What if recovery is the wrong word, the wrong approach, the wrong lens to view the treatment and healing process? This question brought me to at least attempt to process this thought all the way through and blog about it so you have the opportunity to join the conversation, which I hope you'll do in the comment section below. Let's begin.
First, let's start with the question, what is recovery anyway?
The definition gives us a few inroads and insights to begin from, but it doesn't really get at what recovery is, or hopes, or attempts to be for a person in the treatment and healing process. The first definition, "a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength," implies that there is a right state of health or wellness, and there is a wrong state. This sounds very much like a victim of abuse must choose whether they are on one side or the other. Thus, a person who is in "recovery," carries with himself or herself a stigma that they are not well, and further, that they are in fact in a wrong state of wellness. Victim blaming, anyone? Ouch. That one stings a bit.
The second definition, "the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost," suggests that a trauma that has occurred has somehow robbed the victim of his or her innocence, and he or she should strive to "get back," what is rightfully his or hers to own. The heart or intent of this sentiment is at first a nice thought: surely, every child has a right to retain his or her innocence, right?
We have a right to be a child when we are children, and not be thrust into the very adult world of child sexual abuse, where our childhoods are essentially robbed from us, right? Every survivor of child sexual abuse knows this just isn't true. We know what that horror feels like every day that follows from the moment our sexual abuse first began. But the truth is: the world isn't a safe place where children retain their right to be innocent and free from the weight of being thrust forward into adulthood. We don't all chase butterflies, or toss copious amounts of glitter on things, or frolic with unicorns. So the idea of regaining something I never had seems ludicrous to me. I never had that fantasy or fairytale childhood. It didn't exist for me. Instead, I found myself forced to make the very adult choice to take the bullet and comply with my abuser's sexual demands in order to spare my siblings from this horror, not realizing the world isn't fair, and my abuser had no intention of holding up his end of the bargain. I cannot regain what I never had. Sure, I was robbed. So for me, that happened when I was only four years old. As I approach my own treatment and healing from child sexual abuse, I am no longer certain recovery is the right approach. Another way to state this is recovery may not be the right word.
Recovery has been described as many things. It can be a road, a pathway, a journey. It might also be a reset button, a reboot, a do-over, a new beginning. All of these "definitions," give insight and perspective on what recovery could be, but in many ways, it falls short. For the survivor of trauma, recovery just doesn't add up to the promise of giving us back what was stolen from us. It doesn't even come close.
So where does that leave us? It's such a common feeling for a survivor to not fit in with "normal" people. We are outsiders. We don't belong. We are the quintessential square peg trying to fit into a round hole. We just don't. Fit, that is.
For a survivor of child sexual abuse, recovery just isn't a good fit. For us, we need something that meets our unique healing and treatment needs. This led me to the following thought:
What if REcovery was more like DIScovery and UNcovering our TRUE SELVES?
Give that a minute to soak in. Feeling okay? Are you ready to move forward? It might take a few moments for you to fully absorb what I'm saying here. Let me try another way: I'm going to break each of these down a bit further to help clarify:
REcovery is supposed to equal getting back what was taken from you. This seems legitimate as long as you had something prior to your abuse that was taken, apart from your right to live an abuse-free life, that you can "RE," or RE-COVER, or get back.
What if you could, instead, DIScover, or not focus on getting something that was lost or stolen back in the first place? What if, instead, you could choose to do what YOU want to do with the cover. For me, "cover" represents the aspect of abuse that is hidden or covered up.
When you work to regain yourself, you pull the covers off, and reveal the secret. This step can be very triggering, and should not be attempted without the help and support necessary to fully go through this process. If you are considering this step, don't do it alone. Make sure you are ready, and you have professional support with a licensed professional, preferably one who is trauma-informed, and can attend to your unique therapeutic needs.
Before I can get to the final step in the "cover" process, I need to veer off from the main topic for a bit. You see, our abuser took all his or her responsibility for the abuse they inflicted on us, and placed the blame entirely on our shoulders. We tried to resist this, but over time, they wore us down. Eventually, we succumbed to their repeated statements (gas lighting) and treatment. They told us we were nothing, we were worthless, it was our fault. Then, they treated us as if we were nothing, as if we were worthless, and as if it was actually our fault.
