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Posts Tagged ‘healing process’

One of the beauties and frustrations of the process of healing from child abuse is having to relearn the same lessons. For example, I used to struggle with pretty bad obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms. I learned that repressed anger manifests as anxiety and depression. I processed a lot of repressed anger, and … voila … my OCD symptoms eased dramatically.

Then, a year later, I found myself once again struggling with deep anxiety. You would think that I would just say, “Aha. I must have more repressed anger to process.” But, no, that’s not what happened. I wrestled with the anxiety until I eventually “relearned” that I needed to process my anger. I did, and the anxiety went away again.

This is only one of many examples of how I seem to spiral around and “relearn” the same lessons as I heal on deeper and deeper levels. I wish I could learn it all only one time and not have to go through the struggle of first using a negative coping tool until I finally have that “aha” moment again.

I am in the process of relearning another lesson. I have battled an eating disorder for most of my life. In 2005, I mastered it. First, I went about three months eating in a healthy way, lost a lot of weight, and felt really good about myself. Then, I got derailed and had to “relearn” the same lesson again in 2006. This time, it lasted for eleven months! Eating well and feeling good about my body came easily and naturally.

Then, something triggered me badly, and I fell off the wagon. For almost two years now, I have not been able to get back to that place. And then, out of nowhere, I “relearned” the same thing that worked twice before, and now I am losing weight again and feeling better about my body.

The beauty is that, once we learn a lesson, we never really “unlearn” it. The truth is buried inside of ourselves somewhere. However, the frustration is that it seems to take a few passes to embrace a lesson and practice it in a life-long way. Maybe we need a few passes so we can absorb a lesson and put it into practice.

If you are frustrated that you learned a lesson that now eludes you, try to take a step back and remember that the lesson is already inside of you. You did it before, so you can do it again.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my last post, Challenges in the Later Stages of Healing from Child Abuse: “Flash Nows”, I shared that I have been struggling with dealing with some of the realities in my life today. Since I have made the connection between why I have been feeling so lousy lately and what is causing the problem, I am feeling more present than I have in weeks.

The child abuse healing process really is about awakening to your own life. It is about seeing your life for what it is, not what you wanted it to be or pretended that it was. My reality has not changed: It is my perception of my reality that has changed. I did this first with my history of child abuse, and now I am applying the same principles to my life today.

Before I started having flashbacks, I was asleep to the realities of my past. All that I had been through was affecting every single aspect of my life, but I was oblivious to the influence of my past. At its core, dissociative identity disorder (DID) is really just an extreme case of rejecting your own reality. Integrating from DID is awakening to the truths of your past and accepting them as yours. It is about seeing your past for what it was and recognizing that nothing that anyone did to you was able to change the value of who you are.

Now I am in a similar place, only I am awakening to the realities of my present. I have spent my life acting and reacting to what I wanted to believe about the life that I had built for myself. Because my perceptions of my life were so off base from my reality, the reactions I experienced from others did not mesh with what I thought they should be. This caused me to doubt my own intuition continuously. As I am awakening to the reality of my life today, I am understanding why I have experienced the reactions from others that I have.

The reality of my life is that I have chosen to nurture friendships with built-in distance. I have chosen to invest in people who would not see me for who I am, and then I have become frustrated because these people do not “see me.” Of course they don’t see me – I chose them because I did not want to be seen.

I am coming to recognize that many people that I have viewed as “friends” are really “pals.” While I still love them and there is a place for pals in my life, pals are very different from friends. I have been digging in dry wells and wondering why I cannot ever reach any water. I have been investing as a friend into relationships that simply are not friendship material. Awakening to this realization is painful and yet it is also freeing. This frees me to stop setting myself up for continual disappointment.

At the same time, I am awakening to people with real friendship potential who I have pushed away because I believed I did not have room for more friends. I was pushing away the diamonds to protect the cubic zirconium.

Now that I recognize this about myself, I am overwhelmed by the state of my life right now. At the same time, I am excited about the possibilities. My life is finally starting to make more sense.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry My Healing Process from Child Abuse: Setting Boundaries, Simon posted the following comment:

I often wonder just how much different ill be after all this. I want to be the same as i was before but without the negative bits! lol. I’m waiting for your post on “how much better you are now” after going through all your hard work. hint-hint, lol.

Many child abuse survivors who are in the early stages of healing from child abuse ask some version of this question. They want to know that there is an end to the healing process (the sooner, the better), and they want to hear that their lives will be much easier after they complete the healing process.

