Time is a great healer, but sometimes more is needed…………
The Power of Healing
Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse
Reena Sommer, Ph.D.
There are few experiences more devastating or more capable of inflicting long term suffering than the fallout of sexual abuse. It robs children of their innocence, their security, their sense of self and their trust in others. It quashes young spirits, and drains them of the essence of childhood joy, pleasure and freedom. And over time, it colors survivors’ futures with anger, fear, disdain and self hatred.. It robs people of the ability to view life from any perspective other than with a tainted lens. And when the pain becomes too unbearable, many survivors of sexual abuse turn to drugs, alcohol, self mutilation and even suicide as a means of escape. The wounds of sexual abuse are not easily recognized nor are their effects readily understood because much of the silent suffering that transpires, resides deep with the human spirit.
The metaphor of a festering sore provides a useful way of describing the emotional wounds of sexual abuse and makes it easier to grasp the effects of sexual abuse.
The redness and swelling of inflamed tissue symbolize the visible wounds, while the infection which spreads systemically and poisons the blood stream illustrates the widespread and deep- rooted consequences of sexual abuse. And until healing occurs, the aftermath of sexual abuse is like a wound that keeps on bleeding, no matter how often a scab begins to form.
It is difficult to appreciate the power and value of healing when one has never experienced the pain of sexual abuse nor the process that sustains it. For survivors of sexual abuse, emotional pain pervades their daily existence as much as physical pain fills the days of people with long term disabilities. In both instances, adaptation to pain is essential to coping and survival, and without it, life becomes difficult, and sometimes impossible to bear. It is only when relief finally comes, that the essence of a person’s suffering can be completely realized. For those who have traveled the difficult road to healing, their struggles are well rewarded. Out of the darkness, isolation and despair come a renewed sense of self and the world around. From turbulence comes peace, from anger comes acceptance, and from guilt and self hatred come understanding and pride.
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Healing does not, and cannot change the events of the past or the reality of the present. Nor can it erase painful memories. It can however, redefine tragic events of the past and place them in a more acceptable context; one that makes it possible to regain self respect, self worth, purpose and control. Through healing, survivors discover ways of channeling their pain into productive outcomes. For some, it takes the form of developing greater empathy, understanding and compassion toward others, while for others it means becoming a more attentive parent, spouse/partner, sibling or friend; one that is committed to protecting others from the suffering they experienced.
The impact of these outcomes support the notion that a person’ s suffering need not occur in vain and give validity to their past experiences. The rewards of healing are far reaching. It can be likened to a caged bird set free and then feeling the breeze, spreading its wings and taking off and landing without restraint. For survivors it means, letting go of the shame, fear, guilt and self hatred that bind them and prevent them from fully taking part in life and living. As the fire that burns within extinguishes, feelings of peace, purpose and hope ignite.
The healing process in recovering from childhood sexual abuse is not a panacea. As in any serious injury, an element of residual pain will always linger. The pain serves as a reminder that what was and what can be.
And like everything in life, it too serves a purpose!