My Healing Journey: Stumbling and Getting Back Up

Jun 12th, 2011 | By | Category: All Posts, Christina's Blog

Christina Enevoldsen

by Christina Enevoldsen

As the co-founder of an organization that deals with healing from abuse, I’m supposed to be very enthusiastic about healing. I’m the one who yells “Hooray!” for those small victories and I spur on the weary survivor.

Most of the time, I love that. I do it whole-heartedly. But what happens when I’m the weary survivor? What if I think that the healing process sucks and I just want to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head? What if I don’t want to hear another thing about sexual abuse or family betrayal or the effects of trauma or self care or anything that reminds me of such evil in the world or the constant struggle to overcome it?

That’s what happened recently. After experiencing the usual rough beginning that most survivors talk about, I’d been feeling really good for the past year or more. I’ve had an occasional minor bump, but I took it all in stride. I thought the healing path would be smooth for the rest of my journey.

I’ve lost my footing a time or two. I used to have a tendency to want to go faster than I was ready for. I was driven to “get normal” as quickly as possible. I was impatient to get to the next part of healing since I thought I was pathetic to be so messed up. It didn’t matter that I always thought that I’d feel better at the next “healing level” but never did. It was never good enough.

But I dealt with that. I’ve accepted that there are some things about me that might be a little “off”, but I SURVIVED years of living with a sexual predator at the most vulnerable time in my life—my childhood—and I was all by myself with my pain. I think being a little “off” in some areas is a normal response to what I experienced. Those aren’t character flaws or a signs of weakness. Actually, they’re a sign of a struggle—a struggle to survive another day. I picked up some “weird” ways of coping, but damn it, I’m alive to tell about it. And I’m not ashamed of my quirks; I’m proud that I was creative and resourceful and did whatever I had to in order to get through it. And I am getting through it.

I watched a movie about a man who was trapped in a crevice while hiking in a remote area. He had the choice of dying or cutting off his arm to free himself and he chose to live. Do I think he’s a freak for missing an arm? No, I admire his courage and ability to face that choice and do what was necessary to live. He’s a hero. So I can’t look at the one-armed man one way and myself another way. So now I know I’m strong.

But I do have weaknesses and that’s okay too. The abusive system that I grew up with and continued in for many years taught me that weakness meant death because only strong people are valuable and worthy of life. Only people who earn their way are deserving of love and approval. So I despised my weakness and my entire existence seemed dedicated to covering it up. That fear drove me to work and work and do and do and my healing was powered by that same fear of not performing well enough.

I’ve had a lot of people who have been very supportive of my healing journey. Even though they’ve never asked me “How much longer?”, I used to be afraid they were wondering that. I feared not recovering quickly enough to fit their schedule. They admired my determination and perseverance, but how long would that last? Would their admiration turn to disgust? I figured they’d grow tired of cheering me on and then reject me for being weak the same way the dysfunctional people had before.

But I’m not in that system anymore. I don’t let others determine my value since I know the truth about me now. I have the same worth as the most emotionally healthy person or someone who has never been touched by the things I have. I’m just as important if I’m weak or strong, sick or well. For those who disagree, they are deceived by the same abusive system of inequality that I used to be in and I don’t need their fickle support. But no matter how I’m treated, I’m important and valuable. I love myself—weak or strong. Those fears aren’t chasing me through my healing anymore.

So I’ve had my healing struggles. I’ve tripped a few times but nothing knocked me down.

That was until just recently. As I look back, I don’t even remember the issue or memory that triggered it. That’s funny considering all the fuss it caused. Whatever it was, it was painful—and with the pain came anger. I’ve been angry about all of this before. I’ve been angry that issues come up without my control and at inconvenient times (when else is there? When IS a convenient time? If I DID have total control over when something surfaces, I’d choose NEVER!!)

I’ve been angry about the injustice of the evil tentacles of abuse invading every part of my life without respect for any boundaries. The effects seem just as invasive as the abuse.

