Archive for the ‘Healing Analogies’ Category

I just had an epiphany which might explain some of why I am feeling so exhausted. I think I am in a phase of restructuring. It’s going on all around me, but I also suspect that this is also a metaphor for what is going on inside of me.

The epiphany came to me as I was working. As I have shared before, I work as an adjunct online college instructor. We had a new curriculum put into place a few months ago. It took a lot of work to restructure all of my materials to adapt to all of the changes. Sadly, the new curriculum appears to have been rushed through and doesn’t make logical sense. This is not just my opinion – multiple faculty are having the same issues in the same places.

I took a step back and examined the course from a global perspective. I thought about the course objectives and how best to cover those objectives. The result was another massive restructuring of the curriculum. I am still covering all of the same material, but now the students are set up for success. I am completing the first week with the new curriculum, and so far, so good. I am already seeing improvements, and I am excited about the long-term implications of all of the hard work that I have done.

It was exhausting to overhaul a curriculum twice. This took a lot of time and energy, but I was willing to invest the time and energy because the end result was going to be better growth for the students.

I had an aha moment that I see this pattern repeating in other areas of my life. My husband has reached a place of not being able to continue “as is” in his professional life. He is in the process (with my support) of restructuring his professional life in a way that works better for him.

I am working closely with another restructuring project as part of a committee. It is so much work to do right now, but the restructuring is necessary. I can see how great things will happen at the end of the project, but being in the middle of the project is daunting.

It occurred to me that perhaps it is not a coincidence that I am involved in so much restructuring in my day-to-day life. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the restructuring going on inside of myself. In all of these day-to-day situations, I am willing to invest the time, even though the work can be draining, because I can see the big picture of a great harvest at the end. I need to apply that same viewpoint to the restructuring that is going on inside of me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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PhotobucketI recently rode on an airplane when I took my kid to visit Hogsmeade (Harry Potter’s city) in Orlando, FL. I thoroughly enjoyed the flight.

The reason this is significant is because I used to have a phobia of flying – I mean a really serious fear of flying. I would obsess over any plane crash in the news. I would watch specials explaining why planes go down and what to do if you are in a plane crash. I would wear jeans and shoes that tie so I would be protected from fire, and I would count the number of seat backs between myself and the nearest exits so I could locate them even in heavy smoke.

The list goes on … I would pray and pray and pray in my head from the time I walked into the plane until it landed. I would jump at every sound, such as when the wheels were pulled up or rolled back down. I was a complete basket case in turbulence, certain that I was about to die.

How I moved past the phobia is another story for another time, but I am now completely free of this phobia. A couple of years ago, I endured very heavy turbulence as the plane landed during a heavy storm after circling for hours because the airport had been closed for severe weather. I didn’t break a sweat. At no point did I worry about what might happen.

Here’s the healing metaphor – Every plane I have ever ridden in has gotten me from Point A to Point B. Most flights were uneventful, and some had quite a bit of turbulence. Regardless, I arrived at my destination all in one piece.

Outwardly, nothing has changed. I still board a plane, leave Point A, and arrive at Point B. The difference is what is going on in the inside. I have gotten from Point A to Point B feeling like a crazy person, and I have made the trip completely relaxed. My reaction to the flight did not change the outcome.

I am trying to apply this metaphor to my reaction to healing from child abuse. The healing process is going to get me from Point A to Point B. I can go there kicking and screaming, or I can sit back and let the healing process do its thing with no interference from me, but I am going to get there either way. It’s up to me whether the “trip” is miserable or uneventful.

Some parts are out of my control, such as the “turbulence” I experienced in dealing with the heavy memories I processed during the holidays. However, just as in a plane, choosing to ride out the “turbulence” without adding my own freak out to the mix made the “flight” less unpleasant.

The bottom line is that healing, like flying, is about trust. I used to have trouble trusting that a plane would take me to my destination. Once I chose to accept that I could trust the airplane to get me there, I became able to let go of the need to be in control and trust that the pilot would get me there.

