Retraining Behaviors in Recovery After Abuse

May you take a breath, find one positive thought and focus your energy there when things get difficult. It always helps us to find a happy place in our thoughts. If we can think of our most favorite time, a favorite movie, a favorite memory filled with laughter; this can be a great resource in coping through anything. Healing after abuse is about retraining our process in living.

We come from a history of people saying bad things about us all the time, or threatening us; things which are strong and difficult to carry around. Even after we escape those bad times, the words still stay active in our heads and this keeps us trapped in the pain. However, this also gives the abuser power over us. Their words and actions can often be a haunting experience. It also controls how we see ourselves. The abusers win when we allow them to continue controlling our world. They win when we are adults and continue accepting their abuse. They win when we allow ourselves to believe all of their ugly words, no matter when they say them or what they say.

The abuser gains control when we doubt our worth in finding someone to love us. They gain control when we don’t enjoy ourselves when spending time with friends or our own new family. They have control when we doubt we are pretty, or we think we don’t look this way or that way; when we doubt our ability at all it is because we are giving the abuser control and allowing their thoughts to circle around in our head. They are controlling the thoughts in OUR brain. The one thing which no one should be able to control at all. The one true freedom given to us when we were created.

I’ve heard people in prison say – ‘They can cage up my body, but they cannot cage up my brain’. This is the same as an abuser. They can trap us in their hell only so long as we are unable to find a safe place or are not able to be rescued. However, once we are in a safe place the recovery and rebuilding process MUST begin. Why? Well if you are going to be able to support yourself, take care of your children, or face the responsible adult life; we cannot allow the thoughts to keep us from achieving the dreams we seek.

Much like we have to change our behaviors from always falling victim to a predator and continuing to live in tolerating the abuses, we also have to retrain our thoughts. It is the hardest part about our recovery. This is why I ALWAYS recommend keeping a POSITIVITY LIST going. Start making a list of all those amazing things in your life today. If you are SAFE this is the first thing you want to list. If no one is hurting you today, then this is a great positive and you must often remind yourself of this as you go through your day. When we are not in the greatest position, perhaps our finances are strapped or none; perhaps our health is not the best; perhaps our home is not yet achieved, but all of these things can be worked on and they can and will change when you begin to believe and take the needed steps to change them.

We CAN learn the skills to find a job in which we can support ourselves. We CAN learn how to control our finances so we don’t fall in the pit of debt. We CAN heal ourselves so that we become stronger and more capable of building the life we deserve. We CAN heal ourselves so that we find the one true love. We CAN smile and be thankful for the safety we have and for what we no longer have to fear. These are things which we CAN NEVER GIVE UP ON ACHIEVING.

When we give up on life, then we give up on our possibilities. I know how difficult it can be, it seems these dark thoughts will never leave our soul. However, I am also on the other side, at least for the most part anyway. I can’t tell you that it will ever completely leave your heart, because I’m not yet done in my own growth and not sure that we are ever done being in recovery. Much like an alcoholic, drug, or food addiction getting past this types of trauma is something we must continue to press through. You can’t erase the fact it happened. You can’t erase the physical wounds you are left to carry, such as PTSD or Fibromyalgia. Yes, Fibromyalgia is an after effect of abuse. It is connected to the Fight or Flight risk which has been such a twisted part of the abuse itself. Our bodies have been living in constant high alert. Our response has been restricted to that harm, and especially for children, there was an intense fear but you could never escape or do anything to fight back. This is where the wiring of our response system today is still criss-crossed and we often find ourselves in a panic when we cannot get away from a triggering memory. This is when we feel overwhelmed and begin to panic, our bodies tense up, and heart starts pounding.

What I’ve learned these past five years is the logical side of being in recovery and how our memories and bodies must be guided through the steps of learning how to JUST LIVE without all of the chaos we are so trained to endure. We can often respond better in a high alert stressful situation because it is what our bodies know best and our brain understands the connection between high alert & response. This is the part of understanding where we are today in our recovery that will help us through those painful memories and triggers.

In using the process of the Positivity List, understanding the connection between the fear we knew then and our body’s response to things today, even the physical wounds; this is a huge beginning in your recovery. The Positivity List is a great tool to share with your new family and friends. When you ask them what they think is so good about you or what they see in you, these are often things we don’t see. These are the good things which the cruel words have taken away. You can gain them back and really absorb them by taking what positives these new people say and adding them to your list. When you start hearing those voices and their mean words swimming around, take out your list and begin by reading it aloud over and over again. Even if all you can say is ‘I’M SAFE NOW’ this is a beginning place. I know it may seem ridiculous at first, it did for me, but it actually works. You have to really concentrate, just like the Muscle Tense & Relax exercise, or the Control Breathing Process you must concentrate on the words you are saying. The idea is that you are #1 – putting new thoughts in your head for you to think about #2 – you are RETRAINING your thought process. Your brain will eventually understand that when the bad thoughts come back, it will go into gear and switch to your positive or happy thoughts instead. It is like RETRAINING our body to respond appropriately in our new SAFE environment. Yes, it is something we have to work on. Yes it takes a huge effort on your part. Yes it is absolutely a process and will not just magically transform overnight.

This is the part of ongoing recovery in retraining ourselves out of our abusive history. Just like when you leave a relationship, leave your home for the first time as an adult, start a new job, or even become a new parent; now you must become your own NEW PARENT. This is your time to teach yourself the things you wish your parents would have taught you. This is your time to teach yourself the new job skills for living your NEW SAFE LIFE. This is your recovery, it must happen at your own pace. Your pain is not like any other person’s pain. Your journey is not like any other person’s journey. This is your new beginning. Before you do anything else and start your journey, take a moment to give yourself a huge hug and comfort the pain when it gets to be too much. Remember, when no one is around for you this is the time you must be strong for yourself. Believe that you are incredible and the roses in your garden of life will begin to blossom. Today is your day, today is your new beginning and I pray these tools are just part of the coping steps to help you through your training as you learn to live the life you deserve.

I hope you wake each morning and wrap your arms around yourself, begin to sing & smile, feel the love of friends who care; that you see the sunshine if only in your heart. YOU HOLD THE ULTIMATE POWER!! Don’t give up and don’t let them win. Today is the day that you begin to truly shine. My hope is that you are able to feel happy no matter what has happened in your past. My hope is that you are able to rise above all their ugly acts and see yourself as the true beautiful creation you are ❤

Live your dreams!!

Trish McKnight
Author: 'My Justice'
Founder/CEO; Butterfly Dreams Abuse Recovery

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