Childhood sexual abuse is one of the most insidious forms of trauma. Each individual’s experience or reaction is unique. Many survivors experience low self-esteem or self-hatred, guilt, shame and blame. They often have difficulty trusting as they were betrayed by the very people that were entrusted to love and care for them. Many survivors re-experience the visual imagery and other sensory impressions associated with past sexual abuse as if it were occurring in the present. They may also suffer from nightmares, panic attacks and have difficulty sleeping. Survivors often dissociate from their bodies as a means of coping with the intrusive thoughts, memories and feelings. Survivors are also far more likely as an adult to find themselves in abusive or dangerous situations where they may be victimized again.
The vast majority of those who were sexually abused continue to live with the trauma for the remainder of their lives. In this chapter, Ann shares her own personal account of the transformation that has taken place as a result of healing from childhood sexual abuse. This chapter is especially valuable for those who were sexually abused. People who were never sexually abused will also gain valuable understanding of the body and mind and its innate healing processes.
Ben: What kind of space were you in at the time we first started working together?
Anne: When we began to work together in March of 2005 I felt like I was a tightly wound ball of twine that was midway thru unravel. I had a host of physical issues that include anxiety, insomnia, repeated and chronic sinus infections for which I had had surgery, irritable bowel and chronic fatigue. I felt like my vital life force was slowly leaving my body. There were times I did not think that I would live long, and there were times that I didn’t care. I would not have done harm to myself, but I was losing the will to live. The only thing that kept me fighting was my young daughter. I did not want her to grow up with the baggage of a clinically depressed mother, so I fought as hard as I could. Had it not been for her, I am not sure where I would be today in terms of healing.
I was extremely fragile at the time we began to work together. I could barely access the memories due to the highly charged nature of the emotions. I was taking a low dose of anti-depressants at that time just so I could relieve the anxiety enough to sleep at night. I was hypervigilant and I had heart palpitations every time I fell into a light sleep. The doctor’s I was seeing pumped me full of sleeping pills that did not work, as anxiety was the culprit.
Ben: The kinds of symptoms you’re describing are very common for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Of all the things I work with, sexual trauma is one of the most insidious. In many ways it works like sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis or gonorrhea destroying the body and mind from within.
Anne, I would agree with that.
Ben: Your system felt way out of balance energetically. I remember how I would always sense this excessive heat in your body resulting from the sexual trauma. This heat had a very dark, static, toxic and angst ridden quality about it. Is that anything like what you were experiencing on the inside?
Anne: Yes, because every herbalist and other holistic practitioner that I was receiving treatment from at that time was telling me the same thing. And they were always trying to give me herbs and supplements to help me dissipate that heat, because it was causing other problems in my body.
Ben: What other problems?
Anne: I was very depleted. They were trying to build up my blood, my kidneys and my digestion.
Ben: I’m not saying this to criticize other practitioners, but in many respects they were only treating the symptoms.
Anne: That’s because they didn’t know and I didn’t know at that time that these imbalances stemmed from sexual trauma. I had no idea. I thought I was suffering from postpartum depression, because these symptoms began to manifest after my daughter was born.
Ben: I’ve watched this same phenomena taking place with a number of the women I’ve worked with. Having a baby growing within the womb and then pushing through the birth canal during the birthing process or removed from the womb via cesarean section breaks apart a woman’s defensive structures. Emotions and traumas that have been held within the body for many years are dislodged. This traumatic content can have a devastating impact upon the body and mind.
Anne: I would say that’s what was happening to me.
Ben: The early sessions were especially difficult for you. What were they like? How would you describe your experience?
Anne: I experienced a lot of physical reactions after the initial healing sessions. I would sometimes experience horrible diarrhea or be vomiting after you left. I would feel weak and cry a lot. I was basically just a raw nerve. There was no other way I could describe it. I couldn’t handle too much external stimulation, crowds or noises. It was very hard for me to function.
Ben: I feel tremendous concern for the people I work with that have suffered from traumatic abuse. I like to use the analogy of going through a cleansing fast to help people to understand the process that takes place when one heals from trauma. The body will at various points along the way go through some form of physical reaction when going through a detoxification or cleansing fast. In many instances this process can be very uncomfortable.
The process that one needs to go through in order to heal from traumatic abuse essentially involves working a very insidious infection out of the body – mind. Some become fearful and run because of their lack of understanding of the healing process. And that’s very unfortunate because those who run will most likely end up having to live with all that pain and trauma in their bodies for the remainder of their lives.
