Food, Glorious Food!

September 29, 2011

Food by artist Lynette Yencho

The most immediate and terrifying realization that any abuse victim comes to is that they have little control over what is happening to them. What little power they have is not enough to fend off abuse. What’s happening to their bodies is beyond their control. This sets up a vicious cycle for dysfunctional survival that can last a lifetime if you’re not careful.

The set up goes something like this: Your abuser misused his or her power against you. When that happened, they took away your sense of personal empowerment and hijacked the control you should have had over your body and your life. That damaging experience of being without power and control placed you on a lifelong quest to regain power and control over what happens to you and your body.

This quest can impact every area of your life, but there is one issue that’s a struggle for many, many abuse survivors: the relationship we have with food. Food is not a luxury, it is a necessity, but it is one that can easily get out of balance for anybody. This is especially true for abuse survivors when we hate our bodies.

It’s common to blame the weakness or the gender of our bodies for the abuse we experienced. But let’s be clear about this: your abuser is the one to blame! Not your body, your size, your strength, your gender, or your appearance. Please remind yourself of that fact often as you navigate through the debris that your abuser left behind for you to deal with.

This negative view of your body carries over to the struggle many survivors have with food. Abuse is traumatic and often impacts your brain function in such a way that your internal regulators, designed to tell you when you’re hungry or full, may be malfunctioning. In addition, food can be viewed as a way to self-comfort or exert some degree of power and control over what happens to your body.

When food is used to comfort, the food choices are often high in fat, sugar, and calories, probably ingested in portions that are too large, and consumed too quickly for the brain to send out the “you’re full” signal. This is why many abuse survivors are overweight or obese. When food is used to exert power and control, it is your way of convincing yourself that you have some degree of say in what happens to your own body. For example, to starve yourself when everyone is telling you to eat is a dysfunctional way to claim control over your body. After all, abuse takes away the power to control what happens to your body, but the way you eat returns some degree of that power and control.

Eating disorders are highly complex, and this is a very superficial treatment that doesn’t touch on many key points, such as body image. I encourage you to seek professional help if you struggle in your relationship with food.  I encourage you to begin with information from the National Institute on Mental Health by clicking this link if you want to know more about eating disorders and treatment.

For abuse survivors, the tentacles of being powerless reach far into the heart, mind, and body and throw everything out of balance. Yes, others struggle with obesity, anorexia, bulimia, and food hoarding, but the inner workings for an abuse survivor include a relentless search for power and control over one’s own body. This takes on different forms for different people, but at the heart of it all is the insatiable appetite to reclaim the right to decide what happens to your own flesh.

Recovery involves learning how to live in your own skin and appreciate your body in a way that reflects the dignity God created for you to enjoy. This goes beyond diet and exercise. It goes to the heart of what it means to reclaim what was hijacked. To treat food as a friend and not an enemy. To shift your focus from “I live to eat (or not eat)” to “I eat to live.”

Your relationship with food extends to making a spiritual transition that cares for your body as the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19, New Testament Bible), a temple that is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14, Hebrew Bible), and to be celebrated as a holy vessel. This, in turn, helps us to reclaim the balanced relationship God designed us to have with food.

Food! Glorious Food

I added this just because, well, I love the song. This is from Hey! Mr. Producer!, a concert to honor Cameron Mackintosh and performed as a benefit for the Royal National Institute of the Blind and the Combined Theatrical Charities. It was staged by Bob Avian and presented at the Lyceum Theatre in London on June 7 & 8, 1998.
 

Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

Advertisements

Secret Self

September 22, 2011

This is a picture of me when I was seven years old. At first glance, this is a child who is happy and innocent, but what you see is a master secret keeper. A convincing liar. Only one part of the whole story. You see, the same year that this photo was taken, my grandfather was sexually abusing me. No one else knew. It would be decades before I told anyone other than my husband.

Living a secret life is a skill set that most abuse survivors develop early on. It’s also a skill set that can keep you unhealthy and isolated. Shame and fear become the brick and mortar of your secret self, keeping unhealthy habits and dangerous behaviors walled in and unreachable.

You learn to be a chameleon, able to change into whatever role that the world you’re in requires of you. In the real world – the world of work, school, family, faith, and community – you present yourself one way. In an alternate world, you cultivate secret emotions, secret actions, and secret behaviors.

