Healing from Childhood Abuse: Get Help and Take Back Your Life

 

TRIGGER WARNING: This post deals with an account of sexual abuse and may be triggering to some people.

“No one loses their innocence. It is either taken or given away willingly.” ~Tiffany Madison

Childhood innocence. When I think of it I always picture a baby lying on their back, playing with their feet. They are laughing, cooing, smiling, and lost in a sense of wonder. Full of joy, love, curiosity, and awe. When you look at them you can’t help but smile, and their joy and laughter are infectious. At this moment, they are perfect.

Now have all that taken away from them through abuse, abandonment, or neglect, removing their ability to feel safe, joyful, loved, and whole. You have taken their soul and spirit from them. Imagine the handicap that this child has to live with. I’m sure for most it’s hard to wrap your head around it.

Well, let me tell you what I have learned through my experience of being sexually abused, neglected, and abandoned in my childhood. I grew up lost, scared, on guard, and alone. I found it hard to fit in or connect with people. I was unsure of everything, especially myself. I did not know who I was, what I wanted, or which direction to go in.

I bought in to my father’s harsh criticism of most things I did. I never felt like I could please him or live up to his expectations, so I just stopped trying. I didn’t just stop trying to please him; I stopped trying anything. However you want to frame it, I gave up or gave in.

Childhood abuse makes it impossible to sustain all those things that make life worth living. I feel that it was only through the grace of god that I didn’t take my life. Just existing is no way to live. Dragging yourself through your life can be exhausting, tedious, and unfulfilling.

I became a casualty of the abuse I endured. Today I know that without the help that I needed my downfall was inevitable. It was the natural conclusion of the path set forth for me in my childhood.

I hear the redirect all the time—stop being a victim, just get over it, and your parents did the best they could. Do we tell rape victims to stop being a victim and just get over it?

Some might be appalled by this comparison. It’s easy to do when you, yourself, have never suffered abuse or neglect.

When I was sexually abused at age five, I was as powerless as any rape victim. I didn’t have the physical ability to protect myself, or the cognitive ability to understand what was happening to me or put it into words to tell someone.

The same can be said for any child that has suffered neglect. If they have been neglected all their life, it becomes the norm for them. They don’t even realize that it should or could be any different for them. And if they do, there is almost nothing a child can do to change it.

I understand it is hard for those who have never experienced abuse or neglect to wrap their heads around it. What they need to know is that it happens all the time and is more prevalent than anyone wants to admit.

What amazes me about child abuse is how it seems we have ducked our head in the sand about it. Studies show that one in four women have been abused and one in six men. If you average that to be one in five, considering the US population is almost 323 million, that means that there are about 64.5 million child abuse survivors in the US alone.

In the US today there are approximately 22.5 million dealing with cancer at any time. Please understand, I am not comparing the two at all; just using the numbers to make a statement.

More than 65 million people in the US today are suffering the effects of child abuse, and yet it is not really on our radar. Like any horrible disease, child abuse is crippling and debilitating. It affects us emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, making the problem hard to detect and harder to treat.

It didn’t surface for me until I got clean and stopped managing my feeling with drugs. By managing them, I mean numbing myself.

At eighteen months clean I found myself curled up in the fetal position on my couch in a tidal wave of emotional pain. I felt I only had three options, which I considered in this order: kill myself, get high, or reach out for help. Through grace I was able to call out for help and get myself in to an ACOA (adult children of alcoholics) therapy group and one-on-one sessions with a therapist.

Children who have been abused or neglected were victims. What keeps them in that mode is that they blame themselves for what happened to them, as if they somehow deserved it. No one does.

If your parents or caregivers physically hurt you, sexually violated you, neglected you, or emotionally scarred you through shaming, belittling, or humiliation, you were a victim. And no matter what they told you—no matter what you were like as a child—it was not your fault.

The process of healing and recovering from what has happened to you starts with accepting that you were a victim.

This will allow you to begin releasing your shame and recognize that those who abused or neglected you were responsible for what happened, not you. And that will enable you to work through the negative emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual effects of your abuse.

I used drugs and alcohol to “get over” what happened to me in my childhood. I used the love, compassion, understanding, and support of the people I entrusted to get through what happened to me and reach the other side.

