Friday, September 07, 2007

So how do I recover from childhood sexual abuse? And will there be sandwiches?

The literature of recovery is full of some very hardcore accounts of abuse. In fact, if you're looking for something that with truly sicken you right down to the center of your soul, read some of the accounts in, say, 'The Courage To Heal'. But when it comes to recounting the actual process of recovering, the amount of reality in these guides tends to go down and the amount of cautiously worded guidelines begins to rise.

Recovery...rebuilding the life you want out of the ruins of your not a pretty process. Neither is it a politically correct process by any stretch of the imagination. Understandably, therapists need to make sure that their clients don't lose their shit, go out and and round up the abusers and their henchmen, throw them into a handball court and pour muriatic acid or flesh-eating bacteria on them, because therapists have insurance rates to think of. And then there's that whole thing about helping create well-adjusted members of society, too. Nothing wrong with that. But when they try and channel every impulse, sanitize the language, and guide every route through a moral high road, that strips a patient of at least half of the weapons they need in order to remake their minds.

The thing that lead me out of the darkness was ANGER. HATE and VENGEANCE were right there to my right and to my left. RAGE brought up the rear and kept the whole parade marching when all I wanted to do was pick up a gun and point it at my head. Hope? I had none. Children? Thought she'd be better off without me. Love? Please find yourself a normal woman you poor man.

Religion? Oh dear. (lengthy digression follows)

Religion played NO PART WHATSOEVER. Unless you count saying 'oh please God make it stop', that is. I can state conclusively that in my case there was no personally concerned deity, that the prayers of children are just wasted words, there are no guardian angels, no demons and nothing as sophisticated or as conniving as a Satan, and no power in blessings, or in curses for that matter. Salvation is a meaningless concern when your parents want you to die. 'Honor thy father and thy mother' is merely a lovely thought for a perfect world. The meek are not blessed. The meek are prey.

On the other hand I gained a whole new respect for Jesus the man, once I realized just what he meant and who he was saying it to. He genuinely did set me a good and brave example. But going to church, dogma, the bible, no. It's not that I didn't reach for religion, it's that when I did it turned out to be made of smoke.
Except for elements of Judaism, but I'm still working on that one.

My therapist was a very nice, almost grandmotherly woman. I surprised her with my 'ability to contact my anger' as she delicately put it. She spent a lot of time encouraging me to 'channel that anger' and to 'not let it carry me away'. All of which is perfectly good advice. It was indeed something that I needed to work on. But there was a particular intensity to her admonitions that I finally had to front her up on- and it all came down to her being taken aback because women don't generally express 'that'. 'That' being 'murderous rage'.

This had as much to do with old school feminism as anything else. Remember when feminist scholars were postulating 'woman' as naturally free of the need for hierarchy, daisy-covered estrogen fonts of passive, rational and civilized behavior, while all the bad ol' men were just barely controlled rapists running butt-wild all over the planet fucking everything up? That model.

It also had to do with some kind of Victorian left-over garbage...the thing that paints negative emotions as morally and spiritually 'bad'.

Negative emotions exist for a purpose. They are tools to be used, just like positive emotions are.
When you teach people that half the tools they are given are never to be used, that using them will in fact SEND THEM STRAIGHT TO HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY, you effectively cripple them.
When you socialize one half of the entire population into behaving as though this part of their psyches should not even exist if they are 'good', you damage their minds.
When you give them reason after huge reason to experience the press of this negative half and then viciously punish them when they break out, you make them psychotic.
Once they agree with this treatment? You've turned them into slaves.

Once a person has come to accept being down in the galley chained to an oar, they'll kill the first one among them who tires. There is nothing a person who believes themselves to be truly defeated and enslaved hates worse than someone weaker than themselves. That is the point at which a human being becomes a subhuman abuser, male or female. Half of them beat children up with belts. The other half press childrens' hands against hot stove burners and call it an accident.

The only sane, rational response to child abuse is rage, anger, hate and vengeance. Anger fuels change. Vengeance drives people to put an end to evil. Hate identifies the enemy. Rage feeds motion.

People so socialized against these things that they can't even say 'shit' when they have a mouthful of it are going to have a lot of difficulty making the transition from 'victim' to 'human'. And unfortunately, even in the 21st century, this still describes one hell of a lot of women.

