Healing after childhood sexual abuse - the phases from my own experience
Image courtesy of Dana Ward (Unsplash)
Note: no personal details of abuse are shared in this blog
I recently published an episode on my podcast ‘Life after Sexual Abuse’ about this topic and as a visual person, decided to include the phases within a written blog for those that may also appreciate it. These phases are from my lived experience and therefore not limited or exhaustive to the phases of any healing process. I’d love to know if they resonate or whether you have a different experience - after all, I am here to hold all of the human experience with you here.
After 12 years of actively and consciously moving through and navigating healing after sexual trauma, I reflected upon the phases of my healing and saw a pattern. Twelve years on, I am continually healing - after all, healing is a verb not a final destination. The process of healing is most certainly not linear and therefore these phases aren’t ‘follow 1-5 and you reach the end’ but I hope that they illustrate how the process is ongoing and de-layering the onion that is trauma. Finding the inner strength to even begin phase one is what I found to be one of the hardest. I tried several times to take that ‘lid’ off but was too scared to look at what was lurking inside. I definitely didn’t feel strong or brave enough to for many years. Sometimes we stay and pause at a step longer than the others and sometimes we come back to a particular step several times before we’re able to move forward. Healing isn’t a logical experience - it is a lived and embodied process and unique for each person. Healing cannot be purely cognitive - it really needs to be felt and embodied; putting one foot in front of the other until that sense of safety is integrated.
For me, the healing process has been like a 4D spiral; constantly moving and evolving. That’s not to say that it doesn’t pause when we need it to - pausing and resting is a necessary part of the process which is often one we resist because we feel we’re not doing enough to get to the end goal. That elusive end goal.
Cyclical Steps of healing:
Note: these phases are from my own experience
Acknowledging the trauma happened. This can often be the step we stay on for some time before we are ready to move onto speaking about it and seeking support. This step is repeated each time a specific part/feeling/area of healing comes up, for example, anger that it happened to us in the first place or feeling safe sexually in the present day.
Seeking support to process emotions/what’s coming up to be seen and witnessed. Being present with what you feel without suppressing or bypassing. We all experience impatience of wanting to be past the painful parts. Wanting to just let it go and move on but this is bypassing - I have tried this many times and have learned it doesn’t move you forward where you want to be by just ‘thinking’ it.
Integrating the processing of healing (nervous system safety) - integration will look different for each person and isn’t always an active process. Feeling safe in our bodies and our environment are essential to be able to integrate the processed healing. Integration happens within the subconscious mind once awareness is brought to the conscious mind. Integration can be rest, sleep, journaling or anything that is not active healing such as therapy. It’s important that integration includes the pause - where we’re not constantly chasing healing or actively ‘doing’ - yes, chasing healing is a thing. For therapy to be integrated, you need time and space to pause and integrate the self-awareness you gain from the process therefore time away from therapy is usually encouraged by therapist’s.
Embodiment - this is when healing is moved from the logical mind of understanding of what needs to be done to actually experiencing the changes within your life. Embodiment for means ‘living’ the experience of healing and not just thinking and imagining what healing feels and looks like.
Continual process of checking in with your emotions and body - are there any more layers to unravel, acknowledge, witness, feel, process, integrate and embody? This is a daily practice of checking in with yourself and learning how to recognise your own needs and knowing you can meet them needs for yourself - or ask for support when you need it.
This past trauma will always be part of my lived experience, my heart and mind but I have done the ongoing work at my own pace which means I have come to a place of knowing internal peace and no longer feel triggered by the memory. It still isn’t okay that it happened and it never will and so what healing means to me is to acknowledge, feel, grieve and release the power it once had over my being. This is work in progress - and that’s okay. I choose me and my own healing every single day so that I get to live a life free of the effects of sexual trauma. It isn’t an easy road but I am proof that it is worth it. My 12 year old self never imagined she would ever tell a single soul what happened to her, but here I am aged 37 telling the world because I feel so passionately that others should not have to do it alone.
The golden threads that are foundational supportive pillars to the process are:
Self awareness - without conscious awareness of our emotions, thoughts, actions and behaviour, healing cannot be cultivated.
Being present with ‘what is’ - being mindful when we are trying to suppress or bypass what our current experience/reality is.
Patience - with ourselves and the process itself. Trying to control and expedite the process doesn’t contain or make it happen quicker.
Being kind to yourself during the process. We are often our own worst critics and expect so much of ourselves when ultimately we can’t control the pace of healing.
Seeking support - you don’t have to and nor should you do it alone.
If you would like to hear an audio version, you can find it on the podcast ‘Life after sexual abuse - the podcast’ .
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