Even with your secret self, it’s important to understand that there is a balance to all this. Indeed, there are times when revealing your true feelings and real self might not be respected or appropriate. Those are the times when you make the decision to leave parts of yourself unknown to others, and that’s an entirely healthy thing to do in many circumstances.

But I want to return to those secrets that fester because of shame and fear. These are the ones that keep dysfunction and self-sabotage alive. These are the ones that prevent you from reaching out for help for fear of rejection or negative consequences.

One of the biggest shock for most survivors is the discovery that their struggles – be it with rage, sexual issues, intimacy and trust, addiction, or self injury (to name a few) – are not unique. You see, when you’re a victim of abuse, you have to figure out a way to deal with your reality. What started out as a means of survival often takes a toxic turn as we age and the secrets can become infected and self-destructive.

One of the great avenues that people of faith have is to include God in the abuse recovery process. We have been given an open invitation to share our load without fear of rejection. One of the most comforting passages of Scripture – at least to me – is when Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, New Testament Bible). This is an ongoing invitation without a limited number of times we can go to him, and without an expiration date.

Including God in your recovery doesn’t mean you ignore the help of mature, wise friends or the expert guidance of a therapist. It means you have many options to help lance the infected wounds of your secret self and find healthier ways to manage the issues that have come about because of abuse.

This week, take some to time write (or draw or collage) about your secrets and your secret self. Destroy it after you’re done, if you need to, but get it out of your inner sanctum and start to deal with it on the outside rather than the inside. Sometimes an act as simple as that can be a powerful step in your journey beyond abuse. Consider reading it as a prayer to God and asking for help to carry that heavy load. Also consider discussing these secrets with a mental health professional or a trusted, mature friend. Be careful about who you share this with, because the last thing you need is a person who might not handle you or your secrets well.

Getting healthy is risky, at times. If nothing else, share those risks with a piece of paper or a computer screen. The next step – seeking God or human help – will be a bit easier if you do.
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

You boss loses her car keys. You feel responsible to find them. Your neighbor’s cat is stuck in a tree. You feel responsible to rescue it. Your community center needs painting. You overextend your credit card to buy the paint.

Abuse survivors are notorious for taking on responsibilities that aren’t necessarily theirs to assume.

There’s a fine line between being a passionate and compassionate helper and carrying the weight of the world as if it’s yours to carry. Yes, sometimes we help people and causes because we genuinely care and want to make a difference. That’s a positive legacy of being neglected and abused: you’ve got a lot of empathy and want to help others. That’s noble and we need more people like that!

But if you haven’t done that important interior work of sorting out WHY you want to help, you can find yourself used, exploited, and burned out. If you’ve got an unhealthy need to be needed, or if you help others in order to create a debtor relationship, then you’re helping for unhealthy reasons that will eventually consume you.

The darker side of this tendency is when you not only take on responsibilities that aren’t yours to assume, but you actually FEEL responsible for anything that goes wrong. You believe it might somehow be your fault that your boss lost her keys or that kitty got stuck up a tree or that the community center is in need of repair.  For many of us, it can actually create a sense of horrific panic.

For most abuse survivors, the pressure to take on these tasks AND also feel responsible for anything that isn’t right goes deep. It stems from having to navigate across the constant shifting sands of an environment where abuse was possible. The way people cope when they’re threatened varies, but the one thing we all have in common at such times is our desperate search for ways to control the uncontrollable.

When you’re in an unsafe and exploitive environment, you’re scrambling to do everything you can to protect yourself or protect others you love. You do whatever it takes to accommodate, avoid, or overpower the abusive person. At very deep levels, you believe that if you hide enough or fight enough or run fast enough, the abuse will stop. Of course, that’s rarely the case, and when you discover your limitations, it feels like you could have – should have – would have done more . . . and then things would be different.

If you’ve been reading my thoughts for any length of time, I’m a firm believer in getting mouthy with false beliefs once you recognize them as false. The way you get to that point of recognition involves using pain as an ally (an archived series from last month.)

Being a kind, compassionate, and merciful person is a beautiful quality born from a pure heart willing to love and serve others. Feeling responsible for everything that goes wrong and trying to be all things to all people is born from a heart full of fear – old fear – that must be understood in order to become healthy.

