Dusana Michaels

Author of "Chopping the Onion"

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More to discover

2014 ended up being a year of delving deep into the abyss. While some people in my life didn’t understand my disappearing, others gently supported me by trusting me and the process I was going through. I certainly didn’t feel okay or happy or appreciative of the good things in my life but they knew I’d eventually come out on the other side.

I have been re-reading books as I unpacked the authors and messages that inspired so much of the early years of my healing and recovery process. Having been treated so disrespectfully and horrendously by my family, I strove to discover what it meant to love myself and another person. So many years and instances of what felt like ice shrouds melting as my heart mended and opened up to let love permeate my life. These books have been treasures to see with fresh eyes and 20 more years of life experiences to color the visions they communicated to me. They have reaffirmed my path of self-discovery which allows me to interact with the world in a vastly different means than how I was raised. All the pain has led me to be a more compassionate and empathetic person who deeply understands how hard life can be and to allow this knowledge to guide my silent beingness in the world.

Through this latest delving, friendships and relationships have ended up changing. Around some people I don’t feel as anxious and recognize I’m less judgmental which allows a closeness that wasn’t there in the past. Other friendships have resulted in more distance as my views of life have changed yet again. I realized how much I had been conditioned to put on a happy face as an attempt to make my life more tolerable for the people around me.The gift of my knee surgery was I just don’t have the energy to do that anymore. I am a different person than I was a couple of years ago and I am enjoying learning what this next phase of my life has to teach me. My abilities have changed and day to day life is more of a struggle as my joints deteriorate. I’m sad about it as I’ve had to let hobbies that I have absolutely loved go because I physically can’t do them anymore. Some of my friends are willing to meet this newest version of me and others are resisting the change. With age, I have less of an attachment to who stays in my life and who I allow to move on as what we had between us isn’t serving either of us anymore. It’s living the whole ‘people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime’.

I am living with the ‘I don’t know’ more gracefully. The grasping of my younger years is giving way to a sense of discovery toward life. I don’t know what comes next. I don’t know what needs to get done and when. I don’t worry about a five year plan. Life is too uncertain for that. The things I can respond to are what is in front of me moment to moment. I can look at and truly see the person in  front of me. I can reflect quietly to myself an appreciation of them or speak to it if feels right at the time. People often don’t get to hear the positives we feel towards them and I remember to give them my gift of seeing them when I can. From taking the time to discover a new me, I am able to discover the newness of people I have known for years. I don’t know who they are today and I look forward to learning about them.


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I’m moving to a new home in a couple of days and have been tackling all the tasks that accompany this adventure. I’m still not back to where I was, strength and stamina-wise, before I had knee replacement surgery. I have spent more days than I wish to recall crying and wondering, “what was I thinking”? I had a window of opportunity and I went for it. I’m practiced enough with my meltdowns to allow them to be and then move back into doing what I can in the moment to get the overall job accomplished.
After coming out of the past few years that have felt more like an ‘in the cocoon or hibernation’ period, I am curious about what is to come. As a way of making room for newness to enter my life, I have spent a considerable amount of time going through my files and piles, my collections and accumulations. Many things have been shredded or thrown out. Others are being donated. Recovering from surgery has been a wake-up call of what I am really capable of at this point in my life. There are so many thoughts, beliefs, plans, and dreams that have been let go of through this phase. It has become easier to let go of things that don’t serve me anymore or are of no use.
I am having my new home painted to freshen it up and make a new start of it. I picked as my main color a beige tone with a slight peach tinge to it. As often happens with paint, on the wall looks different than the swatch. It’s not an unpleasant color but also not what I was envisioning. There isn’t time to change it so I accepted it as being a good thing. I have to rethink what I will surround myself with as I move forward. I will not be able to rely on my comfort zones as I pick and choose what I want to use. I have to adapt and change and discover. I see it as a symbol for gaining a new perspective of life.
I wonder what it will look like……

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Attack myself or not

I have an auto-immune disease which essentially means the cells of my body attack the healthy cells instead of only the infectious or diseased ones. I have felt for a long time that this was one of the ways in which I coped with the abuse of my childhood. There are many reasons for this but one was I found it easier to blame myself for the actions of others than to think I had no control at all over my environment. In its own way, that thought was terrifying to me. That I had some semblance of control was better than thinking I was at the mercy of the whims of the adults around me.