To truly understand the process that took me from REcovery to DIScovery to UNcovering the TRUE SELF, check out "The Lying Triad and it's Dark Guard," by Bobbi L. Parish, MA on YouTube:
This brings me to the UNcover part: that the true task is to 1: Uncover the secret of the abuse, rip the cover off of the secret, and expose it for what it is. By taking the lie off of ourselves, we reveal what has been hidden all along: the lie our abuser gave to us, (that you are broken, deserving of your abuse, and essentially the Lying Triad and the Dark Guard Bobbi was talking about,) in order to avoid facing any consequences for abusing us, is finally given back to our abuser, and our TRUE SELF is seen for the first time. 2: The second task is to seek to fully know and embrace the TRUE SELF and allow the TRUE SELF to regain his or her power back.
If we as survivors are ever to regain anything, it is the truth of our TRUE SELVES. And this very important part of our healing journey can only be achieved if we move from REcovery to DIScovery and eventually arrive at UNcovering what has been hidden by our abuse: our TRUE SELVES.
If you've read this entire blog post, from the bottom of my heart to the tips of my toes and the top of my head, I thank you. I appreciate you hearing me out. You may not agree with anything I've said here. You might agree with some parts of it, or all of it. I invite you to join the conversation. Sound off in the comments below and let me know what this brought up for you, how you connect or disconnect from this concept about the recovery process. Healing from trauma and abuse have unique aspects that are not the same as other treatment and healing processes.
It is my hope that this can be the beginning of a conversation about those needs for true recovery and healing to happen in the survivor community. If you have an idea for a blog post in response to this one, I hope you'll post a link in the comments below and I look forward to reading your reactions, comments, and posts.
I will close with a checklist for recovery, "Guiding Principles of Recovery":
I found the voice of RELEASE, by Patrick Ness, immediately captivating while the story centered on Adam, but found myself at first a bit confused with the secondary storyline, although I quickly understood these two seemingly separate storylines would eventually entwine and cross paths with one another. This structure frames the story well, loosely based on, and giving literary nods to FOREVER by Judy Blume, and MRS. DALLOWAY, by Virginia Woolf. Of course, more contemporary YA works such as THE SERPENT KING, by Jeff Zentner, also come to mind among the triune circle of friends: Ness's Adam, Linus, and Angela characters.
At the heart of Release is Adam Thorn, a young man on the brink of transition between boyhood and manhood. But equally important is the internal journey he takes to identify and embrace, as fully as he knows how, his true self. Adam's true self might be as easy to discover for him as buying a single rose, unsure of his intended recipient. But as Adam wrestles with the facets that make up himself, those which are "good" or "acceptable" to the world, or to his overbearing religiously rigid family, and the other parts of himself, which seem to be "bad" or "unacceptable," parts he has kept from the public eye for fear of the consequences which have imprisoned him much of his life.
The entire story takes place within the confines of one day, and is complicated by a variety of surprises, both alarming and lovely, threats painful and stifling, and the question of how both story threads will inevitably meet. What makes this a pleasure to read, though, is the journey, the discovery, and the risk of living one's truth. Bravo to Ness and to Adam. May we all learn to risk everything for the right reasons, rather than the wrong ones. Highly, Highly recommended.
This scything, searing read tore at me from the first page, and for me, hit all the high notes in character, plot, pacing, voice, and surprises and touches that thrum long after swiping left on blast to the very last page. Silvera is at his best in his third YA novel, having read and loved both of his first books as well. I'm not ashamed to be a hardcore fanboy. He's definitely on my list of auto-read authors.
I loved the nuanced way Silvera wove life after life together in the primarily dual POV structure, with layers of other characters that may surprise you time and again. Each beat is pointed, deliberate, and a testament to the life of each of his characters, the way dancers leave it all on the floor of the club when they dance among their tribe.
