The original newsletter (pdf)
- A Reflective Moment for May: Recovery: A Process
- Rotation C Topic: Possible Meeting Topic for May: Our Experience of Recovery
- Poetry: “The Pain Within”, by Tina B.
- Step Elaboration: Step 18
- Survey Results
1. A Reflective Moment for May:
Recovery: A Process
by George Bilotta
(The following brief article continues our monthly series focused on pondering some of life’s basic questions as we slowly move into a new millennium.)
What is recovery from childhood abuse all about? A wide variety of views exist concerning the concept of recovery. But recovery itself seems to contain several primary elements that can be initially extracted from Steps 3, 18 and 19. Step 3 implies that recovery involves a process. Step 18 suggests that recovery has something to do with resolving the abuse according to an individual’s preferences. Step 19 infers that recovery is subjective. It also indicates that recovery’s purpose has something to do with being freed from that which was handed down from the past.
In addition, the board has proposed a working definition of recovery from childhood abuse, stating:
Recovery from child abuse is a process that includes the ongoing telling of one’s story and experience about the abuse, the effects of the abuse on one’s life, the ongoing efforts at recovery; along with receiving support, acceptance and feedback from the community of survivors and others; for the purpose of integrating unresolved childhood events—through the process of remembering, mourning and healing—to become a thriver in all aspects of life.
Based on the above, there seems to be agreement that recovery is a process. A process unfolds over a period of time. A process includes a series of actions and/or changes that bring about a desired result. Implied within this process is growth and change. One grows and changes, usually by entering into and working through the particular aspects of a process. Often, the novice entering into the process of recovery from childhood abuse will ask something like, “How long will the process of recovery take?”
When people ask this type of question, they do not seem to be concerned so much with a specific time frame. Rather, they are more interested in when they might expect to experience some substantive results. How long will it be until they sense some growth and change, until they experience a reduction in pain and anxiety? How long until they begin to feel some relief from their depression, and/or until they start to experience enough growth and change so that they can have some quality of life? The process, as a time frame, can last a brief period for some survivors, but for most survivors, the process will probably last for many years. In part, it depends upon how one responds to Step 18: “I have resolved the abuse with my offenders to the extent acceptable to me.” And Step 19: “I hold my own meaning about the abuse that releases me from the legacy of the past.”
A process can also imply a methodology. The board describes the ASCA process methodology as an ongoing telling of one’s story. Within the story-telling process, one relates the experiences of the abuse, the effects of the abuse, and one’s ongoing efforts at recovery. We use the term “story” since every life unfolds a unique story. Within the story-telling process, the survivor relating his/her story remains in control of what is disclosed. ASCA’s story-telling process honors a person’s pace, discretion, and privacy. The story-telling process is one way to maintain an awareness of what happened, the abuse’s influences on our early, later, and present lives, and what one is doing to resolve the residue from the abuse.
In many ways, one of ASCA’s most effective elements is its structure, which supports the story-telling process. Through the steps and through the ASCA meeting format, people share their stories of abuse, especially within Stage One of remembering. Whether within meetings, the e-meeting or with outside receptive listeners, the ASCA framework guides, supports and encourages survivors to tell, retell, and tell some more—from as many different perspectives as possible—their stories of abuse, the effects of the abuse on their lives, and their ongoing efforts at recovery. In time, the story takes twists and turns, flowing out of new insights, positive changes and growth in one’s life, and an emerging new sense of self (Step 20).
The big sweeping brush stroke of recovery seems to be to understand recovery as a process, a process with a particular methodology and containing many variables depending upon past events and the individuality of each survivor. In a sense, recovery could be described as exchanging or moving from painting our daily life interactions with people, events, and things with a palette consisting of a few colors to a palette consisting of many colors. So how long does one’s recovery period last? It may all depend upon how many colors that you want on your life’s palette.
2. Rotation C Topic:
Possible Meeting Topic for May:
Our Experience of Recovery
The lived experience of recovery from childhood abuse seems as varied and diverse as the uniqueness of each survivor. Yet, within recovery’s uniqueness, a commonness, usualness, sameness, and a prevalence of experience seem to appear, as different people describe and list their experiences of recovery from childhood abuse. Dwelling with our experiences of recovery has many advantages.
