As part of my mental illness, I had some suppressed memories arise from my childhood. I was sexually abused.
I would wake up to nightmares, sweating and panicking, unable to go back to sleep. My sleep quality and quantity became worse than ever. My anxiety would get triggered by the smallest things and then go from 0-60 instantly. I couldn’t even make decisions on my own when it was really bad. Lindsay would have to decide for me like, which sandwich to order from the restaurant, even simple things like that would overwhelm me.
I was incredibly jumpy and easily startled. My heart would race. I was experiencing PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). For whatever reason, my body was finally ready to process trauma from the abuse. And it was not something I could just brush over.
When I tried to tell myself it didn’t happen, my symptoms would worsen. Not until I accepted that it happened and treated it for what it was, trauma from sexual abuse, did my symptoms subside.
The best way to process my trauma that I found was a type of therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I am forever grateful for my therapist who helped me work through this. Some of the hardest work I have done in my life, and man did it pay off.
One of the questions that my therapist would ask me during sessions was, “What would you prefer to believe about this?” At this point I had gotten good at identifying what my current thinking and feelings were. My mindfulness practice was really working. But it had never occurred to me that I could look at something from my past, that I thought was set in stone, and now choose to believe something different about it. Doing this in a step by step way was life-altering.
More specifically, my sleep improved, my anxiety decreased tremendously, my depression improved, and the shakiness in my hands went away. I used to have terrible bouts of heartburn but this went away along with other physical symptoms.
Danny had a lot of trauma to process. I never questioned what he went through. I’d oftentimes find him in a heap on the floor in our room, or in the closet, shaking. He’d wake up buzzing at night. In his words he’d “shake himself to sleep” a lot too—especially when I was up late working or those times where I didn’t have the capacity to help him.
This physical manifestation of the trauma he’d gone through was unquestionable. When he did go out in public he was working at like 1000% to appear engaging. People who saw him out and about would say “oh he’s out running he must be fine.” “He made it to church and seemed fine to me.”
What people didn’t ever see was the backend of Danny going out and interacting with humans. The anxiety from these out-of-the-house escapades would lead him to come home and crash. Sometimes for days. Sometimes for weeks. After some outings he’d be so anxious (for days or even a week) that his body would literally kick him into depression mode so he could sleep. The human body is incredible. Some of his bouts of depression literally kept him alive by forcing him to sleep!
Separately, I’d gone through my own share of trauma. I had an incredible therapist that helped me process a lot of big emotions. She helped me process a lot of pain and grieve. It was just what I needed. I was in a place of deep shame and grief and needed a professional to guide me through everything.
Is it possible to plateau in therapy? Not sure, it’s probably just a thought I was thinking. I had been going to therapy for a year and a half when I decided it was time to up-level things. I wanted more.
I had gotten to this space of acceptance, which was a lot better than where I was.
I wanted more.
I didn’t want to live a life of apathy with regard to my situation.
I wanted more.
I wanted to get to a place where I could completely and wholly thrive in life—whether or not Danny decided to on his own. Does this sound callous? You get to choose. What I knew at this point was that the idea that “Danny needs to get better so we can be ok” was not serving me. I started thinking “I need to be ok regardless of whether he ever recovers.”
EMDR worked. Learning about and practicing mindfulness really set me up to succeed with EMDR. Being willing to go toward and allow the negative emotions, sit with them, and understand why they are there worked.
I had sessions where I was not willing to go toward those negative emotions and we did not get very far. Going regularly, even when it was the last thing I wanted to do, worked.
Trusting the process, even when results were not immediate, worked. Continuing to try to deny my sexual abuse to not face it or to make others more comfortable did not work (my emotional and physical symptoms would worsen when I did this).
Trusting my husband and supporting him while he owned his story worked. We both went through a phase where we felt like victims to his situation. The validation was great, but I definitely think there’s a point where we wanted to shift from victim mode to survivor mode, to thriver mode (for our separate experiences).
Danny became an avid gamer during this phase. What didn’t work was that I was judging him pretty harshly for it. Whether to his face or not, he felt it. Eventually (after a lot of coaching) my thoughts shifted from something like “how can he be ok gaming for X hours per day while I’m literally killing myself off for our family” to something like “wow he must be in a lot of pain to have to play games this much.”
This didn’t happen overnight. This isn’t always the answer for everyone–but thinking this way allowed me to have a lot more compassion. I also realized that no one was forcing me to work. This was a choice I made on my own for my family. Owning this was huge. When I finally owned this I became more willing to bet on myself, and to shape my career the way I wanted to.