by Patty Hite, Jennifer Stuck & Christina Enevoldsen
Patty: Thirty years ago, when I started to heal from sexual, physical, and verbal abuse, there were no support groups for survivors. No one talked openly about abuse, especially not about sexual abuse. I tried to talk to my friends. Although they felt compassion for me, they thought the best solution was to forget about it and try to move on with my life.
I lived in a very small farming town of 750 people so seeing a therapist or doctor who understood the effects of abuse was not an option. The internet wasn’t available at that time, so my only “friends” were the ones who shared their stories in the library books I read. I remember how deeply their stories of abuse and their courage impacted my life. Reading about their abuse confirmed that I was not alone. As they shared their steps toward healing and talked about the masks they wore in order to survive, I cried and laughed, all at the same time. They felt the same way I did and they weren’t afraid to talk about it. I felt like someone finally understood.
I never felt that I needed therapy because all the answers were in these books. I learned very early in healing that I needed to do what was right for me. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve thrown across the room because they were too overwhelming and how many times I’ve had to take a break from everything. I couldn’t see myself on a schedule, especially not forced or coerced into healing on someone else’s schedule. I was used to doing what others told me to do so I needed to be in control of my own healing.
I’m not saying I think there’s anything wrong with therapy. I’m saying it was wrong for me. And that is important in healing—finding what is right and what is not, what works and what doesn’t. Doing it my way and on my schedule is what I’ve needed.
Christina: When I started to heal from sexual abuse, I never considered seeing a therapist. I was still married to my abusive husband and there was no way he would have agreed to pay for anything that wouldn’t serve him and his plans for me. Even if he would have agreed to pay for therapy, I didn’t think I was worth the money. I often had trouble justifying just paying for a haircut.
I don’t think money was the real issue, though. I’d had two very bad experiences with professionals. The first time was when I was in grade five and the school district psychologist pulled me out of class to find out what was wrong with me. I couldn’t tell her the things my dad was doing to me, so I struggled to give her some reason for whatever she thought was wrong. I told her I didn’t have any friends, which wasn’t true. Over the next several months, she worked with me on how to make friends. I had the feeling that she didn’t like me and that she was annoyed with me most of the time. I’m glad I didn’t tell her about my abuse because she never felt like a safe person anyway.
The second time I saw a counselor was when I had an affair. I went to a Christian counselor for a few weeks (my husband was all for getting me “help” this time) and the counselor determined that my problem was that I had a demon of seduction. That didn’t help me at all, but that concluded my “help”.
In addition to my unfruitful experiences with mental health professionals, I was suspicious of people who were “experts” or authority figures. Those are the people who hurt me in the first place and I saw them as sources of harm, not help.
Jennifer: The truth is I would have loved to go to therapy and talk to someone when I was younger, but I never really felt like getting help was an option. I went to a small high school with fewer than 100 students, so there was no counselor to talk to, and I never felt like I could go to my family. I was the support person in my home and my family made it quite clear they weren’t strong enough to be bothered with my problems.
I opened up to one friendly teacher, but I never felt like she had the time or ability to help me. I truly wanted to face my past but I didn’t know how to do that. Since I had so little support, I shoved everything back down inside me. It was too painful to want the help I couldn’t get.
Like you, Christina, I never felt like I had the money to invest in therapy as an adult. It wasn’t until I discovered the world of self-help that I started opening up about my abuse again and was finally able to start healing.
I started reading every book about sexual abuse I could find at the local used book store, I joined Facebook and connected with other abuse survivors. I cut contact from the abusive people in my life and the people I knew wouldn’t support my healing, and really started looking at how my abuse had affected my life.
Christina: Books have been my primary tool for healing, too. I felt safe being able to pick them up and put them down when I wanted to. I wasn’t afraid of the book judging me or interrupting me.
I used to need to control my interactions with people and my memories felt too raw to share until I sorted them all out. Books gave me clues about the things I needed to look at. Each time I figured out some issue and faced it privately, I felt less vulnerable sharing it with close friends. There’s something about processing it that makes it seem more manageable and less threatening.
Earlier in my healing, I don’t know if I would have ever have the guts to say aloud what happened to me, so talking with another person seemed out of the question. Now, even though I’m comfortable sharing things I haven’t dissected yet, I still process things on my own and then share them with people I trust. Many times while I’m sharing, more truths come out and I can face another layer or another aspect that I missed.