I thought I passed the most treacherous parts of this journey. I thought I should have “earned” an easier time. After my rough early life and abusive twenty one year marriage and how bravely I’d faced the healing process thus far, I thought I deserved to float on clouds for the rest of my life. I wanted to scream, “When will it be bleepity-bleep OVER?”

Even if I couldn’t be finished now, I wanted to know WHEN I would be finished. I felt desperate to know where I was on the healing map–some chart that said, “You are here” with a red arrow so I could see how far I’ve come and how far I still had to go.

I felt as though all of my progress meant nothing—that all my hard work only yielded temporary results. In my emotional state, I discounted any progress since it fell short of where I wanted to be or expected to be. I saw all I still had to face instead of how far I’d come.

So I cried and shouted and pouted for a few days. I complained to the people closest to me. I cried some more and then I examined what caused my breakdown.

I realized that I still thought of this healing journey as a temporary thing. I thought there would be a definitive end to dealing with the majority of my issues—like checking out of rehab. After that, I thought minor issues might pop up again periodically that would be easy to face. I told people that I considered recovery a life-long journey, but I didn’t really believe that like I thought I did. My expectations collided with my reality and I was devastated.

But now I’ve finally made peace with the journey. It’s not the healing process that I got angry about or angry with. I was actually angry that I was abused in the first place—that I was denied a happy, healthy childhood and my adult life is a fight to overcome the effects. My anger toward the healing is like anger toward a doctor trying to put me back together after a physical trauma.

I’ve faced many cycles of anger about my abuse and every time I go through that cycle again, I’m accepting on a deeper level that it DID happen, which helps me with my two choices: To give in to the effects or to keep overcoming. So I keep overcoming. And I get more and more of my life back all the time.

I’ve faced many cycles of anger about my abuse and every time I go through that cycle again, I’m accepting on a deeper level that it DID happen, which helps me with my two choices: To give in to the effects or to keep overcoming. So I keep overcoming. And I get more and more of my life back all the time.

Where am I in this journey and how much longer is it? I don’t think that’s relevant to me anymore. I don’t think there is any way to know where I am in the healing process anymore than there is to know how long I’ll live. Healing is a lifetime commitment the same way all growth is so I’ll keep healing as long as I’m alive. I’m healthy and whole even if I’m still working on issues. I am excited to get up most mornings, I’m optimistic about my future, I’m surrounded by healthy people, and I’m good at taking care of myself. I love myself and I love my life. So it’s not the life I could have had if this never happened, but it’s a great life anyway.

Christina Enevoldsen is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Christina’s passions are writing and speaking about her own journey of healing from abuse and inspiring people toward wholeness. She and her husband live in Los Angeles and share three children and four grandchildren.

[read Christina’s story here]

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24 comments
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  1. Christina, this is so relevant to the healing process we all go through. I think this will help those who get discouraged or feel ovewhelmed with yet another memory, flashback or trigger that surfaces years later. It is so unrealistic to think that we can completely leave it all behind when the abuse became such an integral part of how we developed and how we relate to life and others. I still find things that surface from time to time and working on OSA does bring my issues to the forefront from time to time. Knowing we have come so far helps during those times and remembering that we have more to look forward to, makes the journey so worthwhile, even when we hit the rough spots. Thanks for sharing this and encouraging others to know they aren’t defective when they feel this way, also. :)

  2. I love this post. I have felt this way soo much so many times! The feeling of not being good enough because of what I’ve gone through and still go through. I’m praying that I will be whole enough to not pass on emotional difficulties to others( I know I won’t do what was done to me) but thank you for showing through this post that I don’t have to be perfectly healed like it never happened that I’m okay just the way I am now.

  3. Linda,
    ” It is so unrealistic to think that we can completely leave it all behind when the abuse became such an integral part of how we developed and how we relate to life and others.”

    YES!! It is unrealistic–very unrealistic! Yet, because of the abuse, we don’t really fully live in the real world. We cope by living in a fantasy world at least part time. It was sure a surprise to me to realize how much I was still doing that. lol. Oh well, another step towards the truth! Thanks for sharing and thank you for your help encouraging survivors along this path.

