Stories of Hope and Recovery from Child Abuse
These are recovery
stories of abuse. The stories do not contain any detail of child abuse.
They are meant to support you along the way of your very personal recovery journey.
Each survivor has a different view about what recovery will be for them and that meaning will also evolve over time.
It is a very personal journey with various goals including being able to function on a daily basis, and beyond functioning,
being able to enjoy life, developing the strength within, and finding peace within. Never give up.
>> read more on what Recovery may mean to Survivors
Being Gentle on Yourself
Taking Charge of Your Health
Developing Healthier Relationships
The stories are meant to support: care has been taken to remove dramatic description and unnecessary details. They have been written with the intent of supporting, not triggering. They are not a guideline nor are they right or wrong. They may help you in some way but might also trigger you so please ensure you do have a support network at hand and ways to deal with your own triggers if you do get triggered. Self-care is an important part of recovery.
Take care of yourself and Be Gentle On Yourself (B.G.Y.O.)
as you read through.
- Story: The Real Estate Agent
Last Updated: 21 November 2020
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This story is about Trust and Taking Recovery Gently.
The Context: I arrived in Australia from France in 1991 and needed to find accommodation. Like most survivors I had issues with trust and trusting others. Additionally I had been brought up in a country where you would call someone by their first name only if they were your friends or family. Everyone else had to be addressed by their title and last name such as: Monsieur (Mr) Bonaparte.
The Story: So the story starts with this young Frenchie lost in the mighty city of Sydney meeting her first real estate agent. 'Hi!', he says, 'My name is James'. I remember the encounter as if it was yesterday. I didn't react outwardly but within me, that little voice asked 'What do YOU want?' Indeed why would a complete stranger address me using his first name unless he wanted to take advantage of me. In hindsight being a real estate agent, he probably was going to take advantage of me financially (Ha! Ha!) but my thoughts were questioning his personal intent which I am sure was non-existent. However I did not feel safe. I can't remember whether I continued to deal with this fellow or not but I still remember the way I felt threatened.
The Learning: Many years have passed. So where am I at now with trusting perfect strangers? I use my gut feelings when my suspicious mind seems to be over-reacting. If I feel reasonably comfortable, I go with the flow of the conversation and try to open up gently. If I am not comfortable, I keep to myself. When I then reflect on the encounter, I might think I opened up too quickly or I kept to myself too much. Either way I know that trust is the most important issue for survivors and it is important to acknowledge that it will take time to get the balance right.
This is a short story indeed: one which highlights what appears to be a trivial event and how it can take frightening proportions when trust is an important issue in your life. Re-learning to trust others is not a trivial task. Re-learning to trust yourself and the signs of potential danger or risk, your body provides you with, is a difficult task. It takes practice. Errors of judgment will occur - either by opening too much or too little. Without mistakes one does not progress. So learn to follow your gut feelings and if you feel safe, trust a bit, take a chance.
We use an acronym in the support group: B.G.O.Y. which stands for: Be Gentle On Yourself. It will take time to recover. It will take however long it needs. Don't bash your head against the walls if you think your recovery is too slow. Be Gentle On Yourself and acknowledge your progress however small.
- Story: Taking Care of Memory
Last Updated: 22 November 2020
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This story is about putting lack of memory in perspective, accepting some shortcomings, exercising the memory to a certain extent and regaining trust in self.
The Context: I can't remember having a good memory. In France during my schooling, most subjects had to be studied by heart, so I used to retain all school content from a graphical memory - based on the location of the words or the pictures on a page. My mum, my husband would say 'Do you remember when... ?' and most of the time, I would say: 'No, I can't remember'.
The Story: So I used to find it very difficult to remember what happened yesterday or last week or last month even when trying my best unless there was a strong emotion attached to it. For example, I still remember the kindness of a man in the village who tuned into my teenager state of mind one day and said 'You're not happy, are you?'. I also remember when my mother put her arm around my shoulder when I was 21yo and going through depression - at the time this was a weird feeling as I couldn't remember the last time she touched me -. But that's it. I thought I just had a hopeless memory ... until I realised how some people seem to remember by associating events with some other reference points, not in isolation.
