BREAK THE CONNECTION BETWEEN STRESS AND ILLNESS
The Courage to Speak Up
by Alexis Acker-Halbur
I was terrified to talk about my abuse experiences for fear I would not be believed. Growing up in a home where secrets were covered up by lies, I discovered it was difficult to know the difference between right and wrong. Yet, every time I lived through a traumatic experience, rather than telling the truth, I ended up becoming ill. As a result, I suffered from an inability to tolerate conflict and intense feelings; an innate belief that I was bad; repeated suicidal thoughts and feelings; dissociation; intense anxiety; stress; chronic depression; and illness. I understood the unfairness of facing the trauma, and then experiencing all these side effects, was too much to handle – until I was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer!
How did I take back what trauma took away? I started by making a conscious decision to heal from the depths of my traumatic experiences. I focused on the “cover-up” lies about my experiences, and recognized the truth through recalling memories. These choices were healthy commitments to my body, mind, and spirit. Sharing my trauma stories helped me make sense of the senseless. As I told and retold my story, I began to experience improvement in both my physical and mental health. Research studies showed that I could strengthen my immune system by telling my story. Storytelling has been used for centuries as a universal, useful way to cope with loss.
Telling my story is still fearful, but finding friends who listened attentively and empathetically helped me with my fear. I needed their honesty in listening to my trauma story without judgement or blame, which is very difficult to do in our culture because of shaming and blaming the victim. Finding some form of spirituality and a trauma survivor group was also crucial in my healing process.
I have undergone 30 years of therapy to cope with being abused as a child, raped as a young adult, and sexually exploited by a college counselor. For years I sought “boundary-respectful” therapists who could help me help myself. I also participated in holistic healings to find additional comfort and support. Meditation and yoga continue to give me a sense of balance and control. In expressing my emotions rather than repressing them, I learned that anger is a natural feeling and is a successful tool to release unwanted, bottled up, negative energy when expressed in healthy ways. I admit that telling my trauma story, at first, made me feel extremely vulnerable. I thought people would say I deserved the abuse or the abuse was my fault. I now know the truth about abuse – I was not to blame. When I share my trauma stories, secrets no longer hold any power over me.
If you are a survivor of abuse or trauma, you do not have to get ill from repressing memories and emotions. Find your courage, tell your trauma stories, feel your emotions, release the blame, and take back your power.