    Hugs, Christina

    Naomi,
    Yay! I’m glad you’re realizing you’re okay just the way you are now. Yes, you’ll embrace more truth, live more freely, enjoy life more– but you’ll never be more valuable than you are right now because you’re already a treasure.

    Christina

  4. Christina,

    I love this blog. What a great way to express how we truly feel at times about healing. I want it to be over. Yet, the more time I spent wondering when, caused me disappointment when it wasn’t over. I don’t think about the time I spent in healing and I don’t think about how much longer. I’m just so glad that I made the “choice” to heal. To think that if I didn’t choose healing and I would still be the way I was, even a year ago, is enough to keep me pushing on. the results we get when we choose to heal, no matter what the struggle, is worth it to me.

    Thanks for reminding me that it’s not how much time we spend in healing that matters. What matters, is the choice to heal.

    Love ya, Patty

  5. Christina,

    This article made me smile and it made me cry. This journey is certainly full of ups and downs. I, too, thought I was doing really well for a while and well on my way to healing–only to have the rug pulled out from under me. Then the anger of “why?” and “will it ever end?” I so relate. We want it to be over, we want to get to a point in our lives that is no longer affected by abuse, we want to just be “normal.” Like you said, at some point, we have to accept that this is who we are. Our past will always be a part of us but we can continue to heal and we don’t have to let it define us. I went through a period of time where I felt like I should have “abuse survivor” tacked onto the end of my name, like some kind of degree. Now, it doesn’t define me as much. Now it would be “mother, wife, friend, survivor of abuse.” I am resigned to the fact that I will be dealing with my abuse and it’s effects the rest of my life but I also know that I am so much more than what was done to me. Thank you for sharing, Christina…and for cheering the rest of us on even when you don’t feel like it.

    —Penny

  6. Patty,
    I’m glad I made the choice to heal, too. And that I keep making that choice day by day. I may not be where I expected to be, but I’m a heck of a lot further than I was. I’m glad you’re healing too!
    Love ya back, Christina

  7. Penny,
    I love what you wrote, “I know I am so much more than what was done to me”. Yes! I can also relate to not wanting to be defined by abuse. Abuse is what someone ELSE did TO us, so why should WE be defined by another person’s actions? I’m glad we can share our healing journeys together. It still doesn’t make the process fun, but it’s sure a lot easier when we can share it with friends who care.
    Hugs,
    Christina

  8. Me too, Christina! There are times when I feel as though I’m through the worst of it and press on and then – I know I’m not done. Maybe its something I’ve been avoiding looking at and pushing down. Those are the times I’m most likely to find myself struggling with the anger you mentioned. Other times its a flitting moment of a memory that is simply irritating. But it all is part of the process. Will I ever be done? Like you pointed out – I think this is like life in general and that I’ll be a lifelong learner in many ways.

    SusanKs

  9. Christina, Thanks for this powerful posting!
    I am realizing several things as well.
    First, I need to be careful not to bite off more than I can chew; emotionally as well as in other ways.
    Situations which come tumbling into my life, like dealing with tornado repairs, car and roof repairs, insurance company consultations, job; have drained me in the last 2 months to the point that I am having a hard time making decisions and choices.
    Dealing with this many people, and situations at once is triggering alot of confusion and fear for me.
    I realize I still have alot of work to do, in being confident, not being manipulated, or a pushover, etc.
    In dealing with an unethical slick car dealer, I finally embarrasingly burst into tears, caved in to his demands, vbecause I was so intimidated; and then turned around and ‘told on him’ to the BBB, and his company’s customer service team.
    I found myself so overwhelmed, the sound of an angry man talking down to me was the last straw. I just broke down.
    I am learning I must take things as easy as I can. I don’t have to do all my responsibilities perfectly, or te way others do theirs.
    My history of abuse and the resulting ptsd, has left me with anxieties, fear of people- especially fear of confrontation, retaliation, as well as fear of being judged as not ‘recovered enough’. I ‘should’ be able to handle everything I am doing easily. In truth, I think this stuff would be challenging for anyone.