Since my 2nd marriage my husband has been constantly at me to remember what happened the day before, the week before, month before, year before. It drives me crazy at times because I can't see the point. But I tried. It is not easy but it is worthwhile. I realised then that I actually could remember a lot more after a while. So I did not have such a bad memory after all: mostly I had a lack of interest, and complete ignorance of how to remember. This realisation increased my self-confidence.
But what about the near non-existent memories of childhood whether of the abuse or of daily life, family and school events ? Science reports that survivors have fragmented memory - snippets which float in memory without a context. They say that sleep time is when all events which occurred during the day get either labelled as insignificant or stored away with a few labels including a context - date, emotions, location, etc. Fragmented memory are these bits which lack so much context that they cannot be stored away so they float in memory as a strong scent, or a strong sound, or a combination of scent and touch and emotion etc. When a fragment matches what we experience in the present, we get triggered and the strong emotion resurfaces. During the abuse the child puts all effort in surviving, not in remembering a context. The emotions are intense and totally block out some aspects of the event. So do I need to worry about all the floating bits of memory, or why I can't remember my childhood ? I decided it was time to stop worrying about this unknown unless it affected my daily life too much - for example if my triggers were affecting my life too much, or if I could not make sense of my behaviours and was hoping to find an answer in my memory, I would probably see a therapist to help me make sense of the floating items or triggers in my life. I decided that only then would I take charge and take action, but certainly not worry.
The Learning: So whilst the childhood memory of a survivor is often fragmented and appears to be unreliable, the capacity of the survivor to remember is not necessarily affected. Whilst the survivors are led to believe that they have an unreliable memory, it will deeply affect them and their confidence in self. In my experience daily efforts to remember seemed to have improved my memory to a satisfactory level and this in turn increased my self-confidence. As to the fragmented memories of abuse or childhood, worrying is not a productive way forward. Action is needed when triggers / fragmented memories affect daily life too much. In such cases a therapy of some sort may need to be used to help deal with the trigger. Be wary of therapists forcing survivors to remember the abuse; this is not recommended - the mind has a way of protecting the survivor until such time to remember has come. Therefore it is NOT appropriate for a therapist to force a survivor to remember until the survivor is ready and safe and there is a clear healing purpose.
- Story: The Support Network
Last Updated: 11 January 2021
This story is about developing a support network and planning ahead for downtime, for potential future crisis.
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The Context: I have facilitated the support group for adult survivors for child abuse in Cowra since 2011. In these years I have come across many situations some of which required more support than others. Sometimes our crisis is so deep that we find ourselves in acute care in psychiatric institutions to ensure survival. Recovery is not easy and whilst we all hope that we will never get to feel the deep hurt again which pulls your inside apart, it can happen. So we need to recognise the signs before we go down too far, we need to have a plan for when crisis does occur, we need to develop a support network before the crisis.
The Story: One of my crises looked like this:
the I "couldn't be bothered" but I thought I was just being lazy.
Things I usually cared about such as caring for the plants, renovating the house, taking advantage of the wood stove to cook more to freeze and keep for later days when the produce is no longer in season, etc, I no longer cared about. I couldn't be bothered.
I was very teary, and crying on a daily basis.
I was feeling the hurt again, this intense hurt which seems disproportionate with the daily life. But I know that pain; I fear that pain because I fear not being able to resolve the issue at hand; I know the pain belongs to the past and I know I am in a bad way.
The physical symptoms include skin rashes, digestive issues, sleeping difficulties.
Once I realised I was going downhill, I made a clear effort to keep my body in shape: ensuring I walked as walking and physical activities are known to act as a natural mild anti-depressant; I also tried to rest, and to eat well - avoiding the trap of too much sugar, or alcohol, or caffeine. I knew I needed all my physical resources, and couldn't afford to let my body down if I were to get through this. I also needed to let the tears flow and get some clue to understand the pain so I resolved to my support network: the cattle.
