Let’s face it if you are an adult that grew up enduring childhood abuse, more than likely you weren’t taught any coping skills other than keeping your mouth shut and doing everything within your power not to be the next target for aggression. You complied with the smallest of demands to keep a small portion of peace in your life. It also didn’t help that the outside world thought our folks were saints and found it necessary to remind us every chance they got, which consequently kept us questioning our perception and sanity.
Why was it when things felt emotionally uncomfortable would we hide it away? We had a secret compartment to file all the complains because as a child we certainly never felt safe to say them out loud. We had learned very early that if we did voice our displeasure we would be ostracized or worse. God forbid if we talked about a childhood memory with our families as an adult. We would always get the same reply as we did as a youngster, “that never happened”, or “you made that up”! When you hear that for most of your life, and you see the neighbor pick up a shovel of dog shit and toss it in your yard it ends up taking 3 hours to convince yourself that yes, it really happened!
It wasn’t until I went through counseling at the battered women’s shelter that lightbulbs starting flickering, clearing some of the thick fog in my brain, and believe me when I tell you it was thick as pea soup! I remember going through the checklist for abuse and only marking four or five boxes to describe my ex. Today I would check them all!
Education is the first and most important tool in healing! Knowing that there is a pattern of behavior that is rarely deviated from. I found that what I was accepting as normal behavior was in fact not! I was learning about intimidation tactics and how subtle emotional abuse can be doled out without notice. I already knew what domestic violence was, that is usually the one thing that would wake me up and get me the heck out. The familiarity of it all, the dance we have done since childhood. Using all our Spidey senses until we are left exhausted, ashamed and full of fear.
Entitlement was an important one and explained why my ex took my car all the time which left me without transportation and isolated from the world. I even recall posting a remark on Facebook to the tune of why is it that when you start dating someone new, they seem to get a raise and a new car. I said no plenty of times, but it didn’t matter, it also didn’t matter that he didn’t have a drivers license. I may have not known the name for it, but I usually knew early on what it felt like to be disappointed and taken advantage of. I could have called the police, but I was taught not to cause trouble, and try to work things out within the boundaries of my home. It’s amazing how quickly our own home can become a prison without bars and barbed wire, with a jailhouse warden telling you what to do and how to do it then reminding you that you always do it wrong.
Validation was another big one! Trust everything you feel, see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. How do you begin to do that when you were never validated, and you are taught not to trust anything that comes from you? My ex was a covert narcissist and defined everything I was for so long. I would question everything in my mind trying to work it out. I repeated myself all the time. I told the same stories over and over, I was negative and oversensitive and little did I know at the time, this is exactly what trauma looks like. When I was early into my recovery I used my therapist and a close friend for validation reconnaissance. I would share an incident and tell them how I felt about it and asked them if how I was feeling was lining up with the situation. Talk about being fragmented! In some instances, I still need help because there are many circumstances that arise that I find myself at a loss.
Reaction was another one I needed to learn. I was so good at minimizing everything! I was baffled by people who purposely would throw me off balance by trying to intentionally hurt me. As a kid, I learned not to show weakness, or I would be a target for insidious sadistic emotional abuse. My brother never learned this tactic, so he got it much worse than I ever did. So, now I am trying to learn what an appropriate reaction is to people who abuse emotionally, use threatening body posturing or just a plain bully. You do the best thing you can for you at the time. I always had wished I was one of those people who could come up with this profound statement on the spot but instead I walk away. I have kind of a delayed reaction because I need to think things out. I work on assertive responses for the next time it may happen. It is interesting being a survivor. You can be triggered by another person’s actions because you recognize the behavior. My frustration level rises because I will no longer tolerate any type of abuse. It is all about finding balance within yourself so you can act appropriately for any situation. This takes time. Don’t be hard on yourself!
Boundaries are another very important part of recovery and healing. I have learned so much but still, have a tough time. I am the kind that allowed others to hurt me because I would be too afraid to hurt them by saying no or telling them I wasn’t comfortable with their behavior! Just last week I went to a movie with a man I had been friends with for decades. We had never dated, and I set my boundaries twice and told him I had no interest in dating anyone. Matter of fact the whole concept still makes me kind of puke in my mouth. So here I am with my friend and he put his hand on my leg. Apparently, my feelings aren’t important to him so now I am left with this precautionary tail, either he wants to be my friend and stops crossing my boundaries or he is out of my life. Yes, it’s that simple. I also gave myself permission not to explain myself to others. I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my decisions. I don’t have to be uncomfortable and can walk away. I don’t have to sit at the table and have lunch with toxic people to appease my family. I don’t have to visit where I don’t feel welcome. I don’t have to give my love and respect to people who willingly invalidate my feelings and try to define me. I am no longer responsible for fixing others adult problems. I have the right not to put up with anyone else’s garbage!
Emotional Healing, allowing myself to feel everything. Anger, sadness, grief, frustration, joy, peace and all the other emotions that make us human, I am allowed to feel. I don’t have to numb myself to get through a situation. If a memory pops up and interrupts my day I acknowledge it, let the feelings flow. I don’t stay there long because I don’t have to dwell on what I already survived. I have anxiety and I try to stay grounded with a rub rock I carry in my pocket or by identifying objects in a room. None of these things are permanent within my existence so I know that this too will pass. They may pass like a gallstone in some instances, but they will not run my life.
Freedom to explore what I am interested in rather than someone dictating what I am going to do from day to day. I take my time, I enjoy the little things life has to offer. I am finding my way and navigating a world I don’t quite understand. I have learned to sit still and listen rather than divulge the information that makes me, me. I don’t have to share the pain of my abuse. It’s a book that is finished and tucked away on a shelf collecting dust. I am writing my own story day by day, month by month, and year to year. I have finally separated myself from my abusers and have come into the full bloom of possibilities that I may have missed if I stayed in the cycle that was once my life. I am stronger than I ever thought I could be and managing everything with education and a damn good therapist. I no longer feel like I’m in a paddle boat trying to survive a hurricane. Instead, I am moving slowly and enjoying the scenery.
Healing is different for everyone. Go your own pace but never quit! Somedays may be overwhelming and you may not see any light at the end of the tunnel, but I can guarantee it’s there and when you find it you will realize that that light is you!