The funny thing about doing the deep interior work of abuse recovery is that – on the outside – it may all look the same. You may still help your boss find her keys. You may still get the cat down from the tree. You may still help paint the community center – but not by overextending your credit card (but you might lead a community fund raiser to pay for the paint!). 

The difference is that you help and serve because you’re a caring person, not because you have internalized responsibility for these circumstances. You help – not because you hope you can make unreasonable people happy – but because you can help. There’s a sliver of distance between these actions, but there’s a world of difference between these motives.

You’re not responsible for everything that goes wrong. Yes, there are times when we are all responsible for messing things up – and when that happens, well  . . . that’s yours to claim and make corrections. The next time you feel that deep seated panic that you’re somehow responsible for things that go wrong, take a few minutes to really examine those thoughts. If that’s not the case, then do what you can to help – but not because you have to . . . because you want to.
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

I totally love the honesty that comes across in a well known New Testament Bible story. It’s taken from Mark 9:14-27. A desperate father brings his son to Jesus for healing. In this passage, the text reports that the boy was demon possessed – but the symptoms certainly sound like grand mal epileptic seizures.

Regardless, the boy was in serious trouble and his dad was frantic. He explains the situation to Jesus and then states, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

Jesus is a little sharp with his comeback when he said, “IF you can?” He goes on to tell the man anything is possible if he believes. The urgent father quickly replies, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

You see, this man had already been failed. He had already experienced dashed hopes. If you back up a few verses before this exchange, you’ll see that the father had already opened his heart and hopes that his son would find help. He took the boy to Jesus’ disciples. The dad really put himself out there by taking such a sick boy out in public. Just the fact that he did this and brought him to the disciples tells you this man had some degree of faith – or at least a little chutzpa!

I imagine he felt pretty foolish when the disciples delivered nothing. Zip. Nada. I imagine that his inside voices were laughing at him, chiding him for having the nerve to hope anything would change, and probably calling him stupid for expecting something other than a catastrophe.

That’s what happens when you experience dark things like abuse. That’s what happens when you were vulnerable and looked to family and friends for protection, but instead received abuse and exploitation. That’s what happens when you reach out for help later – help for your broken heart and body, help for your shattered soul and mind – and don’t get what you need. Those inside voices will scream bloody murder at you for actually having the audacity to expect anything but negative experiences and failure.

Abuse survivors can be a cynical bunch. We’ll usually only take risks – vulnerable risks – when we’re in so much pain we really don’t have many options left. We tend to be the “half-empty” crowd rather than the “half-full.” That’s because it’s easier to have low expectations or no expectations than to risk opening your heart up to being failed, used, or exploited again. We shrug our shoulders and say, “Ah . . . never mind.” We convince ourselves that we don’t want to bother other people or reveal our weaknesses.  Why? Because that’s a heck of a lot easier than putting your energies and heart into positive expectations. !

In other words, we generally snatch failure firmly from the jaws of success and expect the other shoe to drop – as the old saying goes. For example, if we find a partner who loves and respects us, we expect we’ll eventually be abandoned or betrayed. If we get a good medical report, we expect the doctor to call us back and say they gave us someone else’s results. If we set our sights on something that is completely within our reach – like an education, we expect the school to burn, the teacher to die, or the dog to eat our homework.

The double edged sword for abuse survivors is the desperate need to hope and the devastating reality that we have been failed and used by others. That’s the inner workings for most abuse survivors.

We’re so much like that terrified father who cried out to Jesus, “I DO believe!!” Then he followed it with extraordinary honesty, when he said, “. . . help me overcome my disbelief.”

That’s a great challenge for you in your journey beyond abuse. You measure your hopes and expectations today with the abuse and failings from the past. They are both legitimate realities and they must both be acknowledged or you will be paralyzed.

The battle for abuse survivors to be positive and hopeful is epic. Faith may come easily to some people, but for abuse survivors, it’s the story of this desperate dad every single day. But I want to point out that despite it all, that terrified dad showed up with his horrific reality, asked for help, was failed miserably by the disciples, and asked for help AGAIN until he found what he needed.

