Healing Takes Time

'Healing of the Paralytic'    Image credit: Wikipedia.com
‘Healing of the Paralytic’                      Image credit: Wikipedia.com

In a random moment, of completely unrelated thought, it occurred to me that it is exactly twenty years since I packed up all my possessions, put most of them into storage, rented out what I considered my modest, dream home that I’d only bought a year earlier…  and shifted cities, from Wellington to Auckland (8 hours north).  Twenty years!  Wow!  No one could have predicted was what to follow next.

The reason this is significant to me is that this shift spelt the end of the trauma I experienced from being stalked (you can read more about that in Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me).  The journey wasn’t over, but I was finally doing something people had advised me to do for years.

Leave town.  The reason it took me so long to leave town was that I am stubborn, very stubborn.  And I didn’t want the two stalkers to win.  I felt that if they drove me from the city where I loved living, and away from my friends and family, then they would have won somehow.  I resisted what seemed like the easy option for a long time… until it simply got too much, and I couldn’t take living my life in hiding and a kind of raised alertness anymore.

What I had no awareness of at that time, but now completely understand, is that when the trauma ends, the journey is only just beginning.  I beg to disagree with people who might tell you that now it’s over you can simply get on with living.  It’s finished.

Actually it’s not.  It’s simply a corner I had turned towards recovery.  But the journey would continue to be just as painful for a long time to come.

When I no longer had to keep looking over my shoulder to see if they were there watching, I could relax (actually I had to learn how to stop looking over my shoulder).  And when I relaxed, that’s when the fear struck home.  For nearly 14 years I had lived with the reality, but I couldn’t afford to let myself feel fear.  I couldn’t for many reasons.  Partly I had to remain alert of danger all the time.  Somehow I had to tell myself that I could cope with this, because if I didn’t I would crash, and be vulnerable, not just to the pain, but to the stalkers themselves.  It was a risk I couldn’t take.  It would destroy me.

Now that I was away from the stalkers, it was safe to let my guard down… and weep.  Actually even then it took a while to happen.

I was in a new city, with a great new job.  I was catching up with old friends and making new ones.  For 10 months I was great, and then sickness (Glandular Fever or infectious mononucleosis) struck and then, because I was vulnerable, my mental health completely fell apart. The defenses I had built up over so long could no longer carry me.

I had to think long and hard before writing this post.  The last thing I want to do is discourage others who are fighting their own battles.  Twenty years is a heck of a long time.  I know.  I lived it.  But I think we need to be realistic too.  And to know that taking time is okay.

After all the damage that may have been inflicted on us in a variety of means of abuse, perhaps over a long time, it is going to take time to heal.  The damage probably wasn’t done overnight, and we’re not going to heal overnight.  Just because the abuse (of any kind) is over does not mean the pain comes to an end.  Actually for me, it was only just beginning.

I hasten to add that I haven’t spent 20 years continually trying to get over this, and actually it was about four years before anyone started to use the words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  What could be seen was Depression and Anorexia, but unfortunately no one stopped to pay attention to the trauma I had faced for so long.  And actually I was pretty much too traumatised to be able to talk about it.

When a therapist started to talk in terms of trauma, I knew I had finally found someone who ‘got it’.  That was a life changing event, if ever I had one.  This man understood me.  Unfortunately this was in a final interview with him, as my then husband and I were on the move again (actually back to Wellington).  I never had the opportunity to speak to this man who ‘got me’ again.

For the first few years I was being treated for Depression and Anorexia, although it was continually said that I wasn’t responding to treatment, nor did I fit what was seen as classic profiles for these issues.

Cover of "A Path Through the Sea"
Cover of A Path Through the Sea

About six months into my treatment, my eldest brother who has always been great at supplying me with books to read, sent me one about Depression.  A Path Through the Sea by Lillian V. Grissen.  It was a very good account of the author’s journey through Depression, and was the first book I read which was a personal account.  It is written from a Christian perspective –  she was a missionary – and if that’s your thing you might find it interesting.  I did at the time.But I was also completely mortified by her account.  She was depressed for two years!  At the time, I had been unwell, and being treated for depression for six months. The thought of two years of this was completely beyond me.  I just ‘knew’ I couldn’t do two years of this hell.

