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As you move through these stages again and again, you will reach a point of integration. Your feelings and perspectives will stabilize. You will come to terms with your abuser and other family members. While you won’t erase your history, you will make deep and lasting changes in your life. Having gained awareness, compassion, and power through healing, you will have the opportunity to work toward a better world.1
Personalize the diagram with needs or tools to benefit your own recovery (created by Paula Brave).
Money Visualization Positive Affirmations Fun Beauty Volunteer Work Music Reading
Saffetty Sa e y Fiirstt F rs
Do No Harm Reaching Out Health Breaking Silence Hotlines
Therapy Acceptance Learning
Recreation Career Life Purpose
You are the Center
Understanding Believe! Supportive Friends/Family
Anger Work Re-parenting
Spirituality Journaling Art
Movement BREATH Self-Love Confidence
Stress Management Grief Work 4
‘Resolution of the trauma is never final; recovery is never complete. The impact of the traumatic event continues to reverberate throughout the survivor’s lifecycle. Issues that were sufficiently resolved at one stage of recovery may be reawakened as the survivor reaches new milestones in [their] development.3
Nonlinear Healing By Paula Brave
Creation of the images included in this article was sparked through my own reading. I designed the illustrations to help convey concepts that I am still coming to understand. The “Nonlinear Stages of Healing” diagram was a combination of several different resources that I have noted in my bibliography1,3,4. I choose a vin diagram because I liked the way the stages continuously overlapped. I placed a heart in the center of the diagram so I would never forget that I am the most important part of healing … no matter what stage/stages I happen to be in that day. The tools are just floating freely about the stages that they might be most useful for. Of course, the tools I have listed are not the only ones available so feel free to add on or move them around as needed. Below are some smaller illustrations on what “Healing is NOT” suppose to be. They are mostly my sense of humor and were inspired by ‘Common Misconceptions about Healing’5. About 20 years ago, I had considered the sexual abuse healing stages as a checklist. I proceeded through them step by step like a recipe for a cake. I thought that if I followed all the stages as a carefully designed procedure, then I would not only have a scrumptious cake but I would also be “COMPLETELY HEALED”. A Recipe for Healing (CAUTION: sarcasm in use here) 1 cup of grief 2 cups of depression 3 crisis calls ½ teaspoons of counseling 1 ¼ teaspoons of anger 3 cups of journaling ½ teaspoon confrontation 1 cup of prayer and meditation 1 teaspoon of moving on Bake in denial until that period of crisis is over or you are a flakey golden brown. Apply your favorite icing and/or antidepressants.
Healing is not a linear process…
I raced forward to the “last stage” so I could be “done” with this part of my life. I actually thought that some how my sexual abuse history of would be erased and my family of origin would reconcile and become functional.
Healing is not a race to a finish line …
My memories did not go away. My family did not reconcile. My parents and brothers (the abusers) viewed reconciliation as an opportunity for me to apologize for making such a fuss and conceding that my brothers’ raping of me for several years was not such a big deal. My family had been dysfunctional for many years so it was not going to suddenly become functional just because I was in recovery. Since my goal was to reach the final stage of healing, it then became necessary for me to define what this last stage was. At first, I had considered disclosure/confrontation as the “last stage” of healing. My first disclosure was with one of my abusers and was to confirm if this atrocity did happen to me. Surprisingly, my oldest brother was honest with me and admitted to his part in the sexual abuse. I was really hoping that he was going to tell me that I was crazy because this type of truth was not what I wanted to face at 14 years old. My second disclosure was accidental and came when I was 16 years old. It involved my mother coming across my journals filled with my anguish over the incest. This accidental disclosure turned into a heart wrenching confrontation between me and my parents that lasted about 15 years. The third confrontation came when I was 21 years old and was with my second oldest brother, AKA the main perpetrator of the abuse. This confrontation brought me further humiliation and shame. This brother’s memorable quote of “it’s not like I put a gun to your head” will go down in my personal history as one of the most brainless things anyone has ever said to me. Although many opportunities for disclosure/confrontation made themselves available to me, few to none of these events brought me the comfort that I was searching for. Most of the time the responses from others only brought me further harm. Next I considered forgiveness as the “last stage” of healing. But my idea of forgiveness was for me to apologize for upsetting the family and to pretend that I was okay. This did not work. The pain mounted and finally exploded.