At the time the cattle was at the top of the list of my support network. Why the cattle? Cattle are inquisitive, bonding, gentle giants, and when I stay with them crying my heart out, they stay with me, no question asked, no confusion. A massive gentle presence. They just wait. They just stay. So in my experience through my tears come some words and with time, the words and the pain start making sense. It might take days but it usually works.
What about my husband in my support network? In times of crisis, I do not need to expose my pain to those who love me unless I need to do so. If I can I will save them the pain of seeing me in pain and I will try and make sense of the pain before I expose myself too much to anyone, my husband included because that pain is confronting to me and to him too. I don't find it useful to expose myself until I understand a bit more, if this is possible.
This way of working through my crisis worked at that time of my life when 7 years on my recovery journey. My support network has changed over time: when I started my recovery, I had the support of my GP, I used a Mental Health plan which provided me with 9 months of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) with a a local psychologist, I worked with my husband, and got ongoing soothing and unconditional support from our cattle.
I also saw all kinds of medical professionals over the years including this acupuncturist who after some tests stated that I was full of fears - which I denied at the time but must admit now that he was right - and then he forgot me on the bench with all my needles in! I saw a local physio who reckoned my back was as hard as a plank. Next I had to address the issue.
In this crisis I sort of knew what the issue was although I did not have all answers so I did not need to see a GP or a therapist - well I was hoping we could resolve the issue before I plunged any further.
The Learning: So this worked for me - that time.
But if you are new to recovery and still very fragile, make sure you plan NOW for your down-time. Make sure you establish a support network NOW and try and put some money aside so that if you need a psychologist in a crisis and you are not entitled to financial support or you do not have the time to wait to be assessed, at least you can get yourself started. Inquire about the cost of a local psychologist now and multiply the hourly rate by 10 to cater for 10 sessions.
For now, if you need a therapist and can afford the cost, make an appointment or if you need a referral from a GP to see a therapist or the local well-being nurse, go ahead.
Imagine yourself in a crisis and make a list of the beings you would reach out to, in order of priority - and let them know so they know (and agree!). Understand the importance of such plan because in time of crisis, emotions take over and the brain does not seem to work too well.
Write down who your designated carer will be if you end up in the acute care at a psychiatric hospital so you choose who you trust NOW and that's not necessarily your next of kin. Write it down, date it, and give a letter to your designated carer so s/he can present that letter as a proof when visiting you whilst institutionalised. I insist on this because I once helped someone whom I hardly knew and called for help out of desperation. The person ended up being institutionalised for a few months and I agreed to be that support person in and out of the psychiatric hospital but it was very difficult because officially I was NOT a designated carer.
To refine your plan, if you need more information, feel free to explore the resources on the recovery page which include: organisations, workshops, therapies, support groups. Explore options, have a plan and develop a support network for you which has to be wide to be effective and offer a near constant presence if needed.
- Story: The Shed
Last Updated: 11 January 2021
This story is about addressing a common fear shared by survivors: a fear of self, of losing control of extreme emotions such as anger, a fear of the unknown within.
What's in me?
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The Context: Soon after my husband and I got married, he got sick: flu, bronchitis, tooth issue, and some other problem, all at once so he was pretty flat and I tried to help him. However we were at the time sharing the farm house with my mother-in-law. I found her comments unhelpful and I didn't know how to handle the situation so I decided that some time-out would be better than an inappropriate response which would hurt everyone. So I found refuge in a shed amongst my tools. The shed was narrow with a door at each end.
The Story: I was not expecting to be disturbed and out of the blue, my husband came along. The way he stood at the narrow door and whatever he said at the time made me feel cornered. I turned to the other side of the shed and kicked the old door open; the poor corrugated iron and old wood fell apart and I found myself swearing my head off and running for safety. I soon realised there was no danger and stopped but my emotions were still high. The highlight of the event for me is the force of the reaction and it scared me. It scared me that I was unable to control myself given a set of circumstances.
I also shocked my husband who was not expecting such a reaction. The experience was impossible to undo but it did trigger a positive outcome and this was the beginning of a hard road to recovery.
