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Abuse Survivors Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Child Abuse Survivors Complex PTSD My Story Overcoming Sexual Abuse Sexual Abuse Stages of Healing

Believing It Happened – Stages of Healing

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It really happened to me. The memories, flashbacks, and nightmares are real. For so long I couldn’t say the words. Now I know that I survived child sexual abuse, attempted murder, partner rape, bullying, attempted suicide, domestic violence, stalking, and more. Denial that these things happened to me served me in some ways to try to move forward in my life…until I couldn’t move anymore. There was no more forward. I had no choice but to start healing myself because continuing to hate myself and not believe my own memory was killing me. I had to stop making excuses and confront what I did not want to deal with. I didn’t want to remember or have to pause my life to heal. The rose colored glasses have been shattered much like my mind.

My brain separated the functioning part of myself from the abuse but it was always there. There were symptoms even though I couldn’t remember for years. I wanted to believe it didn’t happen. I wanted to believe it was just a dream, just weird thoughts, just not me. It matters. I matter. What happened to me matters. The fact that the rapists walk free matter while I continue to suffer. I am not disposable and no survivor is. It happened and I believe myself. I trust myself. I wasn’t ready for years to admit it but it’s my truth.

If you are struggling with this please know that it is ok to be where you are. Believing and getting through the denial takes time. According to the The Courage to Heal book believing doesn’t happen all at once. Be gentle with yourself. You don’t have to force yourself or push yourself to accept it all at once. Healing is a gradual, grueling, nonlinear process. Don’t let anyone else rush you either.

I would love for this process to be faster. The more I push the more disruption happens. Learning to give myself time and to believe each new memory as it arises is also something I’m having to gradually learn. It is easier to fall into the old ways of coping but the more I choose to love and accept myself and my memories the easier it is getting to get through another day.

Abuse Survivors Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Child Abuse Survivors Complex PTSD Effects of Child Abuse Effects of Emotional Abuse My Story Overcoming Sexual Abuse ptsd Stages of Healing

Remembering – Stages of Healing

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Remembering is another stage in the healing process. When I was 10 years old memories of child sexual abuse that I suffered came back to me during a class assembly. Right there in front of everyone, the memories came crashing in. It roared in my ear and black came in around my peripheral vision. I felt like I was being sucked into the back of my head and everything was going black. I started to fight it but it was no use. All the sudden I was 3 years old and very confused, in immense burning pain, couldn’t move.I saw the abuser. I’m not sure when I came back to the present as remembering that traumatic event was also traumatic. I ran out of the room crying. It was like a horror movie except it was my life. My life wasn’t what I thought it was. I don’t have much memory of the next few months but I went into therapy as did my family.

I’m still remembering traumatic events all these years later that I repressed and I’m now 38 years old. Survivors can remember at any age and there are seniors in their 80’s and 90’s just now remembering traumatic events that happened to them in their childhoods. Now it effects me much like it when I was 10 but I am better able to handle it because I usually know what is going on. Do you remember that scene in The Bourne Identity where Jason Bourne remembers some repressed memories due to the government experiments? He grabs a table to steady himself and almost falls over. It’s pretty close to that for me. I usually have to get to a safe state of being like sitting down. I can get dizzy and fall. It’s like I’m not even in my body, I’m certainly not in the present.

There are times when I can feel a memory on it’s way, like impending doom. When this happens I get to a place that I will be safe.I let myself feel as much as I can. I employ selfcare and grounding techniques that I mentioned in the last post. Every step is important but I just started learning how to let myself rest. Remembering is painful and exhausting. There is no way I can just go back to whatever I was doing. I need time to process and rest. When I’m ready I write about it, create some art, and talking about it when I’m ready can help too.

Remembering is a unique experience for every survivor. Some survivors remember what happened, others don’t, some of us get pieces or just feelings. I have traumatic amnesia around many events. There are also body memories, emotional flashbacks, and my memory seems to change. I can remember different parts of my life at different times. Sometimes I can’t remember anything and I just exist in this body, dissociating to the point of depersonalization. Some survivors remember the event but not the feelings that went along with it. The healing process can bring out more memories as well as life events and stress. Something can trigger a memory like a life event such as getting married, having a child, breaking an addition. A retraumatization can also bring the memories back.

Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Art Therapy Complex PTSD My Story Overcoming Sexual Abuse Stages of Healing

The Emergency Stage: Stages of Healing

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The emergency stage is very disruptive. Memories and long repressed emotions bubble to the surface. Sexual abuse was all I could think about. I had no escape from it. I felt like I had lost my mind. I couldn’t sleep, wasn’t eating well, and wanted to run or hide. The feelings are overwhelming and this is when I started to feel even more suicidal. It felt like it was consuming me from the inside out and I was out of control.

New memories that had been locked away came forward. I had nightmares at night and flashbacks during the day. I wasn’t even able to escape into my head with dissociation like I used to. I got myself into therapy and talking to someone really helped me get through a lot of it. As I said in my last blog post that I felt like I finally got past this emergency stage. It still feels this way sometimes and I’m learning to cope better. I still use therapy on and off but what has helped the most is support from my family, friends and online community of survivors. I found forums like http://www.myptsd.com where I read about what other people were experiencing. That helped me not feel so crazy.

During this time I had almost constant anxiety along with anxiety attacks. It has taken me 4 years to figure out how to help myself. There are a ton of parts to healing so one 1 thing really doesn’t work it for me. It takes an arsenal but I am finally in a better place and the techniques I have learned are paying off. I still have a lot of anxiety but I’m better. The attacks don’t last as long and I don’t feel like I’m going to die when they happen. I am less scared. My body freaks out but I am able to talk myself down, breathe, and employ more things that get me through it.

If you are in the emergency stage please know that you are not going crazy. Find someone to talk to so that you don’t have to deal with it alone. There are some great communities out there on the web, forums, twitter chats, survivor communities online. Talk to your doctor about medications, if necessary There are also therapists trained in trauma recovery and group therapy you can attend.Talking to a therapist and reading about the stages helped me realize that this would pass. It will pass for you too. Another thing that helped me was to have a plan for when I was feeling desperate. That desperation for relief led me to feel suicidal. I just wanted the pain to stop. I didn’t really want to die but at times it felt like my only option.

Here is my Safety Plan to help me cope and de-escalate my suicidal ideation:
1. Deep breathing. I use a 1-2-3 method- 1 deep breath, hold to 2 counts, blow out for 3 counts, repeat, slower each time.
2. Focus on the people who love me and how we feel about each other.
3. Call my Mom-text my older brother-text my friend-talk with my online friends
4. Call a crisis line-
National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255
Rainn Nation Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673
5. Go stay with my Mom
6. Contact therapist – make an appointment
7. Go to hospital.

You list might look a lot different from this and that’s ok. Do what works for you. You aren’t doing it wrong, just keep trying. Remember that what works can change. For me, some things work some of the time.

Grounding techniques are also very effective to help keep me in the present and not feeling lost in the flashback or memory. The mind is powerful and a flashback can have you feeling like you are being hurt all over again. These can also help if you are disassociating to stay more present. Try these out and see what works for you:

Employ your 5 senses- Touch, sight, sound, smell, taste
Touch: I like using a cold wet wash cloth. I hold it in my hands, feel the temperature, rub my arms and legs down, the back of my neck, my face. I also have some really soft blankets that I love the feel of. I have a rug in my bedroom that is fake fur and I go sink my toes in it. Wiggle your toes right now and notice the feeling of what your feet are touching. Turn on a fan and feel the air movement. I also go find my dogs and hold them, pet them, talk to them, They are always down for cuddles.
Sight: Notice what is around you, say it out loud, describe things. Art therapy can be very helpful to express yourself and shift your focus.
Sound: Play your favorite music, clap you hands, speak out loud
Smell: I use essential oils for anxiety like: Eucalyptus, lemon, orange, lavender. I also like rose and have rose hand lotion that works with a few senses because it feels good and smells good.
Taste: Eat something and notice the texture, how it tastes- is it sweet, sour, cold, hot? I love making tea and the whole process can be relaxing for me.

Change your state: sit if you are standing, stand if you are sitting. Put you arms in the air. Get up and dance a little or walk around. Stretch. Go outside and inhale some fresh air.