I have good news and bad news. I’ll start with the bad news – The healing process is never “over.” That is an unrealistic expectation that will only bring you frustration. However, the child abuse healing process is really about growth, so you will always been improving and continue to move into a better place than you were. Even now, as I continue to struggle with depression after my visit to my hometown, I am in a much better and healthier place than I was a few years ago.

The child abuse healing process is not about the absence of pain and struggle. Instead, it is about growth. The best analogy I have is of raising a child. Once you become a parent, you are never “done.” Even a person in his forties sometimes still “needs his mommy,” such as to babysit the children so he can nurture his marriage.

However, different phases of parenting do have an end. My son is now seven, so the diaper and potty-training years are blessedly behind us. I am still a parent. I am still facing challenges as a parent of a seven-year-old, but those challenges are different from those of his toddler years.

The same is true of my healing process today. I have not recovered a flashback in a very long time, so if you define the child abuse healing process as being “over” when the flashbacks stop, then I am “done.” However, I continue to struggle with other challenges that are all part of growth. I will go into more details in tomorrow’s post, but my struggles at this stage of healing surround facing painful truths about my life today instead of my life in childhood.

As for being who I was before without the negative bits – again the answer is both yes and no. From the outside, I am very different from who I used to be five years ago before beginning the healing process. I am much more assertive and have the ability to set boundaries. This has changed every relationship in my life. However, I have always been “me.” I was the person who had lost touch with who that was. I am finding that am not “losing the negative stuff” so much as I am discovering who I have always been.

I have always been a strong, insightful, and compassionate person. Other people knew this about me, which is what drew them to me. I was the one who did not know this about myself. I thought that I was weak and loathsome. I first recognized the truth about myself after attending a high school reunion a few years back. I had always thought of myself as worthless before my healing work, but I saw through these friends from 20 years ago that the things I love most about myself have always been there – I was the one who was unable to see it.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

As I continued to heal from my abusive past, I changed. I experienced an enormous amount of emotional growth. While I felt much better about myself, this rapid growth changed every single relationship in my life. That was challenging and continues to be a challenge to this day.

Relationships start out with a certain dynamic, and there is an expectation that the dynamic will continue indefinitely. The problem is that I am no longer the same person who entered into these relationships, and I am no longer willing to be the passive doormat. All of my relationships changed. Some became much better, but others felt the strain. Some went from what I thought was “really good” to being very challenging. (That was particularly true of family relationships.)

My husband has told me more than once that I am no longer the woman he married. He’s right – I’m not. I told him that I would understand if he wanted out, but he doesn’t. He wants me back the way I was, where I lived to make him happy and protect him from getting upset about life in general. That is not who I am any longer, and I cannot go back to that place. He has changed just enough to make it work, but it is a challenge. I am not the little girl who entered into this marriage many years ago.

I have outpaced many of my long-term friends in emotional growth. This has changed our friendships. There are characteristics that seem like “new” unhealthy behaviors that I have to recognize were always there: I just didn’t want to see them. Some of them are not people I would choose to befriend today, and yet I love them, so it is hard to figure out how to make those relationships work when we are in such very different places. When I love, I love deeply, so I continue to nurture some relationships that really are not the healthiest for me until I reach a place where I have to distance myself because it simply does not work any longer.

And then there are the challenges of new friendships. I have developed some newer friendships over the past year that both thrill me with the possibility of true emotional intimacy while, at the same time, scare the h@#$ out of me because they “see” me. I have always both wanted and feared being seen. These healthier friendships drive home how broken I still am. I am now too healthy for many of my unhealthy friendships to work and yet I feel too broken to trust that the healthy ones will work, which leaves me feeling isolated.

Unfortunately, this continues to be a struggle for me, so I have no answers for those of you in the same place. All I can offer is to travel the path with you.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

My therapist gave me “homework” every week. That homework was to practice setting boundaries. He told me that setting boundaries was the key to feeling safe, and he was right. Until I learned how to set boundaries, I could not feel safe. I was always at the mercy of whomever I was interacting with.

Setting boundaries was extremely hard for me to do. I learned at a very young age that I had no boundaries. Anyone in my life could take anything he or she wanted from me, and I was powerless to do anything about it. The people around me would lead me around like a puppet. I was so easy to control; it was pathetic.

There were two exceptions to this: (1) I refused to have sexual intercourse before getting married; and (2) I could stand up to keep my child safe. I did allow boys to pressure me into doing more than I wanted to do, but I was resolute in not having intercourse with them. I am not sure where my strength came from, but it was there.