In order to recover, you have to ask yourself "Whose rules am I afraid to break? And why?
You have to ask yourself " Who am I making happy by following these rules?"
You have to ask yourself "What if I was lied to?


This is what I worked out with my therapist at last. I think it was good for both of us. She grew braver and got in touch with something she needed to learn to live with, and I became less feral and more mindful, and stopped equating 'feminine' with 'weak'. It worked out pretty well all 'round.

Another thing you need in order to recover is MONEY. Money has to be the second biggest reason that people won't get help, after denial.

Nowadays there are actually some very effective resources out there available inexpensively, or even for free. Even in a small town. So telling oneself that 'therapy is too expensive' just doesn't wash anymore...although to be perfectly fair people are so conditioned to be afraid of therapy that they tend to avoid the entire subject, much less research it.

Let's stop doing that, OK? The phonebook is full of therapists. Call the damn welfare office, use the community resource directory in the front of the phone book, go to a church, the Salvation Army, a local school even. Make those calls, people. They don't mind if you cry and carry on.

But here's the thing: many abused people have health problems and/or psychological problems that either prevent them from finding work, or keep them just barely employed (the boat I was in.) And you need to kept fed and out of the weather while you recover or it's all kind of a waste of time. Hopefully that isn't an issue -it isn't a truism, but it's far from being unheard of.

At any rate, then, before you start your process, EXPECT that things WILL get shitty. Nobody every cops to this in the literature, but you WILL become incapacitated by stress at some point. Not permanently, but enough to shoot the shit out of that whole 'regular income' thing.

There is no way around this. You need to plan for a fallback position. If this means relying on a partner, or safe family members, or even living in a van, do it. If it means applying for welfare, do it. Using savings, trust money, selling belongings, couch surfing, do it. I had a partner I relied on. I also had a job with flexible hours cleaning houses. When that went down the toilet I did temp work. Restaurant work is good. Cleaning rooms. Night clerking. Bar tending. House painting. Selling pot.

Out of all these, I'd choose temp work or even day labor as the best solution. It can solve a lot of problems if things get desperate without breaking the law. You get a paycheck, you end up doing non-demanding things more often than not, and if you can't work you don't call in. They expect that.

The third thing won't apply to everyone, but it does apply to some, and that is IF YOU NEED MEDICATION, TAKE IT. Abuse can and often does cause actual brain damage, even if it was 'merely' psychological abuse. This is established fact. That damage can result most commonly in clinical depression and a whole host of other things I can't speak to because I don't have them.

At any rate, if you have it, you can't tough your way out of it. You can't. THIS IS NOT WEAKNESS. THIS IS NOT A MORAL FAILING ON YOUR PART. If you aren't producing the right kind of brain chemistry all the positive thinking in the world isn't going to change that. Not prayer, not a vegetarian diet, not Norman Vincent Peale. Take the goddamn medicine.

Antidepressant medication does NOT give you brain damage. Antidepressant medication does NOT make you stoned (unfortunately.) Antidepressant medication does NOT make you addicted. That isn't even how it works. Re-uptake inhibitors supply a chemical that your brain normally makes and needs-one which it isn't making, ergo depression.

Think of vitamin D. Your body makes that when sunlight hits your skin. But if you live way up north, they have to put it into the milk to keep people healthy. Nobody has a problem with this. The same principal inhibitors treat a deficiency.

You still get depressed when you take antidepressants, in fact. It's just that the depression goes back to being another emotion. It no longer lasts forever, it no longer comes on for no reason whatsoever, and it doesn't get worse and worse and worse uncontrollably any more.

Neither will antidepressant medication turn you into Kip Kinkel or make you go out into Stanley Park and start killing swans. The only thing it might do is enable you to get out of bed and get dressed so that if you feel so inclined you CAN go kill a bunch of swans in Stanley Park, but it won't put the idea in your head. That's up to you.

YOU TAKE ANTIDEPRESSANTS UNDER A DOCTORS SUPERVISION. You need a medical diagnosis. This is not to say that you won't react badly to a specific drug; you might. You take that chance with any medication. If you do, report the symptoms and CHANGE THE DRUG. This is not rocket science.

As for me? They will have to pry my Prozac from my cold, dead hands.


