I began therapy 3 years ago, in mid-life. I remember introducing myself to the therapist by saying that ‘I lived a sheltered life and, while bad things happen in all families, I never experienced anything too awful and life could have been so much worse. I had been suicidally depressed for 20 years now and had 3 suicide attempts and many more near attempts and I have absolutely no reason why. I am at that point yet again and I can’t keep drowning like this.’ She happened to be a LCSW- Licensed Clinical Social Worker- and, while the VA had Psychologists examine me every few years, no one asked about any traumas I could remember in my history; the LCSW was the first person to ask what traumas I am aware of.
The things that I learned were so shocking, it’s no wonder I wasn’t coping. I have been exposed to various kinds of abuse with family, friends, and neighbors, including psychological (brain washing, identity robbing), mental, emotional, verbal (dignity and self-esteem crushing), physical, parentification and emotional incest, sexual assaults (early years incest on through to military ‘silent’ rape at 19), financial, and even spiritual abuses. My mother alone (also a trauma survivor and was a single parent) is likened to someone on a spectrum between malignant, Covert narcissist and psycopath (either with sadistic tendencies) and her side of the family, as a whole, have signs of being cult-like and sadistic; no room for any of us kids to thrive in. When my military experience came up in therapy, which was where I spiraled into depression and despair and hit my breaking point, this LCSW therapist had to tell me 6 times that I was raped; I had blocked out the memories of speaking with MP’s and such because I’d already learned to live in denial so deeply.
It was like an atomic bomb blew up in my mind and the illusion of the “sheltered life” I thought I had was shattered. It was devastating but at least now I understood why I was suicidal; I was broken long before I ever had a chance to know what it’s like to be whole. Over the past 3 years so many memories have come back, but without the cloak of denial. How does anyone come back from that kind of abuse?! How does a person not know?!
When you’re born into it, you’re never allowed to acknowledge it or even allowed to think that it’s not normal and, even if we do catch on, we can NEVER confront it or stand up for ourselves without retaliation and punishment. As children, our very lives depend on our caretakers and, when they are hurting us, we’re not given space to think badly of them so we absorb all the blame and shame into ourselves and feel defective in life and those moments in early childhood shape our view of the world and our inability to be a healthy part of it. We survived with every ounce of our emergency brain and whatever creative skills we could come up with. I believe, for myself, with the grace of Jehovah, the patience of a good therapist, and the reality of the support groups, I have been able to make strides in my new life and I appreciate the progress while I am still working at appreciating the process.
I have been diagnosed with Complex PTSD and Dissociative Disorders and Stockholm Syndrome. I escaped from my mom, even under threat of my safety and life 3 years ago, and a few months later I went no contact because my safety was still at risk. That’s when my life began, from my version of rock bottom. I have a therapist who specializes in Dissociative disorders and she is helping me through the complexity of my traumas. I am in a Domestic Violence Protection Program. Spiritually I am still struggling, even though I am now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (I wasn’t always and the majority of my family are not), because of the failings in structure of all religions and the traumas they can inflict in the name of God, but I do NOT blame Jehovah for what people do; as such, I am re-examining my own personal relationship with God, rather than try to be a model Christian according to other peoples standards.
Recognizing what happened and making changes to be no contact with my family doesn’t automatically make everything better. It’s a day to day fight to hold on to reality and to fight against the shame and secrets I was born to carry, but, over time, the suicidality has decreased- it used to be there with every breath but now it’s like the background static on the radio. I am learning what healthy friendships and families look like and I am learning how to have friends and be a friend. I am growing and developing cognitively and emotionally where I had been stunted all these decades. I am learning self-care instead of using all my energy to take care of everyone around me. (I like Matthew 22:39, where Jesus said “You MUST love your neighbor AS yourself.” which means if we’re going to love others they way Jesus demonstrated for us we MUST practice on ourselves; he was promoting the idea of self-care long before it became part of a therapeutic exercise.) I’m getting to know myself- to discover me- for the first time. All of this is terrifying, but also brings curiosity. This journey I am taking is one of a “Beautiful Disaster”.
Aside from therapy, I am also in Gracie Jujitsu- the Women Empowered (self-defense re-imagined just for women against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault; it takes care of the mental and emotional aspects of self-defense as well as physical; it’s like therapy in 3D) and Combatives (street defense) programs. I can say enough how beneficial thes programs are for survivors. They are helping me to fight back in my flashbacks… my brain now has 2 endings to the memories, the one that really happened and the one that I imagine would have happened if I had these skills and choices back then.
I still have a long journey ahead of me, but I am getting there one step at a time. I feel like I am fighting my way out of a chrysalis. People can cheer me on, but they can’t do the work for me because if they do I will remain underdeveloped and disproportionate and my wings will never fill out so I can dry them and fly to my new purpose with my new identity. I need this fight, my life depends on my coming out of the chrysalis on my own, but with all the encouragement and support those around me can muster, and I hope soon to be able to spread my wings and turn my pain into purpose. The ‘butterfly theme’ then, of course, is my favorite in the Beautiful Disaster line of clothing.
That is my story thus far, but there are many chapters yet to go.