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Tuesday, July 27, 2010


There is a pain so intense you don't notice it.

I know this doesn't make sense.  Pain is about feeling.  How can you experience pain if you can't feel it?  But you can.  This is the pain of sexual abuse.  A pain of the soul.

You feel it at first.  It hurts so much.  But eventually it escalates to a point that your body and mind are no longer able to process it.  Like a pitch too high to hear.  It's not gone; it just doesn't register.

I can only speak from my experience, so that is what I will tell.

Physically, this is dissociation.  The physical pain is intense.  So I pull away.  Not physically, as that would anger my abuser.  Things might get worse if I pull away physically.  So my spirit pulls away.  I leave my body behind until he is done with it.  And when I come back I don't know what happened because I wasn't there.

Emotionally, I go numb.  I quit feeling.  I know the feelings are still there, but I have severed the connection.  Like someone with a broken spinal cord, the sensations do not process.

There are other ways to cope.  I have heard others speak of them.  I have others.  But this was my primary coping strategy for years and years.  It took new levels of abuse and pain to get me to respond; I had grown numb to the old ones.

It's so difficult to explain this to someone who hasn't experienced it.  But those who have know instantly what I am talking about.

This is the numbness that leads to suicide.  This is the numbness that leads to self-injurious behavior.  This is the numbness that leads to alcohol and drug abuse.  This is the numbness that leads to dangerous behavior.  This is the numbness that leads people to do anything they can just to feel something.

More on that later.

It's a numbness that I wasn't really aware of.  I knew that I was very difficult to offend.  I knew that someone could yell at me and chew me out and I could logically process all they were saying and respond without emotion.  In fact, logic captures it.  I was completely logical.  Almost no emotion. 

And then I started to talk.  And heal.  And remember.  That's when things started to hurt.

You see, the emotion is still there.  The pain from various assaults is stored for later, when you can deal with it.  And it comes back.

It was not uncommon for me to go into shock in therapy.  To shake.  To be so cold.

When these feelings, this pain, comes flooding back it can be overwhelming. 

When I first started to experience this it was very frightening.  I would feel the flood start and I would shut down.  Put the wall back up.  Think about something else.  Refuse to do the work necessary to get the toxins out.

Sometimes I couldn't stop it.  The flood would hit.  The emotional pain that wracked my body and soul.  I would crumble to the floor and sob and rock with my arms around my knees.  So much pain.  So much pain.  So much pain.

No memories to go with it.  Just pain.  No understanding.  No way to stop it.  Just pain.

And when that much pain hits, your natural reaction is to try to stop it.  I tried.

But I have learned that pain is not a bad thing.  Pain is part of healing.  If I don't feel the pain, acknowledge the wound, it will not heal.  Pain is about growth.  Pain is about existing.  Pain is about the strength to see it and learn.

So eventually I learned to feel the pain.  To let the pain be and try to see what it was telling me, teaching me.  My therapist would explain what was happening, that I was going into shock, and wrap me in a blanket.  She would talk to me and help me discover the hidden truths this pain contained.  The more we examined it, the less it hurt.  The more I understood it, the less power it held.

And through therapy I have learned how to handle this on my own.  Well, not on my own really.  But with God.  I do not believe I could have survived my life without Him to carry the bulk of the load.  To walk with me when I was completely and painfully alone.  To carry me when I quit.  To love me when no one else in the universe did.

I still go into shock sometimes.  Things still hit me out of the blue sometimes.  I still shut down sometimes.  I still need the help of a therapist sometimes. 

I spent most of my life numb.  Learning to feel again has required great faith.  A belief that I am meant to feel.  That feelings are a gift.  And that I deserve to be happy. 

I have fleeting moments when I believe that.  When I understand.  But it hasn't really stuck.  It will take time.


Kazzy said...

Although I have never had these experiences, I can understand on a small level what it means to go to another place.

The rawness of therapy must be at the same time cathartic and painful.

Enola said...

wow. I have lived this, still live it. You do a wonderful job of putting it to words. Thank you

Enola said...

I hope you don't mind - I just had to link to this from my blog.

cornnut32 said...

i can absolutely relate to this....once i started feeling again, the feelings came rushing back in the form of anger. it's amazing what our minds do to protect us from such horrible things.

Deb said...

This post says so eloquently what many of us have wrestled with for years: the need to deal with the pain of our abusive childhoods, while still holding onto the numbness we needed to shroud ourselves in to make it through those childhoods.

Thank you for sharing your story!


BeccaBoo said...

Thank you...I couldn't have said it better myself...