Posted by: Marie | October 30, 2009

(175) One journey with many steps

Post #175
[Book study – Thursday, July 9, 2009]

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
(Third Edition, 1994)
by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis

Part Two: The Healing Process
An Overview

[Table of Contents]


Green text: Quotes/Summaries from the book
Gray text: My words

This transformative work (the entire series of blog posts relating to this book) constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright law.


“Don’t give up.” That’s the best thing I could tell somebody who just remembered she was a survivor. That’s the most important thing right in the beginning. There are people who lived through it, and as trite, and as stupid, and as irrelevant as it sounds to you right now, you will not be in so much pain later. Even not so far in the future. If you made it this far, you’ve got some pretty good stuff in you. So just trust it, no matter what outside messages you get. You’re the only person who can tell yourself what you need to do to heal. Don’t give up on yourself.

Ditto, Amen, and all the rest . . . . these words are truth absolute!

The Tea Garden from Martin Chen

The Tea Garden from Martin Chen

The healing process is a continuum. It begins with an experience of survival, an awareness of the fact that you lived through the abuse and made it to adulthood. It ends with thriving – the experience of a satisfying life no longer programmed by what happened to you as a child. And in between is the subject of this book: the healing process.

A common analogy for the healing process is that it’s like a spiral. You go through the same stages again and again; but traveling up the spiral, you pass through them at a different level, with a different perspective. With each new cycle, your capacity to feel, to remember, to make lasting changes, is strengthened.

The Stages

Not every stage is applicable for every woman and the stages may occur in any order.

The Decision to Heal: Once you recognize the effect of sexual abuse in your life, you need to make an active commitment to heal. Deep healing happens only when you choose it and are willing to change yourself.

I made my decision to heal when I started therapy in February of 2008. However, I had NO IDEA what I was healing from, what kind of journey I was in for – that part has knocked me for a huge loop. I had no memories of sexual abuse when I started therapy. So, that has been a huge shock.

The Emergency Stage: Beginning to deal with memories and suppressed feelings can throw your life into utter turmoil. Remember, this is only a stage. It won’t last forever.

For me, the emergency stage started last March (2008). I had been in therapy for only a couple of weeks when our “digging” triggered flashbacks of a 1995 sexual assault. My memories of the assault had always been clear, but I had never dealt with the trauma. So, we dealt with the trauma in therapy.

As soon as we got the flashbacks mostly settled, I started having mini-flashbacks of childhood sexual assault. I guess dealing with the 1995 assault allowed the memories of my childhood assault to surface.

For the next several months, it is all I could think about and talk about. I told anyone who would listen, anyone who I thought wouldn’t freak out. I was totally inappropriate in my telling.

I was an emotional wreck. I kept having to go to into the bathroom at work so I could sit on the toilet and cry, then get myself pulled back together to continue my day. I couldn’t sleep. I gained ten pounds (4.5 kg) in a few months due to all the ice cream I consumed.

I guess I am the very end of the emergency stage now. I can control the urge to indiscriminately tell people – at least most of the time. The blog helps because, through my blog, I have found a place in which it is mostly appropriate to tell – and I know people are reading and really getting what I’m saying. It is a source of sanity for me.

Remembering: Many survivors suppress all memories of what happened to them as children. Those who do not forget the actual incidents often forget how it felt at the time. Remembering is the process of getting back both memory and feeling.

I still am very much “in my intellect” about what happened. I haven’t allowed myself to feel much emotion yet. I’m dreading the day I start allowing that to happen – but I know the healing that comes as a result will be good.

Inline Teasers_Page_7

Believing It Happened: Survivors often doubt their own perceptions. Coming to believe that the abuse really happened, and that it really hurt you, is a vital part of the healing process.

The believing comes and goes for me . . I am becoming more and more sure that I was sexually abused – I don’t have any other explanation for many of the symptoms.

Breaking Silence: Most adult survivors kept the abuse a secret in childhood. Telling another human being about what happened to you is a powerful healing force that can dispel the shame of being a victim.

Once I started talking, I couldn’t shut up about it . . . but the shame was huge and kept me from talking at first. Telling has given me freedom from the vast majority of the shame.

Understanding That It Wasn’t Your Fault: Children usually believe the abuse is their fault. Adult survivors must place the blame where it belongs – directly on the shoulders of the abusers.

I haven’t gotten to this stage yet.

Making Contact With The Child Within: Many survivors have lost touch with their own vulnerability. Getting in touch with the child within can help you feel compassion for yourself, more anger at your abuser, and greater intimacy with others.

I haven’t gotten to this stage yet.

Trusting Yourself: The best guide for healing is your own inner voice. Learning to trust your own perceptions, feelings, and intuitions forms a new basis for action in the world.

After firing two therapists when they were not being helpful – maybe even harmful – I am learning to listen to my own intuition about what I need to do in order to heal. Beyond that, I still have plenty of work to do.

Grieving and Mourning: As children being abused, and later as adults struggling to survive, most survivors haven’t felt their losses. Grieving is a way to honor your pain, let go, and move into the present.

I haven’t gotten to this stage yet.

Anger – the Backbone of Healing: Anger is a powerful and liberating force. Whether you need to get in touch with it or have always had plenty to spare, directing your rage squarely at your abuser, and at those who didn’t protect you, is pivotal to healing.

I haven’t gotten to this stage yet – I have lots of anger stored up, but it is still in storage.

