Several months ago I picked up the book The Courage To Heal. It was written some 20 or 30 years ago but honestly is still extremely relevant today to survivors of sexual abuse. While it was initially written for women survivors, I’m quite certain men survivors could also use it, and its companion, The Courage To Heal Workbook.
One of the first writing exercises in the book was to list the things I gained from the abuse I sustained. At first glance the reaction is that nothing was gained, and I think that most survivors will have that kind of response for some period of time after their abuse/rape. It may be that it will take a number of years, maybe many many years, for a survivor to be able to see what they may have gained from the experience. I would suggest that one likely needs to have an incubation period for those super powers to develop more before one can really even notice them.
It took me nearly 30 years. And I don’t think that was for lack of looking so much as a necessary time period (for me! It will not be 30 years for everyone, I hope) for those powers to be put to use, to develop and become more effective in their functioning and eventually, shiny enough or me to notice them.
And even so, when first approaching this it was with a certain emotional detachment, this sort of begrudging attitude of “well I guess there must have been something…” It was not a hard exercise to do, or me, likely because of the time and distance between myself today and the experiences of then. But even still, a little part of me wanted to resist it, held on to the idea that it was all just awful and nothing good could have come out of it.
Part of me wants to say that it’s a choice to get something good out of something so lousy, but really… That goodness comes anyway. I think the choice is in a) being able to recognize it and b) being able to use it effectively. And both of those things are likely only to happen when we have gotten to a point of being able to look at our injuries with a certain objectivity and a huge helping of compassion and empathy for ourselves. Which is hard because both of those things mean taking in the pain and suffering and touching on those places within ourselves. Being empathetic and compassionate towards ourselves can be the hardest thing to do because it directly puts us in the place of our shame, fear, anger and pain.
So… my Super Powers…
Strength. Believe you me, I can survive just about anything. That I found ways to literally stay alive while being injured so young, and not only stay alive, but found it in myself to identify that what was happening to me was wrong, that it scared me and someone needed to help me and that I had to figure out how to tell people what was wrong demonstrates nothing short of a super human strength. With that strength is perseverance, endurance, determination and unbreakable Will. The last article I wrote about Hard Days and Bird Watching, a mantra I came up with was “I have survived so much worse with so much less.” And it is true. Surviving that experience demonstrated that whatever life has to throw at me from then forward will pale in comparison to the seemingly impossible thing I endured.
Excellent communication skills. If I know it and tell it to you I will make damn sure I am speaking in a way you can hear me. You may choose not to understand me, and that’s your business, but I will know that I have spoken as clearly as possible. in my last relationship the one thing my ex has said being so grateful for was my ability to communicate. And if I did not know, then that would be clearly communicated. This has translated into not only being able to speak clearly within my relationships, but also to be able to write well. People enjoy my writing (I know this because they tell me so and I believe them ha). I have written creatively, I have written to convey information, I have written with opinion. Verbal communication is a huge super power of mine, one that I am grateful for having as it is this blog.
Acceptance. I have learned how to accept others, as they are, readily. No matter who you are, where you have come from, I can accept you. It may not mean I like you, but I can accept you. And more recently, I have begun to learn how to accept myself. That may have actually been harder which brings me around to those earlier concepts of compassion or the self. Self acceptance starts with compassion and empathy for the self. It means looking at the things that have happened, the things you have done, and all the warts and what not that you are not proud of and accept them as part of yourself. Acceptance is possibly the first milestone in the path towards integration. And I have been working to refine that super power for the last few years.
Humour. I can laugh at almost anything. I can make a joke about almost anything and they are not always good jokes, nor appropriate jokes but I can make them. I can look back on some of my own stories of humiliation, over-reaction, temper tantrums or full blown crying fits and laugh. Sometimes, maybe all the time, I am laughing at you as you tell a story that resonates so clearly with a story of my own that I have learned to laugh at. That last part can be hurtful though so I have also learned how to hide my mirth. But humour has managed to save me from some of my darkest moments; the reality that, in a few days/weeks/months/years, I will likely look back on this moment and have a chuckle some how brings a chuckle to the moment, as though my future me is standing with my present me, arm around my shoulders, head thrown back laughing saying “ah kid, you’re always good for a great story.” It’s also allowed me to brighten the moods of others when they are so caught up in their stories of not-good-enough that I can redirect the energy of the moment from self abasement to something a little lighter.
Courage. It’s strange to me to say that because I don’t often feel courageous and I don’t think courage is really something one can feel anyway. When one is doing something courageous one is usually terrified and possibly shitting their pants or throwing up in the corner. But they are demonstrating courage because despite the poo and vomit, they are going forward anyway. Telling my mother what was happening to me, what my father was doing to me and knowing full well that what WE were doing was wrong and bad and the reality that I likely did not separate my actions from his actions and saw us as co-conspirators to do this bad thing was a demonstration of a Herculean courage much larger than any 3 year old ought to ever need. I’ve been told that telling this story, my story, so publicly, is courageous and yet… I felt more this sort of… sub-level fear and anxiety that I mostly tried to just ignore. Pay no attention to the vomit pile behind the curtain. Carry on soldier! And now here I am… I dunno, a couple of months I guess still telling it and it’s almost addictive now. I feel like I HAVE to write this blog and keep talking. I feel like I have to expose it because, if this is courage, maybe somehow you can use this as an example o what can be done, that you too can be courageous despite your terror.
These are the Super Powers I have identified thus far. I suspect there are many more, maybe everything is a Super Power, I don’t know. But at the moment these are the ones I am not only most aware of but also most actively refining every day.
I would like to assure you that you also have Super Powers. Some you may share with me, perhaps you have developed others. It may be hard to see them, you may not have gotten to a place yet where you can see and accept whatever trauma you have been through as a source of some of your better qualities too. But they are there – if they weren’t you wouldn’t be here most likely.
Here’s to us and are incredible super abilities!