Posts Tagged ‘healing from child abuse’


I have previously shared that I have been helping launch a charity for child abuse survivors. The site went live today.

I encourage you to check out this exciting new resource for child abuse survivors. It would be a great place to move this community for those of you who would like to stay in regular contact.

Let me know what you think of the site! :0)

~ Faith

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FriendsOn my blog entry entitled Worrying about Reactions to Your Child Abuse Story, a reader posted the following comment:

What do you do when even with minimal information (eg that my father sexually abused me) your friends avoid you because all they can think about when they see you is sad things? (Even if you don’t say anything about it and are only talking about happy things.) I just feel so lonely and so confused and don’t know what to do. ~ ericatherunnergirl

I, too, went through this with many of my friends in the early years of healing from child abuse. The surprising part to me was that even some of the people who took my news very well in the moment and said all of the right things pulled away after my disclosure.

One in particular was great at first – she made a point of making eye contact and saying, “This is NOT your fault. You need to understand that.” I sooo needed to hear that message and thought, “Wow. She gets it.” Then, crickets. I still bump into her from time to time, and she is as sweet as can be, but she pulled away when I needed her the most.

I think the problem is that emotionally unhealthy people attract emotionally unhealthy friends, so the pool of friends to choose from for support is likely not to offer the best choices. I am no longer friends with any of the ladies I used to hang out with before healing or during the early stages of healing. If we bump into each other, we’ll do the casual chit-chat thing (other than the one ex-friend), but I have healed too much for any of those friendships to work anymore.

If anyone had told me this would happen, I am not sure I would have had the courage to continue healing, and I sure would not have viewed this as a good thing. I had such a deep-seated fear of abandonment that I would have been scared to do anything to push away the people I loved … and I did love my friends.

In retrospect, I recognize that losing these unhealthy friendships cleared the way for healthy friends to enter my life. I have three close friends locally as well as many others who are not as close. All three close friends are much more emotionally healthy than any of the friendships that have fallen by the wayside, and all three of those friendships have room for me to be myself in them. I can talk about anything I need to, including the abuse — all three of them are happy to listen and can handle it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One of the blessings of having some people in my life who “knew me when” is hearing an outside perspective about how much I have grown since I chose to heal. A friend came to visit over the weekend who knew me when I was going through therapy. By the time I met her, I was seeing my therapist every other week and had worked through many memories. However, I was still struggling with the ritual abuse memories and had not even begun many of my transformations.

Before therapy, I was very rigid and controlling. I was obsessed with having a very specific schedule for my son. He needed to eat at exactly X time, and the world would end if he got to bed one minute late. I have changed so much that I sometimes “forget” about how rigid I used to be, which is where some of the longer friendships really help.

On Saturday night, I watched a movie on DVD with my “old” friend along with a couple of “newer” friends. What’s funny is that one of my “newer” friends has known me for five years versus this older friend’s seven years, but that just shows you much growth I apparently experienced just between those two years.

I made a crack about how I know I am dealing with someone uptight when I am the one advising the other person to chill out and go with the flow. My “older” friend jumped in and said, “You know. You really are so much more ‘go with the flow’ than you used to be.” She said she really noticed the change when I visited a couple of years. She expected me to have a detailed schedule for the whole day, and she was pleasantly surprised by my “whatever” attitude – “The kids can eat whenever… They can go to bed whenever…” She said she was amazed at how much more relaxed I had become since we first met.

I frequently only see how far I have to go, so it is refreshing to hear an outside perspective on how far I have come. No, I am not a completely carefree, spontaneous person, but I am also to the rigid, scheduled person that I used to be, either. It’s exciting to notice the progress!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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One area of healing that has been a balancing act for me is allowing myself to be protected versus taking responsibility for finding ways to heal and/or adapt in areas of my life that the abuse has affected. As an example, I developed a phobia of Russian nesting dolls because of their use during my abuse. In the early stages of healing, a friend and I took our children to the library for story time. The story was about Russia, so the librarian brought in a Russian nesting doll set for the children to see. I was triggered by seeing the doll while she read the book, but I was able to hold it together. However, when she started to open the doll (which was a trigger of a specific threat to my sister’s life as a child), I had to leave the room and had a full-fledged panic attack in the bathroom. Thankfully, my friend knew about my phobia and watched my son until I composed myself.

Clearly, I needed to be protected from my trigger in the early stages of healing. I had little experience with working through triggers and managing my anxiety when faced with such a severe trigger for me. However, I cannot spend the rest of my life having to go have a panic attack in the bathroom every time I see a Russian nesting doll. While (thankfully) Russian nesting dolls aren’t on every street corner, I do bump into them in unexpected places, such as on display at a friend’s house (who received them as a gift when adopting from Russia) or for sale at a consignment shop that sells antiques. Part of healing for me has been learning how to manage my triggers. Another way of wording this is taking responsibility for managing my own triggers so that my friends and family don’t have to spend the rest of my life ridding the world of Russian nesting dolls so that I can function.