On one level, it is heartening to describe and to list our experiences within recovery. It is in part our story of how far along in the journey—in the process—we have already come, even if we are beginners. On another level, reflecting back upon our experiences of recovery thus far provides hope, encourages our steadfastness, instills energy, acknowledges our growth, and offers a glimmer of the new emerging self (Step 20). Still, on another level, recounting our experiences might also provide additional self-guidance concerning how one should continue to proceed, what might be our current priorities, what might be the upcoming obstacles to our recovery efforts, etc.
You might find it helpful to respond to the requested descriptions and questions that follow.
- Describe your experiences with helpful people who have accompanied you thus far in your process of recovery from child abuse. What has this experience with these helpful people done to you and for you?
- Describe your experiences with unhelpful people who seem to have obstructed, complicated, burdened, or confused your process of recovery thus far. What have been the outcomes of these experiences with unhelpful people for you and your recovery process?
- Describe your struggle, ambivalence, pain, and fear surrounding your recovery process up to this point in time. What have you learned about yourself through your struggle, ambivalence, pain, and fear?
- Describe your basic movements, any areas of growth or change, any rewards or joys that have transpired since you have been working on your recovery from childhood abuse. How have these movements, areas of growth or change, rewards or joys enhanced your life thus far?
The Pain Within
by Tina B.
Why can’t they see..,
the pain they cause me
by being sexually abused.
The anger i feel..,
that comes from resentment
of being an innocent child.
Looking for love, only to find
abuse in a hostile environment.
No where to run, no where to hide
the only way out, was wanting to die.
Wanting to die, the only way out
of the pain and confusion i feel.
God help me…what will be my fate,
someone please help me before its too late.
God help me …it’s already too late,
they have sealed my fate
by being sexually abused.
My Grandfather is violent, my Father is sick,
and my Mother is no where around.
Sorry to say …there is no one to hear
the screams, and to see the pain on my face.
No one to help me in any way,
just my abuser and me.
It’s that time again, time to go,
time to tune things out.
Gotta go, too painful now,
see ya when things become normal again.
See ya around sometime soon in my memories,
when you begin the search to find,
The Pain Within
4. Step Elaboration: Step 18
(This article inaugurates a new monthly series by George Bilotta, Ph.D., that elaborates and augments the existing material describing the various ASCA Steps found in our Survivor to Thriver manual.)
Step 18: “I have resolved the abuse with my offenders to the extent acceptable to me.”
In Step 18, a survivor is called upon to unfold the meaning of two terms: resolved and acceptable. I have resolved the abuse to the extent acceptable to me. How we define resolved and acceptable will have a significant impact on our ongoing process of recovery from childhood abuse.
To resolve implies that one has made a decision, reached a decision, or has gone through a process of arriving at a decision or making a determination about a matter. It is a decision or determination that contains a solution, an acceptable outcome, or a satisfying or even successful result. To resolve further suggests that one has moved from dissonance to consonance, from discord to harmony, from conflict to peace. In the big picture of recovery from childhood abuse, resolving the abuse indicates that one has reached a significant fork in the road, a turning point, a transformative moment in the recovery process.
From a more experiential perspective, to resolve something may be experienced as relief, an easing, a quieting, a disengaging, a letting go, and a release of tension. It may be experienced as restorative, healing, freeing, detaching, disconnecting, loosening, unshackling, separating, and distancing. It may be experienced as a decrease in anxiety, in vigilance, and in hopping through hoops. There is a perceptible decrease in focus on that which was previously unresolved. It no longer absorbs time, energy, resources, etc. Time, energy, resources, etc. are now refocused on new matters. To resolve something may be experienced as a satisfying joy, a kind of ok-ness, acceptance, peacefulness. It can be experienced as a self-statement that I have done the best that I can. I am satisfied. I accept that nothing more can be done. I acknowledge that I have done everything that is required of me. I understand and accept that some loose ends may remain untied. One’s heart is full, open, and unencumbered.
