The Search for Healing – Part 3

(Read The Search for Healing – Part 2)

I’d like to say that getting the hell away from Dr. T solved all my problems. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

As soon as I got my wake-up call, I went immediately into full-blown Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And boy, was that fun! I felt jumpy, panicky, anxious, depressed, had trouble sleeping, and was basically just freaked out. But hey—at least I knew what was wrong with me!

In some ways I did feel much better. I felt lighter, less weighed down, less oppressed. When people told me I was looking good, I joked that I’d just dropped 170 pounds of dead weight.

Being “out” was weird. Now I knew that there really had been something horribly wrong—and I’d been totally clueless. How could I not have realized what was going on? How could I have let him do all those things to me? I had completely betrayed myself. I needed healing now more than ever. I got back into therapy—with a female therapist, of course—as quickly as I could. I needed someone who could explain to me what the hell had happened, and reassure me that I wasn’t completely messed up for life.

I didn’t want to believe that it could take years to resolve the trauma, but that’s what I kept hearing. I didn’t like that at all. I needed to put my life back together now—I didn’t have “years” to work it all out. Maybe I could find a healer who could speed up the process…

Yep. The search for healing continued.

This time it was different. For one thing, I knew to some degree what I was dealing with: the emotional and physical effects of being sexually exploited and abused, Complex PTSD, adrenal fatigue. And it seemed likely that some of my mysterious, undiagnosable, “unfixable” physical complaints were due to somatization of the trauma. (Somatization is defined by Webster’s as “the process by which psychologic distress is expressed as physical symptoms.”) I had repressed so many of my feelings, thoughts, and natural responses during those five years—it made sense that they had found physical expression in my body.

Imagine all the ways that physical violation can impact your body—not only due to your experience of the act itself, but also because of all the ways you respond to it, physically, emotionally, psychologically. Consider all the self-protective mechanisms you might employ: tensing, guarding, trying to become smaller, trying not to breathe or scream or make noise, trying to physically contain your emotions so they don’t spill out, and doing whatever you can to protect yourself, including armoring against any future attack. Your mind and body find a way to manage something that would otherwise be completely unmanageable, and the effects can linger for a long time.

It started to make sense to me why I hadn’t gotten much in the way of results from my exploration in the healing arts. After all, Dr. T had been violating me on a weekly or monthly basis that entire time. How could I possibly have gotten better when, after every healing arts session, I walked right back into the abusive situation?

So, I proceeded with my exploration, a little less desperately than before. Not much changed right away. Sometimes I’d have little shifts for the better, sometimes not. I experienced a couple of breakthroughs, but they were totally random. One visit to a practitioner could result in a major shift, while subsequent visits seemed to have no impact at all.

My exploration was different for another reason as well: I got triggered by any practitioner who reminded me in any way of Dr. T. Sometimes it had to do with a person’s attitude—the way they talked to me, the way they treated me—and sometimes I got triggered simply because the practitioner was a guy. This made things just a bit more challenging.

There were three practitioners in particular I had a really hard time with—an acupuncturist, a chiropractor, and a holistic health practitioner. The problem wasn’t just that they were men, it was that they shared with Dr. T an unfortunately common spiritual and new age belief that one must let go of anger and any other “negative” emotions and forgive in order to heal. Dr. T had used this belief to control me whenever I got mad at him (which wasn’t very often). He’d tell me how “toxic” anger was and urge me not to direct that kind of negative energy at him. He’d emphasize his point by using his fingers to “flick” my anger away from him, and then promptly withdraw from our interaction and stop speaking to me until I calmed down. (Nice therapy technique, don’t you think?)

