How can I change ?

Is change possible for me? How much change can I realistically expect ? How can I change, particularly if lack of time or money is limiting what I have access to ? Can I do it on my own, or do I need professional help ? Is there hope for me ?

These are the questions I grappled with at the beginning of my recovery. I believe most of us do – wether we call it recovery from an addiction, from anxiety, from depression, from a traumatic past, from complex post traumatic disorder, or sexual violence (sometimes an unfortunate combination of all of the above).

In hindsight, I did change a lot, and I’m still changing. Some traits I believed were innate, like introversion, disappeared. Some traits, like assertiveness, emerged from the depths, together with this previously unknown feeling, anger. My self esteem shot up. Thanks to my new found self esteem and anger, relatively solid boundaries appeared.

Explaining how I changed, though, is a tough challenge. And some problematic aspects did not move at all. Why? I don’t know.

So I recruited help, as usual, this time in the form of a podcast : Why don’t we get better ? by Forrest & Rick Hanson. This podcast seems to be a very promising source of insights and reflexion by the way, so I subscribed. It may well be a nice addition to my very short list of useful podcasts. I’ll keep you posted.

But back to our topic of change: as a very experienced therapist and author, Rick Hanson’s thoughts are much richer and more structured than mine. However, I was glad to see I agree with a lot of what both father and son (isn’t that sweet ?) say here.

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Healing shame

There are many consequences of having lived through sexual violence. But if I had to chose the most important one, for its impact on my life, or its overwhelming presence in my mind all these years, it would be shame.

Our shame seems to know who we are. It is this voice telling us that we are so inappropriate, wrong, guilty, and stupid, whatever we do. Since it is about us and not our behavior, there is no chance at ever escaping it. The best we can do, is hide our true nature to people around us.

This belief is one of the reasons we feel so lonely: even when surrounded by people who love us, we cannot help thinking they would not, if they knew the “real us”.

Shame is an ugly feeling. It’s dark and heavy. By its sheer presence, it can ruin everything good in our life: either preventing something good to happen, or preventing us from enjoying what is good. It’s a contemptuous, hostile way to relate to ourselves.

And it can be never ending. I used to think I would prefer be anyone else than me. And then I would feel ashamed to be so ashamed. Oh boy.

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How does psychotherapy work ?

I went to see a psychotherapist once it was clear I was not going to make it on my own. And by “make it”, what I really mean is being able to live my life. I waited until I had no other option partly because I did not know how it would work.

Giving access to my inner world to someone else, without understanding what would happen, was terrifying.

I had found my therapist in the phone book, which is admittedly not the best way to do it. At the time the main trend in my country was the psychoanalytical theory. So what I imagined was lying on a couch with a therapist sitting behind me, who would not say a word while I would be going on and on about my past.

Understandably, the idea made me want to run away. I was so relieved when I saw there was no couch and my therapist did not particularly expect me to talk about the past.

Apart from that, she did not have a clue as how to help me, and the therapy went nowhere. Honestly, no benefit at all. After a couple of months of me being mostly confused, she moved to another country and let me in the care of a male, more experienced therapist.

I was petrified at the idea of spending an hour a week alone with this unknown guy, but I gave it a try because it was still my last hope. I think he also did not know how to help a child sexual abuse survivor, but still, with time he managed to reconcile me with the male half of humankind. He also got me to a perfectible but better relationship with myself. All in all, no small result.

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Book Review: Self-Care for Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents

Self care is the basis of recovery from Trauma, Addictions, Depression, and many other psychological issues. It is an absolute must for a healthy, comfortable life. Often, this is what we never learned or what we forgot because of what happened to us.

I once believed that self care meant buying myself stuff, or taking a hot bath with candles. I don’t know where I picked up this idea (probably from people who have an investment in me buying stuff, like women’s magazines): shopping or taking a bath are not my thing. That’s not what self care means for me.

Self care means we are able to identify our needs, we believe that we deserve their satisfaction, and we take action to get these needs met. It took me decades to understand this, and I believe I still have much room to grow.

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Facing love addiction

In a nutshell, love addiction is being dependent on a relationship, even though it has become a source of pain.

Sometimes, the pain is about your partner being physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive. Sometimes, it is about a partner who openly does not love you. It can be that your partner is in the throws of another addiction, such as alcoholism, workaholism, or sex addiction. The issue may me narcissism. Repeated betrayals. A loved one being married to someone else. Whatever.

Life in this relationship is painful, chaotic, unhealthy. On some level, you know that the relationship is not good for you. You may even be clear that it is destroying you. And yet, you find it impossible to walk away. You sometimes make attempts to do so, only to realize that ending the relationship is truly unbearable. You go back, and now on top of everything you despise yourself.

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Emotional Flashbacks

Quite by chance, I took an incredible book with me during my holidays : Complex PTDS, from surviving to thriving, from Pete Walker. I bought it because of its amazon reviews. I remember one stating : “if you buy only one recovery book, buy this one”. This is quite a statement.

You will soon see my own review for this wise book, but one of the central ideas of Pete Walker, emotional flashbacks, deserves its own full post. I can’t believe I, whith all my reading and studying, came accross this idea only now. It does resonate with my whole experience, my whole life.

My experience with emotional flashbacks

I remember precisely when I kind of understood on my own what it was. I was standing, waiting for a tramway to go to work one morning. It was more than a decade ago, but I still recall how beautiful Paris was in the morning light. My significant other was travelling for a few days, and as usual when it happened, I was feeling scared and confused. I hadn’t slept much.

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How long does therapy take?

I started my recovery from sexual abuse more than 2 decades ago, with the help of a therapist. Before that, I had been reading psychology and self help books for a few years, looking for answers already in my adolescence.

At the time, one of my most pressing question was: how long will my recovery take before I feel better ?

What I wanted is to be over and done with as soon as possible, as something I could cross on my to do list. I wanted to move on. I would have loved someone to tell me, you know, it is going to take two years, two years and a half, max. Then you can go on and live a normal life.

Fast forward to now, coming back from a few weeks of holidays: wether I like it or not, it is never over and done with. My recovery is still happening now, even when I decide that it is not because I’m on holidays and I’d like to relax.

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Am I codependent ?

Codependency

Codependent no more, from Melody Beattie, was one of the first self help books I bought. It has been very, very useful, all these years.

I have read it once again recently and it has stood the test of time. It’s still great, and it is still relevant for survivors of violence. Especially at the beginning of recovery, when we are completely lost.

Strangely enough, it is not about recovery from sexual abuse. Beattie defines it mainly as a consequence of being involved with alcoholics, even if she widens her definition somewhat.

The thing is, I have never been involved with an alcoholic, or any person caught up in a chemical dependency. My family of origin was dangerously dysfonctional, but no trace of alcohol at home.

Still, I could recognize me on each page of this book. This confused me for a while.

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Recovery: where to start

Me too : Recovery works

I do consider myself in recovery for more or less 25 years. Yes, it is a long time, and I realize it can seem discouraging.

It does not need to be. I started to feel better relatively quickly – granted, considering the state I was in, it does not seem such a feat.

But still, it was important to see my situation improving. It created the space for a lovely feeling: hope. One day, I will be fine. And sure enough, one day I was just fine. Not “happy ever after” fine, but fine most of the time.

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