My Healing Journey
Or, an alternative title could be "Why This Site Exists?"
I have a good and rich life. I am a father, husband, scientist, educator, photographer, and musician. And I had what outwardly appeared to be a normal childhood, with loving parents and extended family. But it was not at all normal. I was sexually, emotionally, and spiritually abused mainly by a priest for many years, and survived by compartmentalizing my internal structure to the point where it became fractured.
My healing journey began in 1991, shortly after college. It probably began before that in some fashion, but I first asked for help and got treatment at that time. I collapsed in a matter of minutes from a triggering event in the present. I became incredibly symptomatic. I was flooded with memories and flashbacks and became completely overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, suicidal, self-harming and eating disordered. Looking back, I know that my ability to massively compartmentalize, which had worked for so long, just completely collapsed and became a liability. Compartmentalizing works until it does not, and then it becomes a serious problem and it has a label, called dissociation, which can lead to a kind of internal psyche fragmentation. There were many hospitalizations and much effort on behalf of my therapists and myself to find some stability. But for years, stability was impossible to find, which led to serious suicide attempts.
After several years of intense work, I did get stable. At least I thought I was stable. I stopped therapy rather abruptly. Soon after, I met my future wife, got married, had children, bought a house, and built up my career. While I was outwardly stable and quite functional, underneath it all was a ton of unfinished work. But I did not pay attention to any of that. I just plowed ahead. I did not think much about the fact that I was secretly self-harming. I wasn't as disconnected as in the past, so I thought it was acceptable. And on and on. During this time away from therapy, I blamed the hospital and my treaters for causing my dissociative disorder and for exaggerating my memories and feeding into beliefs of detractors I had railed against for years. This was the only way I could live back then. I needed to think I was not that injured, even though the hurt was so prominent. It just wasn't as prominent as before.
In 2002, the Boston clergy abuse crisis unfolded and my abuser's name started appearing in newspaper articles. I had not expected this. While it was liberating for many, it had the opposite effect on me. I felt trapped and it was not long until I collapsed. I started therapy again and there were more hospitalizations. This was my second time around and I did better this time. I was a bit older (30s instead of 20s) and wiser and this helped me tremendously. I slowly started making connections. I started accepting truths. I addressed head on the enormous problems stemming from a degree of compartmentalization that was clearly pathological. I eventually realized this was how I was made up and it was not "made up" like I convinced myself of for several years. Coming to grips with reality helped me to begin the process of changing unsafe behaviors. But I largely did this healing work from an intellectual "in my head" perspective.
In 2008, I switched approaches. I learned enough intellectually. It was a great foundation for me. But I needed something more. It was not really clicking. Through the work I had done in the hospital, I saw promise in focusing on healing through exploration of my emotions using expressive therapies like art and music. These had been part of my life for a long time, but I learned they can be harnessed for the purpose of healing.
By joining intellect with expression, my healing work became very different and therapy is more for "all of me" and eye opening. I started thinking outside the box and saw a path that had alluded me. I changed my lifestyle and changed how I worked at my job. I realized I needed to take time for myself. I slowed down. I paid attention to my limitations. I learned to journal. I learned to nurture myself. Most of all, I took charge of my own healing. I took charge of my life. I took responsibility.
This new approach to healing has come at a cost. I do have some limitations on what I am able to do and what I take on. Accepting what parts of me have held in isolation has meant I have to feel things I never felt before. Physical pain, sometimes crippling, is a present day reality. Knowing a fuller picture of memories is emotionally painful.
But the costs are worth it, because there are also enormous gains. Knowing memories for example, can lead to understanding them, processing them, and moving on from them. Annual triggers, like Halloween and Easter can be slowly healed. I can understand what the issues are, and instead of just "getting through" so I can do it all again the next year, I can push myself to a better place so that the next year is not as hard. And, most importantly, as I untangle the motivations behind self-harming, I gain control over them and am more safe.
This is how I know I am healing. Because all of this is happening. But it is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
If you are new to Mind Parts, and you want to know more about me and my views, you may be interested in the Highlighted Articles, a sort of 'best of' collection of articles, as chosen by me!
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