Last week I was watching Law & Order: SVU (Special Victims Unit). At the very end of the TV show, one of the victims asked Olivia Benson, the SVU detective, if she and her son would have a chance of recovering. Olivia who also had her own share of childhood abuse responded with tremendous sweetness in her voice. She said something like … “people who have had horrific experiences happen to them often have a heightened determination to live, and, with support, they can even thrive.”
Like the victim in the show, I was deeply touched by Olivia’s words, having had experiences of childhood abuse myself.
When I was 4 years old I ran away from home for the first time. I was so angry with my mom for not giving me the attention and love I needed to grow and thrive.
When I was 5 years old my father got extremely enraged with me. He shook me for so long and so hard I thought I was going to die, while Mom watched. In recent years when I asked her about it, she told me she was afraid Dad would have hurt her too. Unfortunately, the meaning I made of that experience was that there wasn’t anyone to protect me in my scary family. I was all alone.
I learned to be obedient, to care for their needs, and to dissociate from my own feelings and needs.
I think the only reason I survived was because of the relationship I cultivated with God. Each night I’d close my bedroom doors and say my prayers with earnest sincerity to this higher power, palpably present with me in my bedroom. I found comfort each night in this way day after day.
When my daughter was 4, I knew I needed guidance. I didn’t have a roadmap within me that I wanted to repeat. We were now past the pure-adoring-and-loving-her stage. I started studying Nonviolent Communication along with other wisdom traditions. The kids and I grew up together with me practicing I-statements and feelings and needs. 🙂
Later as I began to develop my coaching career I found that my throat would close whenever I tried to speak in groups reminding me of the paralyzing fear and severe consequences I knew as a child in my family.
Like Olivia said, I/we have a “heightened determination” to survive and to thrive. Today I am a testament to her words. A recent example … I’m proud to say that I spoke with ease in front of the San Mateo City Council and when I left the podium I saw heads nodding in response to my words. I know my feelings and needs once again. I feel free in a way that I cherish. My little girl is no longer alone.
With support new neural pathways of safety and security can be laid within our nervous systems. AND WE CAN THRIVE!!!
I am extremely grateful to all who have supported my growth. And I am grateful for my own courage to make myself a priority to go deeper and deeper into those old experiences, to feel them (this time round as an adult with support), and with empathy and compassion to heal them so I have the privilege of knowing who I truly am. AND so I can contribute to others on their journey to wholeness.
I’d love to hear if Olivia’s words resonate with you in any way.
In peace and love, Teresa