I wrote this guest blog for the American SPCC at their request, telling my story. It was published on their site August 30, 2018.
I still remember the moment of disbelief when the first glimmers of childhood sexual abuse emerged. I was forty-one years old. The memory was there, yet I still tried to deny it, even as more memories surfaced. It took days to sink in. Once I had cracked the shell of my dissociative amnesia, memories came flooding out. It felt like everything I thought I knew about myself was suddenly ripped away.
At first, I tried to move through my normal life, but flashbacks cropped up without warning, stripping away my feeling of safety and causing me to burst into sobs no matter where I was. Week by week, more horrible memories surfaced. I had no idea how many more there were or how much worse they would get. I felt frightened, alone, and out of control.
I went to group, saw my therapist, and tried every type of healing I could find. It took almost two years of memories, therapy, and hard work, but I finally came out the other side. I have tried EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), hypnotherapy, visualization, meditation, writing, sharing my story, non-dominant hand work, energy work, coaching, spirituality, and massage therapy. Some worked better for me than others.
Now I know that I am the survivor of ritual abuse, torture, numerous types of rape, childhood sexual abuse, and deep emotional trauma. I have uncovered memories so horrific I could never have made them up, my imagination isn’t that twisted and dark. I have added thirteen abusers to the two I knew about before uncovering my amnesia. I hope I have uncovered it all, but I don’t know for sure.
When I shared a small, relatively minor memory with someone, they said, “You never really heal from something like that, do you?”
I was shocked and responded, “Of course you can.”
I have heard variations of this sentiment many times now. Survivors wonder if they can ever have a healthy relationship, learn to trust, or be touched without flashbacks. My message is one of hope. It is possible to heal from anything, if you are willing to do the work, cope with the anger, and move through the pain.
Breakthroughs in neuroscience unlock the power of our brains and bodies to heal themselves and reveal the amazing connections between the two. New therapies are being used that help people heal without adding additional trauma. There has never been a better time to achieve deep and lasting healing.
No matter what you have been through, you are not alone. I have met dozens and dozens of victims and survivors. I have heard a broad range of stories. The problem of sexual abuse is deeper, wider, and more common than most people realize, with devastating consequences to the body and brain. No matter how horrible your story is, you can overcome.
There is power in standing up and choosing a different future. You will find your individual path to healing when you decide that is what you really want. You might think you want it, but you have to want it bad enough to face what happened and be willing to change what isn’t working in your life. Then you will find the people you need to help you along the way. You are literally surrounded by other survivors. You walk past them at the grocery store, see them playing with their kids at the park, sit next to them in church services. They are men and women that look like you. Abuse happens at every socioeconomic level, in every neighborhood around the world, across all religions and ethnicities.
Making the decision to heal completely is not easy. For me it was scary. I began to realize that the fingerprints of my abusers were everywhere in my life. In the things I liked and didn’t like, the quirks and fears I had, the way I interacted with others. I wondered who I was apart from being a survivor. Even something as simple as my trademark short hair turned out to be the result of men using my long hair to inflict pain and control me.
I began making a list of the parts of my personality that had nothing to do with the abuse. My abusers might have influenced what I paint, but my love of painting has nothing to do with them. I began to see that all the good things in my life were things I created. I realized why I had short hair, but I also realized I turned it into something unique about me that I love. I took something negative, and over the years, owned it as something unique and creative. I began to see that I was more than my abuse.
For the first time I realized my dreams for my future were attainable, that I was stopping many of them from happening in one way or another. Who did I want to be? What did I want to have or do? What did I need to change to make those things happen for myself? If I changed the narrative about things in my past to create the life I currently had, I could also change myself again and create any future I wanted. Step by step, I moved toward my dreams and they began to come true.
Now I have a happy, fulfilling, and exciting life. My home life has completely turned around, my relationship to my kids is better, and I wake up excited to do the work I know I am meant to do. I experience new things every week. In the last year, I have gone down a bobsled run (hated it), tried sushi for the first time (loved it), and made it through a cave that previously caused me to have a panic attack (felt empowered but still don’t care for caves). I’m not lost in dreaming of something far off in the future, I am working each day to obtain goals that are right there within my grasp which will also lead me to where I eventually want to be.
Sharing my story through writing, speaking, and coaching others has been incredibly powerful. I have healed from the abuse of my past and now get to help others. I have more energy, sleep better, and am more productive. I am more empathetic and less judgmental. I am no longer a victim, but more than a survivor. I am a thriver. I spend my energy helping others heal and learn to be thrivers as well.