Disclosures and Confrontations: Directly confronting your abuser and/or your family is not for every survivor, but it can be a dramatic, cleansing tool.

I did some of this by writing the letter to “X”. I have not done any disclosure to my mom, nor confrontation for her part in the domestic abuse – I’m not sure that I’m ever going to do that.

Forgiveness: Forgiveness of the abuser is not an essential part of the healing process, although it tends to be the one most recommended. The only essential forgiveness is for yourself.

I haven’t gotten to this stage yet – I think I have to feel the anger first – not sure, but that is my gut feeling.

Spirituality: Having a sense of power greater than yourself can be a real asset in the healing process. Spirituality is a uniquely personal experience. You might find it through traditional religion, meditation, nature, or your support group.

I haven’t gotten to this stage yet – my relationship with God is still troubled (on my part, not His).

Resolution and Moving On: As you move through these stages again and again, you will reach a point of integration. Your feelings and perspectives will stabilize. You will come to terms with your abuser and other family members. While you won’t erase your history, you will make deep and lasting changes in your life. Having gained awareness, compassion, and power through healing, you will have the opportunity to work toward a better world.

I haven’t gotten to this stage yet.

Quotes 087


  1. I agree with all of these except the spirituality and integration. Those are totally perception of the individual and not a universal thing. For instance, I don’t agree that to heal I need to realize a being greater than myself (that is, after all how I became DID in the first place: someone was greater than me and had more power). So, you can see that I am where you are with this one – I’m still searching.

    After reading these, I’m not at several of them, either. I suppose they will come. I admire your persistence in searching for the answers.

    • Hi, Ivory –

      Oh . . don’t get me going on my soapbox, LOL! You hit on exactly why I believe our individual relationships with God or a higher power are such personal experiences.

      It is the most intimate relationship of our human experience, I believe. And, it is shaped by every minute of our own unique life experience.

      Therefore, I strongly believe that the extent to which one has a relationship with a higher power (or if there is a relationship at all) — and the characteristics of that relationship — can only be determined by the individual — not by a church or a book or a religious leader.

      I know some people even look to a community of people (like other survivors, for example) for their higher power — either in place of God or in addition to God.

      I mean, surely the power of hundreds of survivors speaking out, supporting each other, is a force — a power — bigger than any one of us standing alone. And, that community is bigger than any one predator or group of predators.

      Great thoughts in your comment, Ivory . . I’m glad you’re speaking your piece!

      – Marie

  2. Marie –
    Thanks again for sharing your journal entries through this book. I can’t believe how far you’ve come in a short time. I started therapy a few months after you and can’t make myself go through the book.

    Interesting – you told lots of people – I am having a very hard time talking about it – at times even to my T.

    I made a huge step last week in bringing it up with my mother. Check out my blog if you have time. I am processing that in my mind now.

    Thanks again –

    • Hi, OLJ –

      I think we have to do things in our own time and in our own way. And, I think we each do things in our own order . . . you probably are way ahead of me on other stuff. I’m just glad we are both making progress . . .

      I’m proud of you for doing the work . . and for bringing it up your mother. That is really huge! Good for you!

      It’s good to hear from you!

      – Marie

  3. Great post. It IS important to know one can get through and heal.

    • Hi, April Optimist –

      Thank you for the “amen” . . . and, from reading your blog, it sounds like you have been making great progress . . . I’m proud of you!

      – Marie

  4. Thanks Marie –
    One thing about the spiritual aspect – as I look at resources available to survivors – so many seem to be faith based. I have an issue with that. I don’t mean to offend anyone – but for me, just believing that God will make it all better doesn’t work. I was a very conservative religious person for about 10 years of my life including college. I am grateful to that community, because I think it helped me survive during adolesence. But for me – it became all about guilt. Now I would say I am a “spiritual” person, but 180 degrees different in my beliefs.


    • Hi, OLJ –

      It almost seems like, in your last sentence, you are saying there is a big difference between religion and spirituality. If that is what you are saying . . . well, I agree.

      For me, I believe that religion is more about a group of people bringing their beliefs in alignment with each other and with some instrument of record (like the Bible) — it seems to be more about community. I believe that spirituality is more about the unique experience of the individual — something that is more private.

      I would have to say that, in childhood, I was dogmatically religious. Then, when I entered adulthood, I moved away from that and became more spiritually aware — I defined (and am still defining) my concept of and relationship with my higher power — and it is something I do in private (except when I blog about it) — and it often involves studying the path others have taken while on the same type of journey.

      In this quest, I don’t feel like I have to justify or bring my beliefs in alignment with anyone else’s beliefs — I feel like it is between only me and my higher power.

      Is that similar to your experience?

      – Marie

  5. Marie –
    Completely agree with your statements – and for me I’m not sure my spirituality has to do with belief in a higher being –
    I get a spiritual sense when I am in a beautiful church (without a sermon), in nature, with music.


  6. Sometimes I think that I am barely past the decision to heal in regards to this list. Even though I have been seeing my T for just over a year I haven’t told her much.

    I consider myself a spiritual person but in the last few years I have taken a step away from it. Somehow I think it maybe related to the anger issues that are buried deep within me.

    I’m hoping someday to break through to the emotional aspects of my trauma.

    • Hey, lostinamaze –

      It takes time — that is what I’m learning. And, it is not a smooth, linear progression. But, every step in the journey brings a bit of relief and healing.

      Talk to you later!
      – Marie

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