Ask anyone who's worked as an EMT and they'll tell you that injured people are not a barrel of laughs socially.

You are an injured person. Once you start going though therapy, you will not be a barrel of laughs socially.

Self pity? Acres of it. Oceans of it. You'll cry all the time, at the drop of the hat. Another thing that happens is, once you're able to put your abuse into some kind of narrative order, you will also not be able to stop telling people about it. Then you'll get upset and offended when people don't want to hear about it 24 hours a day, and you'll cry some more.

The nightmares will be horrible.

You will remember things (and I mean with the ferocity of an atomic blast) at the most inopportune moments. During sex. Changing lanes on the freeway. In the middle of class. Sometimes you'll be able to take a time out and go cry and scream, and sometimes you'll have to put that off until later.

All of this is normal. It has to happen and it's supposed to happen.

It sucks ass, too.

The good thing is, this time, the shit goes away. All this emotion and all this turmoil are what happens when this injured part of your mind finally gets to express all these things and resolve them once and for all. The shit gets intense, and that's when it's good to have a therapist to lead you through this dark wood. You went through all of this turmoil once already, as a little kid, and lived. Now you go through it again and live, but this time, you follow it out to a resolution. I don't know why the mind works like this, but it does.

And you get better.

It lasts a couple of years or more. It's not unrelenting shit, but it's a fucking rocky couple of years. Make your appointments and do your work, the less time it takes. Lame out on yourself and rot in denial, it takes more.

Toward the very end you begin to feel kind of lost and naked. This is because there is now a big hole in your life where all these unresolved things were encysted, with all that mental structure that was keeping it that way still in place. Someone removed the evil vampiric conjoined twin, but dammit, he was YOUR evil vampiric conjoined twin, and his name was Chuck.

This is the point at which a lot of people find religion hard.
I found the Italian Renaissance and classical literature, because I am a nerd.

This space seems to need to be filled with something you can love. I don't know what that means or why, but I've seen it and it's happened to me. Finding something to love seems to be the end point of the process.

Once the process is over you get to have the rest of your life. The bad experiences fade into the background of the weave, no longer the dominant pattern. They become just like any other memory, stripped of their malignant energy. You get to enjoy sex again. You get to see children again and not automatically wonder if someone is hurting them. You get to stop being on guard all the time. You get to stop being afraid.

This really does happen, and it really happened to me. And it's worth it.


  1. while i didn't suffer from physical abuse, i suffered from emotional abuse. to this day, i still suffer from it on occasion. my father doesn't drink, but he's got a temper that flares like a match. it took much courage to post that, and i am proud of you and am standing there beside you, holding out my hand, letting you know if you want my unconditional support and friendship, it's there.

  2. "Once the process is over you get to have the rest of your life. The bad experiences fade into the background of the weave, no longer the dominant pattern. They become just like any other memory, stripped of their malignant energy." How perfectly put.

    I read yesterday's post last night and cried as if I had written it, as if it happened to me. In some ways, it did. In my case, the abuser was my father. Recovery is a long process. In many ways, we are all still recovering each day, still taking care of that child that wasn't cared for in the proper manner. But you're right, the payoff is you do get to live a life that does not include night terrors and feeling unsafe in your own home. You get to form relationships that are meaningful and not be afraid to express your own emotions which so very often include anger. You get to raise children with the confidence that a better mother in the world does not exist. You get to love yourself for everything you are.

    I knew we were kindred spirits from the moment I first read your blog and so we shall remain. You're an amazing, courageous and honest woman, FN. Salt of the earth.

    Thank you for allowing me to be honest as well - it's about time I wrote this without fear of shame or what people would think. You rock, my friend.

  3. Anonymous9:36 PM

    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  4. Ah.MAH.gah. I almost wish you'd written this earlier. So it's like this for all of us, recovering? Huh. Nevermind that my "abuse" was mostly boring old codependency. My parents were the ones with monsters in the house. Abuse like that can cause ripples in time. The recovery process is exactly what I'm going through. I was taught, however, that self-pity wasn't okay, and regularly beat myself up for it. Maybe I should just embrace it.

    I'll have to think about that one.

