I’m excited to introduce my dear friend and guest blogger – Lucille Zimmerman, LPC. Her vulnerability (of sharing her own sacred, Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World) and wise counsel of others (as they share their own in her counseling practice) are wrapped in her passionate desire to help hurting people. Thank you, Lucille, for taking some time to share a bit about some dynamics of childhood sexual abuse and ways survivors can care tenderly for themselves during their healing journeys.
When I was earning my Master’s Degree in Counseling
I was forced to examine my own story. Toxic family dynamics, boundary violations, and abuse weren’t the only parts of my story. However, they were definitely mixed in with the good parts of my childhood, and I had to acknowledge what hurt me.
So, I entered a two-year period of intense grief and pain…
One of my mentors kept telling me to slow down and do self-care. He could see the hurry I was in to unravel the knots and put forth the new and improved version of me.
But that’s not how it works. Healing from trauma looks like a giant zigzag line that goes up down, and all around, once in a while moving forward, but many times moving backwards.
Here’s another metaphor for what healing looks like: Imagine a giant storm cloud titled, “Pain.” You step inside. It looks (and you feel) like you’re in that movie, “The Perfect Storm.” You’re sure you made a mistake and you’re never going to get out. But along comes a sage who takes you by the arm and says, “When you’re going through Hell, keep on walking.” You need this wise person to guide and assure you. You need to know that facing your story is the right thing to do.
Healing From Sexual Abuse Trauma Is Hard…
Any kind of trauma story is hard to process, but a sexual abuse story is doubly hard. That’s because most survivors have a piece of themselves that says she’s different from all other survivors. She believes she deserved the abuse, maybe even encouraged it, because perhaps (and not always) a survivor felt grateful someone noticed her, or even gave her gifts. The violator counts on this; it is part of the grooming process. If he can get the victim to collude in her own victimhood, her shame in doing so will keep her quiet. In addition to the self talk that mutes her, there’s the voice of others implying, “We don’t talk about things like this.” “What happens in our family stays in our family.” “Now look what you’ve done.”
Sexual Abuse Runs In Families…
They say sexual abuse is multigenerational. Not because it’s genetic, but because the abuse happens in one generation who doesn’t tell. Because no one tells, it happens in the next generation. If a child does find the courage to speak up, the older generation who hasn’t found the safety to tell their own trauma story can’t handle it, so they shush the teller.
As the victim tells her story, she feels fear, shame, and sorrow, but also relief. But then she quickly backtracks and tries to take her story back. She minimizes it: “Well he only touched me, he didn’t have intercourse with me” or “Boys will be boys” or “Well that’s because his wife died and he was lonely.” I think this tendency to minimize happens because almost every victim is abused by someone she loved and cared for. Someone close like a coach, pastor, teacher, uncle, father, or brother.
Because Telling About Abuse Is So Hard, There Needs To Be Self-Care…
When others told me to do self-care, I had no idea what they were talking about, so I spent eight years researching and writing about it.
The culmination of my extensive research can be found in my book, Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World, released in 2013.
I discovered that there is no right way to do self-care…
Each one has to figure out what heals and nurtures her own soul. Here’s a list of what helped me:
Call a Mentor or Friend – Whenever shame attacked, I knew I had to talk to my trusted humans. Shame can’t live in the light of safe connection.
Spend Time in Nature – I can’t tell you how many times I grabbed my camera and went on a five-mile hike.
Exercise – I know yoga gets a bad rap from many Christians, but there is a lot of research that shows how helpful it is for dealing with posttraumatic stress. In addition, rhythmic activity like walking, jogging, or swimming is helpful.
Music – It was a random event that a friend loaned me a Rich Mullins CD just as I entered this painful time of working through my trauma, but his mandolin and poetic words sustained me.
Mindfulness – The research out of Stanford University proves that the brain doesn’t really multi-task, it only focuses on one thing at a time, So, when we multi-task, it creates stress. I notice that when I’m checking my Facebook page and watching TV, I don’t enjoy either activity. Do one thing at a time and be in the moment.
Cooking – On the days I went to counseling, I found I was pretty zoned out (the clinical term is “dissociation”). I found it therapeutic to come home to a quiet house and chop vegetables for making soup.
Massage – Trauma is not just stored in the mind; it’s also in the body. Find a masseuse who massages you in a way that feels nurturing and safe.
Beauty – During those difficult two years, I surrounded myself with pretty pictures, sublime music, visits to art museums and tulip gardens. I bought lavender soaps, sweet smelling lotions, and roses.
Mantra – I spoke phrases out loud that calmed me when I felt messy: I’m a human being having a human experience,” “I’m blooming like a rose,” “I’m not a mess, life is messy.”
Take a Vacation – The brain loves novelty. Plan a trip to someplace new. Take a break from the hard work of therapy. Give yourself time off from thinking about your abuse and your healing. Read lighthearted novels.
“Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
Replace the evil years with good.”
Lucille Zimmerman has a passion to help hurting people. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO
She also teaches psychology and counseling courses at Colorado Christian University.
She is the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World and What Does God Say About Suffering?
She has spent the last dozen years studying self-care, vulnerability, emotional intimacy, PTSD, and posttraumatic growth. She loves helping people find their identity, set healthy boundaries, and heal past hurts.
Lucille and her husband John have two grown children.
She is on a mission to find what’s good about each day whether it be the gurgle of a coffee pot, sunlight on a snowy field, or the smell of lilacs. Her favorite word is cozy, and her favorite place is anywhere she can put her feet on her husband’s lap and talk about the day.
Learn more at www.LucilleZimmerman.com