Sunday, January 29, 2006

What is Right in Your Life?

What is right in your life? Stop and think about that for a moment. Anthony Robbins likes to say that what we focus on expands and becomes our reality. From my own experience, I know this to be true.

If we have been hurt, it’s easy to stay focused on that hurt. It’s easy to focus on what has gone wrong and what mistakes we’ve made. It’s easy to focus on our flaws. Odds are that’s how we were raised anyway—to be aware of our flaws (real or perceived) and our mistakes. Most of us grew up being told what was wrong with us, not what was right. If we let them, those dark moments and those memories of mistakes and things gone wrong, can swallow us whole. We can reach a point where we believe we will always be hurt and things will always go wrong and we will always fail at what we try.

Gee, how thrilled are you at the idea of getting up and facing the world tomorrow morning after thinking about that?

Instead, stop a moment and think about what has gone right in your life. Think about the things YOU have done right. Think about the moments and memories that could make you smile—if you let them. Really focus on those things. Now how ready to you feel to face the world?

If we want to be happy, if we want to overcome hurt from the past, if we want to be able to create the lives we want to have, it begins with grounding ourselves in what can and has gone right in our lives. It begins with focusing on what we can do, especially the things we do well. Even if no one else in our lives has valued what we do well, WE can begin to value it. Careers have been made out of things people loved doing that no one around them valued but strangers did.

Focus on what is right in your life. It will give you resilience. It will give you hope. And there are few things as important as hope. It is also a promise to yourself that you will have more and more things go right in your life and that’s what you’re aiming for!

What we focus on expands. We have the chance, now, this very minute, to begin a life that is focused on what can go right. We have the chance, now, this very minute, to begin to LIVE a life that is filled with such moments! Here is where and how we begin to create a life truly worth living.

Until next time, sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Unquestioned Assumptions

One of the most liberating things I ever did was decide to stop and question every limiting belief I had about myself. I was astonished at the things I discovered I could do.

I’d grown up, for example, believing that I was tone deaf because I was told I was. When I let go of that belief, I discovered I actually had a good ear for music.

I’d grown up believing no one ever wanted to be around me. I discovered that lots of people did.

I grew up believing that I had to take care of others to make up for the deficiencies in me. I discovered that I could be liked for who I am and that other people didn’t see me as deficient. (Note: I am NOT knocking helping others! I still do a great deal of that. But now I do it out of choice, not because I believe I’m worthless if I don’t.)

I grew up believing I couldn’t be feminine or attractive. Now I know that given the right dress at the right place with the right level of self-confidence, every unattached guy in the place will gravitate to me—and I’m not a young woman anymore!

I grew up believing that I couldn’t trust my instincts. I discovered that I have remarkably good instincts—perhaps much better than average.

It is the unquestioned assumptions that trip us up. It’s worth asking yourself what assumptions might be worth questioning for you.

Sending safe and gentle (((((hugs))))).


Thursday, January 19, 2006

What Matters

When I first began trying to come to terms with my childhood, I spent a great deal of time trying to remember exactly what happened. It seemed important to catalog the harm that had been done to me. The problem with that was that I was reliving painful experiences and didn’t know what to do with what I felt.

Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t the details that mattered. What mattered were the messages I had taken in—about myself, about the people who had hurt me, about the world. What mattered were my expectations. I didn’t need to remember what happened; I needed to remember how I felt and what I believed because of what happened.

Now I am not going to suggest anyone start trying to do that—especially not on their own! If there was ever a time it was important to have someone objective and someone who believes in you available for support and to talk over those beliefs and feelings, this is it. When I would remember what I believed about myself, it made a huge difference to have someone who could offer a new way to look at what happened. It mattered to have someone who could point out who I am today and that whatever happened in the past, I am someone to respect now. When I remembered feeling totally unlovable, it helped to know there were people who cared about me now.

I say all this because often people who have been through difficult times block out those times. We get good at it because it helps us survive. But if the day comes when we need to look at the past, it’s important to know where to start and what to focus on.

It’s also important to know that we don’t have to be afraid to look at those messages we took in as children because guaranteed those messages were wrong. Guaranteed we took the blame on ourselves because that’s what kids do.

