My Journey to Healing From Abuse
Abuse is a very sobering reality. It is a hidden epidemic today. If you look around any room, the chances are fairly high that there are abuse survivors there. They’re among your friends, your colleagues, an strangers in the coffee shop. You don't know the story of the person sitting next to you on the subway. We all have interior scars. There are abuse survivors in every income level, of every ethnicity, in every age group and in every country.
I was not exempt from this statistic.
I was hit by my dad and watched him hit my mom and verbally abuse her as a child. As I grew up, I realized that my brain and body remembered those painful memories. My body would shudder when I would think about those moments. I would instantly flinch or my eye would twitch when people would talk about domestic abuse or friends would tease me by pretending to hit me. The pain of my dad's abuse was embedded in me and my body remembered and revisited this trauma sporadically through my life.
Since I witnessed my dad hitting my mom and I as young as 5 years old, those experiences got under my skin, and they changed the way I encountered men, dealt with security and reacted to stress.
As a child, I felt like I had to defend my mom and be her warrior. In a totally abusive environment, I had to be hyper-vigilant and ready to protect my mom. Is Dad going to come home angry? Do I need to stay up till he gets home to make sure he doesn't hurt my mom when he gets home? What should I do if it gets so bad I have to call someone? Do I have to watch out? I was anxious and very alert all the time – I got very good at changing the topic to diffuse tension and I was able to move the attention from my parents' anger to me. I became an expert at crisis intervention at the age of 7.
But that hyper vigilance and fear came at a cost. I felt like a heart broken watch dog – tired, alone and very afraid.
I started to notice how early trauma in my life made my body respond differently. I was like Chicken Little waiting to catch the sky’s pieces because every day felt like the sky was falling. My body would respond to any problem or obstacle, whether it be our car broke down or I got a bad grade, as if my adversity was as big as an earthquake or a fire. My heart would race, I would rack my brain for solutions and would spring into action and try to save the day. But being hyper –aware all the time eventually brought me down – I was perpetually sick with anxiety and fear and fell prone to the flu often. I would get sick because there was never a place I could be and not be vigilant about my family’s and my well-being and safety. I had become more vulnerable to problems when I had spent so much time trying to protect myself from obstacles.
As a child, I wanted desperately to feel safe. At home, one should feel safest there – their haven, their family, their comfort. But home became the most terrifying place. I could never rest or let my guard down because I didn’t know when a fight would break out at home.
Early adversity changed the way I would react to the stress of future obstacles – I felt like those tragic memories rewired my brain, and enabled me to have quick fix solutions but ultimately harmed the body I was trying to protect.
I knew I needed to change this vicious cycle so I started to speak to someone and it brought such healing. I went to consecutive monthly meetings that focused on healing my wounds, and correcting the inner vows and damaging thoughts that came to mind when I blamed myself and thought I deserved abuse.
Early abuse made me deeply afraid of failure because I associated being hit or being yelled at with being punished for failing or being “bad.”
Therapy helped me to take hold of those negative thoughts and assess the truth behind them based on other experiences in my life. Just because I was hurt by my dad does that mean that all men will hurt me? No they won’t. Just because I am afraid of failure, does that mean that all I will do is fail? No I will persist and fight through those fears with God’s help. Therapy and spiritual direction gave me resilience and showed me that I can rise from the ashes, that I don’t have to pick up the pieces right away and that I can ask for help.
Counselling helped me to articulate my suffering and helped me deal with the paranoia, suspicion, fear, shame and guilt that burdened me deeply. I started to believe in people again. I started to see that people would come through for me. I started to be more realistic, and more positive by believing that people are not all out to get me and that there is support out there for people like me.
I don’t deserve what I went through but I can make sense of my suffering and find layers of meaning in it now. Talking about the wound made the wound matter. It made the wound real. It helped me to mourn the wound and move on. The burden of shame was lifted. I was finally set free.
I am praying for you and if you were in a similar situation, don't lose hope and hold onto your true identity as a beloved daughter of God. In you He is well pleased!