  5. Award for the most feel good post of the year........

    Good post it covers most of the abuse points.
    I liked the old model for feminism I still meet weemen like that on the web and they blame men for everything while at the same time denying they are man haters. Then there are the cancer and rape survivors, mostly the rape survivors who wear it as a badge but it effects their life every day so much it twists them, hardly survival. I get angry when weemen and children are hurt mostly because like them I was unable to stop it happening to them.

  6. I bow to your experience and wisdom to share. Thank you

  7. pink: thank you, my darling. lets go have a tomato sandwich and try on shoes!

    g: oh sweetheart i am so sorry. you've hinted at that in the past but, aw shit.
    i think you are doing a fantastic job as a parent. you're one of the winners. you handle parenting with style and love and you have a couple of very cool kids who will grow up knowing what love is. you rock too, lady. how was the vacation?????

    anon: well thank you. good to see you again!

    Invincable: oh lordy, that one. I put myself through more being ashamed of feeling bad for myself than i did actually feeling bad for myself. you know what, though? it's like you're trying to be your own parent when that happens...anyone normal would feel horrible when something bad happened to someone they love. i did this whole mental exercise where I re-parented myself as a kid (going shopping for schol clothes, having a nice birthday party, going shoping...), and new-age though it sounds, it worked. it got me through the overwhelming self-pity and helped it resolve.

    knudie: i was and still am an oldschool feminist and even i knew that was burger deluxe-bullshit with fries when i heard it. please!
    if you ever want to laugh AND blow chow simultaneously-try it some time, it's fun and educational!- read 'Walk to the End of the World' by Suzy McKee Charnas. Oh yeah. Shes a corker.

  8. gale: well, thank you. it only took me two years to write about, too.(gulp)

  9. What's your opinion on the "forgiveness" bit?

    I hear that buzzword all the time. About how we should forgive in order to free ourselves.

  10. mj: fuck forgiveness.
    understanding is what freed me.

    when people prattle on about forgiveness what they really want is for the whole icky disgusting mess to go away NOW. perpetrators and family members in denial are real big on the forgiveness thing, i notice.

    not that i have a strong opinion about this or anything.

    forgiveness is only now just beginning, and it's nothing i've planned or expected. anyway, forgiveness is a process, not an event. some things can be forgiven right away, and some take YEARS. if it happens at all.

  11. Thanks for that.

    I often quote these lines from a Lyle Lovett tune where he asks, "so who says he'll forgive you?"...

    "God does, but I don't
    And God will, but I won't
    And that's the difference between God and me."

  12. Family members are also big on saying "But it was a LONG time ago."

    In other words, it happened so long ago that let's just forget all about it and pretend it never happened, shall we?

  13. mj: yeah, everyones so sorry....that they got caught. and they're all so ready to paint the victim guilty...for not being 'big enough' to forgive. put your money where you mouth is, I say. you want forgiveness? earn it. prove you're sorry. admit you did something wrong to my face, AND MEAN IT. come do your work alongside me in the trenches and patch this shit up.
    thats when everyone suddenly punks out and you hear nothing but the crickets chirping.

    fucking cowardly wastes of skin.

  14. Re-parented yourself? Wow. My mom did the whole re-birthing thing, actually. It helped her a lot. Of course, then she tried to get me to do it a number of years ago and I ran screaming.

    I think what you say about finding something you love to fill that hole is so true. My mom found a new career and outlook on life. (Thank heavens she didn't find Jeebus... we had all been through enough!)

    Also, so true what you say about forgiveness. I was just telling a friend today that you can't forgive anybody until you've let yourself be pissed off at them and felt your feelings first. This whole thing where people tell you to forgive assholes who treated you badly is bullshit. If you feel like forgiving them later on, if it feels good to you, fine. But get away from the asshole and recognize your own truth first.

    Anyway, you rock. Go on with your bad self, FN.

  15. you have really helped me and no doubt many many more - thank you.


  16. Great post FN , and some really good comments .I am totally with you on the whole of this , a damn near perfect road map for vanquishing ones demons.
    I wholeheartedly agree with everything said on the forgivness issue.
    There is a couple of hatreds I am gonna hang on to for a good long while yet - BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD , and no fecker is gonna take them away for there own convenience.
    I bow to your honesty and bravery FN , I could not have written these last two posts , but I am so glad you did.

