A Success Story in Healing From Abuse
I have a confession to make: as deeply as I’ve gone on my healing journey, as much as it’s excavated and as proud as I am to have come out the other side, it’s still incredibly difficult for me to speak about – or even write about – what I’ve been through. The reason for this is threefold: one, because it’s hard for me to reconcile the person I am now with the person I was then – it almost seems like I don’t know the me who was abused anymore, even though she will always be a part of me. Two, because I feel as though I’m at a point in my life where finally, the focus isn’t on merely surviving, but in thriving. And three, because we still live in a world where the abuser is protected and the victim is blamed. But it’s because of that last reason that I continue to push myself to share my story.
The gist of my experience is this: I have been sexually abused by family members and those trusted by my family, I have been sexually assaulted in my line of work, and I have been through several instances of rape during different stages of my life. Saying that it has been a difficult road to walk merely scratches the surface of my healing journey – particularly as the start of it was marred with so much buried emotion coming to the surface that there were days I didn’t think I could make it through… nor did I want to. But slowly, the more I processed through those emotions, the more my world started opening up to show me that I wasn’t the sum of my abuse history. And the more I started to learn that I wasn’t the sum of my abuse, I started to experience life in a different way.
But what really tipped the scales in a positive direction was when I started listening to my intuition and allowed it to lead me into learning how to care for myself. One of the things I started noticing about my healing journey was how I was consistently “detoxing to retox” – and by that I mean, getting to a state of physical, emotional and mental health, and feeling so disoriented by it that I would go back to old habits, old ways of living and old ways of treating myself because even though it wasn’t good for me, it was familiar.
I never did drugs – that was something that I somehow convinced myself wouldn’t be in my best interest, even in my most disoriented and pained state. But I did drink to a blackout state quite a lot until I was 19, quit for a decade, then picked it back up again, only to repeat old habits. I also ate as a form of self-medication, stuffing down feelings with cakes and cookies and candies galore, going up and down in weight as much as 50 pounds, back and forth. I would always reach a state where I realized my habits weren’t loving or supportive of who I felt I was, and so I would change my food intake, drop the alcohol and get on an exercise regimen… and then when I got to a state of feeling good without all the old crutches in place, one by one I would re-introduce each of them back into my life until I found myself back at square one.
And this was a cycle that permeated throughout my life in every way, shape and form. I would achieve a certain amount of success in my line of work, but would always back away and run when things would get too good. I was continually stuck in the same repetition in my love relationships, where I would have a wonderful connection with a man that would dissolve in emotional unavailability and come to an end somewhere around the year and a half to two-year mark. I made friends with a lot of people who were as wounded as I was, and we would sit around and grouse about how awful life was… but none of us were willing to do much to change things, if anything at all. We’d convinced ourselves we were powerless, once again buying into being victims even though we’d long since shed that skin.
I finally decided that if I were going to truly move forward, I would have to address the cycles I was living in – and to address those cycles, I would have to get brutally honest with myself about what I was subconsciously telling myself about what I felt I was worth and deserved. After all, didn’t I deserve to be and feel healthy? Didn’t I deserve to release the negative emotions that were plaguing me, rather than stuffing them down? Didn’t I deserve to be successful at whatever I wanted to do? Didn’t I deserve to experience what it felt like to live in my body, and not disassociate from it like it was a total stranger to me… which was a holdover from my abuse history? Didn’t I deserve to be happy?
And that right there was the key – taking a look at my abuse history from a different place, and realizing that it was part of what contributed to the tapes in my head telling me that I didn’t deserve to feel good about myself. Because if I were a good person, why would those things have happened to me? I’d been so used to the concept of victim blaming that I was even perpetrating it on myself.
It was – and has been – a long and multi-layered process to retool my programming to change that train of thought. I had to start looking at everything in my life – the friends I had, the working relationships I kept, the way I treated myself… everything had to be addressed and overhauled if I were truly going to disconnect from an abusive way of life. And it led me to addressing some hard realizations as I started to systematically break everything down. I had to let go of some friends who were mired in their own abuse issues and continued to take them out on me rather than address them in an honest way. I walked away from jobs and working relationships where I was screamed at, verbally abused or needlessly punished rather than talked with respectfully as a human being. But most of all, I had to look at how I treated myself. And I realized that if I continued to abuse myself – not just with food and alcohol, but with negative self-talk, brow beating and discouragement – I was merely repeating my history with myself in the role of abuser.
Bit by bit I made changes in my life, and the more changes I made, I was able to see things more clearly and behave a bit more in line with who I ultimately knew myself to be. I created a stronger relationship with myself by journaling a lot – sometimes writing out my hopes, dreams and fears, sometimes allowing my pen to do whatever across the page and let my subconscious speak to me. I did little things like buying myself flowers, or taking myself out to the movies or dinner (yes, alone!) I tried new exercise classes and pushed myself to stay with it when I most wanted to quit. I listened to my body and naturally dropped the drinking, then at the behest of a naturopath, went on a vegan diet – which I’ve continued for a year and a half now. That led me to experimenting with a number of natural healing modalities, from colonics to chiropractic care to acupuncture, and with each successive step, I’ve grown stronger, feel lighter, and act more loving toward myself and others.
The scariest times were when I was feeling completely isolated from the world. When you begin to shed your old skin the life that goes along with it, it can be disconcerting – especially when the pain has become comfortable. There were maybe one or two friends who remained with me during this part of my journey, and I didn’t see them all too often – at times, I knew the emotions I was dealing with made me unpleasant to be around, and I would tell them honestly what I was going through. Sometimes they couldn’t handle it, and they were honest with me about it. Other times, they would insist I come out of my cave and have a little social time. But I learned something incredibly valuable during those times of isolation – that I didn’t have to feel so alone. That I could be a great support system for myself. And that I could learn to be with me in a whole new way, forging a deeper connection that allowed me the freedom to express myself, to pursue my dreams with new vigor, and – yes – to experience love. Real love – not the love that comes through the filter of abuse.
I feel as though I’m just coming out of my cocoon now, and though I’m not yet up to full speed, I’m well on my way. I’m meeting some wonderful and amazing creative people who are nurturing and supportive of me, and who love that I’m nurturing and supportive of them in return. I’m getting out and socializing again, going to readings and get togethers and coffee klatches, enjoying the experience of having conversations with complete strangers who are fast becoming friends. My work life is changing, introducing me to clients who appreciate my work and enjoy a co-collaborative experience where we have a free flow of ideas and can help one another to get to an ideal conclusion on a project. And I continue to take care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally by continuing to eat good, healthy, nurturing food, disconnecting from the world when I need to, journaling, hiking, and generally being kind and loving to myself.
And the more that I do these things – the more that I disavow myself of my abusive past and prove my abusers wrong about who I am and what I’m worth – the more I see the difference in my outside world. I feel like my life is only just beginning… and I look forward to where it’s going to take me next.