It was bad enough that Dr. T used this to manipulate me, but now other practitioners were giving me the same shtick. They told me I needed to let go of my anger and forgive Dr. T before I could heal. Despite having no training in psychology or trauma, each was convinced he was right. I hadn’t even come out of denial yet, or gotten fully in touch with my anger, and I was supposed to let go of it and forgive him?? It felt like emotional blackmail: Forgive or suffer the consequences. Forget acknowledging and experiencing the feelings, forget holding Dr. T accountable for his actions—let’s just skip over all that to forgiveness and letting go! Every time someone said this to me, I panicked. If I couldn’t let go of my anger, if I couldn’t forgive him, did that mean I wouldn’t heal? What if it took me years to move through the anger and get to forgiveness—was I just screwed until then? What if I was never able to forgive him?

I felt enormously relieved when each of my subsequent therapists (there have been three) told me that I needed to fully experience my anger and feel my feelings in order to move through the trauma and heal. After that, whenever any practitioner told me that my healing depended on letting go and forgiving, I never went back. I was done with emotional blackmail.

I was done with Siddha Yoga, too. Dr. T had presented himself as a spiritual person, yet he had used that very spirituality to manipulate and betray me. More recently, I had discovered information about violations committed by prominent figures within Siddha Yoga—violations that were subsequently covered up, disregarded, or redefined as something spiritually beneficial to the parties involved. I wanted nothing more to do with the teachings or the community. I got rid of everything I had—books, CDs, videos, photographs, all of it. It was powerful stuff and I wanted it out of my house.

I felt betrayed by other spiritual and new age teachings as well. All this talk about letting go of judgment and “negative” thoughts and emotions, practicing gratitude, forgiveness— What if you’d been violated? Abused? What were you supposed to do then? The books and teachers didn’t talk about that. There was nothing in the books about standing up for yourself, fighting for your rights, and holding others accountable for their actions. And this whole idea that I could create an ideal reality and rid myself of suffering by thinking positive thoughts, doing affirmations, and, apparently, DENYING my actual experience and feelings— Yeah, that worked really well! Making believe that everything was okay when it wasn’t kept me stuck, held me in place, and wreaked complete havoc on my mind and body. And I certainly didn’t need anybody, however well known or respected, telling me that I was somehow responsible for being abused!

At least one thing was improving: I was growing boundaries. Though I’d never had them before, I found myself learning to say no and being able to stop engaging with people who pulled power plays on me or did anything that felt violating. I also decided that however smart, educated, spiritual or well-respected someone was, no one else could truly know what was best for me. Only I could decide that for myself.

With that in mind, I managed to ease off on the seeking a bit. I really wanted to find something that would put my body right again and help me feel better, but I realized I had to do the trauma work first. More than likely, that was the key to unraveling at least some of what was going on in my body. I also realized that the seeking was not good for me. It kept me believing that (1) there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed, (2) the thing that could fix me was just around the corner, and (3) the only thing that could help me was someone or something outside of myself. I knew these beliefs had a powerful hold on me and would only interfere with my healing. Despite the pull to keep searching, I needed to put some boundaries around that as well.

I finally did find something that worked: EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). EMDR is a technique used for processing trauma and releasing it from the nervous system. I have had some great results from it: I feel more internally resourced and better able to take care of myself, I have fewer PTSD symptoms and episodes, and it’s helping me get out of denial and back into my body. I have more hope for my healing and my future than I had before, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Regarding forgiveness and letting go, I now believe that these things happen as a result of healing, and in their own time. You cannot force yourself to let go of something you’re not ready to let go of, any more than you can force yourself to heal. It simply doesn’t work. Things take as much time as they take. You can’t control the process—you just have to respect it and try to be patient. The best way to help yourself heal is to stop judging yourself and your life. Accept yourself, your feelings and your experience. Stop trying to “fix” yourself. When you love and respect yourself as you are, you give yourself permission to heal.

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7 Comments

  1. Very good work Kristi. How brave you are. I would like to talk to you about this EMDR. I’ll catch up with you soon and we can talk.
    I am so excited about how many people you are touching and are going to touch with this site. You are doing a good work!

