Healing the injury of abuse is a monumental task.
As you delve into the effects of this injury to find that it has literally permeated all areas of your life, it can be quite daunting. Actually, daunting is an understatement—t can be completely and totally overwhelming and scary as hell.
So scary, in fact, it sends more people to a permanent, life-long cycle of self-harm (drug addiction, alcoholism, sex addiction, workaholicism, the drug of spirituality) than it does to the courageous, temporary journey through the darkness to healing.
I began my healing journey because I was not proud of the mother I was and because I needed to understand why a brilliant, beautiful, educated, successful woman would stay in an emotionally abusive relationship for as long as I did.
There are seven things that an abuse survivor needs to successfully take on in order to have the staying power to see this healing journey to its successful conclusion:
1. You need to know in the deepest reaches of your soul that you (and your children, if you have them) deserve to be happy and healthy.
I left my relationship the day I was absolutely positive that the Universe intends for me to be blissfully happy and I was not even close. That knowing is what has kept me going on the worst of days and gave me the courage every single day as I continued my journey through the darkest of dark nights. You need the staying power of that deep faith because that faith, at times, will be absolutely all you have.
2. You need a therapist you can trust fully and completely, who is kind, compassionate and who specializes in abuse survivors.
I’d been to several therapist before finding the guide to my recovery who has been an expert in the field for over 40 years and an abuse survivor himself. The therapists before him were “fluffy therapists.” They were therapists who look at only your issues, not the root cause of your issues. “Oh, you are in a bad relationship? Get out of it, join a meet-up, make some new friends. You are going to be fine….Next issue?” I’d told three therapist that I had no memories at all before the age of 10. I took Psych classes in Grad School for fun. I knew what this meant, yet none of those three therapists saw that as a screaming red flag.
3. You need to be willing to eliminate all drama from your life to heal.
Drama is another drug used to pretend the pain is not there. Plain and simple. Boundaries are critical to a happy, healthy life and something abuse survivors were not taught as children for a multitude of reasons.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”
~ Brene Brown
I wasn’t strong enough in the beginning to heal for myself. I had no love for myself, but I loved my children enough to do it for them. It didn’t take long for me to see therapy as the ultimate gift to myself, one I deeply deserved. As much as I now enjoy this present of self-care, it is not something I always wanted to do. Very early on, I realized that if I feel the need to talk about anything in therapy except my abuse, then I am wasting my time and whatever it is that is distracting me from myself is taking me longer to heal. I learned that my fear of the pain encouraged all drama in my life as a way to focus on others instead of focusing on the pain that I needed to address in order to heal.
4. See the triggers for the gifts of healing that they offer.
Often abuse survivors avoid triggers and pain. Who can blame them? They are surrounded by reminders all day, everyday. The life of an abuse survivor is extraordinarily challenging and sometimes completely debilitating, but when we see the triggers as the Universe’s signs of how to heal, the journey to happiness and health speeds up and begins to make a little more sense.
For two years, I had a panic attacks on my dark stairs every single night on my way to bed. My heart would race. I would break out in a cold sweat and I was unable to breath. I just knew someone was coming up behind me and they were going to kill me. To say this experience is unpleasant is a gross and vast understatement. This is a snapshot into what happens daily to an abuse survivor. Welcome to my world.
One night, I was just done. I knew there were answers in this feeling, but honestly, for two years, I was just too terrified to go there. I was exhausted and completely over it. I dropped to my knees on the stairs and said “Kill me. Please kill me.” Sitting on the stairs in a state of sobbing surrender, open and raw, the memories flooded into my awareness. The reason why the stairs had been a horrifying mystery for over two years. As the paralyzing terror lifted, deep relief filled that space then bliss at how strong I was, how far I’d come and all the work I’d done. I never had a panic attack on the stairs again.
5. In this journey to healing and self-love, friends, family and partners will fall by the wayside along the way.
Things that were okay with the loveless, boundary-less you before will no longer be okay. Healing as an abuse survivor is a solitary journey, a battle between you and you. Refer back to #1 and know with every cell of your being that you deserve better and that it is coming but to get there, you have to be willing to sit with yourself until you know, connect and love yourself with all you have, all you are and all you will become.
“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”
~ Bell Hooks
6. It is part of the journey, a big piece of recovery, knowing there is something bigger than you.
I learned to rely deeply on that which is bigger than me. Surrender is part of the process.
When I became brave enough I prayed, “Please, show me the pieces of me that need healing and guide me to the resources to heal.” It is a powerful prayer and it will not disappoint. You have to be ready for that prayer, not just to say it, but to tune in quietly and deeply listen to the guidance you get in return then act on it.
7. You have to be willing to forgive those that hurt you.
This is the final key to healing as an abuse survivor, the #1 biggest obstacle for most survivors.
I don’t mean just saying to them “I forgive you.” I mean, deeply, inside of you, releasing the dark energy that holds you captive in the prison with the open door.
This is where many abuse survivors start spewing hate and expletives at me then telling me their abuser doesn’t deserve it and that they have healed themselves without it. Trust me, I get that 110%. I did not forgive those who hurt me for them. I did it for me. Bottom line, any survivor who can’t see that just isn’t ready to be free.
More painful truth, as long as you hate them, as long as you hold the darkness you feel for the people that hurt you, they still own you. They might as well still be abusing you because they are still very much a part of your life.
When we see that we are all the same, that pain breeds pain, that pain can either be turned inward or inflicted on others, that is when we will find freedom. When we end the stigma of therapy and the silence of shame, that is when we can begin to find our way back to the Oneness of the Unconditonal Love intended by the Divine.
I wish someone had shared these seven things with me when I started my journey. I wish I had known what to expect instead of having to figure all this out on my own. I share these things with you today so that you know you are not alone and I’ll add, abuse survivors frequently sit in a lonely, debilitating, permanent state of “Why me?” depression.
Do not let your abuser have one more minute of your life. It is time to grieve the piece of you that was injured.
Depression is permanent. Grief is a process with a beginning and an end!
You are strong enough. You can do this. You deserve to be happy and healthy.
Author: Christie Del Vesco
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Flickr