I saw this wonderful cartoon the other day. First panel: a little cartoon figure is complaining about things. Second panel: “Take two trees. Sit under one and look at the other. Breathe.” Third panel: “There is no cure for life, but you can learn to manage the symptoms.” And there’s the little figure sitting under a tree, smiling.
That’s sort of the way I feel about being a ritual abuse survivor these days. There’s no cure – I can’t go back in time and prevent the abuse from happening. I can’t go back in time and make it not affect me to my core. I can’t even go back and forget it again. But I can learn to manage the symptoms and live well despite it.
Years ago, my idea of healing was that first you remembered everything, then you dealt with everything, and then you were all fine, just like everybody else. My model was healing from a broken leg or getting a head cold and then recovering. Good as new!
Well, guess what. It doesn’t work like that. At least not for me.
Living with ritual abuse is more like living with diabetes. Something happened to me that changed me permanently and if I don’t take care of myself it will damage me further or kill me. With diabetes, I would have to take insulin, keep track of my food and exercise, and watch my blood sugar like a hawk. With ritual abuse, the things I have to do to take care of myself are more numerous and varied and they change over time. But it’s the same principle.
I also used to have the model that when you were hurt, you went to a doctor and got it fixed. Actually, doctors usually don’t fix things. They tell you how to fix them. The doctor doesn’t give you the insulin shot; he prescribes insulin and a nurse teaches you how to do it yourself.
In the early days I sat there brightly waiting for my therapist to “do something” to me. It took a while to realize that it was up to me. I could try out the suggestions, I could ponder an interpretation, I could wrestle with different versions of reality. I could take or not take the medications prescribed for me. Or I could let all the help offered me fall on deaf ears. Nobody can change me but me.
In AA you are told that it’s not your fault that you are alcoholic. You didn’t ask to become a drunk. But now that you are, it’s your responsibility to deal with it. I sure didn’t volunteer to be abused. It wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t my fault. But I am stuck with dealing with the after-effects as best I can for the rest of my life.
Is that fair? Of course not!!!! But fair or not, it’s reality. It’s also not fair that most people either have never heard of ritual abuse or are in denial. Nor there are too few knowledgeable therapists, hardly any appropriate hospital programs, no compensation for our suffering, very few ritual abuse perpetrators prosecuted, let alone convicted. I am stuck with my society as well as my past.
Over the years, I’ve gotten suggestions from therapy, from conferences, from some wonderful books – especially Chrystine Oksana’s Safe Passage to Healing – and of course from my loving and brave survivor friends. Some ideas I found too silly or too difficult to try. I did try lots of things, though. A few made things worse. Some didn’t seem to help, others had some effect, and a few caused near miracles.
And so I go and sit under my metaphorical tree and breathe the green-smelling air and let birdsong soothe my tattered soul. And life is good enough, in spite of everything.
Adapted from Survivorship Notes, Vol. 8 No 2/3