The healing process is the same way. I am learning to trust that when I experience heavy emotions, I don’t need to react. Instead, I need to trust that the healing process is taking me where I need to go, and I’ll ride out whatever turbulence comes with the trip.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I recently encountered a saying that struck a chord with me:

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain. ~ Author Unknown

If I waited for the storm to pass, I would never dance. I think this is true for just about anyone with a history of abuse or not. Really – Have you ever met the one person on the planet who isn’t encountering some difficulty in the present moment? I haven’t. Even when people are in a “good” place in their lives, struggles abound. Of course, the level of struggle varies, but it is still a struggle.

If I waited for the skies to be 100% sunny before I danced, I would never dance. Life is filled with storms, and how I react to and in those storms says a lot about the person I am becoming.

When I entered into therapy, I said that my goal was to “get over” the abuse and “be normal.” My therapist said these were unrealistic goals but that I would experience a higher quality of life through healing. I didn’t get it at the time, but now I see what he meant.

I am always going to have a history of child abuse. I cannot wave a magic wand and make that history disappear. However, I don’t need the storm clouds of my history to part before I can dance. I can enjoy my life – right here, right now – no matter what I am facing.

In fairness, in the early years of healing, I wouldn’t say I experienced a lot of “enjoyment.” I was too busy dealing with horrifying memories and learning how to process my emotions. However, I did experience reprieves, even in the early months, in which I felt alive – really alive for the first time. Those moments were fleeting at first, but they grew longer over time.

I don’t think I will ever experience a time where everything in my life is just the way I want it to be. However, that doesn’t mean that I cannot enjoy my life. Sometimes I will experience joy after moving a mountain. At other times, I will experience joy simply from being alive. My circumstances don’t have to dictate the quality of my life.

My sister would likely agree that joy is not defined by our circumstances. In her travels to Belize, she met some of the most joyous people in some of the most impoverished circumstances. She traveled as a scientist, not a tourist, and she met many of the locals who feel rich if they own a pair of shoes or a bicycle. I know many people who have outwardly achieved the American Dream who are miserable.

I have always liked the saying, “Make lemonade out of life’s lemons,” and “After the rain, the rainbow.” I am going to add this one to my list as well.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I am currently reading the book Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I came across some amazing words of wisdom in this book that I would like to share with you.

The book shares an African tale about Abu Kassem’s slippers. Abu Kassem is a merchant who holds onto his battered slippers even though they are in much need of repair. Each attempt to get rid of the slippers results in something bad happening to him. You can read the tale for yourself here.

In the book Cutting for Stone, a character named Ghosh has the following to say about this tale:

I never knew my father, and so I thought he was irrelevant to me. My sister felt his absence so strongly that it made her sour, and so no matter what she has, or will ever have, it won’t be enough…What I finally understood… is that neither my sister nor I realized that my father’s absence is our slippers. In order to start to get rid of your slippers, you have to admit they are yours, and if you do, then they will get rid of themselves…

I hope one day you see this clearly…The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny. ~ Cutting for Stone, p. 351

I was struck by the truth in those words, and I immediately thought about survivors of child abuse when I read them. I spent so much of my life hiding from my truths. I did not want to “own my slippers” because they were too painful. However, no matter what I did to try to rid myself of my slippers, they always returned.

Ironically, it is through “owning my slippers” that they will finally leave. I have to own the abuse, the eating disorder, the hellish childhood, etc. in order to free myself of them. I cannot pretend like these have not been a part of my life because they have. All of my “slippers” have shaped who I am today. If I try to get rid of the slippers, they will continue to return to me and shape who I am. However, if I “own” them and deal with them, then I will no longer feel the need to get rid of them.

I don’t have to have had a happy childhood to be okay today. I don’t have to change the past, which is good because I have no power to do so, anyhow. I don’t have to deny that my past happened or that I currently face challenges in my life. Instead, I need to “own” all of these facets of my life, deal with them, and recognize that my slippers do not define who I am.

