Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Being A Survivor Means Knowing You Have Choices

As a victim of the family disease of alcoholism and incest, I wasn't given choices as a child.  All of the choices of my childhood were made for me by my parents and my abusers.  I was even told by my parents that the adults had full authority over me as a child.  I was told to mind all adults - to do whatever they said, without question.  This one rule of my parents played a major factor in allowing me to be sexually abused by several adults in my life, one of which was my dad.   

Knowing that I have choices as an adult has created a major division for me between being a victim or being a survivor.  As a survivor, I know that I have choices.  I know that I can make my own decisions.  Right or wrong, they are my decisions to make.

Because it took me so long to learn how to make choices for myself, I place a high value on being able to make my own decisions.  Being able to make my own choices gives me a freedom and a feeling of being in control of my life instead of letting others tell me what to do and what to say.  I never experienced this feeling as a child.

If you would like for me to join your group on Facebook, please ask me instead of just adding my name to your group.  Then it is my choice to accept your invitation or not.  Please don't take away my choice by making it for me.  That is too much like my childhood.  I know that I can always make the choice to leave the group if I want to but it isn't the same as being given the choice in the beginning rather than as an after thought. I thank you for that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Healing From Abuse Means Doing The Work of Healing

Healing from abuse means doing the work of healing, not just talking about the abuse.  Yes, in the beginning of healing, talking about what happened to you is important.  In fact, talking, in itself, is very healing and breaks the bonds of silence that your abusers taught you.  At what point in the journey, do some survivors get stuck in the drama of telling their stories and never move beyond that point?  How do you tell when you are healing from telling your story and when you are just plain stuck?

For me, I told my story over and over for about 10 years but that wasn't all that I was doing.  I was reading books on healing from incest.  I was writing about my own experiences.  I talked to other survivors who were doing their own work.  I went to two different groups for counseling as well as doing individual work with two counselors over that ten year period.  I also had two 12-Step sponsors that gave me personal work to do on healing from incest. 

I did the work of recognizing the lies that my abusers told me. Darlene Ouimet, the owner of Emerging From Broken blog, does the best job of anyone that I know of exposing the lies that many survivors grew up hearing from their abusers.  I will give you a link to Emerging From Broken at the end of this article. 

For many survivors, those abusers were one or both of their parents.  Exposing the lies of your abusers is a very important part of your early recovery.  So is telling your story. Both are healing steps that need to be taken. 

Telling your story does not mean creating drama for yourselves or others.  Some suvivors create drama as a way of recreating what they are used to as children.  This is where exposing the lies of your abusers is so important.  When you see those beliefs as lies, you can begin to choose how you will react to your triggers, how you will react to the people that, on purpose or accidentally, set off those triggers in you. 

I believe that triggers happen to show you where you still need to work on yourselves and the issues behind the triggers.  Triggers don't happen to make you blow up all over someone else.  When you do that, then you become like your abusers and abuse someone else. That is what was done to you as children and it is what you continue to do to others until you learn that you don't have to continue those unhealthy patterns of behavior. 

A pattern happens when you repeat the same behavior over and over.  I have learned to look for patterns in my own behavior.  With awareness of patterns, I can then decide to make changes or stay the same.  If my behavior is hurting me or others, I decide to change.  That in itself is a process that takes time with lots of trial and error and apologies along the way until I change that pattern with a new, healthier pattern.

One example that comes from my own life has to do with anger and rage.  Rage is unheathy anger that grows and grows and gets blow all out of proportion usually because the first signs of anger were ignored, denied or stuffed deep inside.  Rage eventually comes out when the pressure is too great to hold it in any longer.  It comes out, usually on someone that totally doesn't deserve it.  I used to do this all the time.  Anger wasn't allowed in my house except for the rage that my dad carried around so my anger was denied and stuffed with food until the rage came rolling out like hot magma from an out of control volcano damaging everything in its path.

Rage was the first feeling that I learned to deal with because it was so volatile that I could easily see the damage that I was doing with it.  Doing this work isn't a matter of feeling shame for the fact that I couldn't control my rage.  Doing this work is a matter of feeling the feelings without allowing them to hurt myself or someone else. 

Rather than feeling shame when I get a new awareness, I forgive myself for not seeing the pattern sooner, then I set out to change the situation so that I don't continue to hurt myself or someone else.  It isn't enough to feel bad about my behavior.  If I am being hurt or someone else is, then I need to change that behavior.  If I say I am sorry but continue to do the same destructive pattern, then I am not really sorry.  Any behavior that I continue to do, I am getting something out of it or I would quit.  Feeling shame or guilt about a behavior is a sign that change needs to happen.  If I know that my reactions are out of proportion to the situation, it is my responsibility to do something to change my reaction.  If I am looking to create drama, I will find an excuse to do it. 