    In my situation too I have found asking for help at times has resulted in more complexities as some of the people I asked for took advantage of things. I find myself trying to learn not to need, again, and I can’t see that its a bad thing as opposed to being jerked around and vulnerable. I lose patience with platitudes at times.They are words and concepts;good ones but I feel at times like I am working so hard just to maintain, they irritate me. lol.

    When you said you still lived in a dream world in some ways,I think I understand. I feel the same, to some extent. The way the world works is difficult for me, I feel like I’ll never be tough enough to live in it comfortably.

    I just keep chunking one day at a time down. I am learning life is tough for almost everyone- If only we could be more compassionate with each other.

    I am taking things more slowly, more deliberately, more restfully. I have too,
    Emotional upheavals, even the ones in which I am trying to be supportive of others in, are draining me lately.

    So that is where I am right now on my path. No person is an island, but when you’ve been left an emotional island its hard to get your feet on the ground. Its hard to heal, to see the areas you need to heal, and deal with the world at the same time.I found my core belief is still that I still don’t believe I deserve good things or love. I’m still angry too that my reactions are not always assertive and strong.I’m angry I was raised to back down.I’m angry I am still afraid.

    I felt ashamed, for example, when the car dealer emotionally and mentally abused me- that is what it was.I felt I allowed it and was angry at myself for not standing up to him. After two hours of ‘discussions’ over what went on, I was right back to being 8 yrs old.

    But tomorrow is another day.

    liz

  10. Susan,
    Thanks for sharing transparently about your journey. I think it’s so good when others can see what recovery really looks like so there is less shame about the ups and downs of it. I appreciate you sharing your voice!
    Christina

    Liz,
    You sure expressed so much of what I’ve felt in the past. It’s easier for me to see now who is the one who should feel shame when I’m treated so poorly now, but I remember the feelings you mentioned so vividly. I learned to confront very slowly. I felt guilty about it at first, but I get better at it all the time. I’m really good at it now! So hang in there.

    I’m so glad you’re learning to be more gentle with yourself by simplifying as much as you can. That’s such a great step!
    Hugs, Christina

  11. By writing so honestly and vulnerably, you become a real person to your readers- far more than just someone who facilitates healing in others. Thank you for speaking your heart.
    I have come to the conclusion that we cannot age without huge challenges to face – for some it’s pain from the past that haunts us, for others it’s floods, fires, tsunamis or whatever. But to walk with someone who is bravely facing her challenges and allowing us a window into her soul as she does so is a privilege.
    Thank you.
    Blessings to you on your journey – of good memories to replace the bad, joy to replace the pain and multitudes of family to love you as God intended you to be loved,
    Maribeth

  12. Agree with Linda. I recall a colleague saying “Growth comes from pain and discomfort.” and a friend saying “Allow yourself to feel, even if it’s sadness or anger.”

    Some of us survivors were brought up with black and white thinking that we feel discouraged if we have a bad day, but we’re human. The recovery process isn’t a straight line.

  13. Thank you, Maribeth!

    No Longer A Slave,
    That old black and white thinking sure has a way of creeping in! It’s all in or all out with nothing in between. That’s another thing that discouraged me when I realized that I was STILL thinking that way. I thought I was done with that, too. But now I look at it as another opportunity to see what’s really in there. I can accept where I am without it getting to me like it used to.
    Christina

  14. Wow. That’s amazing; in a good way. I never knew administrators thought the process sucked. I think it sucks, which is a thought that unfortunately is present more than absent. But someone in another self-help group told me I don’t have to like what I need to do. But I need to do it.
    I understand that b/c my mom always told me I don’t have to like everything I eat, but I have to eat at least one vegetable or fruit, one serving of meat and one of milk at dinner time. This would be when I was still growing and needed those things, although you always need protein and iron on a daily basis. Your body will make its own protein if you don’t get it, but It can’t make its own iron supplement. A doctor told me that, and I know that’s a little off-topic, but it’s also a fact I use to force myself to do painful work. I think the work is necessary but I don’t always like doing it.