The Learning: Within 6 months I sought therapy. We all had to learn new ways. I learnt to understand why I reacted with such force. I learnt to realise to trust myself, to trust that I was running for safety and that, this was appropriate. A pat on my shoulder for still protecting myself. But my over-reaction was not appropriate. I learnt to differentiate between my behaviours and who I am as a person. Our behaviours do not define us. We can change our behaviours. I had to develop better skills to appropriately assess physical safety in the context of current events. I learnt to realise I needed to get to know my triggers, learn to de-sensitise them, and learn to relax, and to recover from my abuse. Recovery was starting.
- Story: Back to Music
Last Updated: 21 November 2020
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This story is about shaking these fears which appear to have no foundation, getting out of the frozen mode, just having a go, and building self-confidence again.
The Context: The story starts in January 2017 after a trip to France where I dealt with some relationship issues with my close family - issues stemming from the circumstances created by the abuse as a child. I came back wanting to change my life and enjoy it again.
The Story: The stopover in Singapore saw me buy an MP3 player and a bluetooth speaker so I could record all my CDs and start listening to music again. This expense was my commitment to my love of music which I had denied since 1992 - although I treated myself with singing lessons in 2009 after my first husband passed away. Then back at home in February I approached a local music teacher and started Tenor sax lessons. I had fallen in love with the sound of the Tenor sax many years ago but started to learn the Alto sax in my early 20s due to my fear of further hurting my neck damaged by a massive whiplash which made me lose my job at the time. So here I was making the commitment although fearing: what if I hurt myself? So the next question I asked myself was: What about trying? So I did.
Yes it did hurt. But technology had changed in the 25 years since I last played and I was able to use a system which put no pressure on the neck. There was back pain but nothing which could not be handled: 5mns stretch after each practice helped with the back pain. What else was there? A high level of expectation which I put on myself; no one else did. So there was a genuine fear of pain, but also a fear of failure.
In the end, trying was the only remedy and thereafter it was a matter of dealing with each genuine issue as it came up - such as choosing an instrument which would fit my small hands, and re-learning to read music the Australian way where C is not Si (it got very confusing for a while but I got there), and practice, practice, practice.
The Learning: Lack of confidence, lack of trust in self, fear of the unknown and of failure based on past relationships with authority figures as a child, all led to a frozen state which had no foundation. Part of my recovery is to address these fears based on no apparent reason when such fears affect my daily life too much.
- Story: St Bernard
Last Updated: 21 November 2020
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This story is about developing healthier relationships by setting personal boundaries and re-assessing this urge to save the world - often common amongst survivors.
The Context: When my brother and I used to have conversations as adults he used to call me a St Bernard. St Bernards are mountain dogs which are typically depicted carrying a barrel of alcohol under their jaw and their role is to save people trapped in snow, for example. My brother had observed my tendency to want to save the world. My brother had made a good observation of my behaviour. Most survivors have a tendency to try to save the world.... However this is a big undertaking which due to its magnitude tends to fail. Moreover my observation of many in the social services industry whether professionals or volunteers is a tendency to provide others in need with free fish rather than teach them how to fish, and how to become independent beings. This is contrary to trauma-informed practice. >> read more about trauma-informed practice
The Story: So I have now graduated from St Bernard to Labrador x German Shepherd. This is also in memory of my late dog, Shadow. Shadow was a Labrador x German Shepherd. Shadow taught us a lot: she knew to show compassion and love to the young lambs we used to bottle feed and was quite happy to let them bump her udder pretending she had milk when she had none. They all seemed to get on quite well in their pretend roles. She was a rather understanding milkless mother, but loving nevertheless.
Shadow could also use her dog instincts and knew to recognise danger and bark when a snake was around. Shadow could also use her killer instinct, the German Shepherd in her, and had developed a rather smart way to trap and kill kangaroos.
What's the relevance to my recovery?
This story is about setting personal boundaries and respecting the recovery journey of others.
