Posts Tagged ‘breakthrough crisis’

Cave (c) Lynda BernhardtI believe it is the book The Courage to Heal that labels the initial stage of healing the “breakthrough crisis.” When I was in the early stages of healing, it helped so much to have a label for what I was going through. Learning that what I was experiencing was a normal part of healing from child abuse helped reassure me that I was not going crazy.

The breakthrough crisis is the most intense phase of healing from child abuse. While other stages of healing can be intense, none was as overwhelming to me as the initial breakthrough crisis. I compare it to the first few months of parenting a newborn baby. While other stages of parenting are equally as challenging, none are quite as exhausting as being up with a baby every few hours, night after night, with no break.

The breakthrough crisis is what you go through when you first begin to heal from child abuse. For me, it kicked off with my first flashback. Up until that point, I had spent several months actively trying to understand what was wrong with me. From the time I had the first flashback, I knew what was wrong, but I also questioned whether I could survive it.

For six straight weeks, I honestly did not know if I had it in me to survive the healing process. Every single second of the day was filled with pain. It felt like my emotions had been bottled up in a pressure cooker and that the lid had been blown off the pressure cooker, exploding powerful emotions all over my life. I was so grateful to find isurvive, my favorite message board for adult survivors of childhood abuse.

And then, after about six weeks of questioning whether I could survive this, the clouds parted, and I suddenly felt good. It was like seeing sunshine after six straight weeks of rain. I felt amazing, and I knew that all of my hard work was worth the effort.

This reprieve only lasted for a few hours, but it was enough to give me the hope of there being an end to the pain. Even though I returned to just as much pain as before, I could hold onto the hope of getting another reprieve.

Just as my therapist said, the reprieves gradually got longer, and the periods of feeling miserable gradually got shorter. Today (five years later), I can generally recover from a trigger within hours, whereas a trigger used to go on for weeks.

If you are in the initial stages of healing and can relate to what I have written about here, what is happening to you is normal. Think of this as being in the early stages of chemotherapy. It is intense and does not feel survivable, but this is how you are pouring the poison out of your spirit. You really are going to be okay.

Related topic:

Falling apart is beginning to heal

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Bird flying in dark sky (c) Lynda BernhardtMany people think of recovering memories of child abuse as coming through visual flashbacks. This does happen frequently, particularly for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, that is not the only way that people recover memories. For example, a flashback does not have to be visual. A flashback can come through any of the senses, such as through hearing or sense of smell.

Another way that survivors of child abuse can recover memories is through a sickening awareness of what happened. That happened to me several times. I would often start having flashbacks afterward, but the initial recovery of the memory came through a sickening awareness that I had suffered from some form of abuse.

For example, I lived most of my life with no memory of much of my childhood. I was consciously aware of the comparatively mild emotional abuse but was completely disconnected from the physical and sexual abuse. However, I was fully aware of being “warped in the head” on many levels but not knowing the cause.

I reached a place in which I was ready to face my past, but I did not know what it was. I was aware of having alter parts but not the reason for having them. In desperation, I called my younger sister and asked if she had any memory of me being harmed as a child. She said, “I have always had a bad feeling about mom.”

Immediately, I knew that my mother had sexually abused me. I felt it in the core of my being. I could feel the abuse happening to my body, even though I had no specific memory of any of the abuse at that point. In fact, the first time I told another person, she kept asking me questions like how old I was or how long the abuse went on, and I honestly did not know. I just had this sickening awareness and knew that it was true. My flashbacks as well as my sister’s flashbacks later confirmed it all.

I went through this with accepting the truth that I had been vaginally raped as well. I started having disturbing dreams about having been with other men sexually and feeling deep shame because of it. (My husband is the only man that I have willingly had sex with.) Then it moved on to dreams of being raped. I would comfort myself by saying that I knew that was not true.

Then, I was at a friend’s house. While she was on the phone, I was thumbing through the book Safe Passage by Healing by Chrystine Oksana and found a section called “The Real Unreal.” This section said something about women not believing that they had been raped because they bled when they first had consensual sex. The book went on to say that the hymen regenerates to a certain degree after the trauma stops, so a woman might experience light bleeding when she become sexually active even though she was raped in childhood.

As soon as I read that, I knew my truth. It was a sickening awareness that settled over me as I admitted to myself that I had light staining at best after becoming sexually active. However, I had held onto that light staining as “proof” that I had been spared that form of abuse. I finally had to face that I had not. I later recovered multiple memories through flashbacks, but it all started with a sickening awareness.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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