My takeaway is clear: what if we lived our lives to the fullest, as if today were our last? What if we dared to be our authentic self, holding nothing back, regretting nothing, yet if we had regrets, finding the best way to make it right? How true. What a risk. And what an important message. The fact that I know Adam pours his own heart and soul out here on every page, making himself vulnerable for his readers, and did all the hard work to take us there, makes it even more a brave, glorious song, perhaps sung a bit off key, but real, authentic, and chock full of humanity.
I loved the many tender moments I found myself choked up, teary-eyed, not giving a shit that others might laugh at me since I might as well be at Make-A-Moment; after all, I'm just reading a book, right?
Mateo and Rufus leapt off the page, soared on the back pegs of a bike rushing full boar into their final day. What a day. What a life. What a powerful read. I'm still reeling from the aftermath. Damnit, Silvera: you made me mad cry. I will find you, and I will punch you. Looking forward to your next book, and the next.
P.S. The traveler game is my new fave. Love all the social media treats, too.
I don't know what your recovery pathway looks like compared to mine, but I've been walking mine out for nearly 40 years. In those four decades, I've made some progress, have experienced fallouts and fallbacks, and I've discovered things about myself I would never have known had I not done the hard work of digging below the surface and asking the hard questions. I also had to sort through a lot of difficult things, and there were times this was triggering for me. However, at the end of the day, I can look back and honestly say that it is ENTIRELY worth every pain, every trigger, and leaning into that pain and allowing myself to fully experience that as honestly as I can has made all the difference.
I can't answer for you whether this is a good way to go about walking out your pathway, but I encourage you to take the risk, or at the very least, allow yourself to consider the possibility that you can. Read on if you'd like to know more. As I often say, take whatever is helpful, and toss out the stuff that doesn't work for you. My solutions may not work for you. When you try something that doesn't work, shrug it off. That's just a sign you're not there yet, you're not ready for that yet, or it's just not right for YOU. That's okay. Be you. Be where you're at and do the best you can with where you're at. It's that simple. Or, it can be, if you let it.
The beginning of this process may be a bit off-putting for the person in recovery. As is very often the case, once you start digging, you tend to uncover more and more, and very soon you may become overwhelmed with what you dig up. It can be helpful to know beforehand that this is a very normal part of the process. After all, we aren't 2 dimensional beings. We're very complex, far more than we often give ourselves credit. That may ping onto that false belief you're holding onto that you're broken, unworthy, or an outsider. I'll come back to that later. For now, just know that's a lie, and you are worthy, wonderful, and just as valuable as everyone else.
It's high time you stop believing your abuser, turn those tapes off from replaying over and over in your mind, and replace them with positive thoughts, affirmations, and mindfulness. This will lead you to wellness, which is a much healthier place to exist. You've beat yourself down for far too long, in fact, you may have even taken the shovel out of the hands of your abuser, and done the burying of yourself on their behalf. Stop it. Enough of that. It's time to unbury some stuff and get to the truth of your actual identity. See yourself the way the rest of the world sees you. Look in that mirror. You might be surprised. It will take your breath away.
What you may find, beneath the surface of your true identity, is a person far more complicated than you have even risked thinking about. You probably think very little of yourself, or when you're in the early stages of recovery, it's much easier to believe this is true. Well, let me say it: It's a lie. Untrue. Not even close. You. Have. Value. You. Are. Amazing. You are beautiful and wonderful, and never let ANYONE, even yourself, tell you otherwise.
Let that soak in for a minute.
Think of yourself as an iceberg. This might also match how your feelings have become over the years. That's okay, too. You might have shut them off, become numb, and isolated. This is all very similar to an iceberg. But, there's more to it: You survived. You're still here. You win. Not your abuser.
It's okay to be an iceberg, but when you're ready, I encourage you to explore your emotions and let yourself feel again. I know it's a risk. It may also be painful, I'm not going to lie. IT may hurt like hell. But if you don't let yourself feel anything, you will miss so much more.
There are good things in the world.
