In my book, Say It Out Loud, I share my healing journey from a childhood of sexual abuse. In the final chapter, The Ongoing Journey, I talk about dealing with the bumps in the road that come along after you’ve reached a place where you are healed and living a more joyful life.
When you are in that “good place” for long periods of time, there will still be bumps in the road. Their cause and severity will vary. They can be related to the time of year, a news story that brings back memories, seeing someone from your past, a loss in your life, or even something that has no obvious explanation. Whatever the cause, it creates a resurgence of the anxiety, anger, or sadness you experienced related to your abuse. SAY IT OUT LOUD PG 185
I go on to explain strategies for coping with the bumps. Strategies that will help bring you back to that healed existence.
Three weeks ago my advice was put to the test. I received a phone call that Clara, my mother and accomplice to my abuse, passed away. I hadn’t seen her in more than ten years. During those years I anticipated my reaction to this news. Would I feel joy? She could never hurt me again. Sadness? Hope dies hard and now the possibility of her ever admitting to her actions was lost forever. Anger? This was her final act of denying me of her love.
There was no preparing for the day Clara died and no playbook for how to respond. My first reaction was to pull in to that place where I hid my entire childhood: the cocoon that protected me from two evil parents. I didn’t want to tell anyone, speak or let my thoughts surface. I spent much of the first day in my safe place. As always, my husband Tim knew exactly what to do—ask what I needed, make the necessary phone calls, be present and let me be.
As the hours, days, passed I began to peel away my cocoon letting the feelings that I anticipated for years surface; joy, sadness, anger and more.”It creates a resurgence of the anxiety, anger, or sadness you experienced related to your abuse.” Yes, it does create a resurgence of feelings, but the difference between my past and now is the arsenal of strategies I have, the strategies I learned during my six years in therapy.
Control: Allowing others to be in control. Although I wasn’t ready to talk, Tim knew that our children and close friends needed to know that Clara died. I was able to stay in control by maintaining my silence but let him make the decisions of who to call and what to say.
Be Gentle: I knew it was okay not to be okay. Whatever my feelings were they weren’t right or wrong, they were my feelings and it was okay to express them without judgment.
Create a Respite: I spent the following week wrapped in a “blanket.” Sometimes an actual blanket, resting and feeling safe. Other times wrapped in a blanket of fresh air, enjoying the beauty of fall in New England. In my respite I was free from the thoughts generated by Clara’s death.
Be Honest: I spent a childhood in a family that pretended—pretending we were the perfect family. The pretending is over for me and that itself is a valuable strategy. Tim, our children, and I spent days sharing all of our thoughts about Clara from the pain she caused, to the good grandmother she portrayed, to laughing at the whimsical thought: Ding dong the witch is dead… We didn’t mask the mixed emotions we all felt.
Journaling: After a few days I took out my journals from my years in therapy. In a cozy spot, with a candle lit, I wrote the events and feelings surrounding Clara’s death.
Visualization: I visualized releasing her, like a helium filled balloon, no longer on this earth.
Clara’s death could have been a major setback. The strategies I learned in therapy became my springboard over this significant bump. I’m seasoned enough to know that with time more feelings may surface over her death, and there will be other bumps in my road, but I’m confident that I have the tools to get me back to a place of joy.
We all have wings. Know what yours are and use them, because life is an Ongoing Journey.