This is a pretty big list but doesn’t cover all the things to try. I don’t mean to throw a big list of stuff at you but it takes a lot of trying to figure out what is going to help you. If none of this works, try other things. Search for grounding techniques and you will find even more things to try. You are unique so what helps me might not work for you. Like I can’t do yoga yet due to it body memories. That’s why I don’t like it. This process also takes practice. Eventually I was able to practice mindfulness more throughout the day and it has helped me to stay more present instead of drifting off into my head. I found that drifting off and dissociating was making my flashbacks and memories worse. Once I got more of a handle on staying present I was able to better cope with many of the symptoms of my complex PTSD. Be gentle and patient with yourself. This is not easy at first because you are creating a new pattern of behavior. It literally takes practice for your mind to create the new pathways and go-to actions that will eventually become second nature. It does get easier the more you practice. These techniques can be helpful in other stages of healing and with stress management in general.

Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Child Abuse Survivors Complex PTSD Effects of Child Abuse Effects of Emotional Abuse Emotional Child Abuse My Story

Stages Of Healing From Sexual Abuse: 1 Deciding to Heal

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There are many stages of healing that a survivor of sexual abuse goes through. Not only do we go through these stages but we go through them over and over again, each time getting more integration. There is no real order to them and many times I have felt stuck in one stage or another. I desperately wanted to feel better and “get over it” as they told me I should have already have done. I now know that a complete resolution may not be possible for me but that doesn’t make healing any less valid for me. I can feel better and I have proven that. I will continue to improve even when it feels like I’m taking a couple steps backward. It’s all part of the journey. According to the book: The Courage to heal, there are 13 stages. I have experienced them all and still go through them over and over again.

The 13 stages are:
Deciding to Heal
The emergency stage
Believing it happened
Breaking the silence
Understanding it wasn’t your fault
The child within
Grieving
Anger
Disclosures and truth telling
Forgiveness for yourself
Spirituality
Resolution and moving on

Here’s where I started:

The Decision to Heal- In 2014 my symptoms from complex ptsd became overwhelming. I ran for a long time and batched, cope with alcohol, and was generally unwell and unable to work. I still struggle to work consistently. I was suicidal and as much as I didn’t feel like I had a choice at all, I chose not to die. I got myself into therapy and seriously committed to healing. This became my full time unpaid occupation. I had been in therapy a few times through my life since I was 10 years old but I didn’t find it very helpful with the exception of some EMDR work I did in 2011. I had to stop going because I couldn’t afford it.

I made a ton of changes and I felt stuck in the emergency stage for a long time. I moved my residence 3 times. Now I’m changing jobs. I’ve gone through the stages and now I FINALLY feel like I’m not in the emergency stage any longer. This is 4 years later. This beginning stages are very disruptive and I found many of the things I used to cope were either unhealthy or just not working. I was remembering more and more instances of sexual abuse. I started calling rape what it was, rape. No pet names or minimizing language. It’s the truth. I couldn’t even say the word for decades but I say it now. I am a rape survivor, a child sexual abuse survivor, domestic violence survivor, partner rape survivor, narcissistic abuse survivor, bullying survivor. I remember my own death and floating above myself. I get a lot of bits and pieces of memories still. Much of it doesn’t make sense. I still disassociate a lot but I’m learning to stay more present throughout the day.

When I remember more I go through a sort of emergency stage again but in a shorter duration. There is just so much to deal with it is very overwhelming for me. It is disrupting and as much as I don’t want to remember anymore, I can’t go back. I can’t undo what was done but I can move toward a better healthier future for myself. That is my goal now, to improve, progress, come at this with compassion and love. It took me a long time to even like myself but I also found this little part of me that I love. That is growing and it makes this journey easier.

Every survivor is different. Their stories and how they go about healing is unique to each and every one of them. There are no boxes that we all fit in, no list that makes sense for everyone. Over the next few posts or so I want to share my experience with the stages of healing as described in the book I mentioned earlier. I hope to share so that it is out of my head and processed more. I want to share to show you can go through all of this and still be able to have a good life. I couldn’t find someone like me so I’m going to be my own role model and model good behavior for myself. Healing is the most difficult work that I have ever done. It is so worth it. I will continue and CPTSD will not kill me because I am tougher than trauma. I’m tougher than what happened to me. I’m tougher than the abusers. I will survive. Whatever it takes, I got this.