You have to start somewhere.
There is so much to learn and understand, but where to start? I’ve lived on three different continents, and I know how blessed I am. Yes, it probably could be much worse. That being said, I still have to live with my problems and work them out. I’ve been thrown in the deep end, where it’s sink or swim, but my hands and feet have been bound together. I’m willing to fight for my life, but I haven’t the faintest clue of where or how to begin. Because of what I’ve come from, I don’t have the tools to overcome many of the difficulties I face. And no one can do it for me.
I’m all too familiar with the frustration of having others believe they have the right to tell me that there are others worse off than I am. I know. I think of the sex slaves all over the world, innocent children brutalized and starving all over the world.
It’s important for me to not delude myself into thinking that no one understands what I’m going through. Sometime, someone, somewhere on the planet, has gone through what I’m going through. Not exactly the same thing, because we are each unique, but close enough to take comfort in knowing we are not alone. But if you still truly feel you are utterly alone, here’s the truth: Christ understands your pain to a depth that you will never comprehend because He had to bear the burden for all of us. A little perspective can be helpful.
Knowing all that, I still didn’t know where to start.
How many times was I told to simply start somewhere! It sounded so easy, so I would, and quickly found myself discouraged because I couldn’t seem to stick to whatever it was I was trying to do. I’d finally realize that I was starting in the middle and missing important steps, but I didn’t know what those steps were, so I’d quit, discouraged.
I often felt like the only tool I’d been taught to use was a jackhammer, which doesn’t work when removing something as small as a nail — not without making a huge mess.
In trying to use the jackhammer to deal with a disagreement, one of my siblings called it the “scorched earth policy.” I had to make sure that my opponent wasn’t simply defeated, but obliterated. Not a bad plan when under full assault, but really lousy in an everyday type of disagreement.
Remember that what makes you special is your very uniqueness. Yes, others have endured horrible things, but people are not computers, an analogy that I’ve found in self-help articles and books, but with which I’ve always had trouble identifying. In what I’ve read, they suggested that one must wipe the hard drive and start over. The human brain is not a hard drive. It cannot simply be wiped clean and reformatted. Memories don’t vanish because we want them to cease to exist. And even if you don’t actually remember an event yourself, your body probably remembers at least some part of it. There are certain smells and sounds that cause flashbacks for me, not so much of specific events as feelings of fear or even nausea and headaches. There is no program to download and run to fix everything. Your ability to learn is unique to you. Some things you grasp quickly, and other things must be repeated over and over. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
God’s way is perfect, and think of the variety He created in all things. Remember too that God has actually given you everything you need, your spirit and your body; I believe that’s your soul. I don’t believe your body is evil anymore than your soul is. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Rejecting either is rejecting yourself.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of rejection. I can’t even complain about the weaknesses, because I have found that they can be strengths in and of themselves or they can become strengths. The difficult part is discovering the available tools and learning how to use them to the greatest advantage.
Jackhammers have their place, but their use is limited. So, this is a book about the wide variety of tools with which God has blessed each of us. The tools I wish I’d known were available to me all along. Actually, I knew they were there, but for the most part, I didn’t understand what they were or how to use them, let alone their adaptability. I’m learning. How and when you use them will be up to you.
Tools Outside Yourself:
Medication and Counselors
You’re driving to work and witness a horrible accident. You stop to help. One of the victims has a broken leg. One of the victims has a severe head injury and is bleeding profusely. One of the victims has no blood on them but seems dazed. Who, in their right mind, would say, “All you need is faith, and you’ll be fine”? No one. Anyone would call 9-1-1, and do whatever first aid they could, until the professionals arrived on the scene.
And yet abuse survivors, all too often, find themselves being advised to pray and have faith and all will be well, and thus are expected to fix the broken spirit, the bleeding heart, and the confusion of betrayal all on their own.
First and foremost, if you are suicidal, GET HELP. Again, there is nothing wrong with seeking help. It isn’t silly or foolish or weak. It takes incredible strength and courage. There are hotlines and clinics. I recognize that this is scary, in part because some people who are there to “help” really aren’t. I’ve been abused by “good” church members and professionals, who should have been helping me. I know of counselors who required the victim to relive what happened to them, over and over and over, never allowing them to move on. I know of counselors who used their position to abuse victims. I know of teachers who used their position of authority to exercise power and control over students. Any field that requires helping someone in need is a potential magnet for a predator. Predators know where to find their victims. That being said, I’ve also had three fantastic counselors. I never said this would be easy.
Knowing how to solve a problem starts with understanding the nature of the problem. If you have a chemical imbalance, no amount of counseling, pep talks, or positive self-talk will help for more than a brief time, and may make it worse for the simple reason that it’s discouraging to realize you should be doing better and you aren’t. So find out if medication is needed. If it is, take it. It isn’t weak, any more than are such things as eating food to stay healthy, drinking water to stay hydrated, sleeping to restore your health, exercising to stay fit, or wearing a coat in a blizzard. Only you have the power to decide to take care of yourself and follow through on that decision. You are worth it, even if you don’t believe it, yet.
