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":