I was victimized as a child by my stepfather, a person I trusted, looked up to, and loved. Yes, I did love him. That’s why it was hard to understand why he would sexually abuse me, or why he would do something that left me confused, ashamed, and in pain.
As an adult, I continued his cycle of abuse by turning it inward on myself. The anger and fear I experienced as an abused child became self-loathing and self-hatred. I used alcohol, smoking, and sex to numb the pain. I also tried to play the role of "miss perfect" to hide my truth. I tried to make everyone happy so they would not see the truth about how I was really feeling. Even worse, I put myself in high-risk situations and bad relationships where I would be abused again and again.
It was a vicious cycle.
But that’s not all. I turned the anger, pain, and shame outward toward others as well. I manipulated people to get what I wanted. When the shame overwhelmed me, I withheld love or affection to punish and blame others...
On April 8th, 2019, I was babysitting the toddler of a family in Portland. The mother messaged me in the days before letting me know that a dog would be there. When I got there, a small Pitbull mix came to greet me at the door, very timid and shy. The mother introduced her as Roxy but quickly made it very clear that she would not be staying with the family for long. She explained that they had rescued Roxy from another family who had not adequately explained that she had separation anxiety and that between raising their first young child, full-time work, and still getting the house in order since they had just moved to town, they did not have the time or energy to properly train her to not be so anxious and simply had to heavily medicate her when they left her alone.
This instantly broke my heart and it broke even more to watch this poor dog fall apart once the mother left for her appointment. The dog was so panicked and so unsure, it took her minutes to even walk over to allow me...
The biggest reason why we don't change and why we find ourselves stuck is because we simply don't know how to change. For so many years, I thought there was something wrong with me and that everyone else was moving along in their lives, reaching their goals and sorting out their challenges, and that I was the one who was missing something to be able to do that. This was the logic of my trauma brain, my overwhelmed, fight/flight exhausted mind and body thinking and collapsing into thinking there is no hope and certainly not for me.
I got tired of reading books about how broken I was, the terrible impact of child abuse and trauma. The broken relationships, the addiction, lack of self worth, the mental health challenges, the sick bodies that we are left with after our coping strategies fail because our body simply cannot continue with decades worth of toxic stress lodged into our nervous systems, our hearts, and beliefs. I was learning about all the negative impacts but still...
All survivors of child abuse and trauma are afraid to feel, accept, trust, and appreciate their uncomfortable or negative emotions. And there is a reason.
We fear and avoid these emotions because we never had a positive role model to teach us how to express sadness, grief, overwhelm, anger, pain, and anxiety in a healthy way. Instead, we got hurt when the adults in our life felt these challenging emotions. So we have no reason to believe that there is a safe to feel them.
However, developing the ability to feel, accept, trust, and appreciate all your emotions (the good, the bad, and the ugly) is a vital step on the healing journey. It’s impossible to heal if you skip over feeling the bad ones. You can't selectively numb feelings. When you numb the bad, you are numbing your ability to feel the good too.
So where do you start?
Feeling begins with awareness. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But it's not for survivors. The human brain is programmed to avoid pain at all costs....
The trauma from child abuse disconnects us from the truth we feel in our hearts. The healing journey is about finding your way back to your truth. Being able to feel again is how you do that. It's one of the incredible blessings of the healing journey.
We spend a lot of time learning how to safely feel and release our negative emotions like fear, shame, pain, and loneliness. But there comes a time when we need to learn how to feel positive emotions, too. Why? Because these emotions are our truth.
What is your truth? It’s the same as mine:
Slowly work your way down this list and practice “feeling” each of these truths. Allow them to saturate your heart, soul, body, and spirit until they become a part of you.
Actually, these truths have always been a part of you. The trauma of child abuse simply disconnected you from them. When I began to feel these...