Healing is not just for times of crisis…
With thinking like this, it is no wonder that I continued to question what was wrong with me. Why was the sexual abuse still bothered me? Why did I still have flashbacks of haunting memories? And why did my cake resemble a pancake that could be used for a roofing shingle? (At least that was how I felt inside) Healing became an endless labyrinth of despair.
Healing is not a labyrinth of mazes …
After I had children and they got to the age of when I was abused, I found myself severely depressed and wondering why I could not be like “normal” mothers (for that matter, “normal” anything!). This was when I began to realize that healing from childhood sexual abuse is nothing like making a cake. Healing is a nonlinear on-going daily process. There is no magic formula. There is a reason why my memories do not go away.
Although there are many healing tools available…
Granny Paula’s All Purpose Snake Oil ~
There is not one “Cure-All” what for ails you.
Seeing my children at the same age of my abuse did trigger memories to come back in full force. Although the memories were painful and frightening, they helped me to slowly learn and grow. They forced me to face some issues I was ignoring. Such as: Do I want to continue pretending that everything is wonderful between me and my brothers (aka my perpetrators)?; Did I really want to continue to take my children to family functions that my brothers attended?; And how long was I going to pretend that I was not depressed? Child sexual abuse did not have to be something that I passed on (or enabled it to be passed on) to my kids like a crippling disease. I examined sexual abuse prevention for my children in order to break the generational cycle within my family. I became gentler with myself. I stood up to my mother and told her that I did not want to celebrate anymore holidays with my brothers. Surprisingly both of my parents took me seriously (for the first time!) and slowly our relationship is starting to heal. My children helped me to realize how small and defenseless I was as a child. This helped me to take another step toward self-forgiveness and placing blame where it belonged … – with perpetrators of the abuse.
Will I Ever Get Over It?
Healing is not linear. It is not an end-point destination. Healing is a process, a journey. It's an on-going process that takes on new meaning as you learn and experience in new things. Many times healing is defined as forgetting about the assault or abuse. Actually, healing is in the remembering. Healing is learning how to manage what we remember and using it to help us grow. Many times healing is defined as not feeling anything about the assault or abuse. Actually, healing is in the feeling. Healing is learning how to feel our feelings and manage them in ways that help us grow. Healing is not an easy process. It takes time, effort, and patience. Your survival is a testimony to your ability to protect and take care of yourself. Believe in yourself! Give yourself permission for this time of healing.
References: 1. Bass, E. & Davis, L. (1988). The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. New York: Harper & Row. Felitti, VJ. (2002) The Relationship Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Health: Turning Gold into Lead. The Permanente Journal, 2002; 6:44–47. <www.acestudy.org/docs/GoldintoLead.pdf> Herman, JL. (1992). Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books. McGregor, K. (2001). Therapy Guidelines: Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Wellington: ACC Healthwise. <http://www.acc.co.nz/wcm001/groups/external_providers/documents/internet/wcm2_020341.pdf> Miller, DA. (2000) Common Misconceptions about Healing. <http://www.advocateweb.org/HOPE/healing.asp> Teicher MH. (2002) Scars That Won't Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse. Sci Am. 2002 Mar; 286(3):68-75. <www.annafoundation.org/stwh.pdf>
The ACE study and the neurobiology of child abuse are two pieces of writing that are not really part of the illustrations but deserve recognition for providing me with inspiration. They helped give me further understanding of just how life altering trauma is and that one does not just “Get over it”2, 6. I know that my healing journey is still evolving and that my views are definitely not a definitive source and are open to other interpretations. Please feel free to check into the resources that I offered and into resources of your own to draw your own conclusions. Make it YOUR healing journey!
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