When the Swelling Goes Down....
by Terre Seuss

I am a survivor of severe child abuse. Today, that means different things to me than it did a few weeks ago, a few months ago, and a few years ago. I've been in and out of therapy for a fair portion of my adult life. The ups and downs have been both frustrating and rewarding. The tedious task of becoming who I am today has often loomed large before me. Many times, the progress has been greatly overshadowed by the setbacks. And many times, I have wondered if I'll ever be finished.

I have many good friends who support and challenge me. Their contributions to my recovery have been precious and much needed. I am grateful for them. At some of the lowest points in my journey, friends have often asked me, "Don't you get tired of starting over?" I used to say "Yes".

It was difficult to deal with many of my early memories of abuse. But, having conquered those demons, I was, or so I thought, on my way to my new life. The disappointment of finding more memories and more demons to deal with was overwhelming. I have passed through this process many times over, repeatedly feeling the resentment of having more to deal with, more pain to wade through and always, always more questions.

Throughout my therapy, returning to school, beginning a new career, the ending of a 16 year marriage, discovering my sexuality, and the endless challenges I have faced, I seem to have started over dozens of times. But recently, when one of my good friends again asked "Aren't you tired of starting over?" I was surprised by my own response. "No," I said, with calm satisfaction.

In all that I've been through, I've never actually "started over". I've moved in new directions. I've left some things behind. I've adopted new places and attitudes. I've modified my game plan over and over. But each time, I carry with me all that I have survived and all that I've learned. I never start over. I can't.

Even the most horrible moments in my life have served me in some positive way. That same friend, a sister-survivor, asked me how I reconciled the memories. How did I know what was true; really true? How do I know exactly who was involved, how they were involved? How do I know for sure?

For a few moments, I didn't know how to answer. I'm not sure I ever went through, memory by memory, deciding which details were true and which were not. I remember when it was important for me to know, but somewhere along the line that changed. I can't tell you when, and I still don't know a lot about how.

What I do know is that at some point it became less important to know exactly what happened than it was to learn about how it affects me today. Recognizing the effects from the hurt has been more validating than confirming memories with family, or finding whatever proof there may be of the horrible acts visited upon me. I am all the proof I need. The evidence has presented itself in my fear of trusting others, in my beliefs about my own character (good and bad), and in the countless habits and conditioned responses I live with every day.

At some point it became less important to know who hurt me, than it was to learn how I could keep from visiting those same hurts on myself or someone else. It became less important to relive the details of my abuse, and more important to enjoy the changes I've made in my life and in how I love myself and others. Regardless of what I can remember I am a whole person. It's all here; sorrows and joys; failures and accomplishments; pain and tenderness. Here for me to draw from, to continue growing from, and most of all, to be proud of.

I asked my friend how she thought she might be different, or what she thought she might do differently if she knew exactly, and for certain which details were true and which were not. She wasn't sure, but after some introspection, said that in all likelihood, not much.

For me, somewhere along the line it all just stopped hurting so badly. I don't even know for sure when that was. When we're physically hurt, the body reacts with pain and swelling. When we take care of the wounds, and the swelling goes down, we're faced with retraining our bodies, and restoring our physical strength. We carry with us the knowledge, that the injury has done damage, and that care must be taken to avoid reinjury. We don't need the pain and swelling to remind us. We do need to know the old wound will affect our future health. Survivors of abuse carry similar wounds to their souls.

More and more I believe that changing my focus from my need to know, to my need to grow, eased the painful bruises and swelling in my soul. Needing to know who I am, and having control over that has transformed those painful wounds and grueling rehab into a stronger healthier me. Someone who knows, that I can't avoid pain.....but when the swelling goes down...... what's important isn't the pain after all, it's the person I've become in spite of it.
Terre Suess