Dusana Michaels

Author of "Chopping the Onion"

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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.