The paradox of abuse

My therapist explained it to me years ago. The paradox of abuse. On one hand, you want to hide yourself in shame, determined that no one should be aware of your secrets. On the other hand, you want to shout it from the mountain tops, so that everyone knows and understands.

On one hand, you want to move as far away as possible from the abuse and your memories (and scars), claiming your health and joy. To no longer let yourself be defined by it. On the other hand, you seem to hold on to that description. At first it’s all you know, and honestly, you worry, what would you be if you’re not your abuse and memories and scars? Then it’s more of a sense of wanting others to grasp where you’ve come from, how far you’ve traveled, how much you’ve achieved, and why some times and things are still painful and challenging. You want them to know and understand.

When I first discovered – or perhaps realized – that my childhood stories weren’t just funny and weird, that they were, in many ways, simply bad, or sad, I defined myself by my past. I threw myself into Al-Anon (it saved my life) and saw everything through the eyes of hurting and healing. My very existence was about what I’d experienced, what happened to me, and how I survived. Nearly every conversation revolved – at least in some part or at least in my own mind – about how different I was. And how damaged.

I’ve stepped so far away from that. I almost always dwell in a place of peace and ease, where I’m aware of my past and how it affected me, but I’m not nearly as affected by it. I can almost always look back with curiosity and compassion, and look here and forward with anticipation and delight.

But every now and then something happens – something huge or something innocuous – and I’m thrown back into the shame and revulsion. Thrown back in as if I’ve never left there. As if that’s all I still am.

The good news – I recognize this sooner and get out more quickly. I call it out for what it is – a lie; I identify it as separate from me (instead of as a part of me, or all of me); I reach for what I know to be true and what will soothe me. I ask for help. I breathe. I look for beauty around me. I revel in what, and whom, I love.

Abuse is a paradox. A puzzle. But I solve this puzzle more and more, and more and more easily. I put a name to these old patterns and to this false thinking. I realize that all that happened to me had an impact on me, but it’s no longer me. It helped make me who I am, all that I am. Good and bad.

Now I get to choose – at least mostly – where I stand with it.

I choose love.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!

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4 thoughts on “The paradox of abuse

  1. Some times I don’t have time to read your blog and I just save it. In going through my emails, I found this blog. It’s wonderful and powerful. Thanks for writing it. xo

  2. Lisa, I can relate to this blog. I was raised in an alcoholic home and there was plenty of abuse to go around: verbal, physical, etc. My mother was the classic codependent which only made things worse. For many years I used to think “What is wrong with me?” Then that thought shifted to “What is wrong with my family?” I used to watch the TV show, “My Three Sons” and painfully longed for a functional father who did not drink. It is important to share our experiences. It helps us and others when we share our stories.

    1. Hi Wendy – Welcome to our “family” and thank you for sharing your story. Needless to say, I so relate. I used to read books of happy families, and dream for one of my own (or at least “normal”). We are all so the same, even with different details in our stories. Welcome, welcome, welcome!

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