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In my last blog entry The “End Result” of Healing from Child Abuse, I mentioned that I am dealing with new challenges today as part of my healing from child abuse. The healing process is never “over.” We continue to heal at deeper levels as we grow into who we were always meant to be, rediscovering the beauty of our true natures as we go along.

I spent years dealing with flashbacks. Today, I am dealing with “flash nows.” I can best explain what I mean by using an analogy.

Before you begin the child abuse healing process, it is as if you are going through your life in a dark room with only a small candle to illuminate the room. You are surrounded by your truths, but you do not see them.

When you are ready to begin the child abuse healing process, someone turns on a light with a dimmer switch. Initially, the light is on its lowest setting. The light illuminates a bunch of painful experiences that have always been a part of what made you who you are today, but you never “saw” them. These are your first flashbacks.

As you continue to heal, the dimmer switch grows the tiniest bit brighter to illuminate painful truths from your past. You are shocked to see things that you did not see before, and you find yourself having to “clean up” baggage that you never even knew was there.

At some point, you finally clean up all of the areas of your life that pertain to the past. While there will always be some residue, you can check that corner of the room off your list. You are “done” with flashbacks. That is where I am now.

What I did not know is that the past is not the only baggage with which I must deal. The dimmer switch has gone a little bit brighter. Before me is an entire corner of the room filled with baggage, but this time, the baggage is about the life that I have built for myself today. I feel like I have been thrown into another “breakthrough crisis,” only this one is filled with “flash nows” rather than flashbacks.

I now see how I have filled my life with relationships that continue unhealthy dynamics for me. I have chosen relationships that make me feel unimportant and valued for what I can do for the other person rather than for who I am. I have questioned for years why I continue to struggle with feeling worthless when I have silenced the voices of my abusers in my head. I now see that I have set up my life to continue sending me this message.

This truth is so painful to face. It means even more changes in my life, and I am still recovering from all of the changes I made previously. It means making difficult choices about which relationships to hold onto as best I can without sacrificing myself, and also deciding which relationships I need to release. I cannot tell you how painful the idea of doing this is to me. My sister has been telling me for years that I need to “weed my garden” – that not every relationship is forever. I cannot invest my energy into too many relationships, and yet it is so hard for me to let go.

So, that is the crux of my struggles at the moment. I see myself facing another marathon or another mountain to climb, and I question whether I have the strength to do it. But, like with facing the flashbacks, I have no other choice. I feel propelled toward healing and growth. I am just trying to catch my breath before I start climbing.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Pink Flowers (c) Lynda Bernhardt

++ religious triggers ++

The Good Shepherd was tending His flock. In the middle of the night, bandits came and kidnapped one little lamb. They wrapped barbed wire all around his little body and stuck sharp objects all over him, then left him for dead. When the Shepherd woke up the next morning, He noticed immediately that His little lamb was missing and searched high and low for him.

As He looked out over the horizon, he saw his wounded little lamb ambling toward Him, pain evident in his every step. The Shepherd began to cry as He saw what these evil men had done to His beloved lamb. The Shepherd ran to the lamb, but the lamb was frightened of Him and wouldn’t let the Shepherd touch him. Even if the Shepherd had forced the matter, removing all of the shrapnel at once could throw the lamb’s little body into shock and kill him. So, the Shepherd respected the lamb’s wishes, walking silently beside him as he wiped away tear after tear.

The lamb slept for days and, when he awakened, it was like it had all been a bad dream. But when he got up to play with the other lambs, his footing wasn’t as strong, and his stamina couldn’t match the others. He believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with him and tried hard to compensate for his flaws. Meanwhile, the Shepherd watched, his heart breaking for his wounded little lamb.

Time passed, and the lamb’s wool grew, covering the shrapnel. From the outside, the wounded lamb looked no different than the others. But everything was harder for him because the barbed wire and sharp objects continued to cause him pain. But this is all he remembered of his life now, so he didn’t even know that the pain wasn’t normal.

The wounded lamb continued to berate himself, hating himself for not being like the other lambs. So he worked harder so that he could keep up. The other lambs never realized how taxing it was for the wounded lamb to play and graze with them. But the Shepherd knew. While the Shepherd loved all of His lambs, there was a special place in His heart for this little one who had endured so much and still fought to be like the others.

