The Art of Suffering
So instead I am forced to either live in misery or accept that my life was not the beautiful, picture perfect romance I had seen on all those damn romantic comedies. When the divorce began, everyone told me that its like a death and you will go through the stages of grief. What I really wanted to do was escape! But that didn't work the first time when I lied to myself for 10+ years about the first abuse. Suddenly it was like everyone was saying the same thing to me, "the only way out is through it." It was just so damn painful. But you really get your mind set to heal, you have to take some really honest looks at yourself. I found out quickly that I was petrified by what I would find.
Still I was dedicated that this pain would never happen to me again. So I started counseling, alternative therapies like color therapy and a strong meditation practice. Still, there were several days I just couldn't get out of bed. I would nap. I would cry. I would beg God to please have mercy on me!
On one of my off days I went to a used book store and found a book called "Surviving the Loss of a Love." It was so appropriate for me. Its a book of bullet points, suggestions an poetry. I read it all in one night. In time, I realized not only was the death of my marriage a type of grief but also the death of the old, injured me. If I am truly to heal, then these 5 stages would be the loss of something very precious to me-- my old life. But you just can't hold on forever. The only guaranteed thing in life that will remain constant is change. So, change it is.
These stages are not necessarily in order. I put them this way and treat them in a linear fashion for easier reading purposes. Believe me, I went between all of them back and forth, over and over.
Here is what I've learned:
This one is paramount and can last a very long time. When something bad happens, no one wants to believe it. There is only so much that any human being can handle at one time. Its a survival skill really. When your heart is broken, its a physical pain that can materialize. Its completely overwhelming. So, to keep from hurting, our minds just go numb. I found this to be true in my divorce when I kept thinking he would change his mind and come home. He didn't. Long before that, I was in complete denial about having experienced sexual abuse. I told myself for years that I was just involved in a romantic relationship with an older man. It wasn't until my husband told me about 10 years after I left it that it was actually sexual abuse. I didn't accept it at all!!!
Although I agreed to start seeing a councilor, I didn't talk about the trauma for most of the experience. I hated it. I didn't want to think something so icky could have happen to me. In fact, I realize now that I actually can't even remember about 3 years of my life from age 15 to 18 years old. I had gotten so accustomed to blocking it out and living in a dissociative state that had no idea what happened hurt me so deeply.
Even with my last trauma, at first I thought, "he was my friend, I must have wanted it." I believed him when he would say things like, "I'm so sorry, you are just so pretty!" I wanted to hear that so badly that I forgot what it meant to my self worth. I denied for a long time that he assaulted me. Probably because I felt guilt a) because I was married and b) because I didn't want to have to accept that I once again had opened myself into victimhood.
Anger is an essential emotion when used productively. Anger is really about pain. It gives you the strength that you need so don't deny it. Remember though, anger is one letter away from danger. Be sure you direct it in the proper place.
I was livid at Michael when I finally grasped the impact that the abuse had on my life. Although I had not shared my history with anyone, the implications were eating away at me. I lived in a consistent state of anger, depression and anxiety and had no idea why. I would snap at the drop at just about anything my husband would say just so I could get my voice loud and clear. I needed to be heard. Not surprising really. I stayed quiet for so long...
So one day, I finally wrote a letter to him. Years earlier, Michael almost died in a motorcycle accident. I was glad he was in a coma. But I realized that something in me still did not feel the same. Even if he died, I still had to live with the shame. So in my letter, among many other things I told him I hope he lives. I hoped he would live a long, unhappy life knowing for the rest of his days what a disgusting, vile human being he is and as far as I was concerned, he should be in jail!!!
No, I didn't send it... not yet, at least. That will be later once I've done some other things first.
Then I got really mad at my so-called-friend Mike. He had put me in a horrible situation and would not leave me alone despite my frequent requests. He had weaseled his way into my life, assaulted me and treated me as if I was the one who wanted it. So, after sitting with it a very long 7 months, I was given the opportunity to face him in the university setting. It would be difficult to take him to criminal court given the nature of the relationship and the assault, so I decided to go another route with the university student conduct. I was tired of the shame I felt for him forcing himself on me. So I spoke up. I'm a glad I did.
I'm also angry at my husband for leaving me while I face this current trauma. He say's he just can't-- ok then. But he can't seem to disengage fighting with me. I've come to a point I no longer argue with him. Its useless. I was burning up fuel and never getting my point across. So now I just write him letters in my journal that I have no intentions of ever sending him. Its therapeutic and also reserves my energy for where I really need to put my concentration right now.