The survivor's stance and posture toward the perpetrator(s) and those in denial about the past abuse has most likely changed. To be resolved may look like I am no longer trying to change them, persuade them, argue with them, plead with them, negotiate with them, or bring them along. I am no longer trying to get them to acknowledge and to discuss the abuse, their denial, their overt or covert involvement with the abuse, etc. I am no longer emotionally invested or interested in what they think about the past abuse or about their present understanding of the abuse. Their craziness, inconsistency, unpredictability, and personal limitations have a significantly diminished effect on me.
To resolve the abuse may imply that I am no longer attempting to change the other, the perpetrator(s), or those in denial. The focus and life energy have shifted back to me, living my life the way that I want. The resolve feels substantive and firm. I acknowledge and uphold the boundaries and limits I've set with the perpetrator(s) and those in denial. I have stopped trying to alter them, trying to get them to see the past events in a different light. I have let go, disengaged, and surrendered to the reality that I have no power to change, persuade, or influence them.
Responding to the behavior of my former perpetrator(s) and those in denial may help me deal with them. If they should do X or Y, then I should do A or B. If, for example, my father, the perpetrator, chooses to act crazy or act in a way that is unacceptable to me, then my firmness and my established limits may have me leave the situation. I may simply withdraw and free myself from the situation. I accept that I have no power to change him or influence him. When he chooses to do X, I simply do A. Part of being resolved may include being aware and acknowledging, for example, that my father, for the most part, has not changed, that he is still plagued with the inclination to be crazy and to behave in unacceptable ways. If I choose to engage him, I have my resolve. When he moves toward acting crazy, I simply withdraw. This is my planned response, my consistent response, and my resolved response. Maintaining separation from the abuser(s) or people in denial because they continue to harm me in some way may be part of being resolved. They could be toxic people, in which case I should keep appropriate physical and emotional distance from them.
Picking up the second term, acceptable, to be unfolded in Step 18, what do we mean by “to the extent acceptable to me”? Being resolved is subjective and therefore is defined by personal, subjective criteria. What may be acceptable or unacceptable to one person may also be unacceptable or acceptable to another survivor under similar or dissimilar circumstances. Comparing perceived degrees of resolution between oneself and other survivors is not helpful. We do not walk in the shoes of other survivors and have limited access to the condition of their hearts. We do ourselves an injustice when we compare our sense of resolution with the resolve of others.
What is acceptable to me? Acceptable implies that something is adequate, that something satisfies the need, that something fulfills the requirement. Acceptable alludes to the fact that life is imperfect, that we often have to settle for second best, that we never receive everything that we want, need, or require. Acceptable suggests that life is a constant compromise, negotiation, agreed upon settlement of disputes and misunderstandings, a give-and-take, a you-scratch-my-back-and I-will-scratch-your-back existence. Though we can have it our way at McDonald’s, most of life is not so accommodating.
Another aspect of what is acceptable is how acceptability is steeped in reality. When I am unaware and do not see clearly, a high probability exists that I am distorting reality. There are various reasons why I may be unaware and my perceptual vision is blurry. Being unaware and blind makes what is acceptable and what is unacceptable problematic. For example, my father may be crazy, displaying inconsistent behavior, narcissistic tendencies, exercising poor boundaries, etc. I may desire and insist that he change, that he be different, that he do something to address his pathology. This insistence, my insistence, this refusal, my refusal, to be aware, to see reality and thus to accept reality, i.e., the craziness of my father, is going to make it difficult, if not impossible, for me to resolve the abuse with him to the extent acceptable to me. If who he is is unacceptable to me, i.e., his craziness, narcissism, emotional unhealthiness, etc., then how can I resolve it? To accept is to be aware and to see clearly.
This moves our discussion into the delicate matter of acceptance. When I accept the fact, when I acknowledge and accept reality, for example, that my father is narcissistic, this acceptance is not the acceptance that approves of his narcissism and that applauds his narcissistic ways that resulted in the abuse. Rather, acceptance of his narcissism is to be aware and to see that, in all reality, my father is narcissistic, that part of him is only concerned with himself, with gratifying himself, with filling himself, often at the expense of others. I acknowledge and accept this reality. I do not minimize his narcissism. I do not make excuses for his past abusive behavior. When I arrange to be with him and engage him, I am aware—my radar is automatically scanning for his narcissism to turn its ugly face. When his narcissism appears, I withdraw. I free myself from the situation.
