Saturday, July 11, 2009

Secrets and Disclosure Remorse

...then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear.
Job 11:15
I met with a woman in her mid-50s who was leaving a 30 year abusive marriage. She was nervous and had trouble making eye contact with me. I suspected she has having difficulty because she told me things she had kept hidden for years and years. This was a professional woman, who raised children, went to church, did all the things many of us do – all the while burying deep inside of her the pain and shame of being abused at home. There had been no police reports in all these years. She had not taken photos of her injuries. There were no shelter, medical or counselor records. All these years, she lived in two worlds – our world and her own 2nd level of hell.
I had worked with many women just like her over the years. Like many of these women, she self-medicated her pain and shame. In addition to hiding the abuse, she was also hiding alcohol dependence. It makes perfect sense. We are not made to live like this. However, we are made to survive.
Part of surviving is our body and brain makes sure we keep going, making adjustments as needed. For instance, if someone is being strangled, they will find that their arms and legs won’t work. That is because the body is taking care of the vital organs – the heart, lungs, renal system, and brain. When we’re exposed to trauma, our body finds a way to adjust. We do that by disconnecting and medicating. Disconnecting allows trauma victims to live in two worlds, as my client was. Disconnecting separates emotions from reality. People who are new to this field are amazed that a domestic violence survivor can look them straight in the eye and tell them the most amazing lies – “no, he isn’t violent…he’s a great dad…I’m the one with the problems…” Self-medication includes both legal and illegal substance use – alcohol, xanax, valium, anti-depressants, marijuana, etc.
Once the crisis is passed for survivors, I strongly encourage them to go to counseling to reconnect and heal. I explain about all the emotions that will resurfance once they are no longer living a day-to-day existence.
This woman wouldn’t talk with me anymore after we met. That isn’t surprising. It is disconcerting to tell these long-hidden shameful secrets. The response is often to have “disclosure remorse” – it was just too scary to open THAT box. But, telling someone is a huge step. Sometimes people start with that and don’t make any other changes for a while. Sometimes they call the police and tell them. By the time we talk to them, the secret is buried once again.
So if someone tells you a secret like this, it is important to recognize how hard it was to tell. That person needs to hear: I’m glad you told me. You’re doing the right thing by talking about it. It wasn’t your fault. There is help when you are ready. You deserve to be in a healthy relationship. You don’t deserve to be abused. I’m so sorry you went through that. You can be safe.
This is a journey, a process. I tell my clients it usually took a while to get to where they are when I meet them. So, it might take a while to get reset. I’m honored to be one of the people who can help them.

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