In your conversations with God this week, be honest. If you doubt and struggle, that’s not a news flash to God. If your faith is unwavering and strong, that’s not a news flash either. Either way, God gets it and somehow lifts us to our feet, like Jesus did with that sick little boy (Mark 9:27).
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

I’ll never forget one of my monumental melt-downs I had many years ago. On the outside, I looked together, competent, and healthy. The inside was another story altogether. I felt a bit like one of those lava cakes that blows up and then collapses with messy goo inside. I was a master at hiding the messy goo – at least most of the time, but the damage from the sexual abuse I suffered through as a child was overwhelming me and I wasn’t able to hold it together like I needed to.

It all came to a head one day at the grocery store. I had honestly been oblivious to everything around me – lost in flashbacks and depression. I somehow made it to the check-out line, counting down the minutes until I could get out of there and explode into tears. Hold it together, Sallie! Hold it together. But then, it happened. The tipping point that exposed all that goo inside me.

The poor grocery bagger asked me, “Paper or plastic?” I look at the pimply faced kid as if he’d just asked me to explain quantum physics. That meaningless little question was just too overwhelming for me. Sweat poured from my skin. I couldn’t breathe. I was icy cold and nauseous. Alarms and fog horns were deafening me in my head. I was at DEPCON FIVE and couldn’t reason my way through the horrific decision of whether I wanted my 15-items-or-less groceries in a plastic bag or a paper bag. I had my much anticipated meltdown about ten minutes too early and I felt as exposed as when I was that little girl, stripped naked in the corner of a room.

It was a horrendous moment for me, but it was so ridiculously over-the-top that it helped me to continue on my journey beyond abuse. Once I survived the shame of emotional exposure and mental chaos, once I got out of that grocery store and into the safety of my car, I knew I still had a lot of work to do. It was in doing that continuing hard work that I discovered how incredibly normal I was. Yep! Me . . . NORMAL!!

One of the most important steps in abuse recovery is to recognize that your experiences and your reactions to abuse are not unique. Of course, most of us don’t know that – especially at first – because secrecy and false shame keep us isolated. When you suffer alone with abuse and its damage, you have no way of knowing that almost every abuse victim feels the same way you do, or that there are others who have been through similar experiences.

I’ll never forget the incredible relief I felt when I began working through my abuse issues. I discovered that I wasn’t my abuser’s only victim – and while I wasn’t happy that others had been similarly exploited, I realized that it wasn’t my fault. It was my abuser’s fault. As I learned more about sexual abuse, I learned that it’s common for victims to experience a degree of pleasure, that kids often sexually act out with others as they try to make sense of what is being done to them, that secrets are kept because of emotional and psychological manipulation – not just physical threats, and that self-image is formed around exploitation, shame, secrets, and fear.

No wonder we struggle with depression, anger, self-hatred, and addictions (to name a few issues). No wonder we are plagued by self-doubt and irrational phobias. No wonder we are easily overwhelmed, resistant to intimacy, and unable to trust. This is the damage – and it’s common and normal.

This week, take some time to write down the issues that you struggle with. That list will help you to see yourself accurately. It is also probably the same list that virtually every abuse survivor could make. You see, you’ve experienced normal reactions to very ABNORMAL experiences – the experience of being abused, exploited, and violated.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at a few of the normal issues that abuse survivors struggle with: (1) Expecting the other shoe to drop; (2) Feeling responsible for everything that goes wrong; (3) Addicted to . . . everything ; (4) Secret sex; (5) Food; (6) Self-destruction; and (7) Fear and loathing. This information alone is an enormous piece of the abuse recovery puzzle that will help you in your journey beyond abuse.

ps – I now carry my own reusable cloth bags to the store. It’s good for the environment and it’s one less decision I have to make in public!

Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

(This is the fifth of a five part series dealing with pain)

Last week, we introduced the fourth segment on our PAIN AS AN ALLY series: (1) Pain Demands a Response; (2) Seek Appropriate Help; (3) Relief Isn’t the Primary Task; and (4) Ask THE question – Where Will I Allow My Pain to Take me? This fifth segment may rock your world a bit, so I ask you to read it carefully and ponder ideas that may challenge your beliefs in uncomfortable ways. Hear me out before you send me your rebuttal, okay?