Jennifer: That’s what I do a lot too, Christina. I usually work through a memory on my own by writing it out and making any connections I can between my abuse and how it’s affected my current life. But then I’m usually so excited about my breakthroughs that I have to tell my friends, and while talking I’ll realize even more! It’s great to have healing buddies, but I have to do the work of healing myself. Nobody can do that for me.
Patty: I learned that I had to do the work myself too. There were two important things that I grabbed a hold of. One was that I had to get it out. Writing was an easy way for me to do that and I still do a lot of writing. When I revisit my abuse, writing helps me to see more details. When I’m sad, happy or angry, I can express it so much better on paper. I’ve written angry letters to my abusers (I didn’t mail them) and I’ve written compassionate letters to myself.
And the other one was instilling boundaries into my life. I had to stop any further abuse. I always thought it was my fault, but by learning about boundaries, I was able to learn how to trust my judgment of people and have the ability to walk away from bad situations. Trusting myself to make decisions about people helped me to listen to the warning signs of abuse. That was a weak area in my life and I know that had a lot to do with feeling like I was an easy mark for abusers.
Christina: Writing is one of the tools I use, too. It helps me to sort things out and to express them. I used to have trouble crying, but by writing the words, “I feel so hurt and alone”, I was still able to get it out in some way.
I process an abuse memory by examining the memory in detail. What was done to me? What was said? If there was more than one person involved, what did the other person’s reaction tell me? What messages did I come to believe from the actions and words? What did those things tell me about myself and about what I could expect from the world? How did I adapt to the lies I believed? What is the truth? How should I have been treated? (When I don’t know, I think about how I would expect another child to be treated). Seeing the truth is freeing and healing.
Jennifer: I don’t have to have other people to heal, but having people I trust has made a big difference for me. A huge part of my abuse was feeling unlovable. I’ve had to face the things that made me believe that, but having loving people around during my healing sure makes that easier.
Patty: I would have welcomed a support group like Overcoming Sexual Abuse. It’s like opening a book at the library, only the survivors here are able to answer me back. Having the ability to hear so many stories of hope and healing is very empowering to me. This is real life and these are real people and I feel honored to be a part of their lives.
Christina: I used to feel that all the growth I’ve accomplished through my healing was somehow less legitimate because I didn’t see a therapist. Through healing, I’m excited to wake up everyday, my relationships are healthy, I’m finally able to love myself and feel great about myself, but I discounted all of that since it wasn’t validated by a “professional”. As I compared my process to other survivors who had therapy, though, I didn’t see inferior results. I noticed that no matter with a therapist or without, no matter with a support group or without, no matter what tools we use or what help we get, it’s up to each survivor to do the work and that’s where the rewards of healing come from.
Abuse teaches us that we aren’t enough in ourselves so many survivors falsely assume that we can’t do it on our own. The truth is that most survivors of abuse are capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for.
There are plenty of people who benefit from therapy and those who might not ever have the courage to face the past without a therapist, so I’m thankful they have a place to go. But since that wasn’t an option for me, I’m thankful that I found my own way to heal.
Patty: Yes, I’m glad that I don’t have to depend on anyone else to heal. For me, it’s been a personal reward—my work, my changes, my accomplishments. I can do this!!!
Does this resonate with you? Please join in by leaving your thoughts and feelings about this topic and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments.
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As a survivor of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, Patty Hite has been tenaciously pursuing her healing for over thirty years. She dedicates her life to inspiring emotional wholeness in others. As a former victim of spousal abuse, she’s delighted to have found the meaning of true love, a respectful relationship, and support with her late husband, Lonnie. She’s blessed with four children and five grandchildren.
Jennifer Stuck is whole heartedly pursuing physical and emotional health and is determined to heal the wounds of her childhood sexual abuse. She loves to write, especially poetry. She has an open, accepting personality, and is always ready to crack a joke. She is currently studying for a career in Physical Therapy. When she isn’t in school Jennifer is at home spending time with her two beautiful daughters.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. My passion is exploring new ways to express my empowered new life. I’ve recently discovered the joy of waterslides, the delightful scented lotion from Bath & Body Works, “Dark Kiss” and hosting princess tea parties for my granddaughters. My husband and I live in Scottsdale, Arizona and share three children and six grandchildren.