I’ve spent many years of my adulthood ferreting out my culpability for what is happening in my life from those around me.  Sometimes it is my fault, sometimes it is theirs. I’ve learned the difference between when it’s my lesson to learn and when I’ve been placed in someone else’s life as their teacher. The hardest life circumstances to recognize and learn from have been the times when the actions of others was a mirror of my own inner state or belief. Searching my soul of the emotions and repetitive thoughts brought the spotlight to the area that needed to be challenged and changed or accepted.

I really do feel I have worked through the blame I felt for the abuse happening to me. I know that I did nothing to deserve it. I know the innocent child I used to be. I know it was the actions of the adults around me. What caused them to overstep the line is beyond me. I used to care and want to know. But that was a useless search, I will never know and I don’t care anymore. That’s their problem and I have enough of my own.

Incest is the gift that keeps on giving and I mean that in the darkest sense of the statement. I’ve come to think of it as recovery because I continually have to recover the different parts of myself that had to cope with the insanity around me. The groves of these unhealthy coping skills run deep and it is too easy for me to fall back into old patterns. Sometimes they pop up unexpectedly, though I am quicker to recognize them when they appear. It takes a conscious effort to get back on a healthier or more self-affirming track.

As part of healing and recovery, I’ve had to challenge the beliefs I held about myself. Some were spot on and others were way off course. This cannot be done overnight and life has presented me with many situations in which I get the opportunity to reaffirm what I believe. As though I’ve needed to be asked, “are you sure you think/feel/believe that?” Sometimes the answer was a resounding, YES! Other times I’ve recognized something needed to be tweaked.

No matter what was or wasn’t done to me, I’ve had to declare by my actions who I am in spite of  or despite the abuse. I am an adult and I am responsible for them. What I’ve learned over the years is though I have a propensity to attack myself, I can build new paths that are kinder and gentler.

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The Continuum

Even during the worst moments of the symptoms resulting from CSA, I never bothered or wanted to have an official diagnosis rendered. The main driving force was I didn’t want to give my family an out. They would have loved to have an excuse to point to for the outrageous allegations I was stating against my brothers, father, and grandfather. Their denial is so deep that they would have pointed to PTSD or an anxiety disorder as causing the allegations instead of the other way around. My mother once went so far as to blame them on my taking Synthroid….um, yeah, hallucinations are a common side-effect……. My family also “feared” I was being brain-washed by someone who lived across the country and I only saw every couple of years. Luckily, I know who did the real brain-washing.

From my experience from having JRA as a child, I knew how to manage symptoms and I viewed the effects of CSA in the same manner. Whether I had an official diagnosis or not, what was important to me was learning to live with it, however it was showing up in my life.

Physical pain level is often measured on the continuum of 1-10 with 1 being it has zero effect on your day to day activities and 10 being you are unable to do the activity at all. Maintenance of the pain level is obtained by introducing stimuli that assist with moving the higher number to a lower one. The goal is not to get rid of it totally, but to have it be at a level where a certain quality of life can be achieved. Methods could include: medication, meditation, hot or cold treatment, massage, or anything the individual finds helpful for reducing his pain level. Other more unhealthy methods are also used by individuals to achieve the goal: recreational drugs, alcohol, over-eating, aggression, promiscuity, or anything that ultimately harms the individual and those around him.

Over the past 25 years, I have utilized both healthy and unhealthy means for managing the pain associated with CSA. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. The emotional/mental pain level can sustain a level of 10 for longer than I ever dreamed possible. But thankfully,  it has always gone down at some point.

