Retraumatized and Unraveling

Retraumatized and Unraveling, Artwork by Jeanine A Thriver
Retraumatized and Unraveling, Artwork by Jeanine A Thriver

I was retraumatized after reporting my fathers incest and sexual abuse of me to his church leaders.  The why’s and how’s and specifics of that I will not go into here, it is too big of a topic.

Looking back now, the hardest part of what I have been going through ever since reporting my father, almost a year ago now, is that no one understood what I was going through.  I know of people who have survived sexual abuse, but few have survived sexual abuse by a father.  Sexual abuse by a father is very extensive because the actual sexual abuse spans years and years of abuse.  Sexual abuse by a father is very damaging because the father is an authority figure who controls every aspect of your life.  Sexual abuse by a father is very disruptive because a father has extensive control over your view of the world.  In addition to  years of sexual abuse I suffered a lifetime of emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse, all calculated to control me and make me so broken I could not fight back.  Of the people I know who have suffered sexual abuse by their father, few of them have actually gone through extensive therapy for it.  There are two kinds of therapy, therapy that puts a bandaid on your feelings, patches you up, and gets you back involved in life.  That form of therapy is the most prevalent type of therapy in my community.  It is valuable.  It helps people feel better and move forward with their life.  But the simpler form of therapy does not look at the deep stuff or the big picture.  Unprocessed and unhealed traumas can have a negative effect in every aspect of the survivor of the trauma.  The more extensive the trauma the more extensive the negative effects in someones life.  Few people I know have looked in detail at the trauma and the extensive negative effects it has made in their lives and worked to change their view of reality.   But I know no one who has experiences abuse as extensive as I have and has gone through extensive therapy, and has confronted their father by reporting them to the state and to their church.  I can think of famous LDS people who have confronted their father, namely The Five Browns.  I admire the sisters of The Five Browns and the great strength and courage they showed in confronting their father.  I am so very pleased that they had a successful legal process and eventually a successful church process against their father.  Their case has added a lot to the awareness in my community.  But I do not know anyone who has been abused by their father, confronted their father legally and in the church, and failed at both.  I do not know anyone who knows what it feels like to fail again in my attempts to help my dads church leaders understand the abuse.  And no I do not need to redefine my words and change the word fail.  I am doing my best to describe this to you.  To tell you this devastated me is not enough. I was unraveling and falling apart mentally and no one around me could really understand what I was going through.

Everything in me was unraveling.  My view of reality was unraveling.  My belief in my knowledge of the world was unraveling.  My faith in anything good was unraveling.  My hope for anything good was unraveling.  My faith in God was unraveling.  My views on religion were unraveling.  My feelings of safety were unraveling.  My feelings of being good was unraveling. My own validity was unraveling.  My self worth was unraveling.  My self confidence was unraveling.  I can not tell you how awful this was, how complete this was, how everything about my reality became totally unraveled.  Words can not describe it.

Every person who was in my support system before confronting my father through the church, were misguided in how the talked to me.  They all wanted something better for me.  They all pointed out to me the way I should be, should respond, and told me how I should fix myself.  I wanted to go there, to the better place they wanted for me, I wanted to go there, I did.  But there was some big dark cavern keeping me from crossing over to a better place.  The more people tried to tell me how to fell better, the more I tried and failed, the more I fell apart mentally, wondering what was wrong with me that I could not cross the endless black abyss and be more happy.

I was so afraid. I was most afraid of my emotions, my responses, myself.  I was so afraid of being unreasonable, invalid.  I tried to hide my emotions even from myself.  I successfully hid a huge part of my emotions from all around.  Why show anyone your emotions when all they have to tell you is you need to change?

From time to time I would try to be strong enough to let someone see a tiny sliver of my extensive confusion and pain.  Every time I tested my support network to see if they could understand me, they proved to me they could not.  Everyone, every time, started in with telling me what I should do differently.  No one understood.  No one told me my feelings were valid, my responses was valid, my retraumatization was valid.  I desperately wanted to be valid.  Unfortunately I believed that if my emotional responses were valid then it would be natural for others around me to tell me they were.  Unfortunately I believed that if my responses were valid then others would see them as valid.  But no one did.  They all felt the thing I needed most was to be told how be better, how to improve, to show me where I was wrong.

I started growing angry.  Angry at the slightest suggestion that I was doing anything wrong.  Anger was easier to deal when the the total vulnerability and huge risk of invalidity that I faced if I looked at my emotions.   I started telling my most significant supporters, my husband, my therapist, “you do not value me”, “you do not think I am valid”, and other things like this.  What they heard was that I did not trust them, I did not believe them to be good, that I was wrongfully placing them in the role of my enemy.  But what I meant was, I am falling apart mentally, I am unraveling, I do not feel valuable in any aspect of my life,  I do not feel valid in any way, please, please, please help me feel valuable and valid.  But I could not say that, that was taking too great of a risk, that would make me too vulnerable.  It was easier and less risky to be angry at them.

Again words fail in really describing to you what this was like, what this felt like.  The black hole I was in.  How everything anyone tried to do to help me only made it worse.  How I could not be vulnerable enough to tell them how I felt, to tell them what was really going on.  Why I chose anger, why it was easier.  How my anger only upset my support network more.  How I was in a downward spiral, how everything around me was only making it worse.

In hind sight, I wish, that someone, somewhere would have realized how totally extensively I was re traumatized, even though I was closed off and not sharing my emotions with anyone.  I wish someone came and hugged me, told me it would be ok, told me I was ok, told me the emotions I was feeling was ok, told me how I felt was fine, valid, to be expected.  I wish someone had comforted me this way.  I know my healing from that moment would have been so much easier if someone, anyone, understood where I was at, and helped me feel valid again.

I am thankful my husband and therapist never gave up on me.  I am thankful they stayed engaged with trying to help me.  I know the many things they did and tried helped in many little ways, that added up.  It is always better to try and fail then not try at all.  They did not fail, and they tried, in spite of not really understanding or knowing where I was.  And they helped.  I am thankful for them, for their help.  And now, I know someone who is in a mental place, much like this one I was stuck in, and I now know how to help her.  If I could not have that person next to me to comfort me, in the way I really needed, I can at least be that person comforting the next person I know who is there. Or trying to, as best I know how.

Thanks for reading,

Jeanine A Thriver

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One thought on “Retraumatized and Unraveling

  1. I wish your community and church had wrapped their arms around you and given you all that you needed. Such a hard and lonely place. I am glad you are able to give what you did not receive. In a way, that is how you receive it; by giving it. There is such strength in you even when you may not feel strong.

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