Herewith is an excerpt from my forthcoming book from a trauma survivor’s point of view on healing.
We had recently moved to a new home, custom designed and built just for us. I felt totally undeserving of this pretty house on six acres of forested land just outside Colorado Springs . On the outside, life seemed perfect. We had been married for nearly nine years. We had a 7-year old son, a 5-year old daughter and a dog. I worked part time as a medical social worker in a nearby hospital. My husband, Tom, was a successful engineer. Even with this perfect life, I had started drinking in a way I called “bad.” It was hidden drinking. I knew I needed to do something before it became worse. At that time, I did not associate the drinking with the feelings of not deserving the house or the other good things in my life, much less with any childhood abuse issues.
When I first walked in the therapist’s office, I had a look she described as that of a “scared animal,” as if I was going to run with every step I took. I scanned and rescanned the room. There was stiffness in my body. After a while, even after the abject fear had subsided, I still had a defensive, hostile edge in my voice and manner as I talked. The therapist wondered if I was really ready to do the therapy. All she could tell was that I was extremely wounded in some way.
I found that I was very dissociative. Not actually a “multiple,” but very fragmented. By this I mean I had different “parts,” although they weren’t fully separated. In the early stages of my therapy, I gradually went through the process of remembering and admitting a history of sexual abuse. The memories became more odd and scarier. I began to have flashbacks at church. I came to recall that my father, a minister, had sexually abused me, and I was able to figure out that my mother had been involved with a dark cult.My therapist had never dealt with a case of abuse like mine, so it was confusing to both of us. After seeking advice from another therapist, she came to see herself as a “witness” to my story. She was able to sit, listen, and tell me over and over that I was safe in her office and that she would protect me and not hurt me.
This period was hard. I had continuous flashbacks about former events in my life. I thought I was an “evil” person. My drinking became worse. I began to cut myself. People on the street I did not know and had never met often scared me. I had terrible nightmares, and experienced a stiffness in my body that was accompanied by convulsions. My husband told me that I sometimes spoke with the voice of a child, begging people not to hurt me. Good Friday and Halloween were especially painful somehow. I felt crazy, isolated and suicidal most of the time.
The Road to Healing
As I continued with my therapist, I began to picture my “fears” as a brick wall. She encouraged me to take down the wall one brick at a time. Each brick was a different fear. I began to appreciate the wall and focused on dismantling it in a safe way. At times, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to dismantle it. The wall had kept me sane and it was frightening to take it down. But now the wall was beginning to block me from getting what I wanted in life. I wanted freedom to do and be what I chose. I imagined myself as a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.
With the support of my therapist, I dealt with my fears in very concrete ways; often as a child might. I purchased dolls at second hand stores, imagining each one as a “part” or “fragment” of myself. I took them to therapy with me because it didn’t feel safe to work with them at home. I explored feelings I had held in for years and years. I wrote as a way to get some of the feelings “out,” particularly when a fear or reaction was strong. I drew and made collages. The drawings were crude and elementary, pure emotion, but they clearly showed the “raw” fear and other feelings. They were also useful in occupying my mind as I combed through magazines and newspapers for pictures and words to use.
My therapist learned about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and introduced me to the technique. This is where, by use of hand motions, both sides of the brain are involved with reprocessing an event or feeling. This technique eased the power and effect of my fears.
I had to learn how to take care of myself when I wasn’t with my therapist, as my fears and other uncomfortable feelings emerged when I was away from her office. I came to understand that I needed to “connect” with the positive people in my life. I called friends. I carried phone numbers with me, often stopping during the day to call, sometimes using a public pay phone. Cell phones weren’t common then. I looked forward to getting home to call a friend, knowing one of them would help to “ground” me and that I would feel more “safe.”
Over time, as the fears grew less intense, I tried to find another way to look at them. I learned to talk with my therapist or husband about the fear, taking it apart to understand it. This made the “fear” less frightening. I gradually learned to talk with myself like this when a fear arose. I’d tell myself to be quiet and look at the pieces of the fear and see it for what it really was. Slowly, I was able to do this with more ease. I still sometimes need my husband to say to me, “It’s just steam,” but that’s all it takes now.
Looking back, I see how important it was that I have a real commitment to stay with the therapy process. I went to appointments no matter how scared I was, no matter how many times I told myself it was too expensive, no matter what excuses I came up with. I went even after my husband didn’t understand why I was still going, and even though it didn’t seem to either of use that I was getting better.
I am grateful I found someone I could work with and who would work with me. I’m not saying my therapist was someone I felt comfortable with, because I was never “comfortable,” but, rather, someone who accepted me and was willing to work with “trauma” and all it entailed. I paid attention, perhaps for the first time, to my “gut” reactions as I talked with the therapist. I truly “listened” to myself as I spoke.
All of the pain of the healing process was worth it. I’m free now. My life is full of people who love me and, equally as important, who I know love me. For those who read this, wherever you are today in your own healing, just take the first step, or the next step, even a baby-step, along the path of healing. Each of these little steps will add up over time, even when there are the inevitable backward slides. Keep at it, forge new relationships, and believe. You deserve to be healed and free!