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Trauma Recovery and Healing

The Gift of Healing is Our Birthright

by Coral Anika Theill


"The freedom that I gained when I broke my silence about the abuse I suffered I wouldn’t trade for anything. Once secrets are exposed to the light, they lose their power over you."


In America there are many victims of childhood molestation and abuse, rape and domestic violence! But guess what: There are relatively few batterers and perpetrators.In their efforts to seek safety, justice and vindication, victims often become further victimized by our judicial system. Why? The batterers and abusers are “innocent” and protected by family, friends, co-workers and church members. Often family and friends turn against the victim in order to protect the abuser and their own reputations.

Victims suffer not only from the abuse they experienced but also from the threat of meaninglessness and powerlessness that comes with it. People who experience the trauma of violence at the hand of someone they know, (i.e., a partner, parent, relative, therapist, teacher, pastor, or priest) - struggle to make meaning, usually in a context of isolation, if not moral condemnation and victim blaming.


Meanwhile, as the years pass, many victims become progressively more mentally, physically and emotionally sick because the victim has been rejected and betrayed all over again by those close to them who refuse to deal with the truth and by those who find denial an easy alternative. The burden placed on the victim's shoulders becomes unbearable. Finally, family and friends who "knew the truth" dismiss the crimes of molestation, rape and violence because "it happened a long time ago."


The victim's worst nightmare has come true.


If the perpetrator is “innocent,” then the victim must be guilty by default. It was their fault to begin with (they were told by their abuser). In the victim's mind, they must be both the criminal and the victim. The victim has a hard time finding where "they" are inside themselves. Finally, the victim becomes so physically sick and unnerved that he/she has a breakdown.


My married life continued the pattern of my childhood. After experiencing twenty years of violence and abuse in my marriage, I intuitively knew that continuing this way of life would eventually kill me. I went to Oregon's courts for help and protection for myself and my children. Nothing had prepared me for the horrors that I would experience in what we call 'Oregon's justice and legal system.' Marital and ritual abuse evolved into legal abuse.


As long as we continue to condone those in power who harm and victimize innocent people, then we will continue to witness injustices against those who are vulnerable and unable to protect and defend themselves. I believe my own life and experiences these past years reveal a moral dilemma for the religious organizations and judicial systems that exists today.For recovery to begin, abuse victims must create a safe environment. Without freedom, there is no safety or recovery. Safety for many survivors is often at a great cost.


Battered women may lose their babies and children, their homes, their friends and their livelihood. Survivors of childhood abuse will often even lose their families. Rarely does society recognize the dimensions and long lasting effects of this reality for the victim.After over a decade of personally seeking assistance from advocacy groups on a local, state and national level, the advocacy system, as is, has offered me nothing.


The past seventeen years has been an incredible journey from darkness to light. Through my journey of "making light of the dark," I have had the privilege of meeting extraordinary individuals, who, like me, are human, flawed, spectacular and deeply compassionate. I am thankful for their assistance in my survival these past many years. Most importantly, they helped me heal the imbalances created from past wounds and see my past from a new perspective."


When the pupil is ready, the teacher arrives.


In 1997, I was in shock and numb from decades of trauma, abuse and horror. At that time, Dr. Barbara May, Professor of Nursing at Linfield College, Portland, Oregon, came into my life as my long term mentor and counselor. Among the many truths she imparted to me, these were the ones that literally set me free: Keeping secrets only protects the abuser. Abuse does not deserve privacy. If violence cannot be talked about, it cannot be stopped.


I truly believe more victims would be willing to share their pain, fear and shame if they could expect to be believed, respected and vindicated.


When I met Dr. May, I did not know the extent of my traumas, as abuse was the only life I had known. I had not heard of the term "domestic violence" or "Stockholm Syndrome" in my years of marriage. Divorce was never an option in the legalistic, fundamental Christian world that I had escaped. Wholeness, wellness and joy had not been an option in my previous years of marriage.


As I began to seek the Truth that would create wholeness for me, mentors and friends assisted me in remembering who I truly was apart from my trauma. They taught me how to respect and honor the sacredness of my being. They helped guide me from a devastating past to wholeness. Through their assistance, I am in touch with the wildish and sacred part of my soul, again. Most of all, they helped me understand Dr. Viktor Frankl's wise words, "To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering."


Healing is the process of rounding up all the fragments of our shattered self and reconciling them. The traumatized person who accomplishes the work of recovery and healing has the potential of becoming more integrated and more aware and conscious than the person who has endured no blatant trauma and has never had to piece together a shattered psyche. Throughout the years, I learned to value the horrifying scars of my childhood and past adult life as valuable raw material for soul work, that I was responsible for my life and could be a part of "creating my reality."


In her book, Fire in the Soul, Dr. Joan Borysenko writes, “Freedom is the destiny of every living being. We become free by waking from our dreams of fear, scarcity, blame and guilt, by taking responsibility for acting, to the best of our knowledge, with care and loving-kindness that we may kindle the light of love within and by that light see our way home and serve as beacons for others along the way. It is most often suffering that kindles love, loss that deepens understanding, hurt that opens the eyes of the heart that see forgiveness as a way of life and peace of mind as our birthright.”


As I healed, I understood that the greatest gift I could offer to those around me was my own inner joy and wholeness. Once healed, all that is left is compassion and inner joy.


"To stay with one's joy, we sometimes have to fight for it, we have to strengthen ourselves and go full-bore, doing battle in whatever way we deem most shrewd. To prepare for siege, we may have to go without many comforts for the duration. We can go without most things for long periods of time, anything almost, but not our joy...... “- Clarissa Estes, Ph.D., Women Who Run With the Wolves


To heal and become empowered we need to "go home." Home was a place I was not familiar with. Up to this point, I had only known how to obey to avoid further cruelty and harm.Many people are living like this. Their soul has gone off and left them without feeling. Many people have been conditioned to give their power away and feel helpless in the face of conflict, illness, disease and overwhelming emotion.


I have learned that when we go home we weep when we first step on that wonderful sacred ground again. When we never go home, we enter a zombie zone. I've been there. “The most cruel part of this lifeless state is that the woman functions, walks, speaks, acts and even accomplishes many things, but she no longer feels the effects of what has gone wrong–if she did, her pain would make her immediately turn to the fixing of it.”


"Home is the pristine instinctual life that works as easily as a joint sliding upon its greased bearing, where all is as it should be, where all the noises sound right, and the light is good, and the smells make us feel calm rather than alarmed. Home is whatever revives balance. Home is where we can imagine the future and also pour over the scar maps of the psyche, learning what led to what, and where we will go next.” - Clarissa Estes, Ph.D., Women Who Run With the Wolves


In the words of Alice Miller, “To live with one’s own truth is to be at home with oneself. That is the opposite of isolation.”


In so many cases, and this is not to be judged, many people will not or cannot "arrive on the other side." This is the place I use to refer to as "living in the present moment, our now," apart from our traumas.As we live on the "other side" of our traumas, we can, for the most part, function well in society. The chains and haunting of our past, which often rob us of our present joys, our very life, do not control us.


I believe our task in life is to live with all that is hard in our lives without being able to know why it happens and still find a way to fully choose life, every day.It is my hope and prayer that individuals facing insurmountable crisis and tragedies will be blessed with compassionate friends and advocates extraordinaire such as the individuals who have shown up in my life. Their compassion was always equally balanced by a healthy sense of humor, which to this day, I appreciate.  


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Coral Anika Theill is available for speaking engagements and interviews.


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