With healing comes responsibility for my own actions and reactions.  Another person does not trigger me.  My own issues are what trigger me, not what someone else said or did.  Those issues trigger me because I haven't healed that particular issue. It is not anyone else's responsibility to fix me, just as it is not my responsibility to fix anyone else.  The triggers will keep coming until I am healed in that area.  I am not saying that I am at fault or wrong or bad because I am still being triggered.  I am saying that it is my responsibility to heal me so that I am not triggered.  It is my responsibility to do my own work to heal.  If I am refusing to see the awareness that has come into my life because of my triggers then I am still playing victim.  I am still believing my abusers' lies that say that I am not capable of taking care of myself. Or I am still believing the lie that says I am too stupid and that I am worthless and have no value and can't make decisions for my own self. No matter what you said about me or to me, I alone am responsible for what I do with that information.  You do not make me angry.  I choose whether to get angry or not.  My actions are my responsibility.  How I respond to a person or a situation is my responsibility, not yours.  I can't blame you for what I am feeling.  I choose whether I stay stuck in the victim role or I move forward in the survivor role. 

Saying that I never meant to hurt someone doesn't mean a thing if I continue to hurt them.  Feelings are not inappropriate. It is what we do with them that can be inappropriate.  I have no way of knowing what another person is feeling unless they tell me.  What I may see as insensitivity or lack of empathy in another person may not be that at all.  I cannot know or guess what another person is feeling.  What that person may say has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them.  I cannot second guess other people unless I am intent on creating drama for myself.  If I want to create drama, drama will find me. When I say someone else is insensitive, I am projecting my own insensitivity onto that person.

I want to heal from incest.  I do not want to be defined by incest.  Incest happened to me but is not who I am.  I am a human being living and growing through my experiences.  Sharing my experiences does not make me better than you or perfect.  I am far from being perfect. I make mistakes. I still sometimes see someone else hurting and out of my feelings of compassion I want to make their way easier.  Sometimes I can help. Sometimes I cannot.  Sometimes I even manage to make situations worse.  Sometimes I play devil's advocate and try to look at the bigger picture.  I don't know where the term "devil's advocate" came from. I don't see it as bad.  I see it as the simple process of stepping back and looking at more than the immediate view or seeing a different view than everyone else is taking.  Being different is not a bad thing.

To use something that I heard earlier today on an interview between Michelle Rosenthal and Susan Kingsley-Smith on the Blog Talk Radio station called Heal My PTSD, you hold the power of your own healing.  You have to do the work if you want to heal.  My question for you is, "Do you want to heal?" or  "Do you want to stay stuck in victim mode and blame everybody else for your life?"  If you want to heal, at some point, you have to move beyond the blaming stage of healing.  In order to heal, at some point in your life, you have to take responsibility for your present and future.  Responsibility for the abuse of your childhood belongs with your abuser. Responsibility for what you do with your adult life belongs with you.

Related Links:

Emerging From Broken blog

Heal My PTSD interview on "Why Don't Survivors Want To Do the Work to Heal PTSD?"

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guest Blogger Jane Rowan and The River of Forgetting

Hope that all of my American friends had a great 4th of July.  Today I have a special treat for my readers.  I have my first ever Guest Blogger, Jane Rowan author of the book The River of Forgetting here to answer some interview questions about herself and her book.

Thank you Jane for consenting to do this written interview with me so that my readers can learn more about you and your book.  I just finished reading your book a few days ago.  Your book is an amazing tale of recovery from incest through the use of Inner Child work.  Your story shows your courage and stamina in dealing with fragmented memories and frightened inner children. I knew a little bit about your story because of our initial contact on Twitter and on your webpage.  I was curious to understand how a person with only fragmented memories, at best, could go about healing from the wounds of incest.  I have six years of memories of my own incest abuse.

Why I was interested in reading Ms Rowan's book? Because I also have clues that my incest abuse started before the age of three.  I have a very definite clue in that at three years old, I labeled myself an adulteress.  I have no memories to go with that clue showing that I might have been sexually abused early in my childhood.  I was interested to see if Jane ever got her full memories back or had to work on just the clues.  I will soon be starting my own inner child work to see what I can recover.  I know that the memories are there being held somewhere in my child's mind and in my body-memories.  Like for Jane, my memories of this early incest are held by my younger inner children.  Inner child work is often the key to healing from abuse.