We've all done this one. It starts with "Please God, If only I..." Those seemingly unheard prayers you say just so you can get through the day. "If only I had..." was the start of most of my sentences in the healing process. When I told my lawyer that "I couldn't believe I didn't do something sooner," when talking about the nonconcentual sexual harassment and assault,he told me "that is really easy to say when you are in a safe environment and there is no threat." He couldn't have been more correct.
There are several times I "should have" told my parents what was happening to me. But I had been so groomed and brainwashed that I had no idea what to say or how they would feel. What's worse was that there were often drugs involved which I certainly didn't want to reveal AND I even had to have an abortion due to the abuse. So maybe I "could have" told my parents, but there was no guarantee in my mind at that time that anyone COULD HAVE protected me. I was way to busy trying to survive at that time.
Maybe I "should have" not taken my friend home from the bar. But does that now give him the right to rape me? Maybe I "should have" told someone earlier that I was confused about what he was doing or been more forward when telling him I was not interested in him.
The fact is you will never know. And in the moment we do what we know. If we regret it, then we learn. Really what we are doing is bargaining with the pain to make it go away. But it won't, and you can't. So you just end up stuck in the past which was pain enough the first go around.
I know depression more than I ever realized. In high school, I was constantly depressed. I was an attractive young girl but I never even went to my prom because I would hide myself due to the abuse. Michael would isolate me even from the sweet dating days. I missed as much school as I could without failing out. In fact, they couldn't fail me because I was still making good grades! I dressed in all black and wore clothing I knew would make me unattractive so boys would not look at me.
After my recent assault, I went completely in the dark place. I isolated myself from my friends and family and spent months in a crying spell. I lost about 20 pounds that I didn't have to lose because I couldn't even force myself to eat. I had to tell myself to take a shower and I stopped caring about how I looked. I can only imagine how much older I looked.
When my husband left just before the holidays, I spend a couple weeks in bed... kind of sleeping but not really. I would wait for the hours to pass so that I could get back into bed. I would take naps during the day because I was too overwhelmed even just paying my bills. My whole body hurt. I cried nonstop to all my best friends- and then I slept.
But it wasn't so bad in hind sight. I remember reading in the "Surviving the Loss of Love" a line that said "rest now- you need it." There certainly is an honor in admitting you need the rest. People too often rush this part of the process because you have to "get back in the game." I was relieved when I read that line. It was like I was finally given permission to do exactly what my body was asking me to do. So I did just that- rest. When I felt energy, I used it. When I felt tired, I rested. I'm so glad that I honored that part of myself.
This is the place I never thought I would get-- Acceptance. I was almost offended while in the anger and denial stage when people told me that it would "get better with time." Actually, that's bullshit. Time does not heal-- its what you do with that time that makes you heal. I spent a lot of time working through my issues with my therapist, journaling, painting, talking with friends, meditating, and in color therapy. I had regressions, breakdowns, and cathartic cries on my knees in the rain begging God to please have mercy.
Then one day, it happened-- I didn't cry.
I made the decision that day to accept whatever had happened to me. I can't change the past. Its done. Fortunately, I am still alive, healthy, and learning everyday to love myself. In some ways I've even gained a gratitude for my experiences in that I'm stronger than I ever imagined I could be. But strength wasn't the denial that I had once used as a shield. Strength now was the acceptance that I too bleed. I too am weak. I too am human-- just like you.
Each day is a new gift. I try to find gratitude in something everyday. My mother gave me a prayer on a card. I'm not particularly religious at all, but in times of crisis its often important to find meaning. Here it is: (you probably know this one)
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
It was by no means an easy journey and each day is a journey through any and all of the stages. But the pain faded. The memories are less intrusive and I am no longer a victim of my thoughts or other people's expectations. This is my daily journey. By truly honoring all these stages, I am rapidly (in hind sight terms only) on the path to renewal.
Being in the pandora's aquarium forums I've read stories of sheer horror and screams of pain from women who have suffered the darkness of innocence lost. But there too, I see the strongest most compassionate people with whom I've ever come into contact. I am amazed by the passion, drive and survival of the people. We, survivors are the warriors and can get through anything being that we've already been dragged through the perils of hell. It is through compassion for ourselves that we finally find true peace.