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Posts Tagged ‘is there an end to healing from child abuse?’

Last week, I wrote about my struggles with accepting that the aftereffects of the child abuse will always be a part of my life:

I also wrote about this topic on my professional blog about adoption on a blog entry called Is an Abused Child Ever Fully “Over” the Abuse?.

A reader, who is both a child abuse survivor and parent of abused children that she adopted out of foster care, posted the following comment. It was so profound that I wanted to share it with all of you here:

The problem I see is not that abuse and trauma leaves lifelong scars, but that it keeps people from living their lives. Many smart people spend their whole life chasing after “normal”. They think that they will begin living when they finally achieve that, and get on the other side of their issues. So sad to discover that life has passed them by while they work and wait.

Personally, I feel better with the hard reality that “You will never be like people who didn’t have to go through this. Don’t waste your life trying to be.” This is what I tell myself, and this is what I tell my adopted children. I tell them, you will deal with your crap over and over again. At every major stage of life it will crop up, and you will have to come to terms with it. Expect it, and do the hard work. And never put your life on hold while you do.

The only way abusers win, is when they steal our lives. We don’t have to let that happen. ~ scrapsbynobody

I really needed to hear those words, and I suspect that many of you do, too. We might not have loving parents to nurture us, but we can learn from the pearls of wisdom offered by adoptive parents of traumatized children who have understood the dynamic of healing from child abuse from the outside.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my last couple of blog entries, I have been talking about my struggle in coming to terms with the fact that I will always have obstacles from the child abuse in my life. This is not an easy admission for me to make, much less face.

As frustrating as this admission is, it is also empowering. Obstacles can be overcome. In fact, obstacles are what make life interesting. A good skier wants to ski down a slope with moguls. A good golfer wants to golf on a course with sand traps. The obstacles are very real and need to be acknowledged, but they do not have the power to prevent a person from reaching her goal.

I have been viewing healing from child abuse as removing the obstacles from my life. I thought that I would be “healed” when every obstacle was gone. As I am moving into my sixth year of actively healing from the child abuse, I still have many obstacles in my life, and I was beating myself up for this. I thought that I should be farther along in removing the obstacles by now.

As I recognize that these obstacles will always be a part of my life, I am changing my focus and where to direct my healing energy. I do not need to know how to remove a sand trap in order to play on a golf course – I just need to know how to work around the obstacle. Thanks to all of the hard work I have done in healing over the past several years, I am very good at working around obstacles. The fact that they are still there has not prevented me from getting where I want to go. I just have to work around them.

Perhaps the point of healing is not to make the obstacles “go away” but to learn how to ski around them. Perhaps I can apply learning how to “ski around” my child abuse obstacles to other areas of my life. Maybe healing is not about making the bad stuff “go away” but, instead, learning how to love and accept yourself and reach your goal despite their presence in your life.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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In my last blog entry, I shared that I am in the process of accepting that I will always have aftermath from the child abuse to deal with. I am trying to adjust to this reality and be okay with it.

I said that when I reframe my situation and view having aftereffects from the child abuse as “normal,” I can stop beating myself up for not being able to do the impossible and, instead, have compassion on myself.

When my goal was the cessation of any aftermath from the child abuse, I was constantly falling short of the goal. I would get frustrated with myself, thinking that I was not doing X, Y, or Z enough. If I only did more of X, Y, or Z, then I would not still struggle with triggers.

When I reframe my expectations, I can stop beating myself up and, instead, have compassion on the little girl inside who was so badly wounded. Why do I struggle with frequent triggers? Because I was extremely damaged. Why do I get a bad headache and struggle with insomnia at each full moon? Because I was severally abused at the full moon for years during my childhood.

Rather than get angry with myself for having a normal reaction to severe trauma, I want to focus on loving myself. I need to accept that I was the wounded little girl in my memories – not somebody that I was watching from afar. To this day, many of my memories are from the perspective of the outside because it is still too painful to accept that this body that I live in now is the one that endured so many traumas.

I saw my therapist a couple of months ago after not seeing him for a couple of years. We talked about how I would probably continue to recover memories/experience flashbacks from time to time throughout the rest of my life. We also talked about how this is okay. I am releasing memories, getting to know myself better, and accepting myself and my experiences at deeper and deeper levels.

I can’t say that I am happy with this realization, but I do feel relieved. I can finally stop pushing myself so hard and, instead, love who I am today. I don’t have to wait until I grow into this person with no more post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues. I can love and accept the person who I am today. I can also appreciate who I am today. I don’t have to wait to do that.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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When I decided to heal from my history of child abuse, I was determined for the outcome to be complete, 100% healing. At my first therapy session, my therapist asked me what my goals were, and I said that I wanted to be a “normal” person like everyone else. He replied that everyone else was not “normal” and that it was unrealistic for me to expect to be like everyone else. I did not want to hear that.

For years, I have been determined to heal completely. I concluded that other people simply did not try hard enough … that I was different … that I was going to be the exception to the rule and live a completely normal life as a completely healed person.

I am starting to (very reluctantly) accept that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is always going to be a part of my life. This is a very hard thing for me to admit to myself, much less to anyone else. A part of me feels like this admission means that I am “giving up” – that I have failed on my quest to be a completely healed person.

It is not like my therapist did not tell me this from the beginning. He said that healing means that triggers last for hours instead of weeks or months. Healing is all about degrees and about how I feel about myself. For him, the goal was never for me to be 100% free of nightmares, flashbacks, and the other aftermath. (That was certainly my goal!) Instead, his goal was for me to love and accept myself as I am, riding out the aftermath and returning sooner and sooner to a place of being okay.

If I use my therapist’s definition of healing, then I am already “healed.” However, I don’t feel “healed,” and I think this is because my definition of healing has been so different.

I am beginning to accept that I will always have aftermath of my childhood to ride out and deal with. The aftereffects will gradually improve as I learn how to manage them, but they are never going to disappear magically as I want them to.

How does this realization make me feel? In some ways, it makes me angry because this means that my abusers succeeded in affecting my life until the day I die. That really p@$$es me off. In other ways, it makes me feel relieved.

I am so hard on myself. I always have been. I throw all of my energy into the direction that I want to go in my life, and I have done this in spades when it comes to healing. All of this deep effort has failed to make the aftermath “go away.”

When I reframe my situation and see this as “normal,” I can stop beating myself up for not being able to do the impossible and, instead, have compassion on myself. I will get into that in my next post.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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