Gradually, the wounded lamb started to trust the Shepherd. And as he did, sometimes he would even let the Shepherd carry him when the pain became too great. All the wounded lamb saw was that he was too weak to keep up with the other lambs. All the Shepherd saw was that this precious little lamb stayed close to His heart.

Shearing season came, and the fleece that covered the shrapnel was removed. The wounded lamb saw his reflection in the pond and began to cry hysterically. How could he be so ugly? How could he be so wounded? All of the other lambs were beautiful, even without their fleece. The wounded lamb hated himself even more.

The Shepherd held the wounded lamb close and removed a piece of shrapnel. The lamb cried out in pain. As the Shepherd held the lamb close to His heart while rubbing salve into the wound, the lamb started to feel better. As this first wound healed, the Shepherd held the lamb again and removed another piece of shrapnel. Again the lamb felt intense pain followed by relief.

Over the next few months, the Shepherd continued to remove the shrapnel, always holding His little lamb close to His heart. The lamb thought it was so unfair that the other lambs didn’t have to endure this pain. But the Shepherd knew that this little lamb was receiving a precious gift that the other lambs never chose to have — special one-on-one time with the Shepherd. The wounded lamb’s pain drove him into the Shepherd’s arms again and again. The healthy lambs didn’t need this comfort . . . or at least that is what they thought.

Eventually, all of the shrapnel was removed, and the once-wounded lamb’s fleece grew and covered the wounds. He felt more “normal” than he had in a long time. He no longer had to work so hard to keep up with the others.

When sheering time came around again, the once-wounded lamb went to see his reflection in the pond. This time, instead of being shocked by shrapnel, he was saddened by the scars. He looked nothing like the other lambs. He lamented that he would never be like the others — that even after healing, he was, and always would be, different.

The Shepherd heard him crying and came to see what was the matter. He held His little lamb close and dried his tears. Then, He said, “No, you aren’t like the other lambs. You are different but in a wonderful way. You are a survivor. You endured trauma that these other lambs couldn’t even imagine, and you are the stronger for it. Unlike you, those lambs don’t know that they cannot be broken. They don’t know how great it feels to be healed because they were never wounded like you were. They don’t know what it is like to work harder because they have never had to. And they don’t know what it’s like to seek the comfort of my arms, and be held right here next to my heart, because they never needed me in the way that you did.

“I think you are the most beautiful lamb in my flock. Every scar on your body tells a story — the story of hope and faith and renewal. It tells the story of how broken a lamb can be and the level of healing that I can provide. Your scars provide hope to the next lamb who is hurt — that you were wounded but that you survived. They show that you are no longer in pain.

“You are so precious to me. Your scars make you even more precious. You have a special place in my heart because of who you are.”

The once-wounded lamb grew up into a sheep who provided so much inspiration to the entire flock. He knew from experience that he could never be broken and that the Shepherd was always there, waiting to love him and hold him close to His heart. His scars remained a testament to the power of healing and the resiliency of the spirit.

I tend to view myself as the lamb, but God views me like the Shepherd. I see the ugliness — He sees the beauty. From God’s point of view, I am a precious little lamb He wants to hold close to His heart until all of my wounds are scars.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I am walking in the waves along the beach, and I realize that I am at peace for the first time in my life. I think about the story I wrote entitled “Shards of Glass,” and I realize that my feet are no longer numb. I can feel the cool water rolling over them. I can feel the sand beneath my feet. When I reach a patch of pebbles, I am not afraid to feel their roughness – I know my tender feet have felt much worse.

I never thought that I would reach this point. My feet had been filled with so many shards of glass. I didn’t think I could ever remove them all, and I certainly didn’t think that my tender feet could ever learn to feel again. But they have. My once-crippled feet have learned to dance.

My feet still bear scars, which will never fade. But instead of being ashamed, I wear them with pride as a badge of honor. I have earned my way back to health. Survival is no longer enough. I want to thrive. I want to live the rest of my life, not just watch the days pass. I want to make a difference in this world.