Let’s put your journey beyond abuse into perspective. I want to be very clear that I believe faith and hope are absolutely imperative elements of abuse recovery. Got that? HOWEVER, I think when people equate faith and hope with “happily ever after” they are ill-prepared for reality and are on fertile ground for a disastrous spiritual catastrophe.

People often ask me if it’s possible to be healed from abuse and sexual trauma. I think that’s a loaded question, and it may be the wrong question. I think the better question is, “Is it possible to move beyond abuse?” To that, I emphatically answer, “YES!” But moving beyond abuse – to me, and certainly to the approach we use in Committed to Freedom – is about recognizing the value of strategies in dealing with the many issues associated with a history of abuse.

You are on a lifelong journey. Abuse or no abuse – from birth to death, you are a growing, developing, and changing being. When you add abuse into that mix, then the damage (which we’ve explored in previous segments) morphs and surprises you right along with the process of personal growth.

For example, let’s take the issue of abandonment – a BIG one for most abuse survivors. That terror of being alone, unwanted, devalued, not included, or insignificant is how the damage of abuse is manifested in most survivors. This means you often panic at the thought of being discarded, that you struggle to trust anyone with your true self, and that you’re always expecting your relationship to be dysfunctional or temporary.

So ABANDONMENT (in this example) is painful. How can you use abandonment as an ally and not an enemy?
(1) Recognize that it is demanding a response from you – which means you acknowledge that it’s a struggle and you decide you’re not going to sabotage your relationships by running away or smothering people to death in response to the painful fear of abandonment.
(2) Seek out wise help and resources to better manage the panic caused by your fear of abandonment and that you steer clear of help that will fill you with emotional toxins and spiritual poison.
(3) Ride out the fear of abandonment and follow its trail until you recognize that you’re really feeling the pain of abandonment that comes from a history of abuse. By determining the source of your abandonment fears, you can respond to present abandonment concerns rather than react to experiences from long ago.
(4) Ask yourself THE question: “Where will I allow my fear of abandonment to take me?” Determine that you won’t smother someone to death in an attempt to control them or you won’t push people away rather than take the risks that come with all relationships. You will let it take you to re-evaluate your worth in your own eyes and begin to appreciate the magnificent person you are – with or without anyone else. You will allow it to place healthy boundaries in your life so that you are neither a doormat nor a bully.
So, you’ve got the whole abandonment thing resolved when you’re a young adult – in this example. BUT you don’t stay a young adult forever and some of the natural strengths and attributes you had then begin to change. You find yourself less virile and culturally attractive. Less strong. Less valued on the job. Less healthy and energetic.  If you aren’t prepared to use your strategies throughout your lifetime, the evolving YOU will be undone. Fear of abandonment can completely undermine your progress all over again if you don’t respond appropriately, seek the right help, explore what the pain you feel is all about, and ask THE question – “Where will I allow this pain to take me?”

In my work with thousands of abuse survivors, I am often quite concerned by the unrealistic expectations of what abuse recovery actually is (and I write about this often!). To me, there is no greater expression of faith that to know that as old wounds and issues re-surface, you’ve been empowered to strategically move through it and beyond it, and memories no longer have the power over you they used to have.

You are on a lifelong journey.  As nice as a magic wand or cure-all pill would be, unrealistic expectations can lead to disillusionment and bitterness. Eventually, all fantasies are shattered.  Truth is the path to wholeness, and “truth” is often messy, dangerous, complicated, and ugly.  Once you stop giving energy to fantasies, you will have the energy to strategically become healthy and whole.

If abuse is part of your experience, then use your painful history as a motivator to seek peace, help, and spiritual solutions. This changes your quality of life. Your mental health improves, your relationship become healthier, your body works better, and your spirit finds peace.
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

(This is the fourth of a five part series dealing with pain)

Last week, we introduced the third segment on our PAIN AS AN ALLY series. The first segment was Pain Demands a Response. The second segment was Seeking Appropriate Help. This week, we explore THE question that empowers you to move beyond abuse – to move from being a victim to a survivor and a survivor to a THRIVOR! This occurs when you use pain as an ally, not an enemy. Remember, an ally is someone who joins with you to work toward a common purpose.  Once you understand how to use pain as your ally, then you can begin to resolve how to use it for empowerment and abuse recovery.