As part of recovery and healing, we move from what is familiar and known into the unknown. Our steps are tentative while we learn new ways of being in the world. Other times we need to take a leap of faith when we are unsure a net will appear to save us from falling into the abyss. This doesn’t pertain to only abuse survivors but is the human condition. It is also part of the continuum. Some people had worse abuse perpetrated upon them than others. It gets to a point where being in competition to who had it the worst does nothing to move a person forward. We are all more the same than we are different.

The questions comes down to: where are you on the continuum? What can you do to move the number to a more satisfying place? Sometimes the doing will be to accept that nothing can be done at the moment and accept that too.

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An Education

Tonight I watched the movie An Education based on the memoir by Lynn Barber and directed by Lone Scherfig. When possible, I enjoy watching the commentary of the movie usually done by the director and possibly an actor or two. As I watched the commentary, a reference was made to a look passed between the mother and daughter in which it was evident the daughter had outgrown her mother. Having spoken to my own mother earlier, I recognized that phrase summed up my feelings perfectly.

I’ve outgrown my mother, and the rest of my family also. Twenty-five years ago or so I decided to heal, learn and grow as a person. Our relationships have never been the same since. I knew I would end up dead if I didn’t make the commitment to myself. I could not continue living the way I had been raised, with the denial of incest, the head in the sand culture but moved ahead with the uncertainty of facing my worst fears.

So many times through the years I’ve had to challenge the concept of my self-worth. The ‘who do I think I am to want more’ and ‘why can’t I be happy with what they offer’ and ‘you’re not enough for me’ thoughts that have accompanied my healing and growth. After all these years, there is still a part of me that wishes it could have been different. Their denial is so deep that they have no clue why I stay away. Growing up in that denial, I do understand where they are coming from but I can’t live there anymore. I have grown beyond it.

I stopped needing my mother a long time ago. She couldn’t be the mother I wanted or needed. I had to grow into that person for myself. So much of my healing has been finding out who/how I didn’t want to be in order to grow into the person I am today. If I didn’t like being afraid, where do I find the strength within? If I didn’t like being hyper-vigilant and paranoid of others, how do I learn to trust again? If I didn’t want to be bitter about all that was done to me by the hands of others, how do I allow forgiveness to replace it? So many unloving acts were perpetrated upon me, how do I learn to love again and keep myself safe? The realm of all human behavior is a possibility within me, what do I want to express? Who do I want to be, or more precisely how do I want to be?

Moment by moment, the trait I wanted to grow was found. Life presented opportunities to make mistakes and try again. It was sometimes literally a split second that I was able to practice a new behavioral skill before the old pattern took over once again. Over time the moments became longer and longer. I felt the feelings and changed the survival skills of childhood into the healthy coping skills of a responsive woman.

When I do get re-triggered and start reacting to life, I am able to see an opportunity for more learning is in my face and I can deal with it more gracefully. It’s never easy, pretty or fun, but growth rarely is.


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Maintaining the balance

As I follow the progress of other survivors on different social media sites, I am amazed at strength displayed as people maneuver  the  journey of healing from childhood trauma, or any trauma. Every path through recovery is unique for what the individual experienced and what was needed in order to survive. It takes a long time to ferret out all the layers involved and also learn the deeper understandings as the layers bring the issues back to the forefront of life over and over. With time you see the same issue from a different angle as wholeness is recovered.

I’ve learned to balance the good times with the bad. There are times to feel the pain and times to put it away to be picked up again another day. I think of it as maintenance. I know I have some challenges that are best to give attention to from time to time. Childhood sexual abuse is something that you never get over but you do learn to live with it. You find acceptance of the positive and negative aspects.

One way I did that was to take a step back and find appreciation for the person I was becoming in spite of the abuse. This was part of  the balance I needed for incorporating the grief from the abuse with the limitless possibility of growing into the person I wanted to be.