Of course, my life would be much easier if I could just wave a magic wand and make all Russian nesting dolls disappear, but that isn’t going to happen. I don’t want to spend my life being protected from my triggers, so I have worked hard to dismantle as many triggers as I can. It is a work in progress, but making the choice to take responsibility for managing my triggers has been empowering. Having to rely on other people to protect me from my triggers makes me feel helpless and weak even though I know I am a strong person. Conversely, each baby step that moves me toward being able to manage my own triggers makes me feel empowered.

In fact, just recently I bumped into an open set of Russian nesting dolls at a consignment store, and I was OK. I noticed them and felt a twinge of triggering, but I knew what tools I needed to employ to bring myself back down. My friend wouldn’t have even noticed I was triggered if I hadn’t pointed out the dolls to her. That’s a huge change from the friend who had to watch my son while I had a panic attack in the bathroom several years ago. It felt really good to see my growth in this area of healing.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Yesterday, I shared how I overcame my fear of flying. That experience ran so much deeper than making plane trips less stressful – it actually helped me conquer my fear of death.

So much of the trauma in my childhood centered around the fear of death. I was forced to kill a kitten. I saw my dog killed. My abusers frequently threatened to kill my sister and even made me believe they had done so on one occasion. I was almost killed (to punish my sister) and resuscitated. The fear of death was my abusers’ trump card. As long as I feared death, they had control over my actions in their presence.

When I lost my fear of flying through that meditation, I also lost my fear of death. For the first time, I knew at a heart level that shedding the body in this lifetime does not mean that I (or anyone else) ceases to exist, which freed me from fearing death. By letting go of the fear of death, I found a way to embrace life. I didn’t have to fear my life’s end – I could, instead, enjoy my life!

Those of you with a Christian faith might have difficulty embracing a belief in reincarnation (I definitely did!), but I don’t believe that G*d would use a false theology to perform such a miracle in my life. I think I needed a miracle of this magnitude for me to stop resisting the reality of reincarnation.

** religious triggers **

The following Bible verse helped me understand my newfound freedom from the fear of death:

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? ~ I Cor. 15:55

Losing my fear of death and embracing reincarnation freed up many things for me. I no longer see suicide as “the murder of yourself” – I see it as a soul’s way of escaping a carnation that is perhaps too difficult for that soul’s level. I still encourage people to push through their suicidal urges, but I also don’t view suicide as a horrible travesty like many people do. I see life or death in this carnation as a choice, which is freeing for me.

Embracing reincarnation has enable me to let go of my bitterness toward my abusers. I believe that hell is not a place of fire and brimstone but, instead, having to experience the way you made other people feel in your last carnation. I believe that my abusers who have passed away have had to experience the “hell” of what they put me through, and that is a far more painful experience than fire and brimstone. The thought of them having to experience what they did to me has enabled me to let go of the need for vengeance in this lifetime – justice will prevail after they finish this incarnation.

** religious triggers **

Finally, embracing reincarnation has answered many questions I had about my faith, such as why a loving G*d would tell the Israelites to slaughter men, women, and children in a society. With only one lifetime, He is condemning those children to hell. With reincarnation, he is releasing those souls from institutionalized repression. I always had trouble with the pass/fail nature of heaven and hell, especially when different people have different struggles to overcome in this lifetime. Finally, I always had trouble understanding how an evil person who asked for forgiveness in his last breath would be ready to spend eternity with God.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. This isn’t a blog on theology, but this happens to be one of my favorite topics, and I know few people in my offline life who will engage in this topic with me.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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Yesterday, I began exploring the question of how to measure healing from child abuse. I focused on how my sister and I endured similar abuses but reacted very differently. Most people (from an outwardly American measure) would call me the “successful” one because I have had more stability in my life (financial, marital, etc.). However, my stability came at the cost of losing connection with the core of who I am. I lived most of my life pretending (and believing) I was someone I was not. I lived most of my life playing a role and shoving down my core beneath a bunch of food (through a binge eating disorder).

Contrast this with my sister, whose life was less stable until about 10 years ago. (Both of us started our healing processes about the same time.) Ten years ago, her marriage fell apart, she became a single mother of two young children, and she struggled financially. Most people in our lives thought her life was falling apart, but she will tell you that was the moment she took her life back. While she had always been connected with who she was, she spent many years numbing herself to her truths. The “chaos” in her life was actually what she needed to go through to take back her life – to say, “I accept myself the way I am, and I am not going to live my life in a way that anyone else imposes upon me any longer.”

