Advice and rhetorical questions: Giving and receiving
I have found, through my own experience and from reading many posts on the forum, that making the life changing choice to heal and move towards recovery, is a massively scary decision. It requires a careful and delicate balance of safety, trust and control, coupled with readiness, the right support and timing. There has been much advice that I have been given along the way; some I didn’t understand, some I only understand now and some I find myself repeating to others. Based on my experience so far, here is some advice and rhetorical questions that I have picked up along the way………..
The lid had threatened to fall off my Pandora’s box at many times, between my ‘liberation day’ and disclosure; I couldn’t cope with that and periodically, depression and self harm spiralled. I was full of fear. I was scared of feeling, I was scared of crying and I was scared of not being able to stop either. I was scared that I would spiral back down into a helpless, hopeless, suicidal depression, (because I had been there before), unable to function or accept what had happened to me. I was scared of what I would, should and could remember or uncover, as a result of blocking so much from before the age of 15. My biggest fear became facing the abuse head on, because I was scared that I would not be able to cope with my emotions and memories. I fought very hard to keep the lid on that box. I was scared I would have more questions with no access to answers and that the bubbling anger I was increasingly aware of, would become overpowering. I was very worried about fully opening up, the nasty can of worms that had prevented me from truly living for 20 years, because then it would all become real. But I categorically made a decision to reclaim my life.
The thought of facing the rest of my life with the same fear that had prevented me from talking, the thought of struggling through life with blame, shame and guilt tarnishing every beautiful moment, the thought of my shitty history having a lifelong impact on my children, was motivation enough to get this all out. It was a metaphorical cancer that I had carried alone for too long and I chose to share my glass ball.
Full disclosure came before therapy for me. I was lucky enough to meet a very special lady, who has become not only my best friend, but the mother I would choose (if I could). She spent hours listening to me pouring my heart out and she helped me unpick my memories and continues to do so. She asked just enough questions to ensure her own understanding, which in turn aided mine, but she was gentle and calm and patient. Although I have never felt like a victim I was definitely thinking and behaving like one, when I met her. I was still allowing ‘him’ to invade my thoughts and how I felt about my self. I was still allowing ‘him’ the control and I was continuing the cycle of abuse, whilst beating myself up. This special lady helped me challenge a lot of the things I had believed to be true and had held firm in my mind for 20 years. With her help, I began to see that the anger I had for my mother was directed in the wrong place. I began talking with more ease about the facts of my abuse, but I did not connect to the emotion that should have been attached to it.
I was coming round to the idea that my dad was indeed a paedophile and he was not ‘just a man with needs that he could not control’, which I had convinced myself thereof. Why are you allowing him to continue hurting you? was a very pivotal question for me and it came, time and time again, from this special lady. I realise now that I was holding on to the guilt, blame and shame that ‘he’ made me feel and it did not belong to me. I was listening to the thoughts that told me I was worthless and inadequate and I still believed there was something inherently wrong with me. Now, I am no longer overwhelmed; I feel empowered. This lady got me to open up and got me to a point where therapy was a valid and viable choice and she has been with me every single step of the way. Now I have regained that control and ‘he’ no longer holds any power over me.
I knew that therapy was needed to have any hope of trying to succeed in living, some kind of life that resembled normal. I needed therapy to help me connect with the emotion attached to the facts, in order to release it. Things will get a whole lot worse before they get better, was a key piece of advice for me and it came from a variety of different sources before therapy began and again, early on from my therapist. What I find interesting now is that despite the fear I had, this statement was not scary; it gave me hope that things could get better, but it also prepared me to do battle to get there.
My therapist suggested journaling in week one and I took the suggestion very seriously. In that first session, she asked me what I hoped to get out of our time together and I left the session not properly answering her. I was wrapped in a blanket of apprehension in that first session, and the reasons I gave the Doctor for why I needed the original referral, did not come out of my mouth. I wrote the things I couldn’t verbalise in my journal and my therapist and I went through them in the following session. This became the pattern which worked for me, starting the conversation each week.
