This article will discuss healing from sexual abuse, which may trigger some people. Please proceed with caution and respect your nervous system.
I was speaking to a friend of mine, who is a fellow sexual abuse survivor, about the process of coming back into your body as a survivor. I was telling her my experience of coming back into my body after having dissociated from it for over forty years, and she suggested I write about it.
The Gift of Dissociation
It is not unusual for sexual abuse survivors to dissociate from their bodies in order to survive the horrific experience. Dissociation is “the disconnection or separation of something from something else or the state of being disconnected.” In this case, we are talking about creating a distance between our minds and what is happening to our bodies. It is like our brains are saying, “That horrible thing is not happening to me; it is happening to that body,” and we distance ourselves from our body like it doesn’t belong to us.
As someone who experienced sexual abuse for most of my childhood, I see dissociation as a gift from God. There was no other way for me to tolerate or survive all the disturbing emotions triggered by this horrible violation of my person.
I will not get into the feelings of confusion, shame, hurt, or anger a child feels from this selfish act. I want to applaud those who survived these terrible experiences through the adaptive and creative coping skill of dissociation. You, like me, did what you had to do to survive.
Reconnecting the Disconnected
When we choose to enter the healing journey and move beyond just surviving, we start to learn how to “put off” the once-adaptive strategy of dissociation and reclaim the parts of ourselves that were shattered by the abuse.
The body is one of the parts that was shattered. It was severed from being included in who we are and how we see ourselves. It was disowned. Many survivors have a troubling relationship with their bodies that may lead to self-abuse such as cutting, eating disorders, and other forms of self-harm.
Some self-harm may be more socially acceptable than others. I know I am getting ready to step on some toes here, but I am trying to create awareness, so I will push forward. When you push yourself to the point of injury and abuse your body through athletics, you might get a badge of honor for being tough, but you are still abusing your body.
I abused myself for a long time through athletics…and it was acceptable. I beat my body to crap because I hated it. I hated the reminder of what had happened to me. I hated that there were parts of my body that responded to the abuse. I told myself to ignore and override pain…any pain, to the point that the pain center in my brain went dormant.
I have my brain scans from when I first started neurofeedback, and they showed that the pain center in my brain was relatively inactive. When I showered, I would turn the hot water to scalding and not even feel it. When I had a needle biopsy done on my breast, I watched but felt nothing. When I participated in triathlons, I did not feel the pain of the exertion, nor was I able to be in tune with my body to tell when I needed nutrition or hydration or when to change gears on my bike.
When I stepped into this healing journey about five years ago and started to work with my therapist to process my past trauma, I started to have a strange experience: I started to feel my body.
At first, I did not like it. I tried to push away the sensations I was experiencing. I did not want to feel it. My therapist told me this was a sign of healing, so I embraced it. The more I embraced it, the more I felt. Soon, I felt so much that it overwhelmed my brain and nervous system. My brain was not used to processing all those sensations in my body. I had to learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I had to sit in the discomfort and learn how to practice self-compassion.
I had to untwist my thoughts and stop blaming my body for betraying me. I had to realize that my body was responding the way God designed it to respond to touch. My body didn’t know who was doing the touching.
It took several months for me to come back into my body. I noticed it was like someone turned up the volume on the sensations I was experiencing in my body, and it took time to regulate and normalize.
While in the shower or standing in front of the mirror, I would put my hands on a part of my body and claim it. “This is my stomach,” and I would just hold it there. I shed a lot of tears as the parts of me that were previously disowned were welcomed home once again. This was a process that I did for weeks until I started believing it, and it became part of who I was.
I believe I have fully come back into my body, but that does not mean I still do not have a troubled relationship with it. There are still times when I hate it when I hate what IT looks like…, and I have to remember that IT is part of me, and IT may not be perfect, but IT is mine.
Progress Leads to More Opportunities for Healing
Coming back into my body was the first step in being able to heal sexually, but that is a story for another day.
If you have been on the healing journey and it feels like your body is betraying you, breaking down, getting old, or always in pain, this might be a sign that you are healing and starting to come back into your body.
- Embrace the discomfort. Remind yourself that this is part of the journey.
- Claim all your parts.
- Untangle your self-condemning thoughts.
- Develop self-compassion.
You are not alone.
I’m here for you. You can find me at www.cyndibennettconsulting.com. Schedule your complimentary discovery call today.
Believer. Leader. Learner. Advocate. Writer. Speaker. Coach. Mentor. Triathlete. Encourager. Survivor.
Most of all, I am a fellow traveler on the rocky road called, Trauma Recovery. My mission is to minimize the effects of trauma for survivors in the workplace.