Shanon from Wisconsin, USA, recognises that she needed to feel safe in order to begin her painful journey to healing. It’s little recognised, but so common for experiencers of childhood trauma to adapt to a life living in dissociated survival mode. The FREEZE RESPONSE can help us to ‘get on with life’, but until the trauma is faced and processed, we live, as Shanon so beautifully describes, in a ‘disconnected’ state of being.
We are so grateful to Shanon for sharing her story here so powerfully authentically, in order to help others who may be facing similar struggles…
As an adult survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse and incest, I have found through my recovery that I have very little memory of my childhood, and when I take a big picture look at the entirety of my life to this point – that there is no sense of continuity.
I often tell people that I have lived three lives. In my first life, I was a child who was terrified and alone. Unsure how to grieve the loss of my mother because my father never spoke of her, sexually abused by my grandfather for the majority of my childhood, emotionally abused and neglected by my father, and taught by my family that I was not worthy of protection or love. Multiple times I spoke up about my abuse as a child, my family did ‘damage control’ rather than save me.
When I was 14 my father and I became homeless, living with a relative. At this time, I reached out to my mom’s parent who lived in a different state to see if they would help me. Soon after that, I asked my father to give them legal custody of me which he eventually did, but only after protesting his loss of welfare benefits when I left. My moving was the beginning of an eight-year estrangement from my father.
Shortly after I arrived at my new home, my grandma on my mother’s side became the first person to do anything about my abuse. I don’t remember what prompted my sudden disclosure after nearly two years of no abuse and subsequent silence, but within a year my abuser was arrested, charged, and taken to trial – and my family got one final swing at me. I soon found out that my father was a sworn witness for the defense, followed by one final grab at control by my grandfather who killed himself on the second day of the trial, which happened to be the day I was scheduled to testify. All of this reinforced my feelings and perceptions of betrayal, shame, and self-blame. The people I loved most didn’t love me back.
After this traumatic ending, I flew home and celebrated my 16th birthday five days later and went on with life.
Unable to handle my rebellious outbursts in the weeks that followed, my legal guardianship was transferred again. Within two months of the trial, my grandparents signed me over to another relative thousands of miles away. Off I went.
Through my childhood I had three different legal guardians, I went to four high schools, and I lived in 5 different states before meeting my first husband and getting married and pregnant. I don’t ever remember a time I felt safe, secure, or stable. My second life began after the birth of my first child, when I was 18. After my young marriage ended, I found myself a single mother with no choice but to get my act together, get to work, and provide a home, food, and protection for my child. I was determined to make sure my child’s life was nothing like mine. So, I transitioned comfortably into a completely dissociated survival mode. My childhood traumas never crossed my mind, minus the occasional fleeting moment. I had no time for break downs or big emotions. I spent the next 20 or so years in a dissociated and isolating bubble of controlled interactions.
The hardest part of recovery for me is reconciling this section of my life and accepting how I managed to talk about my childhood in passing but never feel it. How I pushed family that does love me and is on my side away to protect myself because of fear and deep-seated beliefs about how family can hurt me – thus robbing myself of decades of memories. How was I so disconnected?
Over the course of this middle part of my life as a survivor I did find myself in a therapist’s office a couple times, but it never stuck. Good thing I kept trying. The third life I have lived, is the life I am living now. A life after abuse, with full awareness of how it feels and how it is affecting me in my daily life.
Now, I am remarried and have a second child. A couple years ago, as my life began to calm down and become safe and stable; once I found someone who accepted me and allowed me to be who I am, I realized I had no idea who that was. Couple that sudden realization with some external life stressors and bam! Delayed Onset PTSD was triggered. Suddenly life was full of flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, body memories, angry outbursts, nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, and depression as the tidal waves of post-traumatic stress swept over me. Over the last two years, I have been in intensive therapy, shouldering up to the realities of my childhood, learning how to recognize and manage the symptoms of PTSD, and rewiring all the negative things I believe about myself and the world.
Through talk therapy, goals, self-care practices, coping techniques and EMDR therapy I am regaining control of my life again, and lessening the grip that my childhood has on me.
EMDR therapy has been a life changing experience for me. It continues to help me reconnect to my body, develop new awareness, process big emotions, and learn to trust myself and my ability to persevere.
I am not fully ‘healed’, and sometimes I wonder if I ever will be. I’ve been in therapy for two years and I don’t see an end date in sight at this point; I believe that some of the wounds left by childhood sexual abuse don’t go away, we just learn to integrate that part of us into who we are and figure out how to manage.
I sometimes feel like it will always take a little bit extra from me when it comes to certain high stress situations, I believe some emotional obstacles may always trip me up no matter how good I get at feeling and processing my feelings. And I think accepting all of this is key to healing.
“The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost
Healing happens every day, it has no end date – it is a choice we make every day as trauma survivors struggling with ‘reactional’ mental distress.
Every day I chose to heal.
“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” ~Wayne DyerHere are the links to two poems that I have written on my blog (there are many more):
Does Shanon’s story resonate with your own experience?
Would you like to share your story for our KindaProud book, #EmergingProud through Trauma and Abuse?
Please contact Mandy to find out how by contacting her at: firstname.lastname@example.org