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How Processing My Childhood Sexual Trauma Helped Me Work Through My Chronic Pain

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I was living a wonderful life until I ruptured a disc in my neck at age 40 — by rolling over in my sleep. This was an incredible shock for a former competitive gymnast who had never had a serious injury. Excruciating pain ensued, followed by neck surgery and years of chronic pain. My life was derailed. The pain was so intense I wanted to be dead. I tried everything the doctors suggested — with no resolution.

I finally gained lasting relief from the worst of the physical pain when I recalled what had happened to me in my childhood. At age 42, I had a dream that sparked my memory. My brother had molested me once when I was 10 years old. My subconscious hid this trauma from my conscious mind to help me survive, to allow me to live under the same roof with someone who had violated my body and my trust. Truly shocked by my own memory, I needed confirmation that my memory was accurate.

I contacted my brother. I felt incredibly lucky that he owned up to what he did. I later discovered that my brother had been molested at summer camp before he molested me. This helped me better understand why he did what he did. It helped reduce my confusion and anger. But intense negative emotions were still deeply buried inside me, as was my lingering chronic pain.

I’ve since spent the past 14 years working through my trauma with stints of intense holistic bodywork, wrenching trauma-based psychotherapies, and endless hours of cathartic writing. I even enjoyed kickboxing for a little while, but found it a bit too taxing on my still-injured neck. Through all this work, I dug into my mind and body to discover the deeply repressed emotions that have held me hostage: fear, anger, confusion, shame, and unworthiness, among others.

Just over 12 years post-memory, I was healed enough, both physically and psychologically, that I published my memoir. I initially feared how it would affect my brother and what others would think about my experiences. But keeping this secret inside my body was destroying me. I felt I couldn’t stay silent any longer, but I was still frozen with fear. I told my brother I’d written my story and wanted to publish it. When he graciously replied, “Do what you need to do,” I felt free to take the next step and share my memoir with the world.

Another year later, for the first time ever, my brother and I looked each other in the eyes while we spoke and cried about the incident. We had communicated about it over email in the years I was working through my emotions and pain, but we hadn’t spoken face-to-face. Since that moment that we spoke in-person, I no longer have a nebulous feeling of discomfort anytime someone mentions my brother’s name or proposes a family get-together.

My physical pain hasn’t completely gone away, but it is far less severe than it used to be. Furthermore, many of my negative emotions seem to have moved from the driver’s seat to the “way-back” seat of my childhood station wagon. Shame, however, is the most stubborn emotion that still holds a spot close to the front seat. But on the positive side, I’ve also begun to conquer other anxiety-based limitations that have affected me over the last 10 years, like the panic attacks I’ve had while driving. I also feel like I have an unburdened relationship with my brother again.

I appreciate that my brain generously repressed my memory so that I could live a wonderful life for 40 years. But the emotional pain was always there — buried deep in the recesses of my subconscious — until it came screaming out as physical pain. I learned that trauma does not go away when it is ignored or hidden — only when it is seen and acknowledged can it dissipate. I’ve worked on-and-off — at times quite intensely — at quelling my demons that were planted by a few minutes of childhood trauma. It has brought me to this place where I’m able to speak the words I couldn’t allow myself to even know for so long and where my relationship with my brother has mended in ways I never thought possible.

I share my story to underscore the reality of repressed memories (in my case, dissociative amnesia), to show that childhood sexual trauma — and countless other traumas — can ravage our bodies as well as our minds, and to prove that by healing from trauma, our physical bodies can begin to heal.

Maria Socolof is the author of “The Invisible Key: Unlocking the Mystery of My Chronic Pain.” You can find Maria at www.healingfromchronicpain.com and follow her blog at www.healingfromchronicpain.wordpress.com

Getty image by valentinrussanov.

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