There are positive feelings, wonderful feelings, things that are indescribable, and worth experiencing. But if you're numb to your feelings, if you're living in that dissociative state, you'll miss so much of your life, and you might not be able to get that back. Don't put the power with your abuser. Take it back. Own it. It's yours. Let yourself feel. Slowly, carefully, and you'll be able to suffer through and process the pain, and you will also have the joy of knowing what it means to truly be alive. You'll experience the good things, too. You deserve that. You always have. You may have just forgotten or believed those lies. The good news is, you don't have to anymore. Start today. Begin afresh. Unwrap the gift of feeling and experiencing your life right now.
There are many great resources you can use in your recovery and healing journey. One of my favorites is to find a great book that helps me to process some of these thoughts and feelings and reflect on how they were added together to become behaviors. Here are two suggestions for you:
Jasmin Lee Cori is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and abuse survivor. She writes bluntly and honestly about the recovery process, and gives so many great examples and word pictures that helped me immensely in my own recovery process. You'll love this resource. Check out, Healing From Trauma, and comment below once you've had a chance to read through it.
Bessel Van Der Kolk is THE resource for trauma research over the last forty years. He's survived a concentration camp and his own trauma and loss, while helping others, particularly veterans, understand and walk out what it is like to unravel the mystery of trauma and find a way out towards healing. In particular, The Body Keeps the Score, helps the reader understand that trauma does not store in the mind and body (and spirit) the way other memories do. This was hugely illuminating for me. I highlighted this book like crazy. Get your own copy so you can do the same. I'd recommend that for both of these resources. Click the covers or the highlighted text to follow the link to buy your copy today. I wrote a blog about my experience of reading The Body Keeps the Score. You can check it out here.
Of course, beginning to search for the pathway that works best for you and your recovery is easier said than done. What may work for one survivor may not work for another. Your pathway of recovery may be very different from mine. They might have similarities, as there are common threads in the process of recovery for most survivors, but your healing pathway is likely as different as your story and your experience. What you've lived through is unique. Equally true is the unique facets that make up all the complicated layers that make you you.
To illustrate this point, let's first consider the layers, the facets, the dimensions that make you the unique individual that is wholly YOU. At the very least, you have a body, a mind, and a spirit. There are three dimensions you possess that are as unique as your DNA. Check out the wheel above and consider what layers or dimensions make up who you are. When you consider your recovery pathway, it's important to note that your recovery involves ALL of these unique dimensions. It's not just a body thing. You can't just take a pill and move on. There's more to it.
Medication management may be an aspect of your recovery. That's okay. It may only need to be there for the time it takes you to work through all the stuff below the surface. (See the iceberg image above). You've also got to consider how your trauma or abuse experience impacted your mind, your mental health, and whether you have a diagnosis, or diagnoses that you need clinical help with to gain the skills and strategies you need to fully process and recover.
Another area with great significance in relation to your recovery is your support system. Do you have any supports? Are there family members or friends who know you completely, who know all that happened to you? Have you been able to share your experience with at least one other person? If not, consider what you need to make that happen. Plan it out. Make it a goal, and work toward that goal, when you're ready.
If you don't have supports, you can look for local support groups, and even groups which meet online. I know I have found private chat life coach groups, Twitter hashtag groups which meet weekly, and private Facebook Groups that vet members through a screening process to weed out trolls and abusive people looking to hurt survivors. It's sad this even happens, but it's also unfortunately true. So, guard yourself. You don't need to be hurt anymore than you already have been.
So what do you think your pathway to recovery looks like? Here are a few examples:
This is the model of recovery I used as a roadmap to healing. I began as a victim, then moved to survivor, then I developed my recovery skills through Adaptor and Thriver, and finally, I've been working to become an overcomer. Now that I am in this stage of recovery, I am also looking at where I came from (undiagnosed PTSD or cPTSD) to where I am at now in posttraumatic growth (PTG) with the added skills of resiliency, mindfulness, and wellness. These have helped my recovery and have transformed me from the person on the far left to the man I have become on the far right. As an added bonus, I have found a way to help others in their recovery, as a certified clinical mental health counselor.