You do need to realize that there is a difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a counselor, and a life coach. A psychiatrist is a licensed physician, which means he/she can prescribe medication. A psychologist is licensed in the field of psychology but not medicine, so they can’t prescribe medication, but they usually are willing to work with your family doctor. A counselor is usually trained in helping with the management of abuse and addictions, whereas a life coach is geared toward the everyday running of your life. At least, that’s my perception.
A hot line can help you and so can your family doctor in your efforts to find a qualified counselor, someone with whom you are comfortable, but not too comfortable. Your counselor is not your friend. Neither is your counselor a crutch. Your counselor is your guide, someone to bounce ideas off of or look to for what is healthy. Let’s face it, if you’re reading this book, something in your life isn’t healthy, and you know it. You also know that you have to do the work. If you’re not willing to do the work, then you might as well save your money and your time, and accept your life as it is.
If you aren’t comfortable with your counselor, find someone else. Let me clarify that: you will feel uncomfortable. This is new, and scary, and you are about to reveal things you may have never told anyone before. That is really uncomfortable.
The type of uncomfortable I’m talking about is that feeling you have when something feels “off.” You know what that feeling is, though you may not trust it.
It may not be the counselor, per se. It may be that they remind you of your abuser. It could be the way they talk, the way they dress, the scent they wear, or their mannerisms. Then again, some counselors should be in counseling themselves not counseling others. Let this be an opportunity to learn about trusting yourself, including discovering that the difficulty you’re having with them may be surmountable with some work and effort. Take the opportunity to grow and change. Again, nothing about this is easy.
When I found myself faced with counseling the first time, it was as a referral from the self-help line, where I was employed. I briefly outlined the problem, and the company arranged for me to see a counselor; all I had to do was make the appointment. Blessedly, the person I talked to went one step further, beyond recommending the counseling. They also advised that I ask for a woman counselor. I did precisely what I was told to do. I called to make an appointment. They told me I could see a counselor that very week. I remembered what I had been told to do and asked if the counselor was a woman. Well, no, but there wasn’t an appointment available with a woman for three weeks. Fine. I wanted the woman. They tried to talk me into coming sooner; I stuck to what I’d been told to do. I needed that specific direction. It was an unconscious step toward standing up for me.
My first counselor was exactly what I needed, at that time. And there was so much I never told her, largely because I didn’t know those memories or situations were problems. I also struggled with not believing many of my own memories were even real. How could those nightmares be true? I didn’t see the point of telling her about things that hadn’t actually happened. They hadn’t happened, had they? They were too awful to be true, weren’t they?
It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that those memories were real. That was when I started sessions with my third counselor, who was a man.
The second counselor showed up in my life several years after the first and several years before the third. I also saw my second counselor for only a year. Like the first one, we felt like we had gone as far as we could, and it was time for me to move on.
The first had acknowledged my religious faith and encouraged me to incorporate it into my healing process, but she didn’t know much about it, so it was in my own hands. The second counselor shared my faith and used it to help me, but I still didn’t believe many of my memories were real.
You can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge, but sometimes you must wait to acknowledge particular memories until you’re truly ready to face them. Putting off facing some issues is not always a bad thing. Some things should be left in the past permanently, remembering only enough to admit the truth. I remember being molested by one person only twice, one of which being the last time. I have no complete memory of either episode. Yet, I know there was a long-term pattern, because of my responses to later events. But I don’t need or want to remember any more.
My third counselor came years later, and I worked with him for over five years. We met about every three months, until he moved. I needed a “touchstone,” someone to double check with to be sure I was still headed in the right direction; someone to remind me what was healthy and what wasn’t.
One of the things I especially liked about my counselors was that I paid them to be on my side. But more importantly, because they didn’t know my family, I felt I could talk to them without feeling like I was betraying my family. It’s part of the abuse mentality; though you have been betrayed repeatedly, you worry about betraying anyone else, because you know how devastating it feels.
A counselor is someone outside the situation. They may not understand, but part of counseling is giving yourself an opportunity to explore a different point of view. I lost count of the number of times one of my counselors would say, “Have you considered…” and I’d realize I hadn’t.
It’s also a good opportunity to learn to calmly disagree and stand up for yourself. Your counselor shouldn’t belittle you or degrade you. If they do, then find a different counselor, immediately. You don’t need one more source of abuse.
And just for the record, don’t abuse your counselor. They are there to help you. This is the perfect place to practice respect, for your counselor and for yourself. If your counselor comes to realize that they aren’t qualified to work with your situation, respect their decision to pass you to another counselor. Ultimately, this is for your benefit. Again, if you’re not willing to do the work, then save your money and everyone’s time. And yes, it’s hard.
There are a lot of great books. Hunt them down. Allow God to guide your search. You’re allowed to take books back to the library before you finish them, if you find the one you’re reading isn’t helpful. You may find yourself looking for a specific book, and as you look at the books on the shelf you may feel a gentle nudge to choose the book next to it, or one a few books away.
