Monday, October 6, 2014

How I Got My Life Back

Written by: Harriet Morris

This is the first of a series of articles where I detail how I overturned the life-draining effect that sexual abuse had on me for 3 decades. My hope is that I can give practical ideas and inspiration to the millions of women and men whose lives have been flattened by such experiences.

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For years I lived in denial that I had even been affected by my abuse. When I was 9, I was molested by a neighbour. In my teen years, I got into situations with boys that at the time I saw as exciting and rebellious, but in retrospect were abusive. I hope to show you that these events matter less than the way I dealt with them. There is a process for moving past abuse that I think anyone, in any situation, can apply.

Fast forward to my 40th birthday. Sick of being ruled by my very compulsive relationship with food and the 40 pounds of fat that had somehow oh-so-mysteriously attached themselves to me, I committed that for my big 4-0 I would give myself a present: lose the weight and free myself of my addictive behaviour - permanently.

I did lose the weight - and have kept it off for the last three years. Compulsive behaviour never completely goes away, but I can honestly say I am in successful recovery.

Why am I telling you this? Because at the heart of these transformations was a painful and incredibly powerful realisation: my bulging waistline, bingeing and body hatred were all symptoms of my past abuse. Food was the only psychological playground where I felt safe to express myself. Of course, this was all completely invisible to me at the time.

The only way to change my life was to leave that playground and sit down with my past. Stare it in the face. Then transform what I was looking at.

Sounds simple? Of course it isn't. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. However, as I said there is a process I followed. This process involves no time machines (how I longed for one of those! Oh, to go back and avoid the abuse). It involves no revenge. No fake forgiveness. No telling yourself to drop all judgments.

Instead this process takes you from victim, past survivor to something far more powerful (interestingly, the English language has no word for what I mean, so I have had to create one: thriver. It's very important to me to get us beyond the concept of surviving the past to transforming it).

It allows you to tap into the vast reserves of rage you have and use them as fuel for healing. And I mean real healing that changes your life, not fluffy, Deepak Chopra-type worthy healing that sounds good and sells books. I'm talking about messy, feel-like-crap-at-the-time-but-changes-your-life sort of stuff.

This process changes the very context and meaning of your abuse so you can stop living with it. You live beyond it.

I will now lay out the different parts of this process in brief, then go into each one in detail in further articles.

#1 Get past the conscious mind. To start this process, I had to see the territory ahead. A great deal of the work lies in accessing beliefs that are hidden in your subconscious. You don't need a hypnotherapist for this, just curiosity and a bit of patience.

#2 Connect with your invisible beliefs. My next step was to come out of denial, to see the havoc my abuse had wreaked on my sense of self. A very difficult time, but absolutely vital. You cannot rebuild a broken down house until you accept it's in ruins in the first place.

#3 Reframe the abuse. This is where you move from victim, past survivor to thriver. I used the three stage process for moving through trauma described in the book 'The Language of Emotions' by Karla McLaren.

#4 Bodywork. Understand that trauma is stored in the body. Start learning the new and unfamiliar art of reconnecting with your body and using it as the powerful instrument for healing that it is. I used Peter A Levine's 'Healing Trauma' book and CD for this. People are paying their shrinks hundreds of pounds and dollars and are failing to access the powerful changes I experienced with this book/CD - which cost less money than I used to spend on a binge. Go figure.

This is the order I discovered these steps, and they are still ongoing. It's not a neat, linear process. You don't perfect reframing the abuse then move onto bodywork. I still get the odd flashback (that's step 1), and am still working with steps 2, 3 and 4. This is a practice, not a perfect. I can tell you that I am now free and empowered in a way I could never have imagined.

One thing I want to be clear about. My abuse was, on the face of it, less severe than many people's experiences. Please do not let this be the basis for rejecting this process ("But it was different for me"). I use these concepts with my clients, some of whom went through far more than I did. At least try these ideas out before you reject them. I will leave you with a quote from Peter Levine in the aforementioned Healing Trauma:

'Perhaps the most important thing I have learned about trauma is that people, especially children, can be overwhelmed by what we usually think of as common everyday events'

When it comes to transforming the effect abuse has on us, there is no objective scale of how much each person should suffer compared to others. My story is not your story, but it is my deepest wish that you can take from my experience what works for you and use it to get your own life back.

In my next article, I will explain step #1 - getting past the conscious mind.

Written by: Harriet Morris
Country: United Kingdom
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