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.

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