NORMAL AND THE POST-ABUSE NORMAL

Last month we talked about the general meaning of what sex abuse recovery is.   This month we’re going to talk about what the word normal means in living through trauma recovery — sex abuse recovery.   Before the abuse, we all lived with whatever normal meant in our family or in the bigger world.   As survivors, we know that we have experienced many different shifts in our behaviors since childhood, and not all for the better.

For a while after the abuse, we may maintain most or all of what was normal before the abuse.   But if your abuse resulted in your developing PTSD symptoms, as many of us do, you may develop new behaviors as you try to cope with your abuse experience. This is especially true if you strive to keep it a secret.   

Abuse can produce PTSD symptoms regardless of when you were abused or for how long.

The difference between what was normal life behaviors before your abuse and what became normal life behaviors after your abuse can be dramatic.    Part of your “new normal” behavior may be emotional symptoms such as depression, fear, worry, intense guilt, feeling emotionally numb, and shame.   These are extremely important to recognize and accept as part of the outcome of sex abuse.  It can be painful to connect these new behaviors with our sex abuse experience. 

This  may mean we tend to suffer through the new behaviors and blame ourselves for the many mis-ques we may make.   But remember always, we were not responsible for our abuse in any way.

                   THE ROLE OF SURVIVAL SKILLS

If we grew up in an abusive household, we will develop many behaviors designed to protect ourselves, perhaps to survive.  The survival skills that we learned to protect ourselves in hostile environments, led us to develop a hypersensitivity to moods and behaviors.   This painful survival skill leads to a fear of intimacy which may lead to concerns about our losing control or being abandoned.   These survival skills, which were needed as our abuse experience warranted, do not always work well as we become adults.  The longer we go without treatment the deeper our resolve to stay isolated becomes.   With isolation, old friends become no friends, a pleasant personality becomes sour and defensive, old jobs may become no jobs.

          Trauma can change the way we see the world, and if we get stuck in a very negative mindset, this can severely impact our quality of life.

 Ruth L. Varkovitzky, PHD

Most of us share the experience of adopting a new kind of life behavior “normal” that can emerge in the post abuse period.   If you are experiencing symptoms that have lasted for a period of time, such as feeling tense, being startled easily, have trouble sleeping and a general sense of anxiety, you may be showing signs of PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder)

Following the assault, the body enters a fight or flight mode and releases the stress hormone cortisol.   This response helps us deal with a traumatic event in the moment, but can stay active in our emotional system for the long-term instead of going back to the old, desired normal.    .  Our new fight or flight normal begins to include anxiety, irritability, hyper-reaction to noises, smells, or other stimulus associated with the abuse experience.  And sadly, the new normal may include substance abuse to numb the pain and avoid the memories.

Accepting that the abuse happened is one of the most crucial steps in recovery.  Sometimes we repress the memories of abuse and sometimes we carry  the memories along with us.  Shame comes along with abuse and becomes part of our new normal.    If we don’t find a way to deal with shame, it can slowly eat away at our resolve to recover from the abuse.

After getting over my reluctance to be in therapy, I found a therapist qualified and experienced in trauma recovery.  That was a major step for me and helped greatly to bring myself out of my  isolation.  My abuse recovery program, AA, was also crucial to coming out of isolation.

Another new normal is learning to speak up about the abuse

Another new normal is learning to speak up about the abuse.  When a man is ready to tell his story it is important to have a safe place to do it.  MenHealing is such a place as well as close friends, a therapist, and others you trust. 

This was a hard blog to write as I confronted what were many of my new “normals” as I progressed through recovery.  

Our task is to recognize that these “new normals” come from our abuse and not because we chose them.   While we didn’t choose them, it is our duty to ourselves to strive to develop our own recovery plan.  MenHealing is one safe place where that can begin.

Remember, at the heart of recovery is a very important lesson: RECOVERY IS ABOUT PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION

WRITTEN BY KEVIN FLOOD


Do you have a story to share, a creative expression of your own journey (painting, drawing, song, poem, story)? We’d love to share it here. You can share anonymously if that would be best for you. You can reach me at mike@menhealing.org with your questions.

Be well. Stay safe. Take good care.

Mike

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