Finding recovery brought me to people that would care about me and love me as I was. These people brought me to the professional help that I needed. That help brought me to people who understood me and have lived in my shoes. Those people brought me back to who I was and wanted to be as a child before my innocence was taken.

If you are dealing with the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family please, find a support group to attend in your area. If you need more extensive help, the people in those support groups will help you find professionals in the area that can treat your issues.

Help is available to everyone, but you need to reach out and ask for it. I know because I have done it, and I am just like you.

You don’t have to live your life feeling depressed, unworthy, or dependent on unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drugs, alcohol, or food, which will only temporarily numb your pain. You don’t need to spend the rest of your days following the trajectory chosen for you when someone else took away your innocence.

It is possible to reclaim who you could have been, but you have to first acknowledge that you were a victim, confront the pain and the shame, and let other people in so they can help.

Are you willing to reach out for help so you can take your life back

 

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About Paul Hellwig

Paul Hellwig is a Certified Spiritual Life Coach who empowers adult children of alcoholic and addicted families to live the life they have always dreamed of. He is an adult child of an alcoholic and a recovering addict with over twenty-seven years clean. He’s dedicated his life to helping others on their spiritual and healing journey. Visit him at  thejourneytohealing.org.

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Hiding in Plain Sight

Have you ever had the painful realization that you have once again been hiding ? Not that someone has broken into your house and might harm you type of hiding. I mean the unconscious decision to one again live small type of hiding. Something I do so well because I have been doing it most of my life. Living behind bravado, my loud voice, intellect, humor and so on and so on.

Hiding because of fear of being hurt, being found out, falling short, not being loved or being good enough. Hiding in my house with my dogs, depressed and unhappy finding reasons to stay put. Afraid of what will happen if I stay here and if I leave the house.

Suffering through not having what I need, being empty and confused. Sick of putting up a false front and looking for relief from food or tv Feeling my psyche beginning to crumble and my spirit dampen.

What am I hiding from ? Myself is the easy answer. My power, gifts, talents and what I have to bring to the table and give to the world. Once again choosing to live small.

In 2009 I was down sized on a very good job as a Grounds Superintendent for a resort and casino. Taking the job was a big risk for me, something I wouldn’t normally do. I was leaving a steady job in NC to move back to NY. My life was good and safe, just how I liked it. I has spent many years recovering, healing, growing, becoming empowered and felt ready for a challenge.

So on faith I applied for and was hired in this new position. Not that I felt as though I had arrived but getting this job was the culmination of a great deal of hard work. I was very proud of myself and felt this was a great achievement.

So I took the down- sizing very hard even though I was told it had nothing to do with my performance. That it was a numbers game and I was one of 5 middle managers being let go. But I didn’t look at it that way. I saw it as a failure and a risk I should not of taken. What was I thinking ? Why did I stick my neck out of the safety of my turtle shell ?

I was unemployed for 18 months and suffered from depression to the point I signed myself into the psyche ward  twice in one month. The first time after not sleeping for 6 days. Also during this time my female Doberman was diagnosed with bone cancer in her shoulder and eventually had to be put down.

I really believed that this was one of the lowest points in my life. Today I know that it was partially life being life but most importantly it was about me not listening. What do I mean by that ?

On some levels I knew that I didn’t want to continue working in the landscape and grounds maintenance field. That my soul and spirit were aching to be the healer and teacher that I knew myself to be. But I chose to once again find a grounds maintenance supervisors position because it was safe, I was good at it and it was a safe choice.

But the powers that work in my life were going to allow me to continue on the wrong path. I suffered a devastating knee injury and ended having surgery and a long recovery process. Two important things happened during my recovery. The first being that I didn’t lose my job with the company but could no longer perform the work needed to be the supervisor.

The second and more important thing that happened was I was immobile for  a while and had time to think and be with myself. I realized that all the wonderful people from the 12 step fellowship that showed up to help and visit me ended up seeking my counsel on their lives and recovery. It open my eyes to what I ma really here to do.

Now I wish that this was the fairy tale ending to the story. Really it was just the beginning of another chapter. Knowing what I am here to do has brought its own set of challenge. The biggest challenge has been how to use my gifts as a healer and teacher to help others ?