The following is one of the journal entries I’ve included in my book from this practice:


Things I can love about myself and my progress in life:

  • My sense of humor
  • My power
  • My ability to perceive
  • My knowing
  • My intelligence
  • My strength
  • My gifts
  • My special-ness
  • The hard work I put into myself
  • That I am a totally different person than I was raised to be
  • My lack of fear at a core level
  • My tenacity
  • My being-ness
  • My big-ness
  • My ability to have more fun than anyone else
  • The support that I am able to offer others
  • That I follow through with relationships
  • I try to make my life better
  • I follow my natural rhythms
  • My ability to remember songs
  • That I can dance without being drunk
  • That I can do a lot of things without being drunk
  • My ability to love
  • My ability to forgive
  • My life experiences
  • My zaniness
  • My ability to be loud
  • My ability to confront
  • My ability to care for myself
  • My ability to surrender
  • My ability to receive
  • My ability to treat others fairly
  • My sense of responsibility
  • My calmness
  • My inner peace
  • My sense of protection coming from the universe
  • My refusal to be pushed or bullied
  • My attitude
  • My quick-fire wit
  • My love of adolescents
  • My ability to love and be loved
  • My hair
  • My work ethics
  • The person I am
  • The person I can still become

From the negative coping skills that I needed to survive into adulthood, I could make the conscious choice to grow into the positive characteristics of a healthy person. Life is continually presenting me with opportunities to deepen these characteristics and recommit to grow some more.

I look back at this list and smile at the person I was when I wrote it. The healing that was happening at the time as I overcame criticism from being vocal about the abuse and other injustices I was seeing. The comparison of my behavior to the adolescents I was working with at the time. I miss some of that deviance. I’ve mellowed with age or experience, not sure which. Maybe both.

I do hope I am living more of the power on the inside. Life doesn’t feel like so much of a fight anymore. There is a quieter knowing that doesn’t need to be shouting from the rooftops. I’ve learned to pick my battles and choose to engage in the ones worthy of my energy.


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What needs to be healed?

As I set about on my recovery from childhood incest, the most important thing for me regarded what I could control. This came down to me. I can’t control other people but I can control how I think, feel and behave towards others and myself. No matter what another person does or says to me, I’m still responsible for how I react/respond.

Over the years there have been many healing opportunities as I learned on the deepest level what I believed about myself. Some of these opportunities were put on me by others and some I took upon myself. As someone groomed to accept the blame and shame of other’s actions, it was very easy for me to take on responsibility for how others treated me and many more years to acquire the skill of discernment of what was actually my need for healing and what was someone else’s.

I went into the recovery with the hope that if I could heal everything I would never again be subjected to the ignorant behavior of others. This has yet to happen but I do cope better when it does. I can separate what I can control from what I can’t. I can’t control how the other person behaves but I can control if I attack myself for it or look for what still needs to be healed within me. Other times I acknowledge I am in a situation because the other person has something to learn. I am only there to teach.

The effects of the abuse are hidden in many different ways and it takes time to uncover them all. Life is kind that way. If I had tried to take all of the effects of the abuse on at once, it would have been too much. Life has been kind enough to present me with positive and negative circumstances from which I can grow. The negative tend to show where I took on someone else’s stuff as a character defect within myself. The positive tend to show the next step I have the opportunity to grow towards. Either way, I get to see myself in a new and clearer light.

For me, I’m taking the words of apology from Pope Francis into my soul to heal the areas that never heard an apology from the people in my life who have dismissed my pain in the past. At this time in my life, I don’t need to discern whether they are heartfelt words or not. I can take them at face value. I may never hear the words from the people who could offer a deep level of comfort for me. But the words are out there so I am taking them in.

Other survivors might feel the need to fight the legitimacy of the apology. They are at a different place in their healing. I trust they are getting what they need for the whole of their recovery. I can only support other survivors in walking the current step on their path to wholeness.

I have found what needs to be healed is ever changing and will be presented to me when I am ready. There are good times and bad times. But there is always more to learn.