It’s important for anyone who works with a healer such as me to understand is that these kinds of reactions are a normal part of the healing process that takes place when a lifetime of toxicity is working its way out of the body. Those who work with me also need to understand that not only are they not only going to get through the reaction, but they will get to a place where they feel much better because of it. In time they will be free of that insidious toxicity.
People who have been severely traumatized have never been in full possession of their own bodies and minds or truly lived their own lives. Many of those who have the opportunity to do this work will discover for the first time what it’s like to truly live.
Anne: I had been working with holistic practitioners since 1993 and had done various cleansing and detox processes so I knew all about healing crises on a physical level. But I had not yet dealt with a healing crisis or detox on an emotional and energetic level. But I had an intuitive sense that it would probably be pretty much the same.
And if you’re asking me why I continued to work with you …I had a small child, I didn’t want her to grow up carrying the baggage of a clinically depressed mother, so I fought as hard as I could. Had it not been for her, I am not sure where I would be today in terms of healing. I wanted to live to raise her. Part of my anxiety about her at that time had to do with abandonment issues. I felt terrified that she and I were going to be separated in some way. I feared that I would not be able to finish raising her and that she would never remember me. Just talking about this now makes me very emotional. I don’t know if that’s part and parcel of the anxiety and depression or if that’s something I initially experienced emotionally in an earlier part of my life, but it was very strong and that motivated me. I didn’t have the luxury of laying on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. I had to take care of this child and I didn’t want her to have a crappy childhood.
Ben: It’s important for parents to understand that children are very empathic. They have not yet formulated boundaries or defensive structures and that makes them more susceptible to internalizing much of the suffering we’re carrying. There is so much less toxicity for our children to internalize when we heal our wounds.
It’s inevitable that we will all be wounded at points along the way. Parents who fail to deal with their own woundedness are giving their children a message that says “You don’t have to be in integrity with yourself. You can always run away or find some other means of escape.
Their children never internalize the model of healing that says I need to come from a place of courage and face the issues head on. I need to do whatever it takes to heal the parts of me that are wounded and I will get a much better place in life by doing so.
You’re providing a very good model of growth and development for your daughter by doing what it takes to truly heal. This is one of the most important gifts that a parent can ever give to their child.
Anne: When my daughter was three years old, we would get in the car and every single day she would say to me “Mommy, are you happy?” when in fact I was not. This was before I was getting any kind of significant treatment. I would respond by saying “Yes Sophia, I’m so happy I’m with you.” She asked me that question every single day for at least a year. And then last year on New Year’s Day she looked at me and said “Mommy, Thank you for not being a drug addict or alcoholic. I’ve had a pretty good life so far.” So that kind of gave me a whole lot of validation.
Ben: Sometimes there would be these gaps between sessions. There were challenging circumstances that needed to be dealt with pertaining to your family such as taking care of your mother. You were carrying a huge amount of responsibility and had no choice but to deal with it. There was also a certain amount of resistance. I would have to call you at times to put the pieces together and help you understand the process and say “Okay Anne, we need to be taking that next step by scheduling another session.
Anne: I was angry and resentful. And I was tired. My anger didn’t have anything to do with you. I was very angry in the beginning because I had way too much on my plate. I was trying to deal with my mother, trying to take care of my health and trying to care for my daughter. There was also a point in time when I was going to at least three or four doctors ever week and I was so resentful that I had to add you into the mix.
I’ve been overwhelmed by my circumstances during the past year or two and just feeling like I couldn’t set aside the time for myself. Not being able to set aside time for myself is unfair to me. So I’ve made it my business to stop constantly putting myself last, because if this ship goes down, everybody else goes down.
Ben: How have you changed physically, mentally and emotionally as a result of the work we have done?
Anne: Although I still struggle with many things in the present day, I feel that all of the trauma associated with the sexual abuse has gone. I no longer carry that baggage. I have been able to forgive all those responsible and I no longer have the anxiety or depression that I lived with for such a long time. I feel clearer in my heart and head and now use my time for more creative and enjoyable endeavors. My intuition has grown stronger as has my creativity. I also allow my intuition to guide most of my decisions in my day to day relationship with friends and family members.
