You'll develop an understanding of how childhood abuse has affected your life once you start putting your story together with your feelings . You'll ask questions, including some of these:
Where were my protectors?
Why didn't they do something?
Was anyone looking out for me?
Did others know what went on?
How could this happen in my family?
How could my relatives let this happen?
And many more.
In time you'll see connections between what happened in childhood and how it has affected your adult relationships and notice how abuse continues to creep into your life. As time goes on, you'll take a stand for yourself against abuse of all kinds. You may worry that you're going overboard sometimes.
When we make changes things tend to go from one extreme to another. One day, you'll suddenly realize you're responding instead of reacting. Like saying in a firm voice , 'No, I don't like that. Stop' instead of jumping up and down yelling. Mind you, jumping up and down yelling is sometimes exactly what's called for.
Family dynamics that have affected your own deeply ingrained patterns of behaving, relating to others and how you treat yourself will slowly reveal themselves to you. You may want to disclose and confront family members at this time. Trust your own wisdom. You know what's best for you, but get support and plan how, when and what you'll say beforehand.
If a family member sexually abused you and you suspect that person is still offending against children, it is your reponsibility to report him or her. Get help preparing for this big step.
In the 'understanding' stage, you'll start to appreciate the ingenious ways in which you survived; you'll learn more about who you are, about your strengths and tender spots, likes and dislikes; you'll make stronger boundaries saying 'no' more than saying 'yes' at first; and you'll take a greater interest in looking after yourself.
Reminder: Applaud yourself for how far you've come.
'Defrosting' is what I call the phase of healing when feelings and emotions rise to the surface. It is the core of the entire healing process.
If you were traumatized as a child, you needed to protect yourself from your feelings of terror, rage, shame and abandonment. This means you probably shut down other feelings too. Or, you may feel only one or two feelings. For example, rage only, or terror only, or shame and guilt, and not know there are many subtle shades in between.
You may not even be able to name your feelings. Here are the basics:
Once you start slowly taking down your protective walls, it gets safer and safer to activate the full range of feelings. But, like everything worth doing, this takes time.
When you first begin to feel, the intensity of long-suppressed feelings may make you feel like you're going crazy. You're not.
The deeper the grieving, the deeper the healing. Odd as it may sound, those of us who fall apart often heal faster. Your level of functioning is not a measure of how well you're doing but part of the process.
Don't judge yourself if you have to drop out for a while. Working, playing, relating may just be too much right now. Do onlywhat you absolutely must do.
Sometimes, things get worse before they can get better. You're strong or you wouldn't have survived to this point. You wouldn't be remembering, telling your story and defrosting if your psyche wasn't ready. This is a painful time but it's not a bad time.
You may find during this part of the healing process that you feel like a child. It's okay. If you're coming out of years of post-traumatic stress that began in childhood, you're making up for lost time. Growing up all over again--appropriately this time--means learning to be your own good parent, meeting your unmet childhood needs for appropriate touch, security, safety, trust, support, unconditional love and acceptance.
This time around you're free to be who you really are. Try to find supportive people to validate your feelings, especially those feelings you find particularly difficult.
REMINDER: You're not crazy, you're healing.
Last time I wrote about the EMERGENCY stage when a survivor decides either to go on feeling shitty or start healing. The second stage is TELLING YOUR STORY. When you first begin telling what happened to you, it's important not to gabble it all out in one fell swoop. You'll find it doesn't help.
Go slowly. You don't heal any faster by racing through the different stages and actually, the stages sort of intertwine like a spiral. They don't move in a nice easy pattern from one to the next. Why is nothing in life ever easy?
You get to the final stage and find yourself going back to an earlier one. By that time, it won't be like starting all over again. You'll have a few tools to help you cope by then. I hope.
There are lots of different ways to tell the story of what happened to us. Just as there are different kinds of trauma, each with their own story. You can:
Sing your story
Write your story
Paint your story
Dance your story
Play your story in music
Sculpt, embroider, sew your story
Garden your story
One guy I know carved his story into a tree trunk. He'd been advised to write his story but after 40 pages it still didn't help. The Story Pole has given pleasure to many members of this man's community. With his permission I'll download a picture of it another time.
If you've found an unusual way to tell your story, please write in the Comments section. I'd love to hear how you've moved through this stage of recovery.
REMINDER: Telling your story is powerful. Do it slowly bit by bit.
If you tell your story aloud, make sure it's to a trustworthy friend or counsellor.
Years ago I learned a conceptual model to describe the healing journey. Basically, it has five major parts, the first of which is the Emergency Stage. For most of us who grew up in families where abuse occurred there were so many dramas we thought they were the stuff of ordinary family life. Often, in the present time we still can't tell what is an emergency. But if you are feeling any of the following, it's an emergency and you need help:
You want to kill yourself
You want to kill someone else
You want to harm yourself e.g. cut or burn your body
You want to hurt a pet or a child
When you were in your family of origin you were all alone. You don't have to do things all alone now. Call your 12-step sponsor or counsellor if you have one. Call a friend. Or call a Crisis Line. You can even go to the Emergency Department at your nearest hospital. The number for 24-hour Crisis Lines are at the front of the phone book.
REMEMBER: Don't kill yourself or your abuser wins.