When is Recovery Finished?

This is a ticklish subject, the answer totally subjective. Those who have never been abused as a child and especially those who were abused but never addressed the healing of their trauma would never understand the answer or maybe even the question.

My own recovery took almost five years including six months of a post-recovery period. After that I spent three years developing and writing the Repair Your Life program. In a way that also was part of my recovery. Despite having rid myself of my abuser, having faced all my demons, forgiven my perpetrators I still discovered that it can sometimes, depending on the abuse and the severity of it, take three to five years to make healthy choices. During that time, I spoke frequently about my incest issue to family members, friends, and people who were just curious about what I had gone through and how I recovered. I gave talks in my community, conducted seminars, answered hundreds of emails from other survivors and wrote countless blogs once I had developed a website. That’s a lot of talking about your own experience. I never thought it meant my recovery was not finished. To me it meant an attempt to spread the word about what I had learned to other people who had experienced what I had. Maybe I could help them. I found out that those who had joined Alcoholics Anonymous to face and control their own demons felt that it was a lifelong commitment and that after working their 12-Step program, without regular and frequent meetings they would fall back into alcoholism. As they put it, they were only one drink away from again becoming an alcoholic. My issue had never been drugs or alcoholism. I felt that once I had completed a rigorous and honest 12-Step program, I no longer needed those meetings. And I never have. But this is a personal decision and not for everyone. In a way, 12- Step meetings are a form of ongoing therapy and helps some to maintain balance in a world that seems to have no equilibrium.

I have two surviving siblings, one who I haven’t seen in decades and probably will never see again. The other I haven’t seen in many years but we do speak periodically on the phone. For the past year the conversations have been friendly, respectful maybe even mundane. But at least we are in communication. He remembers nothing about our childhood nor does he want to. He is an ultra-conservative Roman Catholic, one who believes only Catholics can go to heaven. Since a painful disagreement a few years ago when I didn’t call him for a year we avoid such discussions. But a couple of days ago when I called to see how he was doing he decided to jump in to his former role of “setting me straight” as he calls it. In his mind God has sent him to do just that with as many people as he can. Hence such harsh judgments about where hell is exactly located (in the center of the earth) and how everyone who isn’t Catholic will go there, Limbo still exists (it does not; in April of 2007 the church, after centuries of tradition and teaching, published a 41 page document, with the approval of Pope Benedict that buried the concept of Limbo which had never been part of church doctrine), I must begin doing volunteer work in my church or I will not go to heaven (I spent several years in the choir, despite that’s all he’s ever done, it’s not sufficient for me), I must insist that my husband become a Catholic (over his dead body my husband says – being raised a strict Baptist he had enough of organized religion) and that as long as I ever mention my abuse again it means I have never recovered from it. Only people who never talk about it are recovered.

Needless to say, I had some blunt words in response to all of his patriarchal demands. The last one he said disturbed me the most. My family, he said, especially my four adult children, were very unhappy with me that I spoke about my abuse so much and wish I would stop. That surprised me as they had never said that to me. When I asked how he had heard that and how long ago he mentioned the daughter that had shared that it with him. He also said it had been several years ago. I had figured out within a few years of recovery that my children did not approve of what I was doing, despite my two older daughters having been sexually abused when pre-school age (something I didn’t find out till I was halfway through recovery) and my younger daughter having been raped at gunpoint at Taco Bell when she was 17. I had been surprised and deeply troubled that they found it so offensive and stopped speaking about it to them. That had been, in fact, many years ago. When my brother had added his last chastisement I had been stunned. The thought that once you go through recovery you must never speak about your abuse again or it will prove that you are still traumatized and have never healed.

As we all know (except for my brother) the reason child sexual abuse is epidemic is because of the culture of silence. Don’t talk about it! Keep your mouth shut! Your family will be angry if you bring it up! And so on. How in the world are we ever going to get people into healing programs? How are we ever going to stop this multi-generational problem now, with this generation? how are we ever going to stop perpetrators if we don’t talk about it?

No, my brother, no matter how well meaning, is wrong! If you talk about what happened to you that means you are in a healing mode; that means you are reaching many others who may find their courage and come out of hiding in hearing your story. I do believe that obsessing on your childhood traumas without moving forward with healing is not in your best interests.

For some, recovery never ends. For others, the tools we learned in recovery are what keep us sane in an insane world. Having learned to set boundaries, to make healthy choices, to forgive ourselves for mistakes, having acquired healthy self-esteem, having learned to be a victim no more and how to know that the only thing that’s the end of the world is the end of the world are valuable tools learned in a healing program of recovery. That might mean you are in recovery till the end of your life. I choose to believe that it means we are on the right road, we have acquired wisdom, that no matter what triggers, what future traumas, no matter what hardships might wait for us in the future we know what to do to take care of ourselves.

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