Most abuse survivors live on “auto-pilot,” meaning their thoughts, actions, and reactions are rarely challenged or questioned. That’s why there is so much chaos – the auto-pilot is programmed and pre-set for a destructive course.  To change course and get your life on track to move beyond abuse, you absolutely must challenge the auto-pilot with this question – THE question:

 WHERE WILL I ALLOW THIS PAIN TO TAKE ME?

This question is THE key to personal empowerment and disruption of self-sabotaging cycles. (Remember that you can substitute the word “pain” with any word that describes negative issues you struggle with.)

People mistakenly believe that “healing” from abuse is the same thing as being struggle-free. I think this is a fatal error and leaves you completely unprepared for the journey beyond abuse. It is “magic wand” thinking that will undermine all your good intentions to break free of the past.

You have to be a realist. Jesus was a realist and never pretended something wasn’t a problem when it was. To equate faith with denial is settling for a cheap substitute that will ultimately fail you when you need it most. Faith looks atrocities and problems, as well as beauty and victories full on – without wincing – and acknowledges them for what they are. I’ve heard the saying, “It is what it is.” And in the case of abuse recovery, this is especially profound and relevant. 

All this is to say that your energy needs to be focused on HOW you respond to pain, NOT pretending you’ve got no struggles.  Let’s use the example of rage. Rather than using your energy to convince yourself you’ve got it under control or – even worse – that you don’t have an anger problem, here’s a self-conversation to see how asking THE question will work in your favor:

“I am enraged! Where will I allow this rage to take me? I’m going to let it take me to my time-out place where I sit, do deep breathing, and pray for calm and reason to return. I will not let this rage take me to screaming at my family or throwing something breakable across the room. I will not allow this rage to hurt me or anyone else. I acknowledge that I’m enraged and that I need to figure out why. I’m pretty sure it has to do with my feelings of being afraid, alone, or frustrated. I’m going to allow this rage to motivate me to get some help and some perspective. I’m going to allow this rage to remind me of the damage that can be done if I let it get out of control. I will not stuff my feelings, but I will take a good honest look at why I feel this intensely to face my fears and problem solve what frustrates me.”

Of course, this is a very simplistic example that is obviously laced with powerful emotions and complex issues, but you get the idea. If you’re enraged and you put your fist through a window or drive your car through a building, you’ve allowed your pain to be your enemy. If you’re enraged and you take a time-out to get yourself under control, then seek help for perspective and wise strategies, then pain has become your ally.

Taking yourself off auto-pilot is extremely challenging at first, but like any other strength training, it gets easier over time. Taking the time to acknowledge your struggles and then ask THE question changes how you live and move beyond abuse.

Making the choice to allow pain to conquer and re-victimize you means that abuse recovery is delayed and one more layer of pain is added to your life and relationships. Making the choice to use your pain as a motivator to seek peace, help, and spiritual solutions changes how you live. Your mental health improves, your relationship become healthier, your body works better, and your spirit finds peace.

Most of us have very little control over painful experiences that happen to us.  What we do have control over is how we choose to respond to pain.
Take a few moments this week to answer these questions:

  1. Where have I allowed pain to take me in the past?
  2. What can I do to take my life off auto-pilot and allow pain to become my ally?
  3. What are some strategies that I can plan today for the next time I struggle with my frequent issues?

Next week, we will discuss part 5:  Understanding the lifelong journey beyond abuse
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

(This is the third of a five part series dealing with pain)

Last week, we introduced the second segment on our PAIN AS AN ALLY series. The first segment was Pain Demands a Response. The second segment was Seeking Appropriate Help. This week, we explore the idea that RELIEF is NOT your primary task. Remember, an ally is someone who joins with you to work toward a common purpose.  Once you understand how to use pain as your ally, then you can begin to resolve how to use it for empowerment and abuse recovery.

When seeking ways to use pain as an ally, not an enemy, the initial task in dealing with pain is not focused on relief; it is focused on understanding and managing the source. Confronting the origins of your pain with truth, honesty, powerful information, and appropriate strategies will ultimately provide relief, but that is an OUTCOME of digging beyond the symptoms and discovering the source.

