The process of healing is never simple. It’s never easy. It’s never quick.
A dear friend of mine asked me if I’m still healing. If I still have dreams about my past relationship. If I still have flashbacks. If I still struggle with the memories. The answer was a resounding yes. I’m not sure how long healing from abuse takes; I’m certainly not at the end of the road and I have yet to meet someone who is.
Abuse in any form disrupts our psyche at a deep, primal level. It tells us we are not safe, and our subconscious selves become trained to stay alert, to be aware, so harm does not befall us again.
As we sleep and dream, the subconscious mind either plays through the past experiences, trying to understand the danger and understand it, or it plays out made-up scenarios about our abusers that have never occurred. Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo contributes this to the mind’s attempt to ‘rehearse’ what we would do when approached with real danger in the waking world; the subconscious uses dreams to practice its defenses.
Then in our awakened reality, similar situations or emotions, like feelings of being trapped, helpless or out of control, may trigger flashbacks or even episodes of psychosis, as the subconscious mind fears we may be in the same danger we were before.
But I’ve found the most difficult part of healing from abuse is digging up the lies we’ve been fed (and may have fed ourselves) and replacing them with truth. For years and years, our behavior may still reflect the thoughts we used to cling to:
‘I don’t deserve love.’
‘My body is disgusting.’
‘I am unlovable.’
‘I only cause pain.’
Even when we pour truth back into our spirits (I do deserve love! My body is beautiful! I am loveable! I am a conduit of love, beauty and good things!), the lies creep back to the surface in our weakest moments and we crumble.
But that’s ok.
It’s been almost five years since my experience with abuse ended and I still experience everything I have just described. Thankfully, over the years, with the help of loved ones, research and knowledge, and consistent time spent processing everything with God through meditation, the effects have decreased significantly. But not entirely.
And I’m not sure they ever will – and I’m ok with that.
I’ve recognized that there can be no such thing as total absence of pain. Instead of running from pain in fear, I’ve turned to face it. I’ve welcomed pain to my table, and have spoken to it: “You are valuable.”
Don’t get me wrong, accepting the presence of pain as a victim is not what I’m prescribing. Instead, let us look directly at our pain as the warriors we are and let it make us stronger.
Pain pushes us to understand why we hurt. Pain pushes our limits and capacities so we can look back and say, “Look what I’ve survived.” Pain pushes us, when our own human limitations fail, into the arms of the One who is the source of truth, wisdom, love, beauty and every good thing.
The most humbling aspect of this entire experience is that I can look into someone else’s eyes who has gone through the hell that is abuse and say, “I understand.”
Every ounce of past and yet-residual pain has given me purpose. I am no longer a victim but a healer.
Pain has given me wisdom.
Pain has given me strength.
Pain has given me courage.
Pain has given me understanding.
Pain has given me intimacy with God and the people I love.
I’m not sure the day will ever come when I am totally free from the pain of my past. But I am certain that Paul was correct when he wrote Romans 5:2-5:
‘And we boast in the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’
When the dreams feel too real, let’s keep fighting. When the doubts rise up in our minds, telling us we deserve pain, let us shout back in righteous anger the truth of our strength and value. When the flashbacks hit us like a tidal wave, let us run to the arms of the King who takes up the sword on our behalf. When the instinct to push our loved ones away in fear overtakes us, let us stand up with our shoulders back and courageously walk towards them in truth and love.
Do not fear the pain of the process of healing, because you, my friend, are doing just that.
Vanessa is still conducting interviews for her upcoming book Prince or Poison: Identifying the Difference Between Love and Abuse. If you would like to share your story with Vanessa, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.