Despite the unprecedented level of fear I had just talking about the abuse to begin with, I completely invested in the therapy process. It was not as bad as I initially thought it was going to be. I had a need to remember everything, to connect all of the dots and to make sense of the confusion. My therapist said supportive and encouraging things to me like what can possibly be worse than what you have already been through? and if you have been strong enough to keep it all in, you are strong enough to let it all out. She was right. Talking about the unspeakable, can not possibly be as bad as the actual abuse itself.
It was like finally being brave enough to rip the plaster off; after the initial stinging feeling, it felt OK. Then metaphorically, I knocked the wound and the blood flow trickled again, but I felt safe enough to watch it for a while. I surprised myself with the things I found myself saying, and by the strength of the emotion I still felt, despite it being many many years since the events I found myself describing. So I dug around a little, holding the supportive hand of my therapist, before the blood then started flooding out of me and panic set in. The memories flooded and the flashbacks followed. The more I spoke the more I remembered and it snowballed very quickly. As therapy progressed the thoughts, memories and emotions spiralled and the effect of therapy was no longer confined to my weekly appointments. Journalling became my safe way to slow the thoughts down. I knew it was going to be a tough journey, but I also knew that is was going to be monumental and life changing. I wanted to remember the journey and I am glad I captured these steps, forever, in my journal.
There were many times I questioned, whether I was strong enough to keep going, to keep endlessly trawling through the shit, to feel and re-live all of the worst imaginable abuse, again. At the time the words you are stronger than you realise, because you are still here, when you tried so hard not to be really hurt. They reminded me of the times where it was all too much and I tried giving up. These words reminded me of a time when I felt my weakest. Overwhelmed and encompassed in all the chaos of it all, I felt weak again. Now I can see the value in these words. Now I am grateful that I am still here, and I am grateful that my serious attempts to not be, failed. My thought process changed from why am I still here, to what am I still here for. I went through all of that shit, for something and I am still here, for a reason. I AM stronger than I realised.
Being able to see something good under an overwhelming, heavy and dark cloud is very tough. One of the most grounding pieces of advice I received was find something that makes you laugh every day. Laughter really is the best medicine and makes such a difference to your state of mind. Other similar phrases like “try to see the good in every situation”, or “every cloud has a silver lining” don’t seem to have the same effect and seem a little patronising, but I guess the sentiment is the same. My children have the ability to always make me laugh, and at times it was tough allowing myself to lower the walls I built to protect them from the impact, in order to appreciate them and allow myself to be lifted by them. They will never know the part they have played in my journey, but I am eternally grateful to them for the laughter.
I really did think that recovery was a destination, an end point, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I was completely shocked when my therapist said to me there is no such thing as recovered/fixed and I realised and accepted that I would only ever be, fixing and recovering. It was a few more weeks in to therapy when I realised that my disgusting story was an integral part of who I am and would always affect me in some way. The focus changed from trying to reach an unreachable destination, to acceptance. I kind of just woke up one day and realised, that I do not regret anything that has happened to me in my life, because it has made me who I am today. I can now believe that I am a good person and I actually quite like the person I have become.
My therapy sessions became a comfort blanket of warm acceptance, where I was heard and never judged. It became a place where I released; nothing I said shocked anymore. Having 3 children at home, I valued this space so much. It was a chance to stop and take a really focused look at myself and explore memories and feelings, where I was nobody to no-one. I was nobody’s friend, no-one’s mummy: I could just be me. I did not have to hold it together; I did not have to pretend to be OK. I did not have to worry about the impact of my ugly reality, on anyone else (especially my children). The key to unlocking my emotional dam came from the words it’s OK to not be OK. I had heard this many times before, but I reached a point where I actually believed it and the flood gates opened. Coupled with the words you are safe now, the effect was very powerful. Both of these phrases gave me permission to let the guard down. Sometimes when it all gets too much and the thoughts gallop after each other in different directions, completely tying you up in knots, it’s very easy to forget who and where you are. Sometimes you just need someone to say it will all be OK in the end.
