February 7, 2011

Undoing the Lessons of Abuse

There’s a time in all of our lives when we have no concept of life, time, or pain. Tragedy is oversleeping on Saturday morning and missing your favorite cartoon. You don’t understand the frown you see on all of the big people’s faces…you wonder what could be so bad that they yell, cry, and fight. There’s also a time in all of our lives when we become the thing we couldn’t understand…we find ourselves lying in bed with the covers over our head, afraid to come out and face what’s on the outside…inside…there. We've all had that one thing that causes us to retreat to our beds…to shut out the world…to shut out life. For me…that one thing was my grandfather.

I remember the day my grandfather came to live with us. He appeared out of the blue, this short, wrinkled thing that reminded me of the old guy on Fraggle Rock…so how bad could he be, right? He always wore this fuzzy brown and orange cardigan. He spent most of his time watching Channel 13, which was the public announcement channel in our small town in Oklahoma. All day long, the screen would alter between solid blues, greens, and reds, with bold large print announcing the Bingo Meeting at the Local Union #202, the Pancake Breakfast at St. Mary’s Catholic Church…stuff like that. We didn’t talk much. I can only imagine the things he had seen and done during his long life – but he took all of those stories to the grave and left a far more interesting one behind.

Most of our interactions consisted of me taking him his nightly bowl of cereal and holding the screen door with the springy hinge open so he could go out onto the front porch. At the tender age of 10, I felt immensely proud and extremely grown up for helping out. After holding the door open one day, my grandfather took me by the wrist and sat me down with him on the swing.

By now, you’ve probably guessed what happened that day (and would continue to happen) – my story isn’t nearly as rare as it should be.
Last week, I shared some reflections on how I was shaped by my childhood beginnings. Today, as I thought more about this, I realized that this moment in my life – when my grandfather began abusing me – was also a beginning.

Every person who has been abused or experienced a trauma remembers that first moment when the ground shifted and life became, well, different. To be sure, there were a ton of lessons learned, but the two that shaped me the most were that being vulnerable only leads to trouble and that I had to handle things on my own.

Undoing the lessons learned from this beginning has not been easy, and they still try to rear their ugly heads from time to time. Even so, I have made my way to the other side and found myself at yet another beginning! Today, I use all of the lessons I had to learn to counteract the effects of the abuse to coach others who have experienced trauma or abuse through the process.

To those who have been abused or suffered a trauma, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. It is possible to put to rest the lessons learned and to “reshape” who you are.

If you’d like to know more how I made the journey to recovery, please schedule a time for us to chat…

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