My once-wounded feet are finally dancing. They may never dance like the rest of the world because they have walked a different path. But there is a beauty in their dance that others do not have – the beauty of renewal. My feet have a passion that most people will never know – the joy that arises from knowing that I can never be broken. My abusers tried their best, but they failed.

I spent the first half of my life as the walking wounded — putting one foot in front of the other and waiting for the blessed sleep of death. I plan to spend the rest of my life living … and dancing.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Child abuse is like shards of glass that penetrate your body. A childhood of abuse is like being forced to run barefoot across a field filled with shards of glass. The farther you are forced to run, the more glass cuts into your feet, cutting you body, soul, and spirit.

When you finally leave the field, you just want to fit in with the people around you. You repress the pain of the glass in your feet, but the glass still affects your steps. You marvel at how others can dance with ease while you always feel crippled, but you aren’t sure why.

Eventually, the pain from the glass becomes too great, and your body is ready to heal. One shard starts to come out, and you see a memory for the first time. You cannot believe that there is glass coming out of your foot, and the pain involved in removing the glass is immense. But, after you remove the shard and examine it, that hole in your foot begins to heal, and you realize that the appearance of the shard was really a good thing. You hope that there are no more shards, but you still don’t walk well.

Another shard starts to come out – then another and another and another. Each one brings its own individual pain. Some are small and can be removed quickly. Others are large and deep, so they must be removed slowly, or you will faint from the pain. Still others are so large and deep that they break off inside of your foot, so you have to remove several smaller pieces before the one wound can heal.

It is enormously painful to remove all of the glass, but, little by little, your walk gets easier. When you are finally finished removing all of the glass, you are healed, but your foot is covered with scars. You will never be like those who have always danced with ease. But your scars are proof that your path has been much harder than most, and you know that you can walk through anything because your tender feet have already endured hell.

And, when you finally do learn to dance, your dance is more beautiful than you ever thought possible. You glide across the dance floor with an ease that your once-wounded feet never imagined. People marvel at your dance, but only a trusted few are invited to see the scars. Those who see the scars stand in awe that feet that were once so broken can now glide. Only a trusted few will ever know the true beauty that they behold when they see the once wounded feet dance.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Pink Buds (c) Lynda Bernhardt

How do you heal from childhood abuse? While there are many steps involved, I can sum them all up in one sentence: Learn how to love yourself. That’s it. It really is that simple. Unfortunately, simple does not necessarily mean easy.

Learning how to love myself was truly the hardest thing that I have ever done. Since I was a toddler, I was programmed to hate myself. I saw myself through my abusers’ eyes, and what I saw was ugly and reprehensible. What was there to love?

Each one of us is precious. We each have a piece of the divine inside of us. We deserve to love and be loved just because of who we are. We do not have to earn our place at the table of life: There is already a place waiting for us. No matter what your abusers told you, this is the truth. Healing is about removing all of the lies and reaching the place where you see this truth for yourself.

So, how do you get there? There is a Cherokee Legend that provides a lot of wisdom in how to do this:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

– From First People

Each time you choose to think about how worthless you are, you are feeding the evil wolf, but each time you choose to do something compassionate for yourself, you are feeding the good wolf. The one that ultimately wins is the one in which you invest your energy.

One tool I used in learning to love myself was repeating a mantra in my head, “I love you. You are safe. I’m sorry.” These were the three messages that I most needed to hear and the three that I did not believe. So, I said these words to myself repeatedly every single day, even though I did not believe a word of them. As I repeated this mantra, I was feeding the good wolf. In time, by feeding the good wolf these morsels, I slowly grew to believe them. Today, I can honestly say that I do love myself, I do feel safe, and the emotional wounds that needed an apology are healed.

You can do this, too. This is one simple change that requires nothing other than a commitment to saying these words to yourself several times a day. It is okay if you don’t believe them. Your good wolf is starving, so throw him some morsels of energy so he can regain his strength.

Related Topic:

The Guarded Heart of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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