I am a survivor of sexual and physical abuse. The experience changed me. It shapes and informs who I am – how I interact with others and the world around me. Yes, I have grown stronger as a result of these experiences; they are the wellspring of my passion and strength. Scars do that, they remind us of the past and how far we have come. Yes, great healing occurs but, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, the thin line of the break is always evident.
A very wise woman who walked with me through the early days of my healing journey once said when I asked her if the pain would always be so wrenching,
“The times between these moments will be longer. The pain itself will seldom be so strong. The time you are bent over in fear will not last so long. But you will always be a woman who has experienced violence. You may go to a party, someone tells a joke, everyone laughs, and you leave immediately to go home, to bed…not for long but the memory will come up again. The body knows. It is an archive of your history. It cannot be erased but it can be the basis of your body wisdom.”
So when we speak of the neuroplasticity of the brain, do not assume that every trace of the past is vanished. It just does not loom so large; it does not drive our every action, thought or feeling.
I don’t think we forget. We grow strong in the broken (read: wounded) places. And that is not a bad thing. It is a remarkable thing.
Rene Andersen sent this in a message on a list-serv; she said it would be OK to post here. Rene (pronounced “ree-nee”) has been active in leading recovery projects, especially developing peer-to-peer communities, for decades. She says her work “is grounded in the community, centered on the resiliency of the individual, and borne out of personal experience with recovery from abuse and addiction.” I’m doing a story about the trauma-informed care movement, and have interviewed her.