August 16, 2016

Escaping the Hands of the Abuser - Part 3

Today, we continue our series with Ivonne Meeuwsen. Every person's journey to healing is different, but I love how Ivonne breaks down her journey to healed!


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MY FIRST THERAPIST

"I was sexually abused as a child. You must fix me." That was how I entered the therapist's office. In a quick scan, I saw a large room with three small couches in one corner and a lot of open space, large windows and a voluminous bookcase with titles like 'When Life Hurts' and 'Reclaiming Your Femininity'. I had come to the right place, I decided.

Ellen, the therapist, explains that she isn't going to fix me, but help me become whole all the same. So I participate in her exercises. I do what I'm supposed to do. I remember one in particular where she leads me in a visualization.

I'm walking through a forest and I am a bad person. I'm staring at the ground. The abuser comes towards me and talks to me. By this time I'm crying. She takes me out of the visualization and into the here and now. After a good cry she leads me back into the same forest, but now I am a good person. I see a lot more of the forest and am almost skipping with pleasure when she tells me that he's coming towards me again. The feeling is quite different and I'm able to just walk past him.


CAUGHT IN THE APPROVAL BOX

Therapy helps. A little. I'm feeling better about myself, getting a little more grip on my daily life and I'm starting to understand how things work a little better. I'm sorting through all kinds of thoughts about the abuser. I do my best to comply with the expectations of society and the therapist. I'm surviving a little more effectively than I was before. Inside I'm still a mess. It just looks better.


MANY THERAPISTS

After that first therapy, there were others. Each specialty contributing to further my understanding of myself. I learn to feel my body again through a mix of haptotherapy, massage and, oddly, karatelessons. I learn about my own sexuality through trial and error, experimentation and eventually even some tantric exercises. I learn about my responses to trauma and how to counter them through Past Reality Integration. After about 10 years, I'm getting quite good at gaining the approval of the therapist, but I'm still having difficulty making my life work.


TIRED OF THERAPISTS

I'm not saying those 10 years have been wasted. Quite the opposite, the different types of therapy were necessary to get to the point where I was ready to really face the reality of the trauma. I'm a hard nut to crack I suppose, but in all those years of gaining an understanding of myself and what has happened to me, I've never yet felt the actual feeling that is at the heart of my trauma. I'm still quite skilled at eating my emotions away and obesity is now one of my bigger issues.


ACUPUNCTURE

At the end of my tether, I turn towards an acupuncturist who specializes in obesity. Obesity is the focus and I rapidly drop 20 kilo's under his guidance. Then I hit a plateau. He knows about my history of sexual abuse, and when I stop losing the weight he suggests therapy. In fact, his exact words are: "I could push on with the needles, but I'm afraid it might make you mentally unstable. I suggest therapy." I breathe a deep sigh and tell him no way I'm going back into therapy. Of course, two weeks later I ask him if he knows any good ones.


TAG TEAM: THERAPY & ACUPUNCTURE

Turns out there's a good therapist in the same building and she's willing to work together with him around my problem. So once every two weeks, I go see him and get needles stuck in me. The needles serve to connect me to my emotions and after 45 minutes I go three doors down, all "open emotional channels", and I talk to her. She's skilled at inner child work and after a month or two she has me going back to my inner child.

I lie on the sofa and she guides me through a visualization: I see myself as an 8 year old, standing in a circle. She asks me to bring my parents into the picture. Immediately something huge, black and ominous shows up at the edge of my circle. I curl up into a ball roughly the size of a bowling ball and I roll out of my circle. On the sofa I curl up into a fetal position, every muscle as tense as I can make it. The therapist lightly touches my shoulder and tells me: "Yes, this is what you're good at. Tensing up. It's okay to let go." Slowly, starting with my feet, I begin to move. Before long. I'm shaking all over my body and crying like a baby.


A BREAKTHROUGH

This particular session turns out to be a breakthrough. Instead of pushing the
emotions away, I am able to allow them to be. To be honest, they come crashing through me like an enormous tsunami of pain and sorrow, but I am able to lie there and have that wave crash over me. Must be the priming from the acupuncture... But also: I trust the therapist and she has told me that no-one can cry for more than 42 hours. Then you dehydrate, your body gives up and sleep overtakes you. I don't know if that's true, but I trust her on this one. Going through this wave of pain is difficult, but surprisingly, it doesn't last 42 hours. I'm not sure how long it lasts, but after a while it just dissipates. Like a wave crashing into the shore murmels back into the ocean, the pain and anguish just… evaporate. It leaves me feeling cleansed. I'm tired as never before, my tear ducts are burning and all my muscles ache from having tried to keep it all in, but I feel relieved. Lighter than I have felt in a lifetime.


GOING THROUGH THE DEEP END OF THE POOL

This session was the first of quite a few like it. I find myself going towards the trauma, instead of avoiding it. Every time I allowed myself to feel, I feel a little more life returning to me. Pretty soon I am doing it at home, not needing the therapist to coach me along. I buy myself a punching bag (a heavy 100 pound bag, none of the kiddie stuff), because the best way for me to access my emotions is through anger. I express my anger on the punching bag. When I get tired from punching, I start to feel the pain, the helplessness, the plain old sadness. At this point, I land on the floor in a puddle of my own grief. It feels never ending, but every time I go through this process I feel a little lighter.


I'M HEALED

After a while I see the therapist once every month. Then two months, then three. I'm working through all this old pain and basically my sessions with her are 'reporting on my progress' rather than actual therapy. After about a year, I tell her: "I love coming here, it's great fun, but I don't need it anymore." I graduate myself from therapy and call myself healed.


WHAT DOES "BEING HEALED" MEAN?

Well, let me tell you what it doesn't mean. It isn't 'happily ever after'. It's not that my life has become a fairytale. Things still trigger me now and then. I still have problems although they are mostly not connected to my past. I still get the occasional trigger, foul mood swing or even bout of depression. My past is still there and part of my healing has been to accept that I will never know what or who I would have or could have been if I hadn't been abused.


MY PAST NO LONGER DEFINES ME

My past is no longer the single narrative of my life. It's not even the single most important life experience. I often liken it to being raised a Catholic. I no longer believe in the Roman Catholic church anymore, especially with the recent scandals involving priests, child sexual abuse and major cover ups. But when I walk into a church and smell the incense, it does bring back memories I wouldn't have had I been raised a Baptist of atheist or whatever. But it doesn't bother me anymore. The sexual abuse is still a part of my life experience, but it's become a thing of the past.

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Ivonne Meeuwsen is author of several books on child sexual abuse. Ivonne is a survivor herself of sexual abuse from the tender age of 12 until she was 19. In her book, I Thrive. Healing from Child Sexual Abuse, she relates her story, not just about the abuse, but about dealing with the long term effects of child sexual abuse. The book gives clear insight into all the major issues resulting from child sexual abuse: social anxiety, fear, dissociation, depression and more. She tells the story from the inside out, so people who have not been abused can gain insight and understanding, whereas people who have been there will find themselves saying, "Yes, that's how it was." 
Ivonne studied social work and coaching and has a thriving practice as an online coach, specializing in child sexual abuse. In addition, she organises symposia, trains and supervises therapists on healing from child sexual abuse.

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