Welcome to my written interview with Jane Rowan, author of The River of Forgetting.  Ms Rowan's words are shown in italics.

1.  Can you tell my readers a little about your life before the memories started to surface?

As a science professor, I was busy and successful. I loved teaching.  The politics with some of my colleagues really got to me at times, and I found myself in conflicts fairly often.  Being a strong woman in a male field isn't easy, but my need for control was perhaps a bit excessive. I was divorced, with one grown son, and my father had died just a year before the memories began coming.  I didn't feel defective but my friendships were a bit unsatisfying and I was probably uptight.

2.  What triggered your memories?

Several things, I think.  My father's death was one factor. My son was out of the house, so I had more energy to tend to my own needs. I had been in therapy for a few years, and was thinking of terminating, when my therapist asked, "So what about relationships?"

For some reason, that question about relationships really struck deep, and I admitted I didn't have enough closeness in my life. Then one day when my therapist asked about how my Inner Child was feeling, I found myself in a profound fog, really far out there and lost.  It was dissociation, of course.  Then just a few days later, I literally woke up, first thing in the morning, to the first memory.  It was a very complete sensory memory of sitting on the toilet when I was only three years old, and it hurt to pee; I could see the bathroom and where the door was, and the bathtub and the window.  I didn't know what had happened to make me hurt.  I just knew that my mother's explanation of it was wrong.  That's what started me on the "detective story of the soul" that is my life and my book.

3.  What made you decide to write a memoir?

I'd been keeping a journal for years and years already.  When these memories began to overwhelm me with waves of feelings - doubt, nausea, grief, fear, rage - I needed to write more and more just to stay sane.  After six years of therapy about the abuse, when I saw light and joy coming into my life, I experienced such a wave of gratitude that I wanted to celebrate my work in therapy, the amazing process that it can be, and my therapist's skill and care.

It seemed natural, even mandatory, to write it out and share it.  Of course, as I wrote I experienced the feelings over again and understood more and more, so the book has layers of meaning for me and , hopefully, for the reader.  Readers tell me it takes them inside the therapy process as no other book does, and helps them see from the inside what the transformation can be like.  Although survivors' experiences differ, many of the emotions and reactions are the same.

4.  Give us a brief preview of your book.

My memoir begins at that moment when I woke up one morning with the memory I described to you above.  For the first year, I wrestled with daily doubts that anything could have happened within my loving, eccentric family.  Fortunately, I already was seeing a terrific, empathic therapist who was my lifeline through all of this.  As I delved into my past, I remembered snapshots of childhood memories of boat trips and daily life and endearing oddities, but also my father's affairs and strange things he said about sex. Then a specific body-memory came to me and whirled me into nausea and confusion.  It had no visual components but it was vivid and compelling. I could not have made up a flashback like this.  It was awful.

I found myself incredibly angry at my mother for her passivity that enabled my father to abuse me.  Then as she aged and was dying, I had to decide whether to confront her. Incidents at work brought out my latent anger and I learned to apprciate its positive power.  There was a creepy year in which a stranger sent obscene harassing letters to my workplace, in an intense reminder of the abuse.  Through all these life-events I continued to make sense of my early trauma and to befriend and care for the young self, my inner child, who had lived through and repressed the incest.  Gradually I came to feel love, joy and creativity in ways that were really new in my life.  And writing the book itself brought me to a new level of creative expression, catapulting me into retirement.

Thank you Jane for giving us insights into yourself, your journey through healing the pain of yourself and your inner children and your book.  I appreciate the the fact that you speak out about incest and the issues that go hand in hand with incest.  Gladly I will recommend this book to my friends.  As more of us speak out about our own abuse issues and how we healed ourselves, we give others the courage to start their own healing journeys.

If you are interested in knowing more about Jane Rowan and her book The River of Forgetting, you can go to the links that I will provide below.  The first link that I am sharing was from a radio interview that Jane did sometime last week. I hope that you will take the time to listen to this informative interview.


The River of Forgetting: A Memoir of Healing from Sexual Abuse



Again, thank you Jane for approaching me about this Guest Blogger article.  I appreciate the struggle that you went through to share your story and your book with other survivors of childhood sexual abuse. In sharing our experiences with incest and our healing journey out of incest, we help other survivors to know they are not alone and that they too can heal.