As a trauma therapist, I was busy helping others recover from childhood trauma when my own incest memories surfaced. That was when I was in my late 40’s and as so many of my clients, I protested, “Why now?!” For the first time in my life things were going really well. That’s the way it is with memories. They come when we’re ready for them.
Being a trauma therapist didn’t really make it any easier for me. True, I had the advantage of recognizing the stages I was going through. Just as my clients, I did NOT want to come from a family that sexually abused its children. I wanted the nice old grandfather who took me on his weekly walks to the library and taught me to dance to his music box – not the old man who used her dependency on him to violate her trust. And I wanted the father who was my hero and took me camping in a canoe – just because he loved me.
I had a hard time believing what I was accessing in dreams and inner work. Maybe I was suffering from vicarious traumatization, confusing the terrible experiences of my clients with my own past. And maybe I was just looking for excuses for my perceived failures in life. As well, I needed to be careful of wrongly accusing the men in my family.
As an experienced trauma therapist, I knew that the toxicity of child abuse seeps into every corner and fold of one’s life. I understood how each developmental stage was skewed by the lack of trust, constant fear and hyper vigilance.
I didn’t recognize my own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sure, I had constant rushes of fear in my belly that made no sense to me. I often found my adult sexual relationship frustrating and repellent. My startle response was set to go off at any sudden noise and innocuous stimuli could trigger me into panic. But as most trauma survivors who carry a terrible secret, I was good at looking good.
Before my memories broke through, I often marveled at how intuitive and skilled I was as a therapist working with child sexual abuse. I really “got it.” When my memories surfaced it became clear that I wasn’t learning how to help “them.” I was helping “us.”
When I reached my 70’s I decided to publish my story. I struggled with this decision, largely because of my extended family. After all, when you disclose incest, you’re talking about their family as well. In the end, I decided that it was more important to publish for the greater good – for the women and men whose lives have been burdened with this secret crime against children.
And so Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: A Memoir of Healing and Transformation came into being. All during the years I’d struggled with my mysterious depression and anxiety, I’d kept meticulous journals of my dreams, nightmares and inner work. When I was going through a bad time, the journals helped me realize that bad times always gave way to better times. Insights are often ephemeral. Many’s the time I was surprised to look back and realize I’d already had a particular awareness in an earlier entry. A written record helped me track my own healing process.
I highly recommend journal writing to anyone healing from mental anguish. Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll want to write your story.
Mary K. Armstrong is the author of “Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: A Memoir of Healing and Transformation,” her story of uncovering her own history of child sexual abuse when she was in her late 40’s and an established trauma therapist. Her book tells the story of how her memories surfaced and how she healed. The chapter “Guidelines For Healing” gives suggestions based on her clients’ successes and her own for growing beyond the wounds of childhood trauma. Mary lives in Toronto with her husband, psychiatrist Dr. Harvey Armstrong.
Mary is available for speaking engagements and can be found at www.marykarmstrong.com or on her Facebook page Confessions of a Trauma Therapist – Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.
“Confessions of a Trauma Therapist: A Memoir of Healing and Transformation” is available online at Amazon, Chapters Indigo, etc. in paperback and as an E-Book. In Toronto at Caversham Booksellers on Harbord St. who will mail it to you.