  17. danator: it's nothing as extreme or dramatic as re-birthing (oh geeze) it's just focused meditation. you take the kid shopping or what have you and be the kind of parent you needed to have at that juncture. sounds goofy, and it works like magic, too.

    ziggi: you are welcome, my darling. i know what you mean. XOO

    beast: thank you for being here, beastliness. not a lot of people can hang with this kind of thing and you did even though it's not even close to what your life was like-thank god! without people like you who write about their good families who love them i would have never had the will to begin this process at all. i love hearing about the whole group of you cooking and chasing ghosts out of houses and getting each other in trouble. it kicks ass!

  18. First Nations, you are a fucking genius. These last two posts have been hard to read, but overall they've been inspiring - when I wasn't spitting with fucking rage, that is. What you said about your mother's experiences really struck a chord with me, I'm getting more and more sex offenders on my caseload at work and trying to get these people to shut the fuck up about poor-me for five minutes and realise they've CHOSEN to put someone else through the misery and pain they're so keen to use to excuse themselves really gets my blood pressure through the roof. Yes, you had a shitty time, but you've dealt with that by delaing someone else a shitty time, and not everyone who's had a shitty time does that. I do love taking some of these people to task though. I get to sit in a room with them and try to get them to confront what they've done and to stop the excuses and the bullshit, and sometimes it feel sgood in a weird sort of way.

    That uncle of mine has a lot more to answer to than ruining my grandad's funeral, as might have been a bit apparent. One of my earliest memories is of seeing him kneeling on the belly of his heavily pregnant 15 year-old girlfriend. He was 25, living with his parents (until he was about 35), and having them make every excuse under the sun for the violence against whoever didn't worship the ground he walked on, for the drinking until he was like the tasmaniam devil 5 nights a week (except good ol' Taz probably wouldn't puke on his mum's carpet and scream abuse at her for not clearing it up fast enough), and for beating the shit out of my mother her whole childhood. My other memories of him are fuzzy and I thank my brain for this for the most part. We don't see him much but generally everyone carries on like nothing happened. Before my grandad's funeral though, my mother had a bit of an emotional outburst at me about what a bastard he was being and how he had been really awful to his wife earlier that day: we talked about the kneeling-on-pregnant-child thing and I said I was going to arrange to be out when he came round to the house. She understood and it was great. He asked her for my phone number so he could come and see me next time he was in London and she gave him an incorrect one. My mother rocks.

    I hate him. I don't want revenge for me as that would dig up too much stuff I don't wanna think about too closesly and my dad would probably get arrested for what he'd try to do to him and I love my dad. But I know he hasn't changed, and I see that look in his eyes and if I'm there the day when he lets his real personality out again I will fucking destroy him. In the meantime, I'm a grown up and now I can make decisions about what I do or don't do where he's concerned and I will not see him unless absolutely necessary. Or unless he's dying of some painful disfiguring disease and I can go poke his abcesses with sticks.

    Fuck, I didn't mean for that to be so long. Felt good though. I don't know how to thank you for this FN. Love to ya.

  19. Thank you for letting me walk in your shoes for a moment. I learned today.
    So beautifully written as always.

    Did you have periods where it was hard or impossible to turn the anger off, even when you wanted to?

  20. Okay, I know I'm just reiterating what everyone else has been saying, but damnit, I have to say it.....

    Thankyou for these last 2 posts. Your ability to write the way that you do about a topic that is generally avoided at all fucking costs, shows what a strong, brave and inspirational woman you are!

    You are inspirational and basically you rock!

    Even though I only know you through reading this blog, I'm still extremely pleased to know you!


  21. violet: how do you keep from smashing these people's heads into the nearest available hard surface until they stop moving? you, madam, are making an actual difference in the world. you are making it a better place.

    tick: oh my god yes. sometimes it got so bad that i'd take my daughters baseball bat and go beat the shit out of the mattress until i couldnt raise the bat over my head one more time. it was awful. but it worked, it felt good, and nobody (me!) went to jail.

    punkin: im pretty average. i live in a small town and i grow tomatoes, pretty much. but thank you! *blush*

  22. Over at Bonus Bitcoin Faucet you may get free bitcoins. Up to 5,000 satoshis every 15 minutes.