What are the SYMPTOMS of abuse related pain? Depression. Rage. Addiction. Hyper-vigilance. Perfectionism. Trust. Sexual dysfunction. Panic. Irrational fear. Eating disorders. Recurrent nightmares. These are just a few of the painful issues that abuse survivors suffer with. Yes, they are painful and real issues, but they are often symptomatic of the unresolved suffering from abuse and trauma – the SOURCE of these symptoms.

Many years ago, I experienced severe, chronic, and debilitating physical pain that landed me in the emergency room on many occasions. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so they gave me medication to numb the pain. Eventually it would push past those drugs and intensified to the point that I was incapacitated with blinding pain. Long story short. I found my way to a specialist who seemed more concerned with discovering WHY I was in pain than she was in writing a prescription for pain killers. By the time she performed surgery, had this doctor not entered the picture I would not have survived the source of the pain. That excruciating pain was merely a symptom of a life threatening condition. I almost died because the symptoms were being treated, not the underlying cause.

This story runs parallel with the pain abuse survivors find themselves in. We’ve already established that pain won’t be ignored and that you need to be careful who you seek for effective help. These two principles of using pain as an ally will require that you stop addressing only the painful symptoms and begin addressing the source of those symptoms. Symptomatic relief of any kind of pain does not address the core issue, which is the source of that pain.  As the effectiveness of symptomatic relief wears off or wears thin, you will find the need to move beyond the symptoms.
Help that only covers up the real issues won’t be effective in your ultimate goal of abuse recovery.  You may temporarily cope, but there is hard work to be done, which starts by unraveling the mysteries, identifying the source of pain, and then knowing what to do with it.
There may come a time in your recovery when you experience pain so keenly that it compels you to track it down and follow it back to its source.  If you only goal is pain relief, you will never address its cause, only its affect. 

Don’t get me wrong! It’s completely understandable that you want to feel better FAST! The problem is – if that’s the focus of your recovery tasks – symptomatic relief takes your attention away from finding real solutions.  It pushes your goal of true relief further away and delays recovery a little while longer.

If pain is to be your ally, then you must want more than to just FEEL better.  You must want to BE better.  This means you’ve got some decisions to make about what to do with abuse related pain. It establishes that you are empowered to address the source of pain, not just live with the symptoms. This task is key to abuse recovery and to the eventual relief – real relief, not symptomatic relief – of your emotional and spiritual pain.
Take a few moments this week to answer these questions:

How much energy have I used to focus on the symptoms rather than the source of my pain?

What do I think fuels the intensity of this symptomatic pain?
Next week, we will discuss part 4:  Asking THE question that leads to recovery
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom – Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

(This is the second of a five part series dealing with pain)

Last week, we introduced the first segment on our pain series – Pain Demands a Response. This week, we explore the need to carefully seek appropriate help if pain is to be your ally, and not your enemy. Remember, an ally is someone who joins with you to work toward a common purpose.  Once you understand it as your ally, then you can begin to resolve how to use it for empowerment.

The question that must be answered in abuse recovery is, “Where will my pain take me?”  You can substitute many words for the word “pain” – rage, chaos, depression, panic, loneliness, etc. – but we will use the word “pain” to encompass these experiences. When seeking appropriate help, here are some ideas to consider:

The Role of Blame
We all have relationships that are important to us.  However, these may not be the same people who will help you in your recovery process.  In fact, many of your relationships may be very toxic and dysfunctional, yet you continue look to them to help you find healing.  Sometimes you may actually be using these people in a negative way to justify your own destructive choices.

It is important to honestly acknowledge the function that bad relationships often serve in maintaining this justification.  We rationalize it by saying things like, “If he would just stop doing that, then I wouldn’t be so angry!” or “If she would just do this for me, then I would be fine!” 

When it comes to seeking appropriate help, relationships that feed your anger or bitterness will not be the ones to help you find real peace from your past.  You don’t necessarily abandon these relationships, but you must stop expecting them to help in your recovery process.