Another model of recovery may look like the one above. It's not a straight line, and this is important to note: Your path of Recovery may look more like an upward spiral than a straight line. When you fall down six times, get up seven. You'll keep making your way up, up, up out of the dark cellar of your mind and your abuse or trauma experience, and you'll reach a point of light and recovery that is optimal for your healing journey.
As I said earlier, at the very least you need to attend to your body, your mind, and your spirit when developing a road to recovery.
Resiliency is a critical factor useful to develop the skills and strategies of healing and recovery. Use the list above to support your recovery goals.
Above, consider these mindfulness-based aspects of recovery which can contribute positively among other resiliency factors.
Finally, consider that your pathway to recovery may not look like anything listed here. It could feel very much like youv'e wiped out on the surfboard of your life, and you're just beneath the surface, not yet tumbled out of the pull of the wave of your trauma and abuse experience. I encourage you to find your own pathway, and develop your skills, coping tools, and recovery strategies that will adequately equip you in your recovery journey. Know that you are not alone. Know that you matter. You are loved. And you can find yourself among the wreckage, you can activate your voice and advocate for yourself and for your recovery. Take the next step today. I hope this post has been an encouragement. I welcome your comments and reactions below.
THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE: BRAIN, MIND, AND BODY IN THE HEALING OF TRAUMA by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. is a seminal work in the study of trauma and its grueling, relentless effects upon the body. Having just reviewed the preface, I am already hooked and cannot wait to read and post about my findings for the survivor community. If you have experienced any kind of trauma, you know it does havoc on multiple areas of your body. As the title suggests, these areas include:
The Brain: trauma does not store itself in Long Term Memory (begins in the hippocampus and stores in various places in the cortex), instead it bangs around inside the brain as it pleases. Engagement in activity that is similar to the trauma can elicit unwanted flashbacks which feel like it is happening right now.
The Mind: can be impacted by the intrusion effects of trauma which include: spontaneous or cued distressing memories of the traumatic event, recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or emotions are related to the event, dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) are happening again, psychological distress when confronted with internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble the traumatic event, or marked psychological reactions to reminders of the traumatic event(s) (Barlow, Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders, 5th Edition). The Dual-Representation Theory proposed by Brewin, Dalgleish, and Joseph (1996), suggests memories are made up of Verbally Accessible Memories (VAMs), which "contain some sensory information about emotional and physical reactions, and the personal meaning of the event," while "Situationally Accessed Memories (SAMs), "cannot be accessed deliberately and is not easily altered or edited as more explicitly accessed VAMs," but "SAMs compromise sensory (e.g. auditory, visual, tactile), physiological, and motoric information that may be accessed automatically when a person is exposed to a stimulus situation similar in some fashion to the trauma, or when that person consciously thinks about the trauma, which are experienced as intrusive sensory images or flashbacks accompanied by physiological arousal" (Barlow, Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders, 5th Edition).
The Body: "We can now develop methods and experiences that utilize the brain's own neuroplasticity to help survivors feel fully alive in the present and move on with their lives." The three avenues are: 1. top down, by talking, (re-) connecting with others, and allowing ourselves to know and understand what is going on with us, while processing the memories of the trauma; 2. by taking medicines that shut down inappropriate alarm reactions, or by utilizing other technologies that change the way the brain organizes information, and 3. bottom up: by allowing the body to have experiences tha deeply and viscerally contradict the helplessness, rage, or collapse tha result from trauma." (Bessel Van Der Kolk)
Prologue: Facing Trauma
The following are some of the more profound quotes I found while reading through the prologue of THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE:
"Traumatic experiences do leave traces, whether on a large scare (on our histories and cultures) or close to home, on our families, with dark secrets being imperceptibly passed down through generations." (Bessel Van Der Kolk)
"It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability." (Bessel Van Der Kolk)
"Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often begin to fear that they are damaged to the core and beyond redemption." (Bessel Van Der Kolk)
"The key to healing was understanding how the human organism works." (Bessel Van Der Kolk)
"Research from these disciplines (neuroscience, developmental psychopathology, and interpersonal neurobiology) has revealed that trauma produces actual physiological changes, including a recalibration of the brain's alarm system, an increase in stress hormone activity, and alterations in the system that filters relevant information from irrelevant. We now know that trauma compromises the brain area that communicates the physical, embodied feeling of being alive." (Bessel Van Der Kolk)
Preview of upcoming review for the remainder of THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE:
The following are a series of slides which enumerate the main themes explored in THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study:
Much of trauma can be attributed to three main areas of exposure: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction, as explored in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study.
