I’m not sure of the source or when I first leaned the phrase, but this holiday season I find myself most grateful for the understanding that “healing is a process, not an event.”
That’s certainly not how I imagined it nearly 30 years ago when I consciously started reclaiming my life from the effects of being sexually abused in childhood. That understanding has served as a hopeful beacon in moments of despair and hard-won self-discovery ever since.
Holiday family gatherings can be among the most challenging times to hold that notion in mind that gradual, paced change is a key to success – both for those who’ve experienced abuse and for those family members who ache seeing the pain of a loved one who is struggling. The pages on the 1in6 website describing Judith Herman’s and Mic Hunter’s guidance on stages of recovery are two of the most frequently visited.
I recognize myself immediately on those pages. Motivation to change, I’ve learned, is enhanced by support and safety, not pressure or shaming.
I realize now I’d been unknowingly recovering for years before I acknowledged to myself that the unwanted sexual interactions I’d had with my parish priest were abusive. I’d always blamed myself. It had taken me 20 years to be emotionally ready to sort through the consequences of that acknowledgment. Finally, my relationship in shambles, barely able to function at work, I was determined to get help to create something better. Finding a therapist who was right for me was a critical step.
Like many men I know, I wanted to be healed quickly. Approaching healing as a long process calls for a patience that we men often find difficult to accept. Social norms tell us that “real men” see a problem, identify a solution, fix “it,”’ and move on. One friend recalls telling his therapist on their first meeting in May that he expected to be done by October. Years later, he’s still steadily doing the work, steadily improving his life.
Over time, as healing took hold, I’ve learned to view that regular hour, reserved for self-reflection on my growth and goals, as a gift I still give myself, rather than a task.
When I started, change felt impossible and unrealistic. I recently found myself imagining what my life must have looked like to my parents year after year when I went home for the holidays. From a vantage point three decades out, I see that the little steps added up – and that I’m still moving forward. Each day, I’m astonished at how far that gradual process of healing has brought me. Persistence has rewarded me with a peace I once would have thought was unreachable. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
Happy Holidays to you and those you love.
By Peter Pollard
Peter Pollard is a Communications & Professional Relations Director for 1in6 has worked for more than 25 years as a social worker, sexual-abuse and domestic-violence prevention specialist, and survivor advocate. Before joining 1in6 in 2008, he was Public Education Director and Helpline Supervisor at Stop It Now!, and worked for 15 years as a state child-protection case manager. He currently acts as a group facilitator for a Certified Batterers Intervention Program in Western Mass, and since 2003, he has served as the Western Mass. Regional Coordinator for SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).
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