We don’t have to be afraid but we do need to make sure we have a support system and someone who can help us sort through those messages. We don’t have to be afraid but we do need to ground ourselves in our strengths and ways to cushion the impact of this process. That’s why it’s so important to make lists of what you like about yourself and what your strengths are and what your successes have been. That’s why it’s important to have lists of things that make you smile and resources you can turn to if you need them. That’s why it’s important to begin a habit of treating yourself to something nice every time you do something that scares you. Keep lists. Keep journals. Do whatever it takes to build a foundation of belief in yourself and who you are NOW.

That’s where healing begins—with faith in ourselves.

I will also say this: The greatest insurance against repeating the cycle of abuse is to find ways to believe in ourselves, to love ourselves, to be happy, and to conquer our fears. If we are happy and able to love ourselves, if we can learn how not to be afraid, then we will never need to hurt anyone else the way we were hurt.

Until next time, sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))).


Saturday, January 14, 2006

More Alike Than Different

There is one thing I’d like to make clear. I am a survivor of abuse writing for other survivors of abuse—particularly sexual abuse. At the same time, it’s important to know that what I write about applies to lots of people, not just survivors.

Everyone, at times, feels afraid or unsure or inadequate. Everyone, at times, feels as if they should be wiser or better looking or more self-assured or more organized or less afraid. We are, in the end, more like one another—survivors AND non-survivors—than we are different. And whatever the impact of the abuse, we do not have to stay afraid or traumatized forever. We can grow into confident, happy, healthy individuals.

I believe that I am not only emotionally healthier than I was ten years ago; I believe that I am physically healthier as well. Trying not to feel, trying not to face one’s fears takes a tremendous amount of energy. We may find ourselves tired or often sick because our energy goes into just getting through the day and there are no resources left over for our bodies to fend off illness. As we heal, as we let go of our fears and face them, as we take action to change our lives, we free up energy to keep us physically healthier. If we go from seeing ourselves as damaged goods to seeing ourselves as whole and healthy individuals, it may impact us physically in ways scientists don’t fully understand.

What I am trying to say is that no matter how things may look in your life right now, there is always HOPE. Over the coming days and months and years, I hope to share with you some of the things that have made a difference in my life and the lives of others. I hope to share with you the ways I climbed out of darkness and into a life that is far better than I once would have thought possible.

So, everyone—survivors and non-survivors alike—welcome! Now, I would suggest that you--survivors and non-survivors alike--make a list of your favorite things. If it is safe for you to do so, make a physical list. If not, hold it clearly in your mind. What makes you smile? What do you love?

Next, make a list of your strengths and your successes. Change begins with the belief that it is possible and that we can do it. Your strengths and your past successes are part of creating that belief. No matter who you are, you bring strengths and success to the table. Know what they are so that you can begin o believe in yourself and your ability to create the life you want to have.

Until next time, safe and gentle (((((((((((((((hugs)))))))))))))).

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sexual Abuse and Recovery

Sexual abuse and recovery. When I first began my own journey to try to come to terms with the impact of sexual abuse, I read something that said it wasn’t possible. This popular book said that one had to live with it forever. I refused to accept that and I’m glad I didn’t—because the book was wrong. Some books said I had to confront the abuser(s). Other books said I had to forgive. Some books even said to forget what happened and get on with my life.

What I learned, on my own journey, was that what mattered most were the messages I took in—about myself, about my abuser(s), about the world—because of the abuse. And to recover I had to rewrite those messages.

That’s the good thing—that if we rewrite the messages, we do heal. We can go from believing things will always go wrong in our lives and we will always be hurt to knowing things can go right and we can be happy.

That may be hard to believe. For most of my life, I believed it was impossible. I thought I would carry shame and despair with me to my grave. There were days I kept going only because I had children who needed me and I had to survive for them. Had anyone told me ten years ago what my life would be like today, I’d have thought they were crazy! Had anyone told me I could ever genuinely like myself or believe in myself, I’d have said they had the wrong person.

And that’s why I’ve created this blog. Because if you were abused, I want you to know recovery IS possible. I want you to know there is a way to let go of the shame and self-hate and fear. You can reach a point where you know you deserve to have good things in your life and be happy. And it is a path that can bring you moments of joy even when you are dealing with painful issues.

