How can you think about "new beginnings?" Can you start over after the disclosure of a child's sexual abuse?
You cannot go back to where you were before the abuse disclosure. However, you can learn and grow and move forward in your life. You will learn many things about yourself and others in the process of your own recovery. You can improve your emotional, physical, and mental health by practicing coping strategies that counteract stress. Breathing, meditation, exercise, good nutrition, recreation and fun, social activities, hobbies, listening to music, journaling , poetry, and prayer will help you relax and enjoy your life. Choices to cope in healthy ways will minimize the effects of negative emotions and help you process through your grief.
As you work through your own issues following the disclosure, you will make changes in your life. Having a counselor and other supportive people in your life will help you make these changes. support groups are also helpful because they provide a safe place where you can talk about your issues.
Disclosure of a child's sexual abuse has a traumatizing effect on mothers. Initial emotions may be shock, fear, guilt, and anger. Mothers often have posttraumatic stress symptoms and later be diagnosed with PTSD. However, long-term consequences to mothers are dependent on a number of factors, such as the identity of the abuser, the severity of abuse, how the child is recovering from the abuse, family dynamics, social and professional support, and healthy coping strategies. Mothers process through grief, often slowly, due to legal process and current daily stress factors. A mother's chronic stress may have resulted in physical illness, and physical health may have declined. Mothers often experience isolation. Friends and family members often have conflicting feelings about the abuse disclosure. If the abuser was a family member, the family may only tell friends and family on a "need to know" basis. Mothers may then live in a world that involves secrecy, and holding secrets results in distress. Although society addresses many issues without stigmatizing individuals (e.g., substance abuse, HIV/AIDS), sexual abuse, particularly incest, continues to be a highly stigmatized issue. These are continuing problems in mothers' lives and healthy coping will minimize the stress of these issues.
You can choose not to be a victim of your child's abuse and instead become a survivor. Although long-term effects to mothers can be loss of self-esteem, feelings of guilt and feelings of responsibility, betrayal issues, and mental health disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, sleep disorders), you can actively work on these areas during your recovery. You can change the way you view yourself (i.e., loss of self-esteem and shame) and how to talk to yourself. You can learn optimism and resilience. You can establish healthy boundaries, develop healthy relationships with friends and family, and continue to grow and move forward in your life. You are no longer the woman you were before. And you can become a better woman because of what you have gone through. Maintaining a positive attitude, not giving in to depression and despair, holding onto hope, and seeing a light at the end of the tunnel will help you in the process of growth.
Some pitfalls to avoid in your healing process are:
- Do not wait for someone else to heal or for someone else to help you heal. Commit to your own healing.
- Do not give up on yourself. The road may be hard, but you can do it. Others have. You need to heal for your own sake, for the child that was abused and needs your support, and for other children or family members who depend on you.
- Do not doubt yourself. Begin to trust yourself again. Be more mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.
- Be honest with your emotions, both to yourself and to others. Be assertive, as necessary. Speak your truth.
- Although staying busy helps you cope with stress, do not get too busy. Allow yourself plenty of down time for relaxing and for enjoyable activities.
- Do not hide. It is easy to isolate and avoid. Reach out for others. Ask for help. Make new friends.
- Avoid all the unhealthy ways of coping. Avoid overuse of alcohol. Avoid drug use. Avoid all other addictive processes (e.g., gambling, destructive relationships, sex).
- Do not harm yourself deliberately. Do not overeat or initiate or resume an eating disorder.
- If you are in trouble, if you are thinking of hurting yourself, ASK FOR HELP.
You can get through the healing process one day at a time. Each day is a new beginning. Each moment is an opportunity to be present and aware.