Monday, July 25, 2022

In Grief: Surviving The Trauma of Abuse

A good half of the art of living is resilience.  ~ Alain de Botton

A reader writes:  Where to begin? As a child I was sexually abused starting at the age of 4, by my older siblings. I have 4 brothers in all and have been abused by 3 of them. This didn’t last long, but has left a mark on me that I have had to endure all my life. I have or thought I had come to terms with it.When I was younger at the start of the abuse my mother would “catch us” and would whip me and my oldest brother terribly. Looking back, I think that she didn’t realize that I was the one being abused. That she whipped me so that I wouldn’t give my brother the chance to abuse me again. In other words, if the whipping was so bad then I sure didn’t want to have another one. Many times we were whipped, me included. I really don’t think that she understood what was happening. But I remember her telling me to never tell anyone. I guess she was afraid that I would be taken away from her. I have forgiven my mother many times, because I feel as though she did try to protect me in her own way. After she learned of the abuse, she would keep me at her side more. I was never allowed to play with my brothers outside of her watching. I wanted to go sleigh riding several times and she never would let me. I was always a big tomboy and wanted to learn and explore. 

Years passed and we, my mother and I got closer. Never mind the usual teenage outbreaks. She taught me many things, and her death was such a blow to me. I was the one that was at her side in the middle of the night and praying for God to take her home. I was the one that she screamed and yelled for throughout her pain. I was the one that had to call my family in. And I suffered just as much as she did. 

 Daddy, during my childhood was always there for me. I can remember when I was a little girl and crawling up on his knee. He was warmth, and safety. Daddy never whipped me either. Daddy took Momma’s place after she died and then to our own demise he passed away too, 15 months later. Leaving us homeless and orphans. 

About June of this year I was diagnosed with having panic attacks. I am on Remeron and Lexapro and I manage to stay sane. I do however have relapses. These times are when I’m alone. I feel as if everything is closing in on me and the room gets dark and very dim. Somehow I manage to shake them off and I have learned to get busy. I find that it gets very difficult for me to see my husband go to work. It is at these times that I have the attacks. I have tried to be my own psychiatrist, I have taken courses in college, and I do know why I miss him so. It is because I know that he is safe, and he won’t let anyone hurt me. He has been very patient with me, very. Not only that but very loving as well. I do have his full support in any decision that I make. I do credit him a lot because he refused to let me go. So maybe he is related back to my mother. Safe, but secure or is it Daddy who never hurt me either. 

I used to be able to do a lot. I worked better whenever I was under pressure. I attended college last year and worked 40 hr week plus all my church activities and I began taking piano lessons. Since then I have learned how to think of myself as number one and I don’t pressure myself anymore. I find myself doing things that Momma taught me, sewing, quilting, baking. I haven’t baked in a long time and now am doing that again. I have resumed my role in church. I do a special every Sunday.  Something that felt pressured at first, but now I have learned my limits and learn when to tell them no. I learned that even though I don’t sing, I’m still a good person. 

I have gained a lot of weight since their death; I had lost 70 lbs but have managed to put back on 30 lbs. Some of it must be the medication, other is comfort as well. I have joined a weight support group but find that depressing when the weight won’t come off as fast as it once did. I am very active. I teach school all day and am on my feet and climbing stairs and walking the hallways. Actually, I am more active now than I ever was.

I knew that this would be long, but as I said this is the first time that I have had the courage to write. I did subscribe also to the free subscription about panic attacks, from your website and have read several books about the disorder. 

I want you to know that our house was very loving and although my mother was born in 1921, she had lived a lot and taught us many things. For example, she was never allowed to play cards and read magazines, we were. What little money we had. The best memory that I have of my mother is that the weather was getting colder and I wanted a jacket with our school logo on it. I remember begging and begging Momma for it and we just couldn’t afford it. She would tell me that I needed a bigger coat to keep me warm. I told her no that I would wear a sweater underneath the jacket. My momma scrimped and saved to give me the $11 that the coat cost. I was never so happy. She never told me that I was going to get the jacket, she just called me in the kitchen one day and handed me the money and told me to go get it after school and walk home. 

Well, what can you say to a broken-hearted daughter?  Am I too hard on myself or what?

My response: What I can say is this: Congratulations for overcoming the role of victim and becoming instead a survivor of childhood sexual abuse! 

As I read your story, I am in awe of all that you have managed to overcome. Your resilience in surviving and thriving, despite all the trauma you've been through, is amazing, and for that you have my respect and admiration.

I want to recommend to you a wonderful book by Belleruth Naparstek entitled Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal. Just click on the title, and you can read Amazon's description and reviews. One reviewer describes the book as "a package of hope for anyone whose life is compromised by the insidious effects of emotional trauma. This is one of those blessed books that deserves to be called life-changing."

And here are especially relevant comments from another reader that I hope will speak to you:

Reading Invisible Heroes has absolutely changed my life. I am a survivor of childhood incest and physical abuse and this book understands me, my symptoms, and my life post-trauma. This is the first time I have felt really understood. That within itself was enough. Yet, this book can explain my symptoms and what is going on in my brain when things like when flashbacks are happening. It is wonderful to have clinical research to back up my experiences and to explain things to my academic/intellectual friends in a way they will take more seriously. And, to top all this off . . . this book brought hope to my life. Not only do I feel understood, and validated through the reading of this book, but I truly feel there is hope for healing. This is a new thing for me. No one in my almost 20 years of therapy (of all sorts) has suggested I could do more than manage the PTSD symptoms. In this book not only did I find hope for healing, but Belleruth gives "how-to's" for healing . . . More than anything else, thank you for your work, for your understanding of the PTSD phenomenon and for the hope you offer trauma survivors.

I sincerely believe that you will find this book extremely relevant and helpful, my dear, and I hope you will make the effort to find it. If buying it isn't acceptable to you, I'm sure you can find it at any public library ~ or you could ask the librarian to obtain a copy for you.

 I wish you comfort, peace and continued healing 

 Afterword: I wish that I could feel like a survivor. Many have told me that I was. The few that I have confided in. You’re #4. The holidays have taken their toll on me. I have had a few symptoms of panic, but have managed to overcome them. My son visited me during the holidays and I had my precious grandchild, this has helped. I have stayed busy, but now feel an emptiness. I wish that I could share all this with my mother. She would have loved it. Your writings have taught me to go easy on myself and not to become overwhelmed. That is what I'm trying to do. Thank you for that. 

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