Childhood sexual abuse – Let’s break the silence! 3

CSA series

The healing process

This is how the healing process went in my particular case.

1/ How it came up
I started to have a recurring thought: I was sexually abused as a child. The thought was totally out of context, without any memory, just the sentence on it’s own. After a while it got more and more frequent and had more and more emotional impact on me. It got to a point where I had to face it. I stopped and enabled myself to think about the topic and I gave permission for any thought or feeling that wanted to come up.

I also let the question open inside me: did it actually happen or do I have this thought for some other reason.

2/ Physiological responses
I started to do some research about the topic and I started to write a list of my earliest memories, which was from the age of 8-9. At this point I didn’t have any memories before this age. I wrote all memories that I could recall, I was listening to music with headphones and I was very much tuned in, I was in a relaxed state of mind with my eyes closed. Then suddenly I zoomed in, I went very deep in my mind, it was similar to dreaming. My heart started to beat really fast, also my breathing became very fast, it became faster and faster, it reached a point, then everything slowed down and I “woke up”. After this my body trembled for a while and I was very sensitive for noises, I could get scared of ordinary noises. This happened 3 more times in the next few days.

3/ Flashbacks
I started to have flashbacks. I went into a state of mind where I would feel/sense different aspects of the abuse. Sometimes it was an emotional feeling: everything is falling apart around me, sometimes I felt that anything I see or touch or hear is unbearably ugly or unpleasant. I felt really deep sadness or really deep anger and disgust. I felt left alone, without any help, I felt a lot of hopelessness and despair.
Sometimes it was a physical sensation, a dull feeling in my body. I experienced these flashbacks for about 3 months, I was in these states of mind almost constantly.

4/ Thoughts and feelings
I started to write about the topic, I wrote about the physiological responses and the flashbacks I was having, I also tried to guess what could have happened to me in the past. And I started to write my feelings and thoughts about childhood sexual abuse in general. Letting out my feelings and writing them down liberated me. While I was writing I discovered many statements or views I had about the world or myself that were false, that developed in me because of the abuse. Realizing this made those false statements go away.
With writing down what happened and unfolding the dynamism of the abuse it became clear to me that it was a crime against me and all responsibility lies with the perpetrator and none with me.
I expressed my sadness through writing, playing the guitar and drawing. And I expressed my anger through breaking things.
I wrote in detail about what exactly my trauma means to me. Understanding what exactly is my pain and giving empathy to myself made a huge difference.

5/ Visual flashbacks
I had some visual images coming back of the abuse. One image was especially haunting me, so I decided to draw it in a symbolic way. I looked at it for some time to face my fears, then I tore it up, spat on it and threw it out.

6/ Behavioral patterns
Just as any other behavioral pattern, the behavioral patterns of the abuse got stored in my brain. Luckily I wasn’t using them, they were just there passively, taking up space. With time these patterns just naturally left and disappeared.

7/ Talking about the trauma with other people
Starting to talk about what happened can be extremely difficult, it can almost feel impossible at times. Talking to other people made a huge difference to me, it was a huge shift from something that I dealt with alone to something I could talk about. Sharing my experience and hardships with others made my journey much easier.
First, I talked to people at online support chats. Then, after a while I told someone about my recurring thought and flashbacks that I recently met, but felt comfortable with. After that I told to a few of my friends and with time I told to most of my friends. It was a natural process and at each time I felt this urge inside and felt ready to share it with the person.
I used the online hotline of RAINN from time to time to talk about the abuse and about where I’m at with my healing. It helped me so much, because the volunteers on the hotline have a good knowledge about childhood sexual abuse and gave me great advises.
https://hotline.rainn.org

I also watched youtube videos of people talking about their healing journey. These helped me so much because I could know in advance what was about to happen and seeing them facing their trauma, being so strong convinced me that I can do that too.
https://www.youtube.com/user/RebeccaPatrickson
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC678CeiLNSBdoXXJ_tZzuw

8/ Letting in good sexual experiences
A very important part of my healing was to have very good and healthy sexual experiences and let them heal me. Luckily I had many experiences like that and I could let those experiences and memories make changes inside me.
I had one very healing meditative session where I relaxed and let myself reach the very deep part of my mind where I stored the painful memories of the abuse. And when I reached that part of my mind I thought about a very positive experience and in a way I left that very positive experience there to override and neutralize the traumatic memories. After that it felt like the traumatic memories were still there, but they didn’t have any emotional effect on me.

