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Tackling Trauma

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I’ve been rather sick with a dreadful cold that knocked the energy out of me and took with it my voice. So I’ve had lots of time to think about all the things I want to write on this blog – thoughts on Holy Week, thoughts on God’s call on my life, thoughts on compassion – but no energy or clear mind to actually write. Over the past few days, I have been wrestling with a lot of thoughts and desire to get involved in advocacy around childhood sexual abuse. I read something earlier this month that declared April to be Child abuse prevention Month and there are a couple of places that are collecting stories that I would like to contribute to. Then just the other day, I learned of a research study requiring participants who have gone through the criminal justice system against their abusers and I am excited to hopefully get involved in that.

Yesterday I began what will be an eight week journey of hopefully growth and healing. I started an intensive child abuse/trauma therapy program. I just finished day 2 of the program and I can say that I think it will be really helpful, but also very intense. I am so thankful that I did not try to tackle this program at other times in my life when I had the opportunity because I really was not ready for it. In talking with several women about readiness and talking with my own therapist, I have become convinced that there is a time for doing hard work in an intensive way, and a time to not do it. I’m glad I went with my gut that I was not ready, because now I see how I have things in place that I did not have last year that make it more possible for me to fully engage in this program.

Anyways, one of my hopes and dreams is that my story will encourage others who are on the same journey. So far my reflections on this blog have been rather intellectual and theological, and while they do  come from within a context of my current life experiences and thinking, I do not feel that they have fully addressed what I set out to address in this blog. I hope that as I share the ups and downs of my story and my journey, others will be encouraged to work on their own healing – whether from abuse or something else – and that my life will be a testimony to how God works. I hope too to do my part in breaking the silence of abuse and encouraging others to find their voice.

So here goes it…

Last week when I found out that I would be starting the program I was filled with excitement and fear all at the same time. Excitement because of the potential growth and healing, as well as the amazing privilege to be able to be guided by professionals who specialize in trauma therapy. Fear because I did not know what would happen in the group – what would I discover about myself? my history? how will I cope? The facilitators warned me that it would get worse before it would get better. But honestly, no one could prepare me for how this week would start! I had decided that I would bike to and from the program, saving money, exercising and also doing something healthy to transition from intensive therapy to “real life”.

I was almost at the program when I passed by one of my dad’s colleagues. Thankfully I was on my bike and I don’t think she saw me. But this was enough to send me into dreadful panic attacks. By the time I got to group, I was coughing uncontrollably because of being sick and the panic attacks and had to leave the group several times since I felt that I was disrupting it. At one point I left to throw up – this has never been one of my coping strategies, but was more of a sign of how distressed I was. Throughout the group, I was a coughing, sputtering mess and was totally embarrassed by it all. It took the afternoon and evening to digest what had happened and why I was so distressed.

My dad and I used to work at the same place. He was an ethicist and I was a receptionist and later a research assistant. It’s hard to believe that this was ten years ago. He is internationally known as well as highly regarded amongst his colleagues. I gave that job everything I had and people were impressed at my maturity for my age (I was 17 when I started working there) and I made strong connections that would later get me into university and provide excellent references for job applications. He and I were well liked. During my first few years of university, I hung out with a couple of other philosophy majors in the attic of the building where we worked. We decorated the room with pictures of the great philosophers (Kierkegaard made it up there of course) and would have many debates on ethical issues interspersed with intense reading times.

And then I had to call children’s aid and did not go home one night. I suddenly dropped off the planet at my former workplace and hangout. I was terrified to go back there.

The place where I go for the trauma program is literally 10 steps from the entrance to where my dad worked. I was supposed to do this program 4 years ago, but knew that I could not run the risk of bumping into my dad every day for 8 weeks. Now I know that he is no longer working there. But I underestimated how the proximity to the building would effect me.

When I saw my dad’s colleague – my manager – I felt intense fear. Throughout the past seven years, I have struggled with feeling like I am to blame. Going through the court process, as brutal as it was, allowed me to put blame where it belongs. But I realized yesterday that this has really only been an intellectual exercise. My family has made me out to be the black sheep, the one who ruined the family. My mom has used language such as “protecting the children” from me, making me feel like I am the criminal. The criminal court process isn’t designed to empower the victims and in cross examination, I felt like I had to defend my very being, again feeling like I am the criminal (Did you know that the accused has the right to choose whether they will testify or not? Their side of the story does not need to be looked at directly, while my every action, word spoken, letter written, and therapy record was questioned and used against me to make me out to be a crazy, vengeful liar.) Bumping into my dad’s colleague reraised questions that I’ve at times struggled with – what do they know? what do they think of me? how do they answer the questions of the fact that one day I just disappeared when I used to spend every day there?

I realized that my anxiety was related to a core belief that I am the criminal, that I am the one who has done something horribly wrong and should be punished for it. Cognitively, this is ridiculous and I can see that clearly. But inside, I feel the fear of being found out and the shame, as if my Dad’s actions were my fault, as if my Dad’s criminal record was my own doing, as if my Dad’s losing his job was out of my own volition.

Intense anxiety and fear…. intense realizations…. and on only day 1!

Yesterday before I left for the trauma program my beloved housemates laid hands on me and prayed for me as I embarked on this journey. I pray that God will reveal to me who I am, and meet me with his abundant love in both the exciting and the fearful moments. I pray too that as I (re)experience feelings that I will learn healthy ways of dealing with them. I am thankful that I do not walk this journey alone. I have a whole network of people who are praying for me and for this I am so very thankful.

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  1. Erin
    April 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    You’ve been in my prayers for years, and will continue to be! You are one of the bravest people I know.

  2. April 23, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Elizabeth. I love and deeply respect you. I am praying. Go well into this journey.

  3. June 2, 2012 at 2:53 am

    Be strong. Remember that the only person who ‘matters’ in terms of their opinion of you is you yourself. It takes years to stop blaming yourself, but remember that through the courts our nation, our history, and our society has faith in you. The fact you stood up in the first place means you have faith in yourself. The last and most moving affirmation for me was when I converted to Greek Orthodoxy and gave confession for the first time. My priest held my hand and said that in the eyes of God I was absolved, that I was blameless – that God and the Church had faith in me. One of the most shattering and healing moments of my life…

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