  15. Vicki,
    Yes, the healing work is necessary, though it isn’t pleasant. BUT the results are VERY pleasant and that’s what keeps me doing the work. I’m glad you are too!
    Christina

  16. I think in a lot of ways, Im afraid to let go of the mask of control over my healing journey. I dont want to give in and let healing happen on its own, I want it to do what I want it to do when I want it to do it, period. I feel like I can’t “afford” any more really bad days, or anymore super angry moments because then I will just be swallowed whole by the anger and fear and emotions and self destruct and end up back in the hospital one more time.

    So everytime I have a super strong emotional response to something, I stuff it down, and keep stuffing it, and deal with it a tiny bit at a time, hoping that it will work that way, and it never does. But I also feel like I have “worn out my welcome” in the emotional arena, especially with my marriage. My husband just wants it to stop already. He has literally asked me “how much longer is this going to take?” and gets frustrated and annoyed with my emotional moments, and sometimes I get so angry that I just want to explode, and that is even worse than just sadness or fear or whatever.

    I just feel like I have no choice but to do it, and do it fast and get to a level that is “liveable” and find some other way to live besides being emotional about everything…and I hate it, but I dont know if that is me being overly dramatic, or if he is being unreasonable, or both…and thats only ONE part of life. Ugh.

  17. Amira,
    Those feelings of wanting to control the process are very familiar to me. I was afraid of being swallowed up by it the same way the abuse threatened to. But healing and the abuse aren’t the same thing. Sure, the original emotions come up, but they are going OUT not coming IN. They are going out to be gone for good. More layers may come up later, but not the same layer/issue unless you hold on to it. I know your husband wants you to be done and all healthy and fixed, but that’s nothing you can control. Your job is to heal. It’s frustrating for a spouse to see all the suffering and to experience all the unsettling moments, but that doesn’t mean a spouse has the right to short-circuit health and well-being. WE didn’t ask for this– the abuse or the challenges of the healing process. We don’t have anything to apologize for. Spouses sometimes need outside support to face their own issues with this, but they have no right ask us to compromise our well-being to relieve their discomfort. To us, it’s life or death; to them, it’s disruptive to their peace.

    Abuse tells us that we don’t have the same value that everyone else does and the healing process can be a challenge to that lie. You have equal value to your husband and have the right to expect to have the chance to be healthy. I truly hope you know that.
    Hugs, Christina

  18. Hi, I also posted this on Emerging from Broken. I tried to find an appropriate article to post this.
    It is about the physical results of sexual abuse. It helped me and I think it might help others. Just sharing to help. I am also happy in a weird way about it.
    Many of us who were raped and or sexually abused were not believed. I have brought this up before but there seems to be much more information and interest on the body and mind connection that on actual provable damage our bodies have as a result of sexual abuse and or rape.
    I was told I was lying and so on in court.
    When I was 18 I actually went to a hopsital in NYC and got proof of my physical damage.
    But that hospital no longer exists it merged with another one and I doubt they have records from 1981.
    So to make a long story short, I had surgery for breast cancer from 2008-1010
    I started having digestive problems after surgery. I recently went to a doctor in NYC (a very high end doctor) and had a few stomach biopsy’s because of the digestive problems. I am also due to a get a colonoscopy and a few other tests next month.
    The result of the tests I had show some stomach damage from the surgery which is common after surgery and can be corrected easily with medication.
    But the doctor said very hesitantly that there was some other damage to my internal organs that can only be from rape and said I don’t want to offend you but have you been raped?
    I was so relieved that he asked! I am 48 years old the last time I was raped was probably when i was 14.
    Yet I still have damage from it and he said it can’t be from anything else.
    So I wanted to share that for anyone who may be facing court issues with their abusers. This may help me tremendously!
    He is just a gastroenrologist not even a GYN but obviously top of his field.No other doctor has caught this!
    He is sending me for more tests at the end of next month and he believes it will confirm what he suspected and then there may be some surgery or therapy to repair some parts of my female organs that I did not know were damaged!
    For those who have faced court issues with lawyers and abusers who call them liars something like this is invaluable! The only problem is there is no DNA at this late stage in my life to prove who did it but I can now prove it happened! I hope this helps someone else!