I’ve thrown away books that I’ve purchased because I not only didn’t like them, but I thought they were so awful that I didn’t want to inflict them on anyone else. I’ve also found books that were all right, but I didn’t want to keep them, so I’ve given them away to someone I knew wanted it or to the local library. Then there are the books I keep, to re-read and reference. Books can be a great help with your ongoing project, learning to be healthy, because they are written evidence that others struggle as you do and have hunted for their own answers.
This will be touched on throughout the book, but I wanted to be sure to mention it at the start, because it has influence every day.
It’s a struggle to realize that I should be on my own side, but often I’m not. This is what this process is all about.
God is on my team. Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are my mentor and guide. Prayer, scripture study, and church are all tools I use to include God in my life.
Over the years, with God’s help, I have been able to make a few minor changes, but nothing compared to what I had anticipated when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. Though I was baptized as a child, and I did believe Christ was my Savior, it was more a general knowledge than a truly personal one. I was in my twenties when I had an experience that made my Savior’s sacrifice for me very real and very personal. I knew that what Christ endured was horrific, and He did it for me. And if I had been the only person on the planet, He still would have gone through it all for me.
It was that experience that made me realize that Jesus Christ is the only person that has ever truly been alone. In those final moments on the cross when He cries out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Christ had to make that final choice alone. And He knew he would. He did it because He loves each and every one of us that much and more. We may feel alone, but we never are alone. God is there.
There are family members, friends, and acquaintances that I consider team members, but there are some people that I’ve learned to accept are not interested in helping me become a better person. Over the years, I’ve ended a number of relationships when I realized that they were unhealthy. The healthier I become, the healthier my relationships become. As I meet new people, I’m learning to recognize much more quickly those relationships that have potential and those that will be detrimental to my health.
There is no easy way to build your team. It takes time and energy and effort. You are worth it.
From here on, it’s all about you, and what you can do.
I’ve read books, been in counseling, watched television shows, taken classes, and learned a lot. In every instance, I was searching to be happy. It wasn’t until recently that I finally realized that a large part of the problem was that I not only didn’t know HOW to be happy, I didn’t actually know WHAT happy was like for me. Sure, I could see a picture, watch a movie, read a book and recognize the trappings of being happy, but I hadn’t the faintest idea of how to get THERE from HERE.
I thought that if I smiled and laughed I was happy. It never occurred to me that doing those things on the outside didn’t count as happiness if I was screaming and crying on the inside or stuffing all those painful emotions out of sight.
Everything I studied told me that all I had to do was follow certain steps, and I would be happy. Accept God. Think good thoughts. Give service. Be good. Do good.
All good things. And I would be happy, for a brief moment.
As time passed, I decided that perhaps what I was truly seeking was peace of mind and heart. I was told that all I needed to do was follow certain steps, and I would be at peace. Accept God. Think good thoughts. Give service. Be good. Do good.
Still all good things. And I would be at peace, for a brief moment.
I was still screaming and crying inside, if I felt anything at all. I had reached the point where I no longer cared about being happy. I’d given up on happiness. All I wanted was lasting peace. I’d settle for peace, most of the time.
How many times was I asked, “Are you praying?” “Are you reading your scriptures?” “Are you attending church?” “Are you giving service and volunteering regularly?” When I answered, “Yes,” I was then told, “You just need to keep doing those things, and everything will work out.”
I remember hearing one speech where I was told to do those things, and if the answers hadn’t come yet, it was because I hadn’t been doing those things long enough.
I was devastated. How long is long enough?
I was growing wearier and wearier of living in those dark places.
Then I realized I was seeking for peace and happiness out of sequence. I wanted the end result without all the work that came first. I had to learn to ask different questions, like: How could I be happy or at peace when I didn’t know what being happy or at peace would look like for me? I have an excellent working knowledge of both concepts, but no clue whatsoever of how it would look in my own life let alone how to apply them in my own life. Worse, I know I’ve enjoyed them, from time to time, only to sabotage them within myself before someone else could.
If one of my abusers knew I was in a good mood, they would say something mean. It would make me sad, and then they would say something to cheer me up. Then they would turn around and say something else mean. I was an adult before I figured out what they were doing. They wanted to make me happy, even if it meant making me miserable first. Unfortunately, I learned the lessons well, and now when I’m happy I’ll still occasionally say something snarky to myself, without even realizing what I’ve done, and I’m in the dismals again, for a time.
It took me a long time to realize that this process is not a once and done. Somehow I thought that if I did everything right once, then everything would be better from now on. I’ve finally come to realize that this truly is an ongoing project, for the rest of my life. This is about building healthy habits. Habits are something you do on a regular basis.
Remember that negative tape I told you about in Chapter One? That’s an unhealthy habit. I know you have your own — the one that plays over and over, telling you how awful you are, how unlovable, how unworthy, etc? It has an automatic play button.
Can you believe I used mine to help me settle down at night, so I could sleep? Yes, I actually found the tape comforting, familiar, and it could calm my racing thoughts. How messed up is that?
What hope did I have of stopping the vicious cycle?
© 2010 The Project: The Tools I Wish I’d Known About Sooner / My Abuse Survivor’s Basic Toolkit by Judy