Healing from abuse is a journey. Everyone who escapes abuse looks back on the road they traveled and, unless they have the support of a compassionate other to help them keep perspective, they often criticize themselves heavily for where they have been. You must remember that what you did to survive abuse was successful. You survived!
Healing comes from identifying choice-points and really understanding the available choices and having a sense of forgiveness for ourselves for the decisions made. Healing begins with deep understanding.
I am in the process of deep exploration of my own abuse history. Along the way, I am discovering truths about what that experience was for me. I am sharing a little piece of what I discovered with you today because when we can see into each others’ journeys and find commonality we feel just a bit less alone with where we have been.
All along the way in my journey to freedom from abuse in my life, I shut myself down the way you do when you decide to swim across a pool on just one breath. You decide to give up oxygen in trade for the accomplishment of being able to say you can do it and you take one big breath and start swimming as hard as you can after a forceful push off the wall. Under water, moments of truth confront you as your lungs scream for air and your initial momentum from pushing off the wall has given way to your power to use your arms and legs to save your life. You feel the pain in your lungs and you have the choice to give up your goal or to move forward with your decision that breath and life are less important than this one goal. You risk in favor of victory over your life and your need for survival and you strain against the growing pressure and pain in your lungs to be able to say that you made it to the other side without breathing. There is an end and, victoriously, you take in a great gasp of air on the other side. Breathing in life, you revel in your victory.
Abusive relationships are like that because pushing against our lungs is the pressure to continue to hold our breath just a minute longer in hopes that holding our breath will change how another person treats us. For me, living with my first husband (13 years) and the next man (5 years) and in the Mormon Church (40 years) was a marathon of holding my breath long enough to swim to the other side of the pool of being pleasing enough to others. The problem was that the other side of the pool – reaching the goal and filling my lungs with air and then relaxing and being myself – kept being extended. And I continued to make the choice to hold my breath. The wall at the other end of the pool: love and acceptance and self-esteem and confidence and freedom from anxiety. But I never reached the other side while I was still in the pool.Every time a choice point came for me, I chose to strain against the pressure to take a breath and continued moving forward, trying to reach the other side of the pool. I did this for a long, long time.
When you hold your breath long enough, you become the walking dead.
I took my first steps out of my Walking Dead status when I realized that trying to please this man or that man or the Church were never going to bring me the relief, acceptance, self-esteem and love that I so desperately needed. No. Those things had to come from me. I had to stop looking outside of me to fix what was broken. I started with me.
I had to stop running away from what was inside of me. Once I began moving toward me, healing began. Healing continues.
© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2015 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited. Tamara’s website where she provides podcasts and posts dealing with all aspects of healing from domestic violence can be found at http://www.2btru2you.com.