When Does Recovery End?

I was in incest recovery for almost five years. Had I known how long it was going to take would I have even started? I will never know. Now that it’s over I’m grateful I stuck it out. Why did it take me so long? I was living with my third abuser, this time the worst of the worst. It was like swimming upstream while wearing chains.

I sometimes think that after I ran away from home at the age of 18 God said, that young lady doesn’t remember her father raping her. Let’s send her an alcoholic and hope that will jog her memory and get her into recovery. So God sent me an alcoholic, an indifferent, insensitive husband who gave me my four children, four of the finest people I know, but still he was emotionally and mentally abusive. Living with an alcoholic that you love deeply was agonizing. I didn’t get it. Then God said, she didn’t get it yet. Let’s send her a second mate; this time he will be another alcoholic who will cheat on her, beat her up and as she will find out while she’s in recovery he will sexually abuse two of her daughters. He sent me a man 20 years older than me that was a thoroughly bad guy. I still didn’t get it. God shook his head with sadness. Then He said she doesn’t know that her suicide attempts, her emotional pain, her terrifying nightmares and time spent in psychiatric wards all stem from her father’s sexual abuse.

After a second divorce years passed as I lived the life of a single lady raising four children with no child support or help from their father, years where I was a good mother, worked hard to support my kids, was involved with all of their activities but on weekends I prowled singles groups looking for bad guys who could satisfy my craving for approval and sex. God thought and thought. Then he said, she still doesn’t know that her promiscuity, her emotional pain, her continuation of the terrifying nightmares and all of the unhealthy choices she is making in men are the result of what happened to her when she was thirteen, even though her father has told her twice what he did. I hate to do this God thought but I am going to have to send her someone who is so bad that he makes the others look like good guys. The pain she will have to go through will force her into recovery this time.

And so, He did. He sent me a charming, handsome, Hawaiian guy. Within days we were living together. Soon, as I confided to him some of my background, our relationship began floundering. He started raping me repeatedly and I began having severe flashbacks to another rape. His abuse accelerated as his jealousy and his control became overwhelming. He told me what to wear, who I could talk to on the phone, whether I could bend over or not and interrogated me relentlessly when I came home from work to find out whether anyone had shown an interest in me. By then I was addicted to the relationship and after a year of living together I married him. Within days I found out from his sister that he had sexually abused her from the age of five to the age of fifteen. I soon found out that he was sexually abusing his daughter who had been in and out of psychiatric wards for years. He denied both. I had strong suspicions that he was cheating on me. Despite evidence he denied that as well. His abuse accelerated. I felt as if I were losing my mind. But my addiction was so great that if he threatened to leave me I would begin vomiting, dry heaving, become hysterical, cry constantly and beg, beg, beg. I had no self-esteem. I was told later that trying to break off from someone you are addicted to is like coming off heroin.

He told me I was abusive as I tried to fight off his rapes by screaming, slugging, scratching, anything to protect myself. He said he was my husband and as such was entitled to rape me as often as he wanted. While listening to a United Way campaign talk I found out he was right. I was abusive. I asked two of the women who were familiar with domestic violence if we could have lunch. My shock, after sharing with them my marital problems, that I was not an abuser but in fact was living with an abuser left me reeling for days.

I went to my family doctor and asked for stronger anti-depressants and more sleeping pills. It’s all that had been keeping me going for many years. My doctor shook his head and said, “I’ve been asking you for years if your father ever sexually abused you and you always insist he didn’t. I no longer believe you. I’m sending you to a sexual abuse specialist.”

Within days my new therapist, after hearing me talk about my marital history, had me go home and draw pictures with my left hand of different intervals of my life. She wanted me to use colored crayons to depict different emotions. I thought it was silly but went home and began this boring task. When I got to the age of 13 I drew a picture of a girl laying on a bottom bunkbed and a door opening with a man with gray hair entering the room. I grabbed a red crayon and wrote HELP ME!! HELP ME! Then I lay my head on the table and began sobbing.

Soon I was in full recovery mode. My therapist, along with my family doctor and a hypno-therapist took me back in time as I relived all of my father’s abuse including severe beatings, the last one almost killing me.  I joined Alternatives to Domestic Violence and attended their weekly meetings my tissue box in hand. After listening to the stories of the women I told them, “You’re all married to my husband.” I began going to a Twelve-Step program called Codependents Anonymous working a rigorous and honest program. Halfway through recovery I found out that my two oldest daughters had been sexually abused by my second husband. It almost crippled my recovery. My youngest daughter had been raped at gunpoint at the age of 17 while working at a fast food restaurant. It proved to me that children of an untreated sexual abuse victim stand a five times greater chance of being sexually abused themselves.

I discovered John Bradshaw, the guru of sexual abuse recovery and avidly listened to all of his tapes especially Healing the Wounds that Bind You. Years passed as I continued to find ways to cross what I was beginning to call The Bridge of Recovery. I began writing a memoir in hopes that I might find answers. I worked diligently, painfully, sometimes suffering severe setbacks, sometimes taking giant leaps across that bridge.

But I made it. With the help of my children, I rid myself of my abuser, filed for divorce, developed and soon published a program called REPAIR Your Life, based on everything I had learned in recovery. It is now in its second edition. My publisher, Victor Volkman of Loving Healing Press has also published REPAIR For Teens, REPAIR For Kids, REPAIR For Toddlers and The REPAIR Your Life Workbook.

Today I am the happiest person I know. When does recovery end? It’s different for everyone. Sometimes I feel as if I’m in recovery every day. The difference is that now I have the tools to deal with the difficulties that life brings. I’ve learned healthy behavior patterns; I’ve REPAIRed my battered self-esteem; I know how to make healthy decisions so that my life works well. Like a wound that needs lancing I’ve been able to go back in time, lance my wound, teach myself new and healthier feedback and make choices that bring me great joy.

You too can REPAIR your life and become the happiest person you know.

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