9/ Replaying the trauma
I replayed some aspects of the trauma both with a partner and on my own. Replaying the trauma gave me more detail about what happened and had a calming, freeing effect. When I replayed the trauma on my own I involuntarily got into a state where I had very little conscious presence and I almost thought I was 4 years old actually living the trauma. I acted out mostly what I did after the trauma and heard all my thoughts that I had back then. This happened 2 times, both started when I was dancing at home and I started to do unconsciously a dance move that would start the replay.
This was the point in the healing, where I could see the trauma as a linear narrative. Up to this point I only had many foggy, ambiguous pieces of memory that would float without structure, many of the memory pieces were only words, more like a symbol than a concrete thing or event.

10/ Forgiving
At the first part of the healing I thought that I wouldn’t going to forgive. I heard many stories where the person who went through the abuse forgave the abuser, which I found very beautiful and inspiring, but I couldn’t imagine myself doing that. I knew the tremendous amount of damage it caused in my life and I knew that it could have had way worse consequences. I exactly knew the amount of pain that I went through and forgiving seemed crazy and impossible to me.
I decided I’m not going to forgive, I will understand and accept what happened to me, but forgiving isn’t something I could do. I accepted this and went on with my days.
Then, suddenly at a random moment, totally out of context it just hit me. I was in my kitchen, I was opening a cabinet to find something to eat and I just felt this huge amount of love and forgiveness and joy. It was such a freeing joyful moment. At this point I felt forgiveness towards life or the world generally. It was absolutely illogical and unexpected.
Later on I had a similar moment where I forgave the perpetrator. And only after that I had a moment where I forgave myself.

11/ Healing the amygdala
At some point I started to think about fear and how I experience fear. I felt that there is a huge amount of fear somewhere trapped inside me. I did research about how fear works and I found out about the amygdala, which is a very fundamental part of the brain responsible for most primary functions, fear, rage or sexual feelings. When I experienced the trauma my amygdala became extremely active and since then it wasn’t working as if it got frozen. I realized I had to start using my amygdala again and gradually lower it’s intensity. With high stress level I got high cortisol level that I also had to lower with walking, sunbathing, eating certain food and sleeping a lot.

12/ Breaking the abuse
Even tough the sexual abuse stopped at a very young age, still at the age of 25 I had this almost unnoticeable feeling of this dark power over me. It was like a ghost somewhere around me. It didn’t stop me from doing anything I wanted to do in my life, but I could sense that it still had a very little impact on me.
Luckily with time, writing, talking and just living each day knowing what happened and knowing that it has no power over me anymore that ghost slowly disappeared. When I felt that dark power disappearing I simultaneously felt so much love coming in. It felt as if that dark power wouldn’t let me experience love fully, even though there were so many people who expressed love to me. As the abuse broke, all that love I ever received finally reached me, it was just a huge wobbly ball of love hitting me suddenly.
To achieve this I would say out loud: stop abusing me, get out, I don’t give permission for you to be here, you can’t abuse me, etc.

