imagine how much grief and sadness and shame you feel because of it? The shame is overwhelming. That's why women are silent about it."

Miller said she often thinks about her aborted baby.

"Her name is Anna Marie," she said. "I think about her with love and the hope that I will see her again one day. Sometimes I pray to her and ask her to intercede for me."

When women do share their abortion experience with family members or friends, Miller said, they frequently are told to "get over it and go on with their lives."

Abortion reconciliation helps women remember and learn to live with their abortion, she said, not "get over it" by trying to forget about or deny the reality of this life changing experience.

"Living with it means living life in a new and different way because of what has happened," Miller said. "A woman who is working through the process of reconciliation has to first acknowledge what she's done then give it to God and let go of the pain. Christ came to heal sinners."

Miller trained to be a peer facilitator with Elizabeth Verchio of Chicago, executive director of Victims of Choice, an international post-abortion reconciliation ministry, before founding Healing Hidden Hurts in 1999. She also volunteers as a facilitator for the archdiocese's Rachel's Companions support group.

"A lot of women say they don't want anyone else to go through the pain they've had to go through," Miller said. "I think God is touching the hearts of these women to enable them to find the courage and the strength to speak the truth about abortion, and the truth will set us free."

The gift of listening is one of the most important gifts people can give to each other, she said. "It's so important to have someone you can trust to turn to for help, someone who will really listen without trying to offer advice all the time."

When women progress through the abortion reconciliation process and finally let go of their burdens, Miller said, their entire physical appearance changes as they move from pain and sadness to healing and peace.

"It's an incredible transformation," she said. "They have found peace in their life that comes from accepting what they have done, which they knew was wrong, and accepting forgiveness from God and from themselves. When they are able to create a relationship with their [aborted] child, it frees them from so much of the pain.

"One of the things I've learned from this ministry is just how much God loves us," Miller said. "He is so loving and compassionate and forgiving. You just have to place yourself in his arms and accept his love and help."

(For more information about Healing Hidden Hurts, call Debbie Miller at 317-297-7578, the ministry's confidential telephone line.)



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