When I created the support group in 2011 as a St Bernard, my aim was to fill a gap in the resources available to survivors and to give back to Australia as a country which welcomed me in 1991.
Now a Labrador x German Shepherd, my attitude has shifted from trying to save the world to running a support group which aims at helping other survivors to enjoy a better life by sharing our hurdles and strategies and letting the survivors make their own decisions. There are times where it would be tempting to check on a survivor but this is mostly not appropriate unless there is a real risk of a suicidal attempt and a knowledge that the survivor at risk has no support network in place.
Else and in most cases survivors have to make their own decisions for their own recovery. Making informed decisions builds their confidence, their independence. The support group is only one part of their support network.
The Learning: So my role has shifted from trying to save survivors to facilitating conversations and resource sharing so survivors can make their own decisions. This shift has not changed my level of compassion and understanding but it has made my help to them in the long term more effective. In doing so I have also learnt to redefine my personal boundaries so that survivors know I will not reach out to them apart from the monthly reminder and exceptional circumstances; however they do know they can call me anytime. They make that decision and that call.
I do receive calls but only rarely and only when the survivor needs some resources to help continue their recovery journey. I believe it is extremely important for survivors to know that they can reach out at least one person on their support network at any time. Experience shows that this in itself is mostly sufficient to keep the survivor on their recovery journey without necessarily seeking that particular support. Just knowing that there is someone out there who genuinely cares and will help if called is usually enough (but not always).
- Story: The Regular Meeting
Last Updated: 24 November 2020
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This story is about assessing your progress in your recovery, preparing yourself to better react to situations in the moment ie as they occur, starting afresh at each new situation as people and circumstances change over time. Do not despair. Keep on practicing your new skills.
The Context: The story starts in one of the regular community meetings I attend, knowing very well that the behaviours of some of the usual attendees are often a challenge to me.
The Story: For that particular meeting I thought about what my responsibility in the project at hand was and how much I was prepared to further help the group. I had a very clear sense of boundaries and purpose. When the meeting started and a particular individual became difficult and aggressive, I kept calm, reminded myself of my boundaries, and although the person tried to chew on past events, I clearly stated that I was not going back in the past and I tried to elicit a way forward whilst clearly not offering a working relationship which I knew would fail. It worked! The group defined a way forward on the issue and I did not commit myself to such tasks. However early in the meeting I was asked to take a part and even though I clearly refused, in hindsight I believe I could have expressed it better. I felt cornered and got a little too agitated.
The Learning: I know I have to improve my ability to set reasonable boundaries, and react appropriately in the moment. So even though it would be easier for me to avoid these meetings where I sense a conflict could easily occur, I make sure I do attend such meetings so I do improve. I certainly prepare myself ahead of time if necessary but try not to pre-empt as this is a waste of time given that attendance and behaviours are unknown until the time comes. Each time I re-assess and reflect on what I could have done better and at each meeting I try to to start afresh - although using my past learnings to help better plan for the meetings. It is also tempting to be disillusioned when progress is slow but recovery takes time and improving our behaviour takes practice.
- Story: The Compliments
Last Updated: 23 November 2020
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This story is about accepting compliments as they come across without attaching any deep meaning to them. Learn to relax, and reflect what it means to the person offering the compliment rather than try to match it to your own values. It will take time and practice.
The Context: Accepting a compliment is often hard for survivors who typically have low self-worth. It becomes even harder if the compliment does not match our own values and does not feel right.
The Story: So when people used to come to me after I played the sax in public, and said 'You were so amazing', that used to make me angry because I knew I was not an amazing player at all. But I was an enthusiastic beginner player who got lots of pleasure out of blowing in that Tenor sax. So my reactions to them would be very varied and mostly inadequate; they would probably walk away feeling uncomfortable wishing they had said nothing. However I learnt that what people really meant was that it was amazing for them at the time. So Start again and let go of the anger. Just reflect their emotion.
The Learning: Accept the compliment by just rephrasing it: 'Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it'. It is not about who you are, or how you feel, or how they trigger you, relax, it is about the audience's experience at the time. That's all there is to it.