Saturday, August 7, 2010
Bring Back Play After Sexual Abuse & Trauma
Anyone who has experienced a trauma is considered a victim in that they have actually experienced victimization.
The word victimization means to "treat unfairly for punishment or ill treatment." Or, to "slay as or like a sacrificial victim." I'm not talking about the victims that are complaining about a loss of a job, or because they got into a fender bender, or the one's whining that dad swore at them one time in their lives or didn't get what they wanted. I think you understand the differences. There is an importance to understand the differences because the word victimization has been used very lightly in the spiritual and religious groups.
1.) The victim stage refers to the period of time when a person is experiencing post-traumatic symptoms such as depression, shock or anxiety. There may also be symptoms of PTSD such as flashbacks and nightmares.
For me, this stage lasted for many years. The nightmares are no longer happening but flashbacks continue to happen especially when there is discussion of the topic. The flashbacks aren't so scary anymore, though. I know how to deal with them. They are bringing deeper awareness of why I may be behaving in a particular way. I still have many occasions of anxiety, where my body begins shaking uncontrollably without remembrance of any memories. I now understand this is possible and this is 'normal' for a person that experienced sexual abuse and trauma. When trauma happens at a very young age emotions cannot be modulated because the 'hippocampus' part of the brain shuts down. Art therapy is a great way to understand these physiological responses, and dance therapy is a great way to release them.
2.) The survivor stage is characterized by a sense of increased control over one's environment and one's inner self, often achieved by committing to therapy or some other healing endeavor. The trauma is addressed and processed, and no longer holds so much power over the individual's well-being.
This stage has feelings of enlightenment. Because I have addressed so many issues regarding trauma, my sense of self is stronger, gaining more confidence as I continue to face these dark corners of my life. I have a sense or serenity a lot of the times, rather than daily feelings of overwhelm and distress. Life flows a lot more gracefully than ever before.
3.) The thriver stage represents a moving beyond, wherein the individual's focus is on personal goals other than trauma work. Though PTSD symptoms may linger, the individual is now able to use coping skills to manage them. Overall, a sense of forward momentum and greater inner peace prevails.
This is an especially cool stage. Trauma survivors have been robbed of joy, laughter, fun, play,and confidence. When you reach this stage, there is an amazing inner strength that prevails. Coming from a place of no hope and no passion, this stage still continues to bring tears in my eyes because it's difficult to believe that I even made it this far. But, I DID! Goals were avoided like the plague. I still believe too much emphasis on them creates rigidity rather than flexibility. The thing is, I know myself now and I continue to discover who I am daily with surprise and delight. In order to create and establish goals, we need to discover who we are. If you don't know who you are, your goals will be someone else's. It is no longer a burden to see how I was created and why I was thinking and feeling the way I was. I now take it as a gift to challenge myself to a new way of being. When I tried to strictly change the behaviors, it was force and it took a lot of effort. Force does not work. Understanding, love and acceptance work. Today, I have great compassion and empathy for who I am. My choices to let go of old patterns seem to be much easier. I also know where to look and who to ask when I need support. There is an amazing sense of inner peace that goes along with learning to love, accept and understand yourself!
I have prevailed through all these stages and yet I still at times go through each one again. I believe it is important for us to declare that sexual abuse and trauma survivors cannot be coached in a fashion that negates these memories or their feelings. It is important to address the wholeness of the person. When we address and process what has happened without stuffing the emotions back into the depths of our soul, a beautiful stillness within begins to happen. We begin to have a deep connection with our higher self. A stillness and connection that is so strong and meaningful, nothing can break it. Being present no longer takes so much energy.
I want to give sexual abuse and trauma survivors a sense of hope and dignity. That we will always have the memories of these experiences but there is a way out and beyond the feelings of disgust, shame, self-loathing, ugliness, and worthlessness. Change takes time and patience with yourself. I also believe it takes a ton on self-belief or a knowing that things can get better. I survived because of my children. When I felt I was drowning, I thought of them. Nothing else was more important than my boys. Find a reason to go on. Dig deep.
I am learning how to relax into life. Something that I've never experienced before. Anxiety still comes and goes, but I continue to find the 'emotions' connected to the memories and trauma and deal with them. Play was foreign to me. When I began to let the emotions lift, an amazing space began to open up - presence and some peace of mind.
It is fun to run down the hallway in wooly socks and slide to the end. It is fun to laugh at how silly I can be. It is fun to run through the sprinkler. It is fun to paint. It is fun to do nothing. It is fun to tip over my kayak. I'm learning that it's fun to play.
Wake Up to Live with Desiree Leigh