By Tara Overzat
For the survivor of child abuse, the events that happened don’t just go away. If they are not dealt with they may manifest into the strangest of problems in your life. (See The Michael Jackson Tragedy- What Happens When You Don’t Deal With Your Past) As such, all of us who survived child abuse are “living with child abuse” for the rest of our lives.
But we can still have great and accomplished lives. (See What Will Happen to the Children?) Here are some strategies that I have used to deal with the past while living very much in the present.
1) Keep your sense of humor.
Find something comical everyday. It can be a funny website, like lolcats.com, or a sitcom that makes you laugh. Maybe you have a friend who is hilarious to be around. It could even be a favorite comedy movie or book.
And always, be ready to laugh at yourself. None of us are perfect. And if you can find humor in your own situation, you may also find a way to make it right.
2. One step at a time. Baby steps are okay, too.
When you’re mired in depression, anxiety or shame, getting back to happiness, to feeling normal, can seem nearly impossible. But by breaking it down into little steps and taking as many of those little steps you can everyday, you will start to feel better and one day you will wake up to see that the finish line is in sight.
I was so shy around people in my middle school. With all the bullying and ostracization I encountered my self-esteem was zilch. When I tried to make friends with new classmates, I was petrified. I started out very small. I said, “Hello,” in class. On a good day, I may ask what someone got for problem #27 on their algebra homework. These little queries were just meaningless small talk for my classmates, but for me it was huge. I eventually made long-lasting friendships with some of these people. And it started with finding the courage to take a baby step in the right direction.
3. Grieve “what could have been” without wallowing.
In recent years, my big problem has been an overwhelming sense of regret. Despite the things I have accomplished in my life (perhaps because of them), I feel like I was robbed of a chance to do even more. Maybe, instead of taking care of my mother while she forbade me to leave the apartment, I could have been taking dance or acting lessons. Maybe I could have been skipped a year ahead in school. Maybe in high school, instead of working so many hours, I could have had the time to study more and been valedictorian of my class. If I hadn’t felt the need to stay close to my Florida hometown when I went off to college, I could have gone a to a really great school out of state. The list of maybes and what ifs can go on and on.
All of us who were robbed of childhoods and adequate emotional support from our families feel like maybe we could have been someone better. Someone smarter, better looking, more athletic, more admired.
The truth is, we are here today because of all the moments and seconds in our lives that came before. Change any moment, any second of our lives and we would be unrecognizable. We may not even be here at all.
It is okay to grieve over a lost opportunity every once in a while. But to wallow in that grief, to not do anything with today because we are so upset at what happened yesterday only further ruins our chances of making our lives great.
4. You’re important. But there are things bigger than you, too.
Devoting time to a volunteer organization or to help a friend or family member in need can help divert your attention from your problems just long enough for you to put your problems in focus. When people are counting on you to help cook a meal for the homeless or your little cousin is expecting you to cheer him on at his softball game, you have to get yourself out of bed, get dressed and put on a smile.
One caveat: I became a workaholic and avoided my issues altogether. As with all things in life there is a balance. Don’t completely ignore yourself!
5. Never give up hope. Ever.
Human beings are incredibly resilient. People survive horrific accidents. Wars. Concentration camps. Survivors are the people who never gave up hope. Whatever you are going through, never give up.
In order to create a better tomorrow for ourselves, we have to be able to imagine what that tomorrow will look like and how we expect to get there. The essence of hope is that this beautiful future is possible.
6. Know when to let go. (Loving Detachment)
While healthy human beings have an innate instinct to help one another, change starts with the individual. If a person does not want to change and become a better person you cannot force them to.
With alcoholics, drug addicts, and anyone else with a life-blocking issue, unless they want to face that they have a problem, there is no way you can help them. This does not mean, however, that you do not love them.
I love both my parents; but they have seriously derailed their lives and put their children through hell in the process. I cannot sustain a healthy relationship with either them unless they seek treatment.
I love them, but have detached myself from their dysfunction. In order to save myself, I had to jump ship. The captain of the boat is the only one who can change course. And I refuse to aide and abet them anymore in their unhealthy ways, and reinforce and reward their negative habits.