What Recovery From Childhood Abuse Looks Like for Me
Editor’s note: If you have experienced physical or emotional abuse or suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
Since January, I have worked so hard to grow as a person, a period of strong self-discovery. Facing up to the pain I have held inside for 34 years, I am now in what I think I’d like to call recovery.
I believe living through childhood abuse, of any kind (for me, physical and emotional), can often mean you do not gain an identity. You can grow up with a hole that cannot be filled. You can become an adult who truly believes it was your fault, that you are damaged — broken so badly you’ll never be whole again. That your childhood self must have been as disgusting as you felt. I often feel like the man in the story where everything he touches turns to gold — this is the effect I felt I had on everything and everyone in my life. Ruining anything I come into contact with.
Recovery for me means not just knowing these things were not my fault, but believing it. I am at the stage where I am believing it. OK, it’s not all day every day — I’m not even sure I’ve had a whole day yet. But it’s a start.
Writing has helped me gain the identity I should have grown as a teenager. I realized over the past few days especially, that my mindset is changing. At times, I find myself suddenly making “self-care decisions” automatically. That is coming from a person who didn’t know what self-care was, other than in destructive ways.
And I guess, recovery therefore also has to include forgiveness. Forgiving myself. I can look back, and feel angry and upset at the ways I’ve treated myself, the things I’ve allowed my brain to tell me, the way I’ve left the bully in my head to continue the abuse me into my 30s. And believe me, I am angry and upset at myself. But what does that produce other than more anger and destructiveness?
A few years ago, my mental health nurse at the time told me she was amazed at the strength I must have to still be standing. I shrugged off her compliments. She then told me she could see me one day writing a book about my life, and how I have survived. She said I should be proud, and could inspire others. I shrugged that off too.
That mental health nurse, although her journey with me was short, helped me more than she’ll ever know.
I have frequently thought about her words, when I see how far I’ve come in my journey. A journey which started a few years ago, with training I had about safeguarding and attachment. My world crumbled around me, as I realized I had been one of those children who needed safeguarding. I was a child who had displayed disorganized attachment. This was the cause of my mental health issues. My core beliefs all stemmed from my childhood.
I tried to ignore these truths, but deep down I knew. I just knew. I had always known. Even at the age of 4 or 5, I knew. The abuse I endured was not as extreme as cases you hear about in the news, but it was still damaging in every sense. It destroyed every part of who I was, who I could have been and who I am now.
Recovery has meant letting go of who I could have been. It has meant letting go of what I have been though. Letting go has meant looking at who I am now, and acknowledging the pride I feel. I have survived. I have survived physical and emotional abuse. I have survived two complete mental breakdowns. I have survived such extreme pain due to hypermobile Ehlers-Dalos syndrome.
Most of all, my pride surrounds my parenting. There have been no concerns about my children in the whole 9 years I’ve been under the mental health team. In fact, I’ve been praised over and over that I am ensuring my girls have the life I deserved. They are happy, polite, funny, intelligent and a general joy to be around. They are well-behaved when we are out and strangers often compliment me about my children — which I am often so taken aback at. And all of this is not caused by fear. They do not fear a battering or verbal abuse, nor being bellowed at in their faces. All of this is down to good parenting and mutual respect.
I am not perfect, I have made mistakes. All parents do. But I have made genuine, heartfelt apologies to my children, with no strings attached. And yes, at home, they shout and scream and argue with me. At times I’ve been hit, and told I am hated. Not once have I ever retaliated with my fists, nor my words.
The hardest thing to let go of, has been my fantasies. Fantasy is one of the methods that kept me alive. I got lost in books — without those books I read over and over, I’d not be here. I’m sure of it. Matilda by Ronald Dahl was one of them. I have lost count of the times I’ve read it. We took my children to see the theatre production last year. I cried silently, watching my children — so full of joy, watching one of their favorite stories, safe… And as I silently cried, I started to let go of the “Miss Honey” fantasy. No one was coming to save me.
All of these steps of recovery have come with great periods of grief. So much that it suffocated me. Some days, even weeks, it still does. But I have been through enough to know at some point, I will fight through it.
The grief often emerges as flashbacks fill my mind, of me at my girls’ ages. The pang of pain, like I’ve been stabbed not only in the centre of my heart, but in the centre of my soul. One of the toughest parts too has been to learn the quickest way to deal with this pain is to let it come. To let it wash over me like a tsunami — to stand and face it, but to remain standing until it has lost its power. Tears normally help with this. Lots of tears. But there are still many times, functioning as a protective mechanism, that my brain disconnects from the pain and my emotions. I cannot cry.
It took 10 months of therapy to get me to even be able to cry at all. That psychologist told me, if she could prescribe me anything, it would be tears, four times a day, every day. I thought this was such a strange thing to say, and I was so determined to not let anyone see my pain, that I fought it for years. I look back and think, What a silly girl I was. But this is where the last piece of the puzzle fits in. I now look back with kindness. I understand. I can empathize and be compassionate to all of my younger selves. Even the ones I’ve spent my life wanting to destroy.
I wanted to share with you a poem I wrote at the end of February, and the significance it’s had in defining my recovery from childhood abuse. The words obsessively went round and round my head until I put them to paper. It’s one of the easiest things I’ve written, the words flowed onto the page so smoothly.
Recovery for me means this poem, these words, they are still inside. They still visit me. They always will. Recovery for me means accepting that. Recovery means believing these words. My own words. Words that came so easily to my paper.
I realize, finally, that I have saved myself.
Death is calling
Death, you are calling me.
You call my name,
Louder, louder, louder.
Death, some days, all I can hear is you calling my name.
Death, you intrigue me.
Why do you call my name so loudly?
You have called my name since my earliest memories.
Death, you are persistent, but so am I.
Death, sometimes I beg for you.
Please, just make it stop,
Louder, louder, louder.
Death, you taunt me, just make it stop.
Death, you pretend to be my answer.
I have held you in my hands,
Many, many times.
Death, you are a liar, I am stronger than you.
Death, I will laugh in your face,
Over, and over.
This is my life, my precious life.
Death, now is not the time, I am not ready.
Death, you still may taunt me,
You still may call my name,
Louder, louder, louder.
But death, I will reply with life… My life.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via Archv.