I have no question she was in a much more emotionally healthy place than I was that year, despite the fact that her refrigerator was empty while mine was full. There is more to emotional healthiness than your bank account, and financial stability can come at the cost of yourself.

Many people seem to measure success from the outside. My “outside” really has not changed that much from before to after therapy and healing work. I am still married, still have food in the fridge, still have a job, etc. My external story does not reflect the healing work that has taken place inside of me.

For me, my hard work of healing is reflected in how I feel living in my own skin. Ten years ago, if someone posted a comment that disagreed with me on something meaningless, it would shake how I felt about myself. I would feel shame because I said something “wrong.” I would stew about it for hours – “Michael thinks I was wrong about X. I am a stupid and bad person.” I would binge eat to stuff down those feelings. I would cry because I was such a loathsome person, and I would anxiously check my blog until Michael posted again and didn’t seem mad at me. If we wasn’t mad at me, maybe I was OK and dodged a bullet – he didn’t yet see what a repulsive person I am. Side note to Michael ~ Thanks for being a good sport about me picking on you for my example. :0)

I didn’t write a blog 10 years ago, and you can see why! However, I went through this dynamic on message boards for adoptive mothers.

Contrast that with today. Michael and A x, who are two of my most active readers, posted alternative points of view on that blog entry. I did not feel shame, cry, or worry that they would never read my blog again. I read what they had to say and considered their points of view. I thought about to what degree they “heard” something different than I am intended to say and clarified accordingly. I thought about areas in which they heard me just fine and simply had a different opinion. I considered their points of view and tried to see my words through their eyes. From there, I thought about where I stand after scrutinizing my own views.

As typically happens, their thoughts spawned another blog topic. :0) What does healing mean to me? Part of what healing means to me is that my thoughts and other people’s thoughts no longer change who I think I am or how I feel about myself. That’s a HUGE change for me!

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Why Do Some Child Abuse Survivors Fare Better than Others?, a reader posted the following comment:

This does lead potentially to more interesting questions such as how do each of us measure our healing. I think for me freedom and joy would be key, as they were most stolen. ~ A x

I think that is a great question worth exploring together!

In the blog entry that spawned the comment, I was exploring (with no real answer) why some child abuse survivors fare better than others when they have endured similar trauma. As an example, my sister and I endured most of the same traumas. From the outside, I have “fared better” in several ways if you compare us from an external perspective (from an American point of view – I know that different cultures have different external measures). However, she definitely fared better than me in many important internal ways.

For example, I split into DID and lived most of my life from the perspective of a very innocent host personality. I disconnected so completely from many parts of myself – the core of who I am – because I could not accept the truth of having been raped by men. While I dissociated other parts, that particular piece of the trauma was so horrific to me that I rejected myself to avoid dealing with it.

Contrast this with my sister – She has always remembered everything but compartmentalized the memories so she could access them at will without having them ever-present as she went about her life. Externally, her life has been harder in several ways that I won’t go into here. Short version – her life had less external stability. That being said, she never rejected who she was as I did which kept her truer to herself than I ever was.

This very connectedness with her history directly led to many of the issues that caused chaos in her life. If you define “success” by stability, I was the more successful one. However, if you define “success” as staying connected to who you are (which, in my opinion, is a key to healing), she was much more “successful” than I was despite her outward chaos. So much of the healing process for me has involved dismantling the lies I built my identity around and discovering myself. My sister never needed to do any other this – she always knew who she was, but that connectedness led her through years of chaos. We have both suffered and struggled to move toward emotional health, but we have had to slay different demons.

More tomorrow…

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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One question that plagues me from time to time is why some child abuse survivors seem to fare better than others. This was another issue explored in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. Some of the traumatized characters couldn’t survive without staying inebriated, and some had their sanity crack. However, others found a way to go on and find meaning in their lives. Why did some far better than others?

I don’t need a fictitious story to point out this difference to me. I have lived it. Like attracts like, so most of my pre-therapy friendships were with traumatized people. My heart breaks for how some of these people’s lives have turned out. The last time I talked to one, she was facing a prison sentence. The last time I talked to another, she had lost custody of her children and was battling addiction.

My life hasn’t been easy, but it looks pretty successful from the outside. This year, hub and I will have been married for 20 years. I have a great kid and several close friends. I don’t battle addiction, have had no run-ins with the law, and am not facing bankruptcy (another story of another traumatized friend). What makes me so special?

Some people speculate that it is the level of trauma involved, but I am not buying it. I am not saying that my trauma was the worst trauma ever endured by anyone, but let’s just say that few people would want to get into a p#$$ing match with me about whose trauma was “worse.” I, personally, don’t like to compare traumas – even one incident of trauma is too many. Some of the strongest and most functional people I have met endured severe trauma – severe enough to break many others.