I have taken the training and become a Certified Life Coach. Becoming certified was a great accomplishment, but it didn’t answer the question how to reach people that I could help. I have tried starting groups, having workshops and retreats but so far without success.

Today my struggle is to continue to hold on to my heart and souls desire to be that healer and teacher. To spend time everyday to write on the book I have started, posts for my own blog and submitting guest posts to bigger blogs. Plus not sliding back into hiding because I believe the message and teachings I have to bring  to the world are too Important. Those of love, compassion, acceptance and unity.

The Do’s and Don’ts to Help Us Heal

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A lot of the time when people  are sharing about what they are going through in terms of dealing with wounds from childhood others  will share behind them making statements that do not help and can actually do harm. These statements  about how we need to stop blaming our parents, our parents did the best the could and they couldn’t give us what they didn’t get themselves are all part of the recovery from being abused process. But  forgiveness, understanding and healing are what happens at the end of the process not the beginning.

 

We wouldn’t tell a rape victim to stop blaming their rapist would we. Why would we tell someone who has been abused to stop blaming those who perpetrated the abuse on them. Maybe if I explain the process that I and many people I  have gone through to heal it will help others understand.

 

One thing that I think will help a lot is that no matter what age someone is when they begin the healing work their understanding of what happened to them is still that of a child. Even if it seems like they are blaming their abusers that is the farthest thing from the truth. A child doesn’t have the reasoning abilities to formulate the understanding of the situation to blame their abusers. For example, when I was abused by my mother at age 5 I did not have the ability to see that what she was doing was wrong and understand that she was responsible for what happened. The only person I had the ability to make responsible was myself, I must be bad or I did something wrong, that is why this is happening. The only way that we can stop from being the victim and move on with the healing process is to place the shame, guilt and responsibility where it belongs on the abuser. I think when some says we need to stop blaming our parents they are helping us to move out of being a victim when i reality not placing the blame on them is what keeps us a victim.

 

In order to heal we can’t afford to afford to give them a break by trying to understand their motivation. If we jump to try to understand why they did what they did we will miss all the work that allows us to heal. We need to make them responsible in order to find our anger which masks our pain. The peeling of the onion in this process is anger, pain, anger, pain. We need to get all these toxic emotions out of us in order to be filled with the love we need to heal. Only then can we reach a place of understanding and forgiveness.

 

Please let us have our process. It is hard enough to work through all our questioning and minimizing about what happened without others doing the same. We need to be able stand in our truth which is the first step on our path to healing.

 

Just like in all areas of recovery you can not fully understand it if you haven’t been through. But everyone is capable of giving us the the compassion, patience and love that we need in order to heal. It really is as easy as do you wish to help or hurt them in their process. It is simply a choice.

The Healing Power of Love

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I remember when my first spiritual teacher told me that love was the most important thing there was, that it could transcend and heal all things. I thought he was crazy, not the love I was familiar with. The love that I knew was learned from those perfect families on TV and any of that I received from my family came at too high a cost. So if that was what I needed to heal I’d rather stay broken. Little did I know how wrong that I was!

My difficulty with love growing up was that I really didn’t know much about it. It was so rarely mirrored for me in my family so that my perception of what it was became skewed. I remember as a little boy waking up early in the morning and running into my parent’s room and jumping under the covers to snuggle with my father. I felt safe, special and wanted.  Even today, fifty years later I can still remember the how he smelled. But as my family life changed drastically behind my mother’s alcoholism and its effects on my parent’s relationship and our family, those type of interactions with my father stopped. As a child with limited understanding, I thought that the fact that the nurturing ended was because I had done something wrong. This sparked behaviors of seeking for love and acceptance that were very detrimental to my well being.

Addictive Behavior pioneer and lecturer Earnie Larson describes these behaviors changes so simply “What we live with we learn, what we learn we practice, what we practice we become and what we become has consequences.”

Love became something that I thought had to earn. My life became a game of cause and effect. The game was that I had to determine who I needed to be for you to love me and become that person. That who I really was did not deserve love. How painful and tiring it was to realize that I spent most of my time tap dancing as fast as I could and jumping through hoops to get the love was mine because I was a child of god.