  19. Christina,
    Thankyou thankyou thankyou. I am writing this with tears streaming down my face. My last rape was 5 years ago and there is a lot of times that i HATE myself cause i still feel dirty. I have just woken up from one of my frequent nightmares that have haunted me. I always find reading these stories help me to get a perspective on the issue and allows me to realise that i am not the only one who is troubled with this angst. Reading your story tonight has helped me to regrasp that every day that i dont try to harm myself over the incident is another day that i am stronger. It has helped me so much so i and my father thankyou from the bottoms of our hearts,
    Hailes

  20. Hailes,
    Knowing that someone else understands always helps me too. Abuse has such an isolating effect–we’re even separated from our true Selves. But connecting with other survivors and sharing honestly and vulnerably has the mysterious effect of helping us reconnect with ourselves. Thank you for sharing!
    Christina

  21. Just when I think I have done enough grieving, another wave hits.
    I have joined a group for survivors – and it is already proving to be both wonderful and challenging. Yeterday I was on a high – I’d had a good experience and felt validated and heard. And that continued into my indivudual therapy session later in the day. I felt I had made some important connections – and said some things I had only ever thought in private – never expressed. And today I feel like crap. The things I said yesterday now reverberate round me and through me – I guess thats a change from being numb – but today I feel my brokeness so much more acutely.
    My husband tries to be supportive – but he asks when it will be over – I can’t answer – and I resent even being asked. I asked him what he wanted or Christmas – he wanted sex – lthough he quickly apologised I know that’s what he is thinking about – he seems to have a one track mind. We did have a good long talk this morning – and I think he understands more – he finally realises that this is not just about sex now – its about my neglect ful parents, my emotionally abusive father, my terrifying physically, mentally and sexually abusive schools. I was a borken person by the age of 15 – and now I am 55. All those wasted years, a life hal lived, the recurrent patterns of self neglect and abusive relationships. Meeting my husband and marryng in my late 30s was amazing – and I thought I was finally OK – but 2 years ago it all fell apart,and here I am now – feeling like a child again, looking like a grown woman.
    And thats what my husband sees – the grown woman. He can’t get huis head around the hiding of my shame, my brokeness, and most of all WHY NOW. Although he’s been told – by me, by therapists, he just doesn’t understand. It’s bad enough that he isn’t hearing me, but he isn’t hearing them either. I don’t havbe the energy to keep explaining myself

  22. Libby,
    Oh, I can relate to so much of what you said! There are a lot of highs and lows with the healing process. I remember after my first radio interview, I talked about things I hadn’t ever said publicly before and I felt great. Then the next day and for a few days after that, I felt really down. I’d heard myself in a way I hadn’t before and more of the reality hit me and I got in touch with emotions that I’d been disconnected from. So the victory led to more grieving. It’s hard not to be able to predict when that will hit.

    I’m sorry about the stuff going on with your husband. I talked a lot about my struggles with my husband and the healing process in a blog post a few months ago: http://overcomingsexualabuse.com/2011/08/23/overcoming-sexual-abuse-my-healing-or-my-marriage/

    Thanks for sharing your comment.
    Christina

  23. Wow, great writing. I so related to this, especially to the anger part-how abuse affects every part of our life. No only anger at the abuse itself, but how hard it is to get through life, now, and how hard we have to fight just to overcome. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Cassandra, thanks! I think I’m coming to a new level of accepting that living a healthy life means constantly fighting through the effects of abuse.

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