The most important change I have experienced is that I feel more present in my day to day life. I feel more present in my relationships. I was always present with my daughter. I never had any problem with her. I very rarely was ever on autopilot with her. But everyone else took a back seat. I wasn’t even present with myself. And every chance I could get, I would run away. Now I‘m present. And during the times that I’m not present it’s a conscious choice to say “Oh fuck it …I need an hour or two. Now it’s a matter of choice and not just a habitual escape mechanism.
I definitely have more energy. The things that I need to do for people from day to day still weigh me down and make me feel tired, but twelve years ago this would not have even been a possibility. There’s just no way that I could have functioned with everything that’s been on my plate regarding my mother and her care. Had I not done the work with you, I would have been absolutely paralyzed. I would have been completely unable to handle that.
Ben: You mentioned something about running to three or four doctors a week. How are you doing physically now?
Anne: Physically I’m fine. Like I said, I get bogged down with chores, errands and responsibilities. I’m thinking about all the places I have to go and things to do and that exhausts me. Just this week, I had to set myself down and say to myself “Going over and over your schedule every day and all the things you have to do in your mind makes you tired …tired before you even start. The best thing for me to do is to stay in the moment and only think about what I have to do from minute to minute.”
I don’t have as much time to devote to activities that would produce the endorphins that would make me feel more alive and energetic at this time. I’m just hanging on for the ride
Ben: It sounds like you have a lot more internal strength and stability. And that you have become much more physically resilient.
Anne: Yes, that is true.
Ben: You’re no longer in that anxious, angst ridden state of hypervigilance. What’s your internal state like at this time compared to the time we first started working together?
Anne: I think that I’m always going to be vigilant to some extent. I’m always going to be cautious around people. I’m always going to be reserved. The difference is that I rely on my intuition more than my kneejerk reactions to protect myself.
I rely upon my intuition by allowing myself to feel another person’s energy. I back away if I don’t like what I feel. If I’m in a situation where I feel a little uncomfortable meeting a person for the first time, but otherwise if I don’t feel a threat, then I just let myself experience it.
Ben: Would now you say that you feel calm, assured or a sense of happiness?
Anne: There’s the big picture happy and the little picture happy. I try on a daily basis to find something every day to bring me pleasure. The big picture right now is a little tough because I do have so much hanging over my head, so I try not to get caught up in it. I really try to take little bites out of the life I have, because I can’t digest everything.
Yes, I’m calmer and more peaceful and when I really manage to stay in the present and stop letting my mind spiral out of control. I’m definitely calmer than I have been. One of the most important things that people need to understand about this process is that the work is not done when the crisis has abated. It’s a day to day process, because we’re so habituated in these patterns of self-medicating, escaping or whatever it is that we do. We have to be consciously aware that every single day we make choices that impact us positively or negatively. It’s never over.
There’s no pill or magic wand that’s going to make you completely whole. At the same time there’s a certain presence or power working through me that has transformed much of that suffering. I’m sure that’s what has gotten me to the point of saying you have to stay in the present. Let’s put it this way. I’ve become very clear mentally and emotionally. I’m very clear with what I need to do. I may not always want to do it, but I’m very clear with what I need to do and that’s huge.
Ben: The physical and emotional abuse I endured during my own childhood and adolescence had a debilitating impact on me. And I was seeing it reflected back to me in the women I would attract. They were usually unavailable, uninterested and in some instances would reenact early traumas. I jumped at the rare opportunities I found to work with powerful healers and later on I went back to do the vision quest, which is a traditional Native American practice that involves going out to fast alone in the mountains for four days and nights without food or water. I could always feel a powerful presence working to heal and transform the wounded parts of myself.
There are certain facets of the healing process that we cannot fully do on our own. The emotional, physical and sexual traumas that many of us have gone through are so deeply ingrained within our makeup. Readily available conventional and alternative approaches to healing such as Allopathic Medicine, psychotherapy, acupuncture and herbs are not fully healing these traumas. Many people continue to suffer unnecessarily as a result. American Indians and other indigenous groups of people learned to access other forces or beings that could facilitate healing that would not have otherwise been possible. These forces or beings were especially effective in their ability to heal the deep emotional wounds that have such a debilitating impact upon people.
Anne: I would agree to that, because I underwent talk therapy, hypnosis, bio feedback, sleep studies, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and eventually EMDR (Eye Movement Reprocessing and Desensitization) which is used to treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder. EMDR helped, but it didn’t change things on a cellular level where the trauma was stored in my body. However, I continued to pursue these other practices as a result of your encouragement as you felt that they would complement the work we’re doing.