  2. Dear Kristi, what an amazing revelation about loving and respecting yourself and how that can bring about our personal healing. I can still find myself putting so much pressure on myself about not being able to move on fast enough, or see things on a higher spiritual level, but the truth is I am where I am. I really need to love myself right here, at this time in my journey. My therapist doesn’t get this either, I don’t think Buddist’s understand acceptance the way in which we need it. I think being exploited sexually and emotionally and mentally takes time. Trauma takes a while to heal from.
    I’de also like to comment on the other therapist’s opinions on forgiveness. First of all they were men, and when women complain about a problem they’re having, men almost always try to find a solution as quickly as possible. They forget that their biggest contribution is often just listening. Second I have found that if someone in authority would just acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers, they would find that that is often comforting to us, because then we don’t feel as if they are just giving us a pat answer, or their own opinion. I think they forget that it’s ok that they’re not perfect, or that we expect them to be. We do need them to listen to us, though, and show compassion. Forgiveness will come in time, but it never means what the abuser did was acceptable. Personally I’m having a harder time forgiving myself for being so schnooked by my abusive and fraudulent massage therapist! The truth is, he exploited my best character qualities, because he doesn’t have them, and all he is really capable of IS exploiting people because he has nothing original of his own, and that doesn’t make me a stupid person, instead, he’s the idiot! There now, that’s a pep talk to all of us who feel just a little stupid for what happened to us. They’re the idiots and we’re the nice helpful ones, only lets be nice and helpful to ourselves first from now on, or at least for a while to come, so that we can show ourselves how much value we have! Yea!

    • Thanks for your great insights! You’re so right about so many things. I especially love this:

      I have found that if someone in authority would just acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers, they would find that that is often comforting to us, because then we don’t feel as if they are just giving us a pat answer, or their own opinion. I think they forget that it’s ok that they’re not perfect, or that we expect them to be.

      If people would just stop having to be right all the time and just be real, wouldn’t it be so much easier on all of us? Maybe we’d stop judging ourselves (and others) so harshly for not being perfect.

      Healing from trauma does take time—a lot of time, in some cases. You can’t just go to a few therapy or other healing sessions and be magically cured. (I know—I tried!) It also takes a lot of acceptance. That’s really key. And it’s so hard. There’s so much to work through. But that’s how we get our selves back and progress in our healing—through acceptance of our experience and of ourselves. And the self-forgiveness piece—it’s a doozy! I started working on a post about self-blame, but I’m having a lot of resistance to writing it, so it may take a while…

  3. What Dr. T. did as far as anger goes was to use Skinnerian behaviorist reinforcement techniques to train you like a circus animal. This sounds just like the way I trained my dog not to nip or bite while she was a teething puppy. I would be playing with her, she would nip, I would yell “OUCH!”, then I would immediately turn away and not give her any attention or affection for ten seconds, not even eye contact. It worked, and I don’t think it was too bad for her. But the thing is, I have tried to be good to her in every other way, and an abused dog would certainly have the RIGHT to bite back. What Dr. T. did is incredibly manipulative, and also encouraged dependency (“You want my affection, help or respect? Well, you can’t have it!”) and degradation.

    What a schmuck.

    • Oh, and when you think about it, that shows you just what a brittle person he must have been. “Oh my God, a patient is angry with me! My ego is crumbling! The sky is falling! Help, help, I’m melting, I’m melting!”

      • Finally, my belief is that if you never forgive, it’s not the end of the damned world. You are angry. You did not forgive. *So what?!* How does that affect you badly? What do you have to lose? Forgiveness doesn’t have to be the ultimate outcome of every trauma. What’s the worst that could happen if a person wishes their abuser would drop dead every single time the thought of the abuser comes up? It’s all about you and what you want, not what emotions and values other people think are appropriate.

        “If you wanna be you, be you, and if you wanna be me, be me. There’s a million ways to be, you know that there are.” –Cat Stevens

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