I need to stop and say a word here about therapy. There are people to whom I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude who will nudge me if I don’t. I tried it more than once. I had good experiences and not so good experiences. I understand the wariness many survivors feel. Here’s what I believe: None of us should have to go through this alone. A good therapist can literally be a life saver. A good therapist can believe us and believe in us when no one has before and when we cannot do so ourselves. A good therapist can provide a safe haven in which to heal.

That said, it has to be the right therapist for YOU. For me, I needed a therapist who would treat me with respect. I needed a therapist who would listen, really listen to what I had to say. I needed a therapist who would see me as a partner in the healing process. I could not have worked with someone who did not.

In return, I accepted that I had a responsibility to take an active role in making decisions about what I should do. I had a responsibility to realize that no one else could heal me—I had to heal myself. A therapist could provide knowledge and support, but I would have to do the work. I had to choose to take the steps necessary to recovery.

I also had to respect the boundaries my therapist set AND set the boundaries I needed to set to keep/feel safe. I had to see myself as an adult—even when I felt like a hurt child inside. I had to always keep clearly in my mind the goals and skills I brought to the table, too.

I say all this knowing that it might make you decide not to continue reading my blog. That’s okay. I have to speak my truth, no matter what the cost.

I say these things because I know that had I not approached therapy this way, it would not have worked for me. And without that therapy, I would not be who I am now—someone able to look forward to life, able to believe in myself, and genuinely happy.

Okay, off my soapbox now about therapy.

Maybe I should have made this my first blog entry—my absolute certainty that recovery is possible. But I wanted to begin with the request that you find reasons to smile every day. Because a big part of the process for me was going through a list, every day, of all my strengths and skills—so that I would remind myself I could do this, and finding reasons to smile—because it kept me focused on the goal of having a life full of smiles.

I hope that each of you reading this are on your own healing journeys and finding ways to smile.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Beginning to Thrive

If you are a survivor of abuse or trauma or serious life challenges, you’re reading the right blog. This is a blog by a survivor FOR survivors and anyone who wants to create a happy life no matter what the circumstances may have been UP TO THIS POINT!

Anthony Robbins says, and I truly believe it, that the past does NOT equal the future. I know he’s right and I’d like to share with you, in this blog, ways I’ve overcome challenges in my own life and how I’ve gone from being desperately unhappy to someone who looks forward to life and the possibilities ahead.

If anyone of you have ever visited The Wounded Healer Journal (and if you are a survivor of sexual abuse you will find it a wonderful resource), you may remember someone who posted a while ago as April_optimist. That’s me. I will be posting here the same kinds of practical and encouraging ideas I used to post there.

The main thing I want to say is: IT IS POSSIBLE TO HEAL!

I am NOT saying that what happened is unimportant! Abuse always leaves scars, often causing damage that goes far deeper than we realize until some situation in our adult lives resonates with the past and causes it to surface. Going from survivor to thriver takes work, too, but I believe it can be joyful work. We can emerge stronger than someone who was never traumatized and has never stopped to examine his or her life and the assumptions made about that life.

So...the first thing I would ask, and it may sound very strange but it is the foundation of all change, is that you begin to find ways to smile, every day, no matter what. No matter what is going on in your life, in fact the more traumatic your circumstances, the more important it is to do so. It is a very real strength you can give yourself if you find ways and reasons to smile at least 3 times every day. It can be little things—a butterfly, a song you love, a favorite color.

Why is this so important? It’s important because when you find ways to smile every day, you are making yourself a promise that no matter what, YOU can create happiness in your life and you will. It is a reminder that no matter what has happened to you in the past, you do not have to go on being unhappy forever.

Something physical also happens when we smile. Our bodies begin to shed some of the damaging hormones caused by stress and PTSD. Our bodies begin to renew. We are able to draw on greater resilience than we had before.

Others may have, at some point in our lives defined our existence by the damage they did to us. But we can choose, from this moment forward, to begin to define our own lives--starting with embracing the ability and the right to smile. It may sound like a very small thing, but I promise that it is more powerful than you can imagine in going from survivor to thriver.