It has been a difficult, long and sometimes painful journey back to love and it has been worth every minute of it. I have learned that the feelings of love can sooth us, bring you to tears and warm your heart. But more importantly that the actions of love can and will heal the world. It is the courage that comes from self love that allows us to act.  It is true that in order to heal we will need healing acts from others but, it must start with us. This will allow us learn to act in a loving way towards others. My father is one of the gentlest souls that I know. But growing up he rarely acted from that place with me. He was overly critical; nothing was good enough for him. I understand today that he could only give me what he had received growing up. Having love in our heart is not the end, it is the beginning. A feeling of love unexpressed in action is wasted.

Love can be expressed in so many ways: compassion, giving of your time, showing up, understanding, empathy, listening not just hearing (there is a difference), patience, gentleness, teaching, encouragement and speaking the truth, tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness, a hug,  support and speaking the truth.

I have spent a great deal of time over the years seeking spiritual enlightenment through prayer, meditation, contemplation, reading, personal growth and workshops to relearn an old lesson. Simplicity is the highest form of intelligence. Walking and living in love is the highest spiritual plane. Living in love allows us to make decisions based in love. Love based decisions take into account all those that are concerned with and effected by the decision. Not making decisions from a place of love is one of reasons that even though the US is considered the riches nation in the world, we have children going to bed hungry and citizens that are homeless

Living love is available to us all and it is as simple as making a choice.

 

No Inner Child Left Behind

 

 

 

The concept of us having an inner child or doing inner child work is usually viewed with great skepticism by most people I engage about it. I understand this as I felt the same way when I began my  healing journey from the devastation of my dysfunctional childhood. It is not easy for us to suspend disbelief. The problem lies in trying to look at it from the the mind set and thought process of an adult. this allows us to minimize and trivialize what happened to us as children.

 

The statement that I hear the most is ” My parents did the best they could at the time”. Though this maybe true, it stops the healing process before it can even start. In essence it ends up being a rationalization that keeps us from the truth that we desperately need to heal.

 

Is that how we learn in recovery to make amends. We just walk up to someone we have mistreated and say ” I’m sorry, I  was doing the best I could do at the time.” No, we take responsibility for our actions, make restitution if needed and change our behavior.

 

The example that I like to use is the fact that my mother sexually abused me at age five. Does anyone really think that was the best she could do at that time ? How could thinking that way help my healing in anyway.

 

A five year old does not have the cognitive ability to understand that his mother is wrong and bad for what she is doing to him. He only has the ability to think that it is his fault for what is happening to him. He must be bad or done something wrong. Therefore making himself responsible for what has happened.

 

Inner child work is what allows us to revisit these actions that have wounded us and see them for what they really are. Thus allowing us to work through our feelings and give the responsibility, shame and guilt back to whom it belongs.

 

Without the work there can be no forgiveness, understanding or letting go. We will stay wounded, victimized and vulnerable. Our spirit will remain weakened like a balloon with a leak in it. Our wounds causing us to act in ways that are self defeating and unproductive. Wondering why we never feel right, whole or complete. Never being able to standing firmly in who we really are and are meant to be. Always feeling that we are falling short because we are.

 

The only one that knows the truth about how we perceived and felt about what happened to us as children is the child within. They hold the secret to where we stuffed our feelings. How we compartmentalized our self and our lives so that we could survive. They alone know where they secured the glowing light of their innocence and purity for protection They are the only ones who can guide us to where the pieces of our fracture personalities  lie. Those pieces that we  needed in order for us to integrate. We need their help if we want to be whole again.

 

There is no bigger act of self love than to chose to do the work to heal and become whole again. It takes faith, courage and trust in a power greater than yourself. But, I can tell you from experience that it is worth every tear, sob, wail, heartache, bout of anger and feeling of sadness.

 

There is no out running  the past, because it can run much longer and farther than you. The only way out is through. But you don’t have to do it alone, there are people and help available.

 

Have you ever felt like something is missing. That you have this ache but are not sure for what. Are there parts of you you can’t access ? These awareness can be gifts if you chose to see and use them that way. They can guide you to the life you have been looking for.

 

Hears to the hope you chose love and the path to healing !!!