Ever since the 2nd primetime airing of Dateline last week, as per norm with every airing, I was inundated with comments, emails Facebook messages, blog comments and more. There were the hatemails from the pro-life pundits and fanatics, there was the usual criticism of intelligence, appearance, etc which I continually repeat the same replies ad nauseum and then there are the most important: the victim testimonials. Without fail, people come forward with words of support often with their own stories of fraud, scheming, enormous lies/secrets and how it has impacted their lives. For some people it was years removed, others months and some are still in the thick of it with their offender.
I often get told to “get over it”. Let me assure you, I’m completely over my own personal situation. It doesn’t affect me like it did a year ago, 2 years ago, even 6 months ago. Why do I continue to tell my story? It’s for the bigger picture: victim advocacy. My goal in telling my story is to get people to identify with the situation, not to beat the same horse. It’s to show the full circle of what had happened and how I got to where I am now which is a good place. My heart, my mind, my emotions are in a good place, but it wasn’t always that way. I went through hell and back to get here. In the beginning there was a ton of shame, disgrace, paranoia, disbelief and more. Losing your future plans, your hopes, your dreams, your wishes and everything good that you saw on the horizon while realizing that the whole thing was a sham for some devious purpose will take an absolute toll on your psyche. I had to go through the whole Kubler-Ross stages of grief which in nursing school we just referred to as DABDA: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Let’s visit these stages.
Denial: This is usually a quick stage. It’s the fleeting “I can’t believe this just happened to me. I can’t believe he/she did that. I can’t believe I fell for that, etc”. It’s just a total disbelief of the whole situation. You want to think it didn’t happen, like it’s a nightmare of apocalyptic proportions (and this is relative to your previous life experiences). This stage is not one that people commonly get stuck on but may revisit from time to time, especially in the beginning of their ordeal.
Anger: This can coincide or follow denial. It’s one of the two places that people get stuck in their process of self-healing and probably the one that’s the most self-destructive. It’s natural to be angry about being put in some sort of situation by your offender whether it be financial, safety, domestic, or whatever it is that is affecting your life. But don’t get stuck here. It’s not YOUR fault. You were only the pawn of some deviant person who was likely really good at their craft and it’s highly unlikely you’re their first victim. Some sociopaths/psychopaths, narcissists, etc can trace disturbing behavior back to adolescence or even childhood. It could be chemical in nature, related to dysfunctions in their own family, genetics or any myriad of reasons. This is not a healthy place to get stuck, in the anger phase. You end up lashing out at everyone and anyone. Your stress rises, blood pressure, migraines erupt, cortisol levels, possibly cholesterol and it’s just not healthy. These can lead to serious health issues as well as just chronic state of being on edge. If you find that you are frequently tense, on edge, wound tight, about to snap, seek help from a licensed professional. Try mediation, deep breathing, yoga. Even if you feel like you’re tension is rising by just thinking about what happened to you, sit still. Close your eyes. Envision a happy memory, place or an image that evokes peace in you. Focus on it. Breathe in for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 3. Put your hand on your heart and your other hand on your abdomen. Feel your heartbeat as you breathe in and out. Does it slow or speed up? Breathe in with your diaphragm which you will feel with the hand on your abdomen. Try to avoid your shoulders going up and down. Repeat this a couple of times. Now try to breathe in for a count of 4 and breathe out for a count of 4. In, 2, 3, 4, out 2, 3, 4. Repeat a couple of times. Now try to work yourself to an inhale/exhale count of 5. In 2, 3, 4, 5. Out, 2, 3, 4, 5. Focus on your breathing. On your exhale let go of your negative energy. Let go of the feelings and the thoughts that do no serve you in your day. Tell yourself that the anger is not healthy and you don’t need it. Breathe it away with each breath. This whole process can take as little as 5 minutes or you can take it to 15 or 20 minutes. Make sure you’re free from interruptions and it’s a safe space. Feel free to revisit it as needed. If you’re somewhere where you suddenly feel triggered, go back to that space in your mind and just breathe. It’s free and readily available. With every exhale feel the tension go down from your head, down your shoulders, to your abdomen, down your arms, down your legs and eventually out your fingers and toes. Feel it just melt away with every breath out. Listen to calming music, nature sounds, anything to perpetuate your own personal peace. I find yoga to be an amazing source of working on the above breathing/feelings. Use aromatherapy if it helps. Lavender, eucalyptus and frankincense are my personal favorites. Lemon, tangerine, grapefruit (basically any citrus) is a great pick me up mood booster.
Bargaining: this is where you try to negotiate with life for your wrongs. Like you would do x, y, z action to have the pain taken away, to have not been hurt to begin with or to even have the person back in your life (NOOOOO!) No amount of bargaining will change the past nor will it erase your feelings or the experience itself, but this is a normal part of the process. We all feel and say these things at some point in the process, but like denial, it’s a step that most people just graze and move on.
Depression: Next to anger, this is the step that the large majority of people will get stuck at. They just feel down on themselves, down on life, down on humanity, down on the future as if it will never improve. While it does seem like an interminable hole that you find yourself in, life will not be like how it is today. Maybe not today or maybe not tomorrow, but perhaps a week from now or a month from now you will start to see improvement. Maybe it will be 6 months or a year. Just know that at some point you will be able to stay, today is better than X day(s)/month(s). Keep putting one step in front of the other. Keep your forward progress. Now I’m not saying it’s not ok to stumble and fall now again or have a setback. Everyone does it. Don’t stay there. If you feel like your depression is all-consuming, if it’s starting to cause unhealthy thoughts in you, especially feelings of self harm or harming of others, seek professional help with a psychiatric professional or your local emergency room/SKIP unit immediately.
Acceptance: Consider this total nirvana. Ok, compared to the previous steps, it can be considered as such. It’s a balance of the emotions, gaining truthful acknowledgement of the sentinel event or person. It comes with a calm retrospective view and the inevitable feeling that you’re going to be OK in the end. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that happiness and bliss will follow acceptance. That is still for you to bring into your life. It’s not an automatic thing that comes along. But life doesn’t seem so forlorn or down. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train. This is where you can cheer up buttercup. Advanced stages of this can have you reflecting on your event without a flinch, a feeling or having it completely wreak havoc on your life. It’s where you can pick up the broken pieces and try to glue the salvageable parts back together or just consider it a lost cause and toss it to the wayside. No matter what, treat yourself when you get here. It means you trudged through hell and back and made it through the rain to see the sun again. Congratulations! Pat yourself on the back.
Just don’t get stuck on one of the preceding steps. Keep moving. Even when faced with a boulder in the stream, water just rushes past it. Yeah, it moves from it’s original path, but it’s not stopped. Be the vector of change for your life. Vow to want better, be better, get better by any means you have at your fingertips to do so. Just promise to be good to yourself and get yourself help if you find you can’t get past a certain spot with all of your normal rituals and methods. Seek our your friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself. Stay social. Love yourself. Be healthy.
Until next time…