“I thought I dealt with the abuse. I went 10, 20, 30 years without issue so why is it coming up now?” This is a common statement from survivors, especially those of us in the ‘older generations’ who were not as comfortable as the new generation in ‘therapy’ and blogging and posting our feelings and inner struggles for the world to empathize or judge. In the past few weeks I’ve received more than one email from places as far as the UK and Africa from survivors who have either stated how they thought they had ‘gotten past the abuse’ but now the memories, flashbacks, triggers etc are stronger than ever. One survivor realized in order for her to thrive she knew she needed to deal with what kept coming up instead of trying to push it back down -BRAVO – so she confronted her perpetrator. Wow. Talk about deep cleaning!
Often the way one has ‘survived’ abuse is by knowing how to ‘stuff’ the effects away in order to move forward. We learn coping mechanisms that are both healthy and unhealthy. The danger is when we get past the period of abuse and fail to stop to take the time and energy needed to work through the effects of what lingers from the abuse. Too often a survivor will get past the period of abuse and desperate to ‘be normal’ it gets stuffed deep inside to fester and spoil.
It’s like forgetting there are leftovers in the fridge that either need to be eaten or thrown away but with each day new stuff gets put into the fridge and pushes the container of leftovers to the back till one day you open the fridge door and a smells cinges the hairs in your nose. “What is that?” you think and do a quick glance through but can’t see the culprit right in front of you so you shut the door and forget about it.
That night your husband comes home and opens the fridge to grab a drink, “What the heck is that smell?” He squinches up his nose in disgust and closes the door because he figures its your job to find the culprit. But you forget about it because you leave to go out of town and when you get back the smell is now emitting from the fridge and saturated the air in the house. It can’t be ignored anymore you have to stop what you are doing and take the time to clean out the fridge.
You dawn a pair of latex gloves and because the smell is so bad a mask. When you open the fridge the smell crashes into you like a wave and brings tears to your eyes. You wish you could reach in and grab whatever it is that is causing the smell and throw it away but there is so much food that is salvageable right in front of you it’s not easy to find. You have to take out everything on the shelves one by one and inspect the dates and, if it’s a closed container, what is in side.
As you start taking your ‘stuff’ out of the fridge you see how dirty the shelves are and realize the fridge hasn’t been cleaned since you purchased it years before. The dread of having to take everything out in order to not only find the smell but to clean the fridge causes you to want to throw in the towel before you even begun but you are standing there with the gloves and mask on and the afternoon had been miraculously freed up so there was no excuse.
Before you know it you have lined up ice chests behind you to save the salvageable good items (all of the positive gifts and talents that have been hidden by the clutter and stench of the trash) as you clean and soon you realize there were a lot of items in the fridge that were expired and most likely adding to the main culprit. Now you reach deep into the back of the last shelf and there it is, a closed container that has mildew creeping out of the edges of the lid. You hold onto the culprit and feel victorious for having found it but also curious as to what it was that had been left behind. You open the lid to find and unrecognizable casserole that has mounds of mold in all shades of greens and blues.
The smell is atrocious but it is fascinating to see what has become of this concoction. Finally you bid it farewell and put it in its own sealable bag, bag it again, and then throw it away. Feeling accomplished you turn back to the task at hand. Even though you found the culprit now you have a half-empty refrigerator that still needs to be cleaned out with other expired items. It takes time but the deeper you get into cleaning the better you feel and you can’t possibly put back the good items into a frig with dirty shelves.
It takes the entire afternoon but finally your task is complete. “Next time I won’t wait years to clean this fridge.” you say to yourself because you realize the job is so much easier when you keep track of what’s going in and what’s coming out.
Survivors are often reluctant to take the first step of digging into their past because the task seems daunting and at times they are afraid of what they’ll find. Sometimes some choose to deny and ignore and don’t realize the stench (effects) of abuse are following them around, seeped into their actions and reactions. Already affecting their marriages, friendships, etc.
However, when they finally recognize the stench (effects) are affecting everyone around them and they are the only one who is capable of finding the culprit then the grace is given to take the first step. Once we take the time to look into what has been done or said to us, how we have handled it, how it has affected other moments in our lives, it is easier to open the lid despite the smell.
I encourage you, if you have suffered any type of abuse or assault in your past and you have chosen to ‘put it aside’ consider giving yourself the gift to take the time and clean out the fridge. It is a tough first step but the reward is great!