I don’t think the level of trauma determines who breaks and who survives. I think it has more to do with hope. I am not sure that my story would have the same ending if not for my sister. Once my sister was born (when I was two years old), I experienced pure love. I think knowing that kind of pure love existed in the world was enough to help me fight back. For what it’s worth, the traumatized characters who fared better in The Hunger Games seemed to be those who had someone to live for.

Healing from child abuse takes an enormous amount of strength and courage, so I don’t point my finger at people like the friends I have referenced who have broken under the strain of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, I would like to understand what was so special about me to overcome the odds and heal when so many others have broken. I really think the difference is hope.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I have shared before that I am trying to learn how to “be” with my feelings. I am trying not to analyze them or avoid them. My therapist advised me to do this years ago, but it doesn’t come naturally for me. Who wants to sits around feeling “bad” for days or weeks on end?

For whatever reason, this is what I have felt drawn to do this time around. I have been in a cocooning place, not really wanting much interaction with the outside world. That’s unusual for me because I am a social person. While I do need “me time,” I also draw energy from connecting with other people. However, for the past few weeks, I haven’t been calling many people. I have withdrawn into my shell.

I actually saw some results from this over the past couple of days. Wednesday was less hard. I guess that’s the best way to word it. It felt like I had been carrying weights for a long time, and now some of the weights had been removed. I didn’t feel “good” or “happy.” It just felt “less hard.” I was appreciative of that.

Thursday was even better. I felt “lighter” and more present. I noticed more things around me when I went to the gym and otherwise went about my day. I actually felt like connecting with other people. I called my sister and had lunch with a friend. I was amazed that I actually felt this way, especially with the holidays so close. I am typically getting “worse” by now, not better. I have been trying to observe all of this without analyzing it, which isn’t easy for me.

Sadly, that place did not last. As I engaged in the world again, I found myself getting triggered a lot. I guess that is to be expected at this time of year for me. I am very sensitive to anything that can in any way be construed as criticism at this time of year. I am also very sensitive to other people’s energies, so I can “feel” other people’s negativity.

Perhaps this is a normal part of reengaging in society after disengaging for so long. Again, I am trying not to analyze it, but old habits die hard. I am also trying not to react but just “to be.” I am trying to let go of my own negative reactions to other people’s negativity, and I can see progress there as well.

One piece of self-analysis I was unable to avoid was connecting that I think I am sensitive to other people’s criticism (as I perceive it – I doubt any of these people intended criticism) because I am already working so, so hard through my stuff right now. As Michael shared before, there is no public acknowledgement for all of the hard work I have been doing. I don’t need a to-do list of more changes I need to make. I need to honor how far I have come and don’t need anyone else giving me more to change.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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As you have probably noticed through my blog, I can be very hard on myself. I stay so focused on where I want to go and how much work is still needed to get there that I lose track of how far I have come. It’s like I have already run 25 miles of a marathon and get frustrated with myself for tiring at the thought of the mile ahead of me. I don’t think to look back and celebrate how far I have come. I am too busy being frustrated with how far I have to go.

Thankfully, sometimes I will notice changes in myself, and I marvel at how much progress I have made. This happened last week with Halloween. For most of my adult life, I struggled with the eating disorder of binge eating. Halloween was tough for me. I had these fabulous bags of chocolate candy in the house, and I would wrestle with myself. I would want to eat all of the bags of candy but knew I couldn’t. I would sneak some of the candy bars, hoping my husband wouldn’t notice. I would also sneak candy bars between visits from trick-or-treaters.

Contrast this with Halloween this year. I knew we had several bags of candy in the house but did not care. I was not remotely tempted to have any. In fact, if I had wanted some, I would have had one or two snack-sized bars with no guilt. Since I had “permission” to eat them, they lost their appeal, and I didn’t want them. I don’t recall eating any candy, either, while waiting for trick-or-treaters. If I did, it was only one or two, and it’s no big deal if I did or didn’t.

When my son was younger, I could not refrain from sneaking candy from his Halloween stash. This year, I don’t care about that, either. My son has been sweet and offered me a few bites here and there, which I appreciate. I don’t feel “tempted” to eat it, nor do I feel like I need willpower to resist it. It’s just candy. Believe me, that was not my attitude toward candy a few years ago.

So, I am making progress. In many areas, such as with the eating disorder, the progress has been so slow that it has been in baby steps. The changes inside of me have been so tiny that they have been barely perceptible until I take a look back. There wasn’t some “moment” when I magically changed over from being obsessed with Halloween candy to being indifferent to it, and yet is has happened. It’s a miracle to me, but a very slow one.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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