And I often think back on the relationships I had and specific situations where past abuses were reenacted. I have to say now as I look back on those experiences that I would never allow those people near me. I would never tolerate these people or their behavior. It just wouldn’t happen.
Ben: That’s good. Having the assistance of the presence or forces that Native Americans and other indigenous people have relied upon to go in and do the restructuring within your body – mind has made it possible for you to have a completely different experience. Now you can derive much greater enjoyment and truly live life.
Anne: Do you find that this process does not work with people who have little or no insight into their own emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing? Because I really do not see how you can teach that to someone if they don’t have it.
Ben: Many are lacking these resources because of the conditioning from their families and society that causes parts of them to shut down. People who were initially lacking these valuable resources will gradually develop them as a result of the individual healing sessions.
Anne: I’ll buy that, because I had these resources, but they became much stronger as a result of the work we’ve done.
Ben: The earlier stages of healing process that take place when the traumas are beginning to surface, heal, integrate and become functional parts of ourselves are by far the most difficult. The healing process gradually changes over time. The process actually becomes enjoyable as the deep emotional wounds heal and you gain a clearer sense of your life’s purpose and begin to fulfill your true potential. You have seen a certain amount of that through your art work. The prints you’re making are really beautiful. The beauty of your work is a reflection of the changes that are taking place within you.
Anne: Absolutely and I look forward to the day when I can really devote more time to it.
But it seems to me that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing even though it’s not what I want to be doing. I’m sure that helping my mother transition from this life time to the next is only second to my taking care of myself right now. I just really feel that this is what I need to be doing at this time. The challenge now is to just accept that and not get frustrated and angry that I cannot do all the things I want to do at this time.
With respect to the very difficult process of caring for my aging mother, I have no life experience from which to draw necessary information for making choices that have a major impact on her life and mine. Emotionally, had I not done all the work I did up to this point, I would be paralyzed by sadness and fear, and I would resort to old coping mechanisms to help myself escape the sense of hopelessness and helplessness I felt. This is the work that continues to this day and probably for the rest of my life.
Ben: Being able to care for your mother is also something truly amazing in itself. Your mother was not the most kind, loving and supportive parent. She wasn’t there to protect you as a mother needed to be in many respects. Despite all of that, the healing that has taken place thus far has allowed you to truly be there for your mother in ways that any parent would be very fortunate to experience.
Anne: Well that’s a bonus because I was able to heal the wounds pertaining to my mother. That’s huge.
Ben: Trauma and other forms of stress that we fail to process accumulate within our bodies as we go through life. There’s a deadening and disconnect as that happens and then we lose that spark and sense of aliveness. Trauma and other stresses held within cause parts of our bodies break down more readily or they express themselves as some form of illness.
You healed from the trauma related to the chronic bladder infections that you experienced as a child. How are the reproductive issues that we began to address a few months ago?
Anne: I was so disconnected not just from sexual trauma but also physical trauma. The lower abdominal and pelvic regions of my body were in horrible shape. For the longest time I really felt dead, even on a sexual level. I just had a lack of interest. Part of that has to do with the hormonal changes taking place as a result of going through menopause. I’m feeling a little better. I seem to be starting to rally.
Ben: I’m very cautious about working in certain areas of the body because I want to be respectful of people’s boundaries. I normally work around the pelvis or breasts unless there is a specific health related issue that needs to be addressed. Stresses and traumas are also contained in these regions of the body. And that sometimes makes it necessary to work in these areas.
Healing is definitely a work in progress. We’re just beginning to work in this area. Those who have trained in the Internal Martial Arts which are rooted in Taoism do intensive practices throughout the course of their lives to cultivate the consciousness in specific organs of the body. It’s also important for you to center your awareness in this part of the body when you’re doing your own practice. Your efforts will really pay off in the long run.
Anne: How I even functioned and managed to attract a healthy man I don’t even know. There must have been some healthy part of me that said “You need this man. He’s going to be very important to you down the road.”
Ben: You’re definitely very fortunate in that respect. The majority of the people I encounter that have gone through so much trauma tend to attract partners who reenact early traumas. And if someone were to come along who could really love and care for them, they’re just not attracted to that person. They just don’t feel it.