When I accept my perpetrator(s) and family members who deny the past abuse, I am accepting them for who they are. I accept the reality of who they are. I am aware of who they are. I can plainly see who they are and I understand who they are. This is dealing with the reality of my situation. This is dealing with the unpleasant stuff and painful junk that life has dealt me. I do not swoon into wishful thinking, “If only he were different, if only I had another father, another family.” When I accept reality, surrender to reality, and accept my perpetrator(s) and family members who are in denial, I stop struggling; I stop fighting reality; I stop trying to change reality; I stop trying to fix something; I stop trying to fix people and events that I cannot fix.
In part, acceptance may consist of being aware and seeing Jekyll and Hyde, the good and evil. I do not forget the abuse, do not absolve the abuse, but rather accept, for example, our parents with their Jekyll-and-Hyde personalities, their pathologies, their limitations, often extreme and ugly limitations. Acceptance may also include acknowledging that they are also wounded, hurting people, even though they may not show their pain. Acceptance is seeing, hearing, and feeling with a resolved set of eyes, ears, and heart.
For example, part of resolving the abuse with my offenders to the extent acceptable to me may include accepting my father, the perpetrator, but not the abusive behaviors. With a resolved heart, with my feet planted firmly in reality, I accept him as a limited, wounded, pathological, unpredictable, narcissistic person. Ironically, in his Jekyll-and-Hyde characterization, this person may also have the capacity to give somewhat, to be supportive to a certain extent, to be engaging on some level. However, not all formerly abusive fathers have this capacity.
He also happens to be my parent, my father, whom on some level I may still love and care about, even though he has been abusive and evil in the past, and has the potential to be abusive in the future. I accept that what he has to offer is limited. But I might still want to engage with him or others on that limited basis. Why? Because I have determined that in some way, on some level, that it is good, positive and holds the potential for growth for me to engage, for example, my father on a limited basis. Not all fathers, however, may be worthy of engagement. This is a decision that each survivor needs to make. For example, should I continue to engage a parent who was also my perpetrator?
This capacity to accept reality and the people who compose my reality has more to do with me, the survivor. It has less to do with the perpetrator(s) than with the people who live in denial of the abuse. It has more to do with the new eyes, ears, and heart that I have cultivated during my process of recovery. What is acceptable to me may not be acceptable to another survivor. Or what is acceptable to me at my level of recovery may not be acceptable to another survivor who is at another level of recovery. Life and how we live our lives are subjective.
When I stop struggling, when I surrender to reality, when I stop resisting reality and accept the reality of my situation, then options and possibilities come forth. It is within this type of reality-oriented environment in which I am fully aware and see clearly that I can resolve the abuse with my offenders to the extent acceptable to me.
5. Survey Results
During the months of October through December 2000, a survey was distributed to all the ASCA meetings and also placed on our website. A total of 28 ASCA participants responded to the survey. Fifty-seven percent of the participants have attended ASCA for a year or more, with 68% having participated in ASCA for at least 6 months. Some of the results included the following:
86% stated that they were either satisfied or extremely satisfied with the way most of the meetings were run. 57% stated that they were extremely satisfied. 25% of respondents said they visit our website at least once a month. Several participants mentioned that they do not have access to the web. 39% use our Survivor to Thriver manual at least once a month, whereas 43% say they never or only use the Survivor to Thriver once a year. 39% reported that they read the ASCA News every month, with 29% stating that they never read the ASCA News. Several participants mentioned that they never see the ASCA News at the meetings.
Participants reported a wide variety of means and techniques that they used for recovery from their childhood abuse. Sixty-one percent noted psychotherapy; 51% mentioned ASCA and other support groups; 36% stated that reading was helpful in their recovery; 21% suggested that friendships with others in recovery helped; and 14% noted that writing assisted in their recovery.
As to what participants most appreciated about ASCA, 21% mentioned the people in some form, 14% specifically noted safety, 14% wrote about honesty in some manner, another 14% acknowledged support, 11% recorded the community aspect, and 11% were thankful that ASCA existed.