You can probably guess why I mention it.  Because it is now 20 years on.  What more can I say, without depressing every reader?

I took this opportunity of realising the anniversary to ask myself what impact the trauma I experienced was still having on my life.  The first thought was that I still am somewhat scared of the dark and I still clip my bedroom curtains closed at night, so that they can’t fall back leaving a gap.  My cat used to jump up on the window sill during the night and move the curtains. In the morning I would find a gap and be terrified that someone had been watching me through the window as I slept.  I know it’s a little odd, but I can cope with needing to do that still.  If I continue to need to do it all my life, so be it.

What disturbs me much more is the realisation that in spite of all the therapy and healing, every connection with another human being has me (usually unconsciously now) fearing that the result of knowing that person will be more stalking.  Basically I view everyone as a potential stalker.  It’s one of the reasons I married my ex-husband (18 years ago).  As it was, when we divorced some years later, he proved me wrong by not going on to stalk me.  It was only then that I could breathe peacefully.

I hate that I still fear the result of a relationship (of any kind) will be more stalking.  I feel angry that after all this time, it still has such a big impact on me.  I feel angry at the men whose actions taught me react in this way.

That said, I know that being angry isn’t going to help at this point.  I have done the angry thing and I don’t believe it’s what I need right now.  That trauma happened across a lot of years and I built up defenses to protect myself for very good reasons.   Some might say “get over it” but that won’t help me either.  What I need is to be gentle with myself.  What I need is to give myself time.  What I need is to say “it’s okay“.

I’m not saying that healing needs to take 20+ years after significant on-going trauma, and I’m not convinced that it needed to take me 20+ years.  It’s just that for a large chunk of that time I was on a self-destruct mode that really didn’t allow for healing to take place.  There were other things going on too, and there are for most of us.

What I am saying is that healing takes time.  When we’ve been hurt over a sustained period of time, the pain won’t be over when the trauma stops.  It takes time.  I’m no psychologist to be able to say explain some psychological theory.   I just know it doesn’t happen overnight, and I believe it’s important that I be gentle on myself and give myself whatever time it takes.  Hopefully those around me can give me that time too.

“And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.” 

―    Anne Lamott,    Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

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10 thoughts on “Healing Takes Time

  1. John Richardson

    Healing does take time. Sometimes it takes considerable time to figure out what the problems are and more time for your perspective to change enought to see your own blind spots. You look like you’re doing fine to me. One step at a time is the way we have to walk forward unless you like to hop!

    1. Thank you for that John. What I’m thinking is that even if you choose to hop (and I now picture you as a hopper 🙂 ) it is still best to take one step at a time. Very good advice for us all.

  2. I’ve been sort of stalked by someone. “Sort of” in that I was an obsession for them that, at the time, I actually only sensed – could not prove till a decade later. I hadn’t thought of it as a trauma before today, so you did me a great service in sharing this, Cate. I just got so used to being alert and … when I moved to Scotland I thought Id’ be free, but instead I went into emotional melt down and had no idea why. DUHHH! You just explained exactly why – because without the need to be constantly alert, finally able to relax… it all just floods over you. :-Z

    1. I hate that you experienced that Michelle but I’m glad I was able to provide some light. I think often these sorts of traumas can get downplayed and even ignored but actually they can do us some great harm. You’re right that when it comes it is wonderful to be able to relax.

  3. mensaticEmily

    I was depressed for 23 years after a car accidend that killed my first husband and left me with a head injury. It took all that time to heal!

  4. Thanks so much Carolyn for your comments and the Award. That is really lovely. I like the idea of spreaking a little sunshine. I just read your post from last week on the courage to heal and found it really helpful. I think we’re on the same wave length. 🙂

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