Dusana Michaels

Author of "Chopping the Onion"

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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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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.


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Frozen No More

I finally saw the Disney movie Frozen a couple of weeks ago. As I don’t live entirely in the dark, I had been aware of the existence of the song, Let It Go. I saw it performed at the Academy Awards but was too busy laughing at John Travolta’s butchering of Idina Menzel’s name to pay close attention to it. I did notice the phrasing about letting the perfect girl go. I recognized that that phrase and song could have become a reoccurring mantra for my healing.

When I watched Frozen, I listened more intently to Let It Go. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel a power being called from deep within to the surface of my life. I have lived through that part of my recovery journey and must have integrated it fully into my life not to be affected by the powerful words. I acknowledged the distance I have come.

As I wrote about in another blog, throughout my healing journey I have found my latent strength, or other emotional needs, in characters, songs or sayings. They held attitudes I needed to find and develop within myself. I can see how Frozen holds a powerful message for breaking out of the confines put upon us as a means of survival. There comes a time when new coping skills are needed to be learned and the real person hidden deep within needs to be expressed in the world.

I’ve been listening for the new messages in the outer world that act as signposts for the next steps on my journey. I know them when I start to cry. I know them when I feel scared. I know them because I don’t know the outcomes that will occur when I learn the new skills. I am being called to grow and become a more complete version of myself.  The world is awaiting the new discoveries I find to share with others.

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It does get better

I am a reluctant social media user. I’d rather have face to face interactions than those that take place over the internet. Over the past twenty years and as part of the times, I’ve tried various means of communication that the internet has offered. Some have been quite positive and I’ve felt close to the people I was communicating with. Others were a case of learning where reality started and where my hopes had gotten the best of me. Some friendships have waned as people chose to communicate more and more often through Facebook than picking up the phone.

With writing and promoting a book, I knew I’d have to delve once again into the world of social media. I’m not on Twitter and Facebook as often as recommended but I do peruse a couple times a week. My feelings that there are so many more things I could be doing have changed to an appreciation.

There are a couple people/organizations that I follow a little more closely than others. I can see how this form of support could have been useful at the beginning of my healing journey from childhood incest. At that time I tried support groups and many of the people in the groups seemed to have gotten stuck in their stories and the pain. I too was experiencing great pain but I knew I didn’t want to stay there. I wanted to keep on growing and healing.

As I read the post or blogs, I also appreciate that life does get better as you transverse the path of recovery. Even when I get triggered yet again, it’s never quite as bad as it was in the beginning. I have more coping skills and have learned how to manage the pain. I’ve learned to meet each occurrence with an attitude of willingness and wonder. I wonder what message I’m needing to learn this time and I’m willing to sit with the pain to get through it. In over twenty years of healing I’ve never learned a quicker method over the pain than through it.

You have to make some sort of friend from it. It visits, it has a purpose, and though it still sucks, the more you can listen to what it is offering you in the character building department, the more compassion, empathy and wisdom you have to offer others. We are all living the human condition and it is tough. Though I haven’t always appreciated the lessons as I was going through them, I’m glad I’ve had the dedication and tenacity to be on this side of the learning. It does get better.

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The Unknown

“On an unknown path, every step is slow” *

Healing, and becoming an improved version of yourself, is a giant step into the unknown. You see the prototypes in people you admire and who might be your heroes or just the ordinary person next door. You feel the twinge inside when encountering situations that you inherently know are not authentic. You need to let go of your life as you’ve known it and trust in the intangible world of discovery. None of this happens overnight.

Many people have passed through my life that played the role of being guideposts on the path to wholeness. My yoga instructor many years ago who introduced me to the concept of being in my body and not a numbed out puppet going through the motions of a life. From her I learned assertiveness, honesty, power, and the messages my body held of what I had been through and the strength I needed to face the pain. Never as quickly as I’d like, but what I needed always came in time. From the brief time of studying with her I learned there were unknown forces and concepts in the world that I embarked on discovering. Many more people have helped to shape the person I am today.

I have gotten to a place in my life where I am having a difficult time putting on the mask and playing the game. I just don’t have the energy anymore. One of the places I lived while growing up was a huge influence on how I didn’t want to be. I felt like such an outsider as a child as I sat and watched the interactions between the people. Internally I cringed as I saw the competition and false caring. It was about being the best at the expense of another. The knife being shoved in your back as a friend embraces you. The narrow road of what was considered appropriate behavior. I didn’t understand it and literally can’t stomach the behavior anymore. I have changed so much over the years and discovered many new ways of being. The last time I visited I felt sadness for the people for whom so much had remained the same while I went out and learned to fly. What was right for them caged me to the point of screaming to be free.

Though I was screaming on the inside, I have had to grieve the only life I knew. I didn’t know what was to come but I knew I couldn’t stay. I have had to hold both loving people dearly and admitting to myself, your version of the world is not enough for me. I wondered who I thought I was to expect better treatment and a bigger life. Whenever I step into the unknown, I still wonder this. But I knew there was another way to be in the world. I  have had to risk losing everything in order to gain an unknown future.

As I am coming out of a few months of being more internal, as the proverbial caterpillar changes within the chrysalis to become the butterfly, I am once again walking into a new unknown. I have less internal worrying questions about what I should be doing and am concentrating on how to be with the moment at hand. A re-reading of The New Earth and The Power of Now have helped with my newest journey into the unknown. People are commenting that I’m more peaceful and there’s a glow about me but, to me, that’s not even the point. I am just being. I am grateful for the person I have discovered along my journey of recovery. I didn’t know where the path would take me as I faced the darkness but I took each step along the way that led me to today. Once again I can acknowledge, I have survived.

*Quote is from 8,789 Words of Wisdom by Barbara Ann Kipfer (2001) Workman Publishing, New York.


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Finding your power

Any kind of abuse, boundary violation, bullying, or just plain disrespect is about one person attempting to have power over another. It’s why the word empowerment has been a mantra for me through the years. Empowerment both for myself and helping others find their own sense of power also.

I found my sense of power through the heroes I admired as I grew more whole. These heroes were brought to me in different forms as I learned healthier ways to be in the world. Sometimes I found them in a book. Other times I saw them in a movie or TV show. Friends and other people in my life displayed traits that I wanted to learn and incorporate into my repertoire of empowered behavior. Seeing it outside myself first, I was then able to find it within. Everything I see in another is a possibility within myself. It became my choice which behavior I wanted to emulate depending whether that behavior was more positive or negative in my eyes.

One of the most important forms of expression which spoke to me has been music. Records I listened to over and over again as an adolescent. Songs that make me tear up and remember the younger version of myself that listened and learned. Some help me see where I’ve been diverted away from truths I knew when I was younger. I can then acknowledge where I’ve been the one to abandon myself and find my way back to a more truthful existence. Music has been the soundtrack that allows me to grieve, laugh, be silly, celebrate, kick ass, and overcome. It touches something deep and eternal within my soul.

I thank the people who have gone before me to pave the way towards wholeness. I also know I hold that place in the lives of others who cross my path. We never truly know how we affect those around us, both close by and those that are barely acknowledged as we go about our day. I remember reading years ago, what if the smile I give someone is the only one that person gets that day. It’s a brief encounter but it could make a difference.

As I prepare to go out into my life today, I am grateful for the kindness that has been extended to me. It is within my power to give it to another.