13/ Uncertainty
Maybe one of the most challenging part of the healing was the uncertainty I felt at many points in my healing. Because the sexual abuse happened so long ago and it’s a type of crime that doesn’t leave any tangible evidence it can be very difficult to get to a solid statement: yes, it did happen or no, it didn’t happen. If it did happen, exactly what happened. For most of the healing process I wasn’t sure about any of this. I experienced an altering shift between knowing and not knowing about the abuse.
At the end what convinced me that it was real was the fact that everything I was experiencing through these months was exactly what all other people experienced who went through childhood sexual abuse. I also spent a lot of time thinking back throughout my life and I found so many events or little details that made so much sense in relation with the abuse. I could list 6 pages of these events or details. And when I thought about what is against it.. I couldn’t think about anything besides that I don’t want it to be true.

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Childhood sexual abuse – let’s break the silence! 2

CSA series

How to heal from the trauma

Every trauma is unique and every healing journey is unique. I think there is no way to tell what could help someone who went through childhood sexual abuse, hopefully the person will instinctively search for people, art, information or experience that could help while getting a lot of support from friends, family members and also professionals.

This is how I dealt with the trauma throughout my life:

3-4          I experienced the trauma.

5-8          I knew what happened and I knew that it was a bad thing that happened to me, but I didn’t have a perspective on it, I didn’t know how big of an impact it will have on my life. I also didn’t know what is most people’s view on the topic or how often it happens.

8-15        I think somewhere around 8 I realized how bad it actually was, it was a feeling of facing reality, as if something heavy drops inside you. The trauma was so much to understand, I had to temporarily move into a fantasy world. In this time period I was living in my own world, which was a very idealistic, fairy tale-like inside world. I spent a lot of time just looking at nature or animals, doing creative activities, like writing poems or drawing.
In this period my memories about the abuse started to fade. They became less approachable each day. They went from a clear memory to a incomprehensible dull feeling to eventually nothing.

15-22        At 15 I noticed, I’m so much inside my own little world, I’m not doing all the fun things a 15 year old girl could do, why is that? I thought to myself, I want to change that! I want to be social and I want to experience, search for new interests and just live a full life. Little by little I found people, experiences and interests that slowly built me up. I chose a career that I really liked and started my studies. Everything was going really well, until…

22            I was at the end of my studies, I was doing really well, I had great friends and a great relationship, I was about to move out on my own and start working. I could have been really satisfied and happy with my situation, but I wasn’t at all. I was so frustrated and so scared and so confused. It felt like everything is falling apart and nothing makes sense. The only thing I was sure about that I have to move away on my own and become independent.

23            I moved away and started to live on my own. Not much after this I finished my studies and was ready to start working. Moving away helped a lot, but I was still feeling very confused and frustrated about starting my life. I started to apply for jobs, but I knew something is wrong.

24             I realized through many very embarrassing unsuccessful attempts that I can’t work in a traditional way. It made me so anxious I just wanted to run out of the workplace after a few hours, I knew I had to do something else. I had no idea why this was happening, especially because I had no problem with going to school, I assumed, something is wrong with me..
I thought the best I can do is to find a way of working that doesn’t make me anxious. After some searching I found freelancing, I never thought of it before, but I tried and I really liked it so I decided to go with it.

When my issues with work settled and I was working happily for online clients I also started to do some soul searching, I thought a lot about myself and life and my past. I found a creative energy inside me that I never knew about. It was a very difficult time, but I knew I was on a right track and doing a job that I love made me very satisfied and gave me the energy to deal with my deepest hardest feelings.

25               I started to have a thought popping up in my mind without any context from time to time: I was sexually abused as a child. It was just a thought without any context or any memory, just the sentence on it’s own. I thought this is crazy, why am I thinking about this? Nothing happened to me.. And I just ignored it for a while. But as time passed the thought became more frequent and had more emotional impact on me. It got to a point where I had to face it. I stopped and said to myself, alright, I don’t know why I have this thought but it’s clear it’s something important. I enabled myself to think about it and I gave permission for any thought or feeling to come up. I also left the question open inside me: did it actually happen or I have this thought for some other reason.

From that point my memories came back to me. It was an extremely challenging and painful process with many uncertainty at each point. I healed so much in so many ways. I will discuss the process in detail in my next post.