Spiritual Wholeness
Appropriate help must also encourage spiritual wholeness, must acknowledge that you are a spiritual being with spiritual needs and spiritual damage.  Appropriate help will encourage you to explore spiritual issues and invest in your relationship with God. A good spiritual model to consider is that of Christ. How did he respond to pain? He responded with respect, peace, tolerance, dignity, beauty, love, honor, and sacredness.  When we respond to pain with anything less, then we settle for less.  We get less than what is possible, our pursuit of spiritual wholeness is hindered, and pain remains an enemy rather than an ally.

Cultivate
Another component of seeking appropriate help is that you must decide what you want to cultivate in your life.  What do you want to grow?  Peace and health?  Dysfunction and chaos?  Understand that whatever you want to grow will need to be fed and nurtured. The opposite option to this is that whatever you do not want to grow, you must starve.

Most people who move forward discover that there are issues or experiences, even people, which they must either walk away from completely or embrace completely.  You will discover that if you truly want to be healthy, there are places you can no longer go and things you can no longer do.  You will also discover that there are places you can begin to frequent and experiences you can pursue in order to nurture wholeness.  This is all part of seeking and receiving appropriate help.
Take a few moments this week to answer these questions:

Have I expected to find help from toxic relationships? Have I used these toxic relationships to justify staying stuck? Who can I seek out that will appropriately help me in my journey beyond abuse?

Are the people and resources that I turn to for help also encouraging my spiritual wholeness? In what ways have I responded to pain like Christ? In what ways do I need to respond to pain like Christ?

What do I want to grow? How have I nurtured it in order for it to grow? Who and what do I need to walk away from? Who and what do I need to fully embrace? What do I want to starve?

Next week, we will discuss part 3: The Goal Isn’t Always to Relieve the Pain.
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom, Abuse Recovery Solutions – providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.

Giving Up The Ghost

June 30, 2011

I love a good ghost story and have always been fascinated by the themes of ghosts in books and movies (not the creepy kind, the Charles Dickens or Scooby Doo kind). I especially love plots where characters discover why they are being visited by ghosts and then have the chance to send them away so that they can finally have peace and quiet.

In your journey beyond abuse, you probably feel as if you’re being haunted by the past. The flashbacks, the nightmares, the fears and panic are lurking in the dark corners of your mind. Sounds like creaking doors or footsteps down a hallway can still conjure up a sense of dread and terror.

Abuse recovery involves confronting the past and recognizing it for what it was and is. There’s tremendous pressure that builds with each passing day when you are haunted by past abuse and trauma. In fact, that pressure can become so great, it can paralyze and prevent you from living in the here and now.

Fear of the unknown can stifle anyone. I think that’s a big issue for many abuse survivors, even if they have vivid memories. The past has taken on a life of its own to disproportionately dominate you. Like the tension that builds in a ghost story as the characters cautiously approach a darkened room, approaching what lives in your memories can feel much the same. It is the foreboding anticipation of coming face to face with pain, betrayal, exploitation, abandonment, torment, and violation.

I’ve heard people say that the past can’t hurt you, but we all know that’s a hollow statement. Of course the past can hurt you! It hurts by being relived in your mind, by the dysfunction of your present, and by the way your growth and development have been stunted as you have to overcome obstacle after obstacle in order to function. But I want to make this very clear – the past IS the past. It has created challenges that others don’t have to face, but it IS the past. It is NOT the present.

Confronting the past – living in truth and reality – is one of the most liberating and excruciating experiences an abuse survivor can have. It means that you embrace the truth and acknowledge its impact on you. It also means that you can turn to face forward instead of always looking over your shoulder for the ghosts of your past. Tell those ghosts that you’re not going to live with them in the past any longer. Tell them that you are taking your life back – taking it away from them – and reclaiming your present and future. Tell them you’ve decided to give up the ghost of being dominated by abuse and trauma.

It is these kinds of proactive decisions that shift your focus from past to present, and present to the future. This week, when those memories haunt you, flip on the light in that darkened room of your mind and tell that ghost to get out. This is the beginning of living beyond abuse.
Written by Sallie Culbreth, Founder
Committed to Freedom . . . providing people with holistic empowerment and spiritual tools to move beyond abuse and sexual trauma. This communication is provided for education and inspiration and does not constitute mental health treatment.  This communication does not constitute legal or professional advice, nor is it indicative of a private therapeutic relationship. Individuals desiring help for abuse related issues or other psychological concerns should seek out a mental health professional.