As for my child – I shocked hub and his parents by being able to turn into a complete b@#$% on behalf of my child. For example, they could not figure out how to work the car seat correctly one time and drove my baby home with the car seat not completely fastened. This passive little wife/daughter-in-law went off on them, telling them that they would not be allowed to transport their own son/grandson EVER if they could not be responsible enough to buckle him into the car correctly. (They never made this mistake again. LOL)

It took me a long time to learn how to set boundaries. I thought setting boundaries meant being a b@#$%, and I though that “being a b@#$%” was the worst thing in the world. My therapist assured me that I needed to “act like a b@#$%” in my own head to come even close to being “normal” in setting boundaries.

I finally learned how to do it by recognizing that each time I let another person walk all over me, I was choosing to harm myself rather than say no to an inconsiderate person. As I got better at setting boundaries, I noticed that it was only the people who were used to treating my badly who had a problem with it. Those who had no desire to “use” me thought it was great.

I have gotten much better about setting boundaries, but I still flounder from time to time, especially in times in which I am feeling vulnerable. Also, it is much harder for me to set boundaries with family members, and that is where I need the boundaries the most.

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

Most of my most traumatizing memories did not come back all at one time. Instead, I would remember part of a particularly traumatizing incident. After I healed my emotional wounds from what I remembered, I could recover more memories about the same incident. The supplemental memories might come a couple of days later. However, for my most traumatizing memories, it might be months before I revisited that particular incident.

As an example, I am going to share details of a particularly traumatizing incident, so please skip over the triggering information noted below if you are in a bad place.

+++++++++ sexual abuse triggers ++++++++++++++

I was two years old, and my sister had been born recently. I saw the look in my mother’s eyes and knew that more abuse was coming. I fought with all that I had, but neither my father nor my grandmother saw anything but a cranky toddler having a temper tantrum. First, my mother performed oral sex on me, which she had done numerous times before. Then, she forced me to perform oral sex on her for the first time.

++++++++++++ end triggers +++++++++++++++

This memory was so traumatizing that I recovered it in pieces. The first memory involved the facts of what happened as viewed from the ceiling. It took me a long time to heal from that first memory. Later, other pieces came to me from different perspectives. One time, the focus was on the rage I felt and how hard it was to swallow that rage because I knew that it was not safe to express it. Another time, the focus was on the despair. Another time, I recovered the sense of this happening to me, not a girl who looked like me that I was viewing from the ceiling. This involved my five senses, including how terrible it smelled.

All of these memories were of the same event, but they were different perspectives of the same event. I had to heal each part in order to heal fully from that one incident. Now that I have faced and healed the memory from the various perspectives, the memory is only one memory in my head, just like any other memory.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This post is part of a series in which I am providing an overview of my healing process from child abuse. The story begins here.

When I first started having flashbacks, I would have them one at a time. Believe me, one memory at a time was more than I could handle most of the time. After I recovered a memory, I would deal with the punch of the emotions for days afterward.

As I continued to heal, I developed several coping strategies that helped me manage the pain. As I moved through different layers of healing, I was able to use the coping strategies that I had used to get through other layers of healing. So, as I faced my most challenging memories, I went into them “armed” with the ability to survive them. I grew more confident that I would get through the current layer of memories because I had previously survived and healed from other layers of memories.

As I continued to heal, the pace of healing picked up. Instead of dealing with one memory for days or weeks, I would sometimes have a “montage” of memories – flashes of memories released that had a similar theme.

For example, I recovered three memories in one night. In one, my mother was abusing me in our family van. We had one of those “hippie vans” with the curtains in the windows. She had pulled to the side of the road and harmed me. I never saw it coming. I had a second memory of my mother abusing me at my grandmother’s beach house in the storage unit for the beach stuff. I always remembered being phobic of one of the three doors. This memory answered the question of why. And then there was a third memory of a similar theme – being abused in a place where I thought I was safe.

All three of the memories carried the same feelings of betrayal and removal of safety in situations in which I thought I was safe. I was able to work through and heal the emotions involved in all of these situations at one time because they all had to do with the same issues.

My therapist told me that it is not necessary to remember every incident of abuse. I needed to remember enough in order to heal the resulting pain. Sometimes a cluster of memories like this is enough information to heal the pain. I did not have to relive each memory – I just needed to know enough to understand what I was healing.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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