Some surprising ways I have healed from childhood sexual abuse
You’ve made that first difficult, brave but significant step and told someone about the sexual abuse or rape you have endured. Perhaps you have progressed further and received some therapy. At this point I hope you have come further than you could have ever imagined from those dark hours, days and even years that have consumed more time than you thought possible. Think about that for a moment. No matter where you are in your journey, you have moved forward. You are no longer hiding this dark secret, you have let it go by telling someone. There is a real freedom in that.
Speaking and talking through our experiences helps us to make sense of our feelings. I find speaking to others and sharing my worries a truly empowering experience and I get a lot of solace from it. It hasn’t always been that way though. Keeping silent for six years whilst my stepfather was abusing me took its toll on my verbal communication. When I am particularly stressed or under pressure, I still go into shut down, my powers of communication recede dramatically and I can become insular and silent again, a child once again locked in with my own private dementors.
Having counselling was a lot like pulling teeth at the beginning, but gradually with the encouragement of my counsellor and a lot of hard work from me, I started to realise the benefits of talking things through. The process has helped me to check in with myself and recognise when I am feeling negative emotions and be aware of them. Counselling has also taught me a lot about acceptance.
Acceptance is another powerful emotional tool in our box. When I recognise myself going through the motions of shutting down, edging back from society, friends, my husband and even my children, I try to practise acceptance. The faster I can accept that I am not feeling quite right, that my emotions and negativity are beginning to dominate my everyday life, I consciously tell myself that I am not feeling 100% right now; I consciously acknowledge that I cannot be fighting fit every day, and I accept that this feeling does exist, that it is real. It sounds trivial, the idea of acceptance, but when I can acknowledge and truly accept my negative feelings, they seem to swim away until after a few days, I have bounced back and I feel as if the world is a far nicer place once again.
For more clarity on the art of acceptance, Windy Dryden’s ’10 Steps to Positive Living’ *1 explores this in greater detail.
As well as receiving counselling with Family Matters UK, I have tried other methods of healing with various degrees of success. I am a great reader and there are many useful books out there that can help us to heal and deal with our experiences. I will list the books I have found the most helpful at the end of this blog. Exercise, yoga, meditation, eating healthily, spending time with friends and loved ones all have important roles to play in our emotional wellbeing. I would like to talk about the more surprising methods that have worked for me.
Some people are very uncomfortable with crying, especially the British. I know, because I am a Brit. I am also a crier. I don’t care, I am a crier and you know what they say, its better out than in. I recently had an unexpected experience in a Yoga class (another fantastic tool in my recovery box). I was doing some routine chest stretches when suddenly my head started to swim and I felt an overwhelming tide of emotion overcome me. Halfway through my class, I can honestly say, I cried and cried, and cried some more, loudly and without pause, I cried with a force that surprised me, and certainly surprised the rest of the class. And you know what, I was a little embarrassed and miffed as to why that exercise had caused such a dramatic reaction A few members of the class were clearly a bit uncomfortable with my public display of grief, but I was also amazed at the positive responses I also received. One of the class members approached me in the coming weeks to tell me how empowering she had found my crying. Others confided how they found their own tears difficult to access ad they would love to be able to release in that way.
I have always feel much, much better after a good cry, it’s a significant release, and after reading Judith Oriole’s article in Psychology Today, I understand why. She sites Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis who through his research has discovered that our emotional tears contain stress hormones which get extracted when we cry, which “shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress”. This would explain why, after a good cry, we feel calmer and more peaceful as “Typically, after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.”
That’s why crying for me is always courageous, authentic and strong.
Recognising our traumas in our bodies
Over a period, I have become much more aware of the stress that sexual abuse or rape leaves behind in the memories of our bodies. We often apply body memory to sports practises but times of intense stress also leave a memory print in our bodies. Body memory is a hypothesis that the body itself can store memories, as opposed to only the brain. Our bodies react to stress in various ways – perhaps by our hearts beating faster, holding our breath, swallowing down air, holding tension in our stomachs, amongst other things. Many experts believe this stays in your body as trapped energy.
I have found connecting to my body through yoga and breathing techniques has made me far more aware of where my body holds stress and anxiety. Using this knowledge in alternative therapies has allowed me to release a lot of anxiety from my tummy, an area where I have held butterflies and tensions for many years.
An interesting article by Side Effects Public Media explores the effects of childhood trauma and how it shapes the brain and examines the benefits of yoga to help release these emotions and reshape the brains pathways.
One of my most surprisingly successful and enduring alternative therapies has been EFT, or Emotional Freedom Techniques.
EFT is a relatively new discovery but draws from traditional practices of acupressure. It is often referred to as “psychological acupressure”. The technique works by releasing blockages within the energy system which are the source of emotional intensity and discomfort. These blockages in our energy system, in addition to challenging us emotionally, often lead to limiting beliefs and behaviours and an inability to live life harmoniously. It is now widely accepted that emotional disharmony is a key factor in physical symptoms and dis-ease and for this reason these techniques are being extensively used on physical issues, including chronic illness with often astounding results. As such these techniques are being accepted more and more in medical and psychiatric circles as well as in the range of psychotherapies and healing disciplines. The Energy Centre
My own experiences with EFT began 12 years ago when I was living in Muswelll Hill, North London. when I happened upon a therapist that practiced EFT in Crouch End. I was originally searching for hypnotherapy, but the information I was reading about EFT was compelling and I wanted to know more. I was also desperate for a fix to my emotional pain , preferably a quick and painless one (aren’t we all?!) and the article I was reading seem to tick all of those required boxes. I was suffering with acute panic and anxiety whenever I was required to be intimate with my boyfriend and my fear was destroying the relationship. Something had to be done and fast. Simply tap the body in certain areas and relieve emotionally crippling symptoms. Tick, tick, tick. Cynical but desperate, desperation won and I found myself in another therapy room.
My therapist asked me to think about the issue that was bothering me. I felt the familiar wave of shame, self-disgust, guilt, wash over me. She told me to find my ‘Sore Spot’ or the Neurolymphatic point and press down in circular movements whilst focusing on these negative emotions. She then tapped me on different points or meridians on my face and body. Then she instructed me to repeat over and over the following. ‘Even though I have this anxiety with intimacy, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.” This was repeated three times.
To say that EFT had a profound effect on me is an understatement. Twelve years later, I still pinch myself a little. Two very profound things happened to me after my first session. The intense memories of the sexual abuse no longer had any emotion attached to them. I could (and still do) watch the scene of myself in the bed with my stepfather and it’s like a video is being played, I simply don’t feel anything. Also, the very next morning, I woke up and without any prior conscious warning, I decided that the relationship that I was in was no longer fulfilling me. After a morning of frank and honest discussions about our happiness together, we both agreed that we were not happy together anymore and after five years together we parted ways. I do not know if this is some huge coincidence but something in that session centred me and changed my energy quite profoundly. I knew completely and absolutely that it was time to move on. Only shortly after I became romantic with the man who is now my husband and the father of my two boys.
I am not completely free of the pain that I suffered as a child, the abuse has shaped my life and who I am as a person. It does not define me though and there are many other facets to me than the abuse. I try to remember how far I have come, the many journeys of self-discovery I have taken and doubtlessly always will. I love and accept myself for who I am and the experiences I have had. I can only write about my experiences and what works for me. Others will have had very different journeys to find their inner peace. Whatever your journey is just remember to accept, love and be kind, the rest will follow when you are ready.
If you have experienced sexual abuse or rape, then there are people who can help you.
UK: Family Matters UK offer support services for male and female survivors of rape and sexual abuse
By Joleene Gonzalez