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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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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How Long?

As I peruse different sights of social media, one question I see asked is ‘how long will it take to heal?’ I remember wondering that same question early on in my recovery. I thought I was conquering a mountain as a one time thing. I’m glad no one has asked me that question to my face. I’m afraid I’d start laughing.

Those first couple of years are tough. You are trying to make sense of what was done to you and understand how someone could have taken advantage of your innocence. You are trying to ferret out healthy behaviors from unhealthy ones. You are trying to find coping skills that don’t harm yourself or the people around you who are doing their best to help. You are trying to manage the deep, intense pain. You are trying to find a new way to live.

It does get better with time. All of the above does get figured out. You learn to find peace and joy again. You live a normal life and attain the goals you’ve set for yourself.

And then you’re triggered again. All the feelings are never as bad as those first couple of years but it never does go away. You learn to live with it but you’re never fully healed from it. You learn how to have the abuse take up a portion of your life but not your whole life. I know it’s something I need to give attention to from time to time. If I ignore it for too long, it’ll get my attention again.

I listen to the voice that directs me toward the greatest truth about myself. I am loved and can give that love to those I choose. I am beautiful and allow that beauty to flow into what I do in the world. I am trusting and give that trust to people who have earned it. I am forgiving and give the peace that comes from it back to myself. I see things accurately and accept the facts of a situation. I am strong and act accordingly. I may lose these truths for a while but never forever. They always find their way back into my consciousness.

How long does it take to heal? Longer than you want to know. There’s always more to learn and grow and heal. The journey is tough but worthwhile. You’ll like and love the person you find.

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5 ways to cope with dissociation

1. Notice you are not grounded in your body, feeling spacey or not fully available to respond to the moment

2. Take a deep breath, take another deep breath, feel the breath entering the body, feel the breath exiting the body, keep breathing deeply while you do the following:

3. Look around and mentally name three things you see

4. Listen and mentally name three things you can hear

5. Feel your feet on the floor or your bum on the chair, bring your attention into your hands-make a fist, shake them, press them against something


You are safe, you can take care of the problem at hand, you can trust your instinct, you know what you need to do

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Mother’s Day

I am at peace this Mother’s Day. I am grateful for this peaceful feeling as I think of the different women in my life who have been mother figures to me. The women who have taught me about love and understanding. I love the acceptance they have shown me which helped me to then accept myself. I appreciate their listening skills without the need to rescue me, change me, pity me, or deny my interpretation of the situation I found myself in. I felt their trust in my ability to make it through to the other side, whatever that ended up meaning or looking like in the outer presentation of life circumstances.

I’m at peace with never having a child of my own. There have been many Mother’s Days where I cried and grieved for this life circumstance. This year, I think instead of the many children in my life who I get the opportunity to practice my mothering skills upon. I love them and accept them. I get to listen to their versions of life. I guide as needed or challenge when appropriate. I share my own past mistakes and let them know it was part of my overall development and growth. Mainly, I enjoy the moment and accept who they are at the time, knowing it’s not who they will always be. I trust their ability to walk their path that is unfolding in life.

I am at peace with my relationship with my own mother. While she was not my ideal version of the archetype, what mother ever is, she helped me grow into the woman I am now. I learned a lot of what not to do in order to find my own version of motherhood within. I grew into the mother I wanted as a child. I marvel at how different I am in that role than she was with me. I connect and interact and accept the mess of life. I play and am silly. I listen and stop to see the person in front of me. I appreciate the strengths my mother had and the ways I am like her. I have changed the things I didn’t like and grew into a woman I can be proud to share with the people in my life.

There were so many mothers I’ve learned from through the years. So many children that have crossed my path. I appreciate the part they have played in the unfolding of my life.

Today is an opportunity to honor the feminine expression of creativity that is motherhood. What will I give birth to next? What is wanting to be born? I walk forward in life to the next adventure that awaits me.