“For what it’s worth:
it’s never too late or, in my case,
too early to be whoever you want to be.
There’s no time limit,
stop when ever you want.
you can change or stay the same,
there are no rules to this thing.
We can make the best or the worst of it.
I hope you make the best of it.
And I hope you feel things you never felt before.
I hope you meet people
with a different point of view.
I hope you live a life you’re proud of.
If you find that you’re not,
I hope you have the courage
to start all over again.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
It’s been decades since I began my struggles with depression, anxiety, dissociative patterns, self-blame, guilt, abandonment, learning problems, sexual relationships, and fear; all symptoms of childhood physical and sexual abuse. And now, several years later, I’ve reached a place much better than before.
I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with dissociative features. While PTSD receives an abundance of media coverage, dissociative features requires an explanation. Dissociative features include loss of memory, detachment and feeling as if one is outside one’s body. Add repressed memories to the mix and we have confusion, loneliness, and isolation. No recognizable warning, just relentless and continuous attacks meant to make death more attractive than life.
There were choices to be made. (1) Determine if I preferred to tough it out or reach out for help. (2) Acknowledge the fact that I couldn’t do this on my own. (3) Hire a mental health professional to be the captain of my ship. (4) Recognize the determination and strength that will be required. (5) Don’t give up. (6) Determine if I needed short-term or long-term therapy. (7) Decide whether to take medication designed to trick the neurons in my brain.
For me, the decision to reach out was easy. I had lost my identity and questioned my sanity. The fear and confusion from horrific dreams made it obvious that I needed help. That’s when I chose Olivia Jennings to be my therapist. She pledged to support me throughout the duration of my therapy. Together, we created a bond that has lasted for decades. And I currently take medication to treat depression and anxiety, and to trick the neurons into believing that I’m in control of my shit.
DNA and life’s experiences — nature and nurture — determined the development of my cognitive and emotional functions. Since I was physically and sexually abused, my emotional development was frozen in time and lacked any maturation. In other words, my inner child remained the same throughout my pre-therapy years. It was Olivia’s job to help heal my inner child and allow me to grow; a process that addressed past, present, and future behaviors.
I’m reminded of a day-care facility that was located across the street from my office. Each day one of the teachers took the children for a walk. Each child was connected to the teacher by a walking rope. It could be one or many children attached to the single rope. That’s the image I see when I think about Olivia leading my inner child through the healing process.
The journey began in my imaginary laboratory — Olivia’s office — where we studied my behavior — past, present, and future — and improved my quality of life. This was where the magic occurred.
My condition required more than a quick fix or a bandage on an open wound. It required time. The insurance coverage was running out and I was deep into therapy. This was when I chose between short-term and long-term therapy. While I had weeks of insurance coverage, it didn’t cover the time needed to address my problems. The logic for long-term therapy was based on the fact that I had more problems to be addressed. I needed more time. Thankfully, my income made it possible for me to continue. It’s sad that one’s salary determines the level of mental health care. If I had gone with short-term therapy, I would not be the man I am today.
So, the big question: Was my journey worth the effort, tears, time, pain, and money? For me, the answer is obvious — yes, yes, yes…
I still remember the day I returned home after cataract surgery. I removed my sunglasses and stared at a pear-tree full of white blossoms that stood in front of our red-brick house. The shapes and colors appeared as three-dimensional figures, and the intense hues and minute details struck me as being unlike anything I had seen before. It was miraculous.
But it pales in comparison to the day when I began to feel; not the superficial, trivial, and insignificant emotions I had experience throughout my life. No, I’m referring to the new-found feelings that rushed through my body and woke my soul. Some emotions were joyful, sad, and others were indifferent. The miracle was not in the type of emotion, it was the ability to feel in a potent and unique manner. Unleashing my ability to feel emotions in a nonjudgmental way changed my life; a time when light overcame darkness.
I encourage victims to use their past abuse as a springboard for a better life. While the journey is more challenging than anything I had ever faced, the rewards were life changing. If there are secrets for recovery, they are simple and doable — find a therapist with the knowledge and love needed to complete the journey. And put in the effort because your life depends on it.
The growth of an abuse victim into an abuse survivor can be difficult to explain. Each time I search for the magical words, I come back to the birth of the butterfly as a metaphor for the transformation of an abuse victim into a survivor. It is truly magnificent.
The Birth of a Butterfly
The butterfly. The symbol of transformation, new beginnings, and the embodiment of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Few creatures on this earth can evoke such a strong sense of wonder in human beings like the butterfly. Secluded within its chrysalis, the butterfly hides itself from the world, swathed in the secrets of the universe as it grows, changes, until the moment it emerges to make the world more beautiful, one butterfly at a time.
WHEN LIGHT OVERCAME DARKNESS