One hundred people – therapists, counsellors, social workers and clients - in a room. All is silent. What’s next? They are looking at her. She sits next to the therapist, her head down. What were the incidents in your relationship with your family? The therapist asks. Sexual abuse and violence. Her voice breaks. A shocked murmur spreads.
Are You an adult survivor of childhood abuse?
How many years didn’t I dare to look into others people eyes due to the sexual and emotional violence of my past? For how many years did I feel stigmatized due to the generic judgment of being a hopeless case? For how long had I allowed other people's opinion to define my worthiness? My answer is, for too long.
How about you?
How does this murmur make her feel? I look at her. She shrinks in her seat. You can never overcome the effects of abuse. Poor thing, she’ll never recover. The voice of my colleague – a counsellor – cuts through my thoughts. I open my mouth, and I want to tell her, it is possible to heal abuse and violence. That is my experience. It is my truth. How to find words to express what can’t be described but only experimented? My rational mind never fully understood the transformation I went through. The more I was able to own my pain, the more I was able to experience joy. How can I express this to her? I search for words. There is nothing. Silence. I shrink in my seat and feel small and powerless again. I lower my head and stay silent.
What is your secret story about childhood abuse?
The one I told - I called it A Brave, True Story - is mine. I wrote it for the woman on the chair. It is my intimate message to tell her that she is not alone. And it’s also for you if you feel like her.
Healing is beyond logical explanations. Meaning what? Healing is an experience - it is about becoming whole again. It is about understanding what happened to you and how it relates to trauma. About reclaiming those parts of you that seemed to be lost in trauma and pain. A re-connection with your inner child to give them the love they have never received before. There will come this moment, when your inner child fully awake, full of joy, curiosity, innocence, dignity and intuition. Do you know how innocence feels like?
Recovery is about personal growth. While the trauma felt devastating, there is post-traumatic growth. Healing is about finding a safe space within yourself and take responsibility for your needs and dreams. Reclaiming your well-being is about letting go of the invisible barriers you have build around your heart and learn to love again, first of all yourself. Wholeness is also about finding empowering ways to deal with stigma.
What is essential for healing abuse?
Breaking the silence, telling and owning your story makes the difference between merely surviving or really living. I am not saying that it is an easy journey. It is a different journey. It is natural to feel scared to start this journey. Just imagine a small child that went through experiences that were overwhelming for them. However, you can be in control. You can learn new skills to face these emotions safely.
How does healing feel? I don’t know what it will feel like for you but for me living means feeling. My image is that living is like a joyous dance to your favorite music, and you move and dance while you feel a sensation of deep joy in your body. Like looking at my cats and seeing their smiles and happiness. Like feeling the heat of the sun on my face, smelling the air after rainfall or seeing the fresh green leaves on the trees. Simply, it’s a deep gratitude for being alive. A sensation of bliss that feels like exploding balloons filled with a multitude of bright colors. It’s feeling the embrace of a friend.
What can you do to heal the effects of childhood abuse?
No, I don’t want to force you to tell your story but I invite you to take your time, continuously taking small steps towards telling your story with full transparency in a safe space.
Blame, criticism and judgment – both internal and external – can be powerful to silence your voice forever. And, if you are like me, you’re probably the one who gives yourself the harshest criticism. You perhaps try to adapt, to fit in, to be perfect and fulfill excessive demands about whom, how and what you should be. If you allow this to happen, you pay a price: you can never experience deep connection and true belonging. If you try to fit in, you may end up with who you want to be and get some approval however they do not care about you but the illusion you play for them. You can break free from this dynamic if you choose to.
As a counsellor, I give to my clients what helped me during my own healing journey - and more. I will not tell you what to do but I will collaborate with you so that you find the answers you need. You are the expert in your life and you have the power to transform your past.
Photo by Aleksandr Ledogorov on Unsplash