During the 1970s, when I taught prenatal education, I used to tell my clients I would give them a toolbox to help them through the birth process. This imaginary box had several levels containing everything from breathing and relaxation to information and practical suggestions. No matter how long or how difficult the labour, there was always something in the kit to keep the expectant mother going.
While I healed my incest and other child abuse issues the process felt every bit as intensive and demanding as giving birth. In a way I was giving birth – to myself.
Here is a check list you can refer to any time you need. It's a sort of basic toolbox for healing:
Take a breather
List what to do in crisis
Action plan for dealing with memories and flashbacks
Pace Em technique
Relax – take a power nap
Balance your day
List your tasks and goals
Be your own best friend
Check your coping skills
Choose a counsellor
Get clean and sober
Beat insomnia / shadows / nightmares and nasty dreams.
Please feel free to print this list if it's helpful. You might want to make it small enough to fit your wallet to carry with you as a reminder. Next blog I'll start to describe each step in more detail.
Fun is mandatory: Do something nice for yourself.
This is the icing-on-the-cake stage that comes three or four years into healing. Not that healing stops after this -- as I've mentioned in an earlier blog it continues in a spiral. Yet it is never quite as intense as the first go-round.
By now, flashbacks and memories no long rule your life. You've probably remembered about as much as you need to make sense of why you are the way you are. Or were. It's not necessary to remember everything.
You may make major changes as you move on:
- in your relationship with yourself
- in your interactions with others
- in how you respond to the world
With what you learned during the first three stages of healing and understanding how abuse affected you -- in the 4th stage -- you see more clearly how patterns of behaviour, needed in childhood to survive, continue in your present life. You realize you have choice in everything you say and do and be; in how you relate to friends, to your partner, to family members; with work colleagues and bosses; in how you raise your children.
At this stage you may decide to go back to school. Or move across country, or even to the other side of the globe, to sever ties with a previous lifestyle or relationship. You may become politically active in a cause close to your heart. Or become creative for the first time. Or deepen your creative urge. Or learn a skill you never thought you could manage.
This is an exciting adventurous time.
Reminder: You are not invincible.
Remember: Nurture and nourish yourself, make boundaries and take space just for you.
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.