I like to know the who, what, when, where, why and the how and having access to the answers of these questions, I think, keeps me grounded. I need to know what is happening and I used to attribute this to just being highly organised, but I think if I am completely honest with myself, I am what is affectionately known as, a control freak. I like planning and organisation and I maintain control in my life by sticking to a rigid routine. Feeling in control of my life has always been important to me, especially as I felt so controlled as a child, but I did my most productive work when I was not in control of the process. Trying to control what I felt and tirelessly trying to harness that, actively delayed my recovery. When I let go and went with whatever came out, when I allowed myself to feel and stopped fighting against it out of fear, I made progress. But I was ready. I had the right support. I had the right therapist. And the decision to empty the box was mine and not a surprise.
Part of the fear I had of therapy ending was of not being able to continue the journey on my own. I read a lot of posts that seem to hold a lot of attachment to the therapist and although that relationship is very important, it is not the therapist that does the work. This understanding came in the very last session for me. I thanked me therapist for everything she had done for me and she told me it was me who had done the work. I worked very hard in therapy. I pushed forward hard. I was so determined. I believed I had only done the level of work I had because of my therapist and the level of safety she made me feel. Ultimately my therapist was right, I did do the work; She did however, provide me with the right environment.
My pearls of wisdom, (for what they are worth):
You have to say the words. Only by saying the words will the memories become real; only when they are real can you connect to the emotion behind them in order to release it.
Make a commitment to your self. Find your fight. Life is one big risk. You have to be honest with your therapist and with yourself. What is the worst that can happen?
Don’t think the worst of everybody you come in to contact with. Sometimes something happens and I surprise myself with the thought patterns I have. There was a man waiting in the gym for his wife and daughter to come out of the class I was in. I’d not seen him before. The studio is upstairs and there is windows, so you can see down to the pool, where children’s swimming lessons were taking place at the time. My first response was from a mother’s point of view (keep the kids safe, my job to check out who he is) not from a survivors point of view (every man is a paedophile). Not every physiological, emotional or behavioural response you have, is because you are a survivor.
I remember being in a rush with therapy. A rush to get everything out. A rush to move forward. An urgency that had not been there for 20 years. I was blinkered. Now I was ready and this was it! Now I know the process can not be rushed. Everything happens exactly at the right time and only when you are ready. Breathe.
Nothing you go through now will ever be as bad as what you have already been through and survived.
Find your purpose. Find your value. What are you good at? Find that one thing you like about yourself and grab on to it. Nurture it. Admire it. Let it grow. It’ll help.
Shame, blame and guilt are all things that I have carried, but they really are things only abusers should carry. It really was not your fault.
Challenge the shitty intrusive thoughts. Just because you believed something to be true for years, does not mean that it is.
Unrealistic expectations of others, leads to being let down. I do what I say I am going to do but expect others to do the same, and when they don’t I don’t trust them. This only perpetuates the distrusting cycle, and fundamentally only continues to hurt you.
I really understand the pain, the torment and the twisted thought processes, that consume many of us, and some days I feel ideally placed to offer some hope. (But I have to remember that I can’t fix the world as much as I want to). At other times, I feel like a great big bloody hypocrite. Rationally I know I was not to blame, it was not my fault, I am not unlovable and these are some of the things I would say to anybody else; for some reason, I have difficulty hearing them and believing them when it comes to me. Just because it may seem that I have my shit together, appearances can be deceiving. I still have bad days where I consumed with the critical voice, still have days where I am triggered by everything, I still have days where the only release of the frustration I feel is through self harm. But one thing I know is we have suffered enough, it’s time to reclaim life, it’s time to start living and we are more than the shit that happened to us.