Have you ever read something so simply powerful, that you find yourself holding your breath? That’s what happened to me as I read today’s #SurvivorsEmpoweringSurvivors submission. Anika shares with us a breakthrough in her recovery that truly inspired me to stop chasing that elusive dream to be “better than.” Thank you, Anika…for reminding me that I. Am. Enough. ~Dawn
I was in my early 20s before I could not only hold onto the childhood abuse memories that had always floated around the periphery of my memory, but truly know them. Not just fear an awareness of them, but know them. And, being me, I started reading.
I read The Courage to Heal. I read The Survivor’s Guide to Sex. It turned my world upside down. I remember standing in a little neighbourhood bookstore in shock; I didn’t have dozens of strange issues that didn’t make sense. I had very normal post-traumatic stress.
This changed everything — every way that I had been raised to think about myself. Like many families with scary secrets to hide, my family centered their attention on a scapegoat, me. The one who would be the most likely to speak out. If I was always already dismissed and dismissible, they had less to fear.
I kept reading. I read narratives by Becky Lane, Dorothy Alison, and Anna Camelleri. So many who were queer and as fierce as I aspired to be. I pondered their observations that often survivors were either the really good kids or the really bad kids growing up. We either were able to put on a nice face to cope with life outside of abuse, or we acted out to demonstrate that something was wrong!
Growing up I had been the black sheep of my family–too big, too loud, too many feelings. Often immobilized by the gravity of trauma while growing up, I was unable to do as well in school as I would have liked, or pursue change as I wished. Once on my own, I was determined not to let this stop me or define me. I spoke out. I spoke out against the abuses I’d faced along with the familial and dominant cultural norms that enable them. I spoke out and lost my family. But dammit, I was fierce.
I was an abuse healing superstar.
I didn’t just read books; I joined a 3 stage abuse recovery group. I helped to lead a 4th stage. I went to therapy. After so many years slightly dissociative, I got massages to find a way back into my body. I hosted massage evenings to make a space for others to be able to feel comfortable in their own skin. I journaled, I went to workshops, I led workshops. I wrote a children’s book about a girl who travels in time to tell her younger self that her body was never bad, that this was not her fault.
Don’t get me wrong, none of this was bad. It was freeing. I could finally live the extent of who I was, without my family’s narrative about how messed up I was holding me back. I wasn’t messed up, I was a freaking badass healer who had been through messed up things, but was ready to take on the world!
The actions weren’t a problem, but the internal narrative was exhausting:
“I am doing so well because I’m separate from the people who hurt me.”
“I am doing so well because the abuse does not define me.”
“I am doing so well because I am bigger than my past.”
It all rested on something–that I am doing well. So what about when I’m not?
It wasn’t till 10 years later that I began to build some nuance into this narrative. I was living on my own for the first time and discovering what my rhythms were when there was no one else to be influenced by, annoyed with, or self-conscious around.
I made a commitment to myself to do yoga from home every morning for a month. There was no goal to reach, the goal was just to have a practice. It was just me so there was no one I could accidentally compare myself to.
I was mid-sun salutation on the second week and it hit me: I don’t have to be “doing well.” I had needed to end unhealthy relationships and I did. Whether I did better or worse than they thought I would didn’t make my decision to separate from my family any more or less valid. The goal was always already accomplished — I was out of relationships that were toxic for me.
I finished this practice, mulling over this truth–I had nothing to prove. If I was having a hard time and needed help, it didn’t mean anything other than that. If I was soaring and taking on the world, I still had nothing to prove. I was just as worthwhile, sitting alone in yana mudra in my apartment as I was putting on a symposium.
Just breathing. I was enough.
Survivour work is incredibly difficult. It takes being such a tough warrior to even face the truth of your own experience. All the workbooks, therapy, journaling, and support groups are courageous acts of self-love and society-changing bravery. They help to shift the cultures of silence that make the climate so ripe for childhood abuse.
If you are doing this work, in any capacity, I’m sending you my undying respect. I am also sending my wish that you have moments in which you can experience yourself as enough, with nothing you need to prove.
Your body as it is right now, well or struggling with illness, is doing amazing work to heal and to protect you.
You are always already enough.
Anika Tilland-Stafford is a chronic Lyme disease healing badass yogi whose blog you can follow at: https://chronicyogiblog.wordpress.com/. She is also an academic and children’s author with a PhD from the Social Justice Institute at the University of British Columbia. She works as a Director of Lifelong Learning at the Unitarian Fellowship in Bellingham, Washington where she lives with her wonderful wife and two odd cats.