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. Though they felt compassion, they thought the best solution was to forget it and try to move on.
I lived in a very small farming town of 750 people. Seeing a therapist or doctor who understood the effects of abuse was not an option.
There was no internet 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. They felt the same way I did and they weren’t afraid to talk about it. I felt like someone finally understood.
I learned very early in healing that I needed to do what was right for me and I don’t think therapy was for me. I was used to doing what others told me to do so I needed to be in control of my own healing. 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.
Christina: When I started to heal from sexual abuse, I never considered seeing a therapist. Even if I’d been able to afford it, I didn’t think I was worth the money. I had trouble justifying spending money on a haircut.
Plus, 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 the psychologist I didn’t have any friends, which wasn’t really true. 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 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 any “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. I opened up to one friendly teacher, but I didn’t feel like she had the time or ability to help me.
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 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. And 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.
Christina: Writing is one of the tools I use, too. It helps me organize my thoughts and feelings, and more importantly, 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. Slowly, I connected more with my emotions and was able to express them more fully.
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: Finding 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 are here 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. As I compared my progress to other survivors who had therapy, though, I haven’t seen inferior results. 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.
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 we aren’t enough in ourselves so many survivors assume we can’t do it on our own. The truth is survivors of abuse are capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for.
There are many survivors who benefit from therapy and who might not ever have the courage to face the past without a therapist. 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. 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 enjoys spending time with her three 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.