While you're at it, check out this powerful TedTalk on the ACEs Study:
*Please note: Your score does not define you or your ability to recover or exhibit resilience. I should know. I scored a 10/10 on the ACEs. Yet, I have somehow survived those traumas. The following are the common risk factors and areas where survivors may struggle to manage their traumas:
I welcome your comments below. What has your experience been like? How is it similar or different than what has been described here? Now what? Now that you have read this post, what is your next step?
THE PACKING HOUSE is an uppper YA contemporary complete at 83,000 words, which took five years to get just right before its brief publication to the now closed publisher, Booktrope (1/18/16 to 5/31/16). Rights have reverted back to me as of 6/1/16. This is book one of a planned duology. I believe lightning can strike twice and I ask for your consideration of a novel IndieReader gave 4 stars, describing it as: "an enthralling and important piece of fiction that tastefully and honestly addresses the topic of sexual abuse of minors."
The book is also still listed on Amazon (out of print) and GoodReads with many 5 star and 4 star reviews. One of my favorite reviews is from NYTimes Bestselling author, Brendan Kiely, who gave The Packing House a 5 star review:
"In his debut novel, G. Donald Cribbs has written an emotional wallop about the courage and bravery of a young survivor. The Packing House is a tapestry of nightmares--the images that haunt Joel in his dreams and memories woven together with the painful experiences of a frayed and fractured family life, the take-no-prisoner bullying of adolescence, and the agony of loving and not knowing if it will ever be returned. And yet, Joel's story is one of strength and resilience as he hunts down the source of all this pain--a story Cribbs captures with sharp-eyed and utterly clear veracity. Three cheers to G. Donald Cribbs for endeavoring to tell this tough story and doing it so well."
--Brendan Kiely, author of The Gospel of Winter, and co-author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, and now a NYTimes Bestseller.
THE PACKING HOUSE is suitable for upper YA readers, particularly those who read books similar to FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, THE GOSPEL OF WINTER, and SCARS. Topically, this book addresses important social issues teens and their families face in today's world such as child sexual abuse (CSA), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), surviving trauma, questioning sexual identity, and sleep paralysis. As regularly as these social concerns are highlighted in the news and media indicate a greater need to have books and resources available for these readers.
When The Packing House was given a pre-order status on Amazon, I commissioned a poetry chapbook, Fish Out of Water, with gorgeous 2 page spreads for each poem to be given (either in ebook or print format to match the purchase format) as a thank you to my readers and to boost sales. The 12 total poems are spread throughout the novel, between the chapters. They tell a sublevel story of their own, parallel with the main storyline.
When sixteen-year-old Joel Scrivener has a raging nightmare in study hall and someone records it on their phone, he awakens to a living nightmare where everyone knows he's been sexually assaulted, a fact he's not ready to face. This is a secret he's avoided for ten years, mainly through dissociation and suppression. Reeling from a series of bullying incidents posted on YouTube and an ill-timed mid-year move, Joel takes to the woods, leaving the bullies and his broken home behind.
However, life as a runaway isn’t easy. Joel finds it difficult to navigate break-ins, wrestle hallucinations, and elude capture. He races to figure out who his dream-world attacker could be, piecing clues together with flashes of remembered images that play endlessly inside his head. Besides these images, the one constant thought occupying Joel’s mind is Amber Walker, the girl he’s been in love with for years. Amber sees little beyond the broken boy Joel has become, despite the letters they’ve written back and forth to each other. But Joel is stronger and more resilient than he looks, and it’s time he convinces Amber of this fact, before he runs out of chances with her for good.
The Packing House is about a teen who must choose between protecting his dignity and exposing the person responsible for his debilitating nightmares.