Anne: It’s because you think you don’t deserve it. That’s the sick part. I didn’t do anything to deserve to be sexually abused. I didn’t do anything wrong, but the insidiousness of the shame and the way you internalize these things makes you feel like you’re less of a human being because of it
Part of you is thinking “Oh if people really knew me, they would hate me.” So you keep attracting the same kind of person who treats you the same way. I didn’t think I was going to attract someone who was going to be good to me. It wasn’t a cautious thing. I was caught up in a whole victim schema. That’s what you put out there and then you attract people who are going to take advantage of it.
Ben: Yes, because that whole victim model is wired into us physiologically, emotionally and energetically. At some level people really want to be loved and cared for. But all the pain and trauma held within the parts of the body – mind that operate outside of our conscious awareness have far more power than the conscious mind. That’s why many people just keep attracting partners who hurt, abuse and that are incapable of loving them.
People come to me suffering from anxiety, depression and emotionally traumatic issues, digestive, respiratory and a wide range of other health related conditions. Many of these conditions are easy to work with and respond very well to this form of healing when people listen to instruction and follow through with the sessions. Those who are consistent with the individual healing sessions will experience the kinds of changes that you’re describing.
What would you say that people really need to understand?
Anne: Part of it is self-love. Another part is saying that I deserve this. For me a huge component of following through is that I was motivated because of being a parent. I always looked at it as if I were the mother of a child. Not everyone has that motivation. They don’t have a child, but they need to be willing to do this for themselves. They need to be able to step outside of themselves and look at themselves, step back and say “Do I not deserve protection, love, support, encouragement and healing?”
Someone would say to me, look at yourself the way you would look at your daughter. Wouldn’t you want her to heal? And of course I would want her to. I would step into that role and never say yes, I certainly deserve that. I don’t know how to instill that in someone that never had it
Ben: The damage is visibly apparent when someone breaks a bone or has a gaping wound. Wounds in the psyche are not quite so obvious. But we need to understand that these wounds are also real and we need to take the necessary steps to facilitate their healing.
Another thing to take into consideration is that people within our present day society really don’t have a model of healing because it hasn’t been a part of our culture. There’s so much misunderstanding when it comes to healing. A lot of the spirituality out there is taking people even further away from their feelings and physical bodies. There are many things about how things work in our society that are set up to disconnect people from themselves. Many have spent their entire lives running or disconnecting. People need to really need to understand that in order to heal they have to be present. A big part of healing is finding the courage and commitment to be present and part of that is being willing to stay with and face whatever comes up.
Anne: Another thing to take into consideration is that this process requires a huge amount of trust.
Ben: I felt intimidated and overwhelmed by the all-consuming feelings and impressions of my own past traumas when they surfaced in my mid-twenties. I had no one there to hold my hand or explain the process taking place. Fortunately I had an intuitive sense that this is something I had to do. I went into the process with a willingness to face whatever came up until I came out the other side.
Embarking on this journey of healing definitely does require trust. Can you say more about trust?
Anne: I was desperate enough that I was willing to try anything. And maybe that’s what has to happen. Some will have to hit rock bottom before they take the initiative. They may have to become so depleted or so low that they don’t have any place else to go but up.
Ben: That’s a good point, because many of the people that I’ve worked with over the years that have really stuck with the process are those who have hit bottom or were in such a desperate space because of the suffering they were going through that they absolutely had to do something.
If you go among cultures like you find in India, Tibet or China where they have these ancient spiritual traditions, those who are seriously committed to their own healing and development always enter a mentor – apprenticeship or master – student relationship. I’m trained as a doctor in an ancient system of medicine – healing that dates back thousands of years. Facilitating the healing of traumatic issues is one of my prime areas of specialization. Having healed from my own traumatic past makes me especially suited to facilitate this process in others.
One of the greatest challenges involved with working here in the United States is that most people do not have any kind of realistic model of healing. Many have little, if any, concept of the commitment and discipline involved in healing and personal and spiritual growth. One needs to be able to listen to instruction and follow through. Healing from traumatic experience involves a massive restructuring of the body – mind consciousness. Building a whole new foundation requires tremendous work, but it’s one of the most valuable things that anyone can ever have the opportunity to experience.
Anne: Yes, definitely
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Ben Oofana is a healer who began his training with Horace Daukei, one of the last surviving traditional doctors among the Kiowa Indian tribe. To learn more go to http://www.doiohm.com Call (913) 927-4281 to learn more or to schedule an individual session.