‘Can we heal?’ she asked, quivering with the significance of what she was saying, as if her very life depended on it. ‘Can we really heal?’ I could well understood the agony in her eyes. I lived for many years overwhelmed by trauma, the symptoms of unhealed suffering. And if recovery is impossible, then why are we even trying?
It feels a long time ago now, the time when my abuse sat silent within me. It’s been over ten years. Back then, I didn’t understand any of the dynamics of abuse. The things that had happened, the things that had been done to me, the things I had been made to do—they sat silently within me as heavy weights on my soul, fetid non-reminders of my badness, this toxic mush that I thought was me.
Coming to terms with flashbacks—understanding what they are, learning how to manage them, and eventually figuring out how to reduce them—is a cornerstone of recovery. Carolyn Spring explains what goes in the brain during a flashback and how to learn to manage them.
Recovery from trauma is hard work, but it is possible. However, there are number of things that inhibit that process, and this article looks at ten of them.
I used to struggle to understand what phase III could possibly be about, because my life was so consumed with just surviving, and then so consumed with working through traumatic material to neutralise it, that I imagined that therapy would always be like that, and that once it was no longer happening, there would be no more need for therapy.
When I first started therapy in 2006, I didn’t know much about trauma and nothing about ‘the three phase approach’. My counsellor didn’t know much more. So although I’d like to say that we started by carefully doing the Phase 1 work of safety and stabilisation, the reality was a great deal messier than that.
Is recovery possible? That’s the question that everyone is asking, even when they’re not asking it. After a breakdown, perhaps after years in the mental health system, do we have to simply accept that we’re broken and that we’ll always be broken, or is it possible to live a life where we’re back in control again, where we’re living as we want to live, where life has purpose and meaning?
I could cope with it no longer. Every part of me—eyelids, throat, bowels—everything was clenched tight in a ball of furious unbearability. This feeling—such a feeling!—loomed up over me like some prehistoric sea-monster, ready to snap me up and devour me, ready to pilfer my bones and pick apart my brain. This feeling was too much.
‘Dissociative parts of the personality’ grabbed the headlines, but my inability to set boundaries was the silent assassin destroying me from the inside… I said yes to everyone else, and no to myself. Other people mattered; I did not. And so, breakdown.
Understanding the dynamics around child sexual abuse, who the perpetrators are, how they achieve their ends, the impacts of abuse on us—all of this knowledge, this ‘psycho-education’ has aided my recovery. And so these are ten of the many things that I have learned about child sexual abuse, some of the insights that have begun to heal my shame.
You don’t need to be an expert to work with people who dissociate, but you do need to understand these fundamental issues. Here are ten steps.
After trauma our brains are sensitised to threat and our amygdala – our brain’s ‘smoke alarm’ – tends to react to burnt toast as if the house is on fire. In this article Carolyn Spring shows how to turn down the sensitivity of our smoke alarm – and overcome the impacts of trauma.