I was reading the local newspaper one Sunday afternoon. The front page headline stopped me dead in my tracks. At the time, I was in college living with my best childhood friend since elementary school. We had years of history together.
I look up at my friend, stunned. I point to the newspaper and say, “this happened to me.”
“No, it didn’t! You would have told me.”
The far, distant memory was coming into focus. My eyes filled with tears as I started to recall one of the most courageous and yet haunting days of my life.
I’m in the tenth grade and I’m sixteen years old. I look at my father dead in the eyes and say, “You will no longer lay another hand on me. Your perverse behavior will no longer be tolerated. You will keep your distance from me, or I will tell mom, our family, your coworkers, and the world about your repulsive ways.”
My dad had controlled and manipulated me verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually since the second grade. I had never told a soul.
With the help of my friend, I continued reading the newspaper article where I learned about a psychologist doing amazing work with local college girls that had been sexually abused.
And then, totally unexpected, my tears turned into complete and utter hysteria as four years of repressed memories came flooding to the forefront of my memory, much like a tsunami coming from the sea onto dry land. I felt weak and faint and spent the next couple of days in bed, paralyzed by my emotions.
I knew I could not get through this experience on my own. I took the newspaper article as a “sign from above” and quickly reached out to the psychologist featured in the article. He was the second person that witnessed my pain, and to this day, I am literally, indebted to him.
Even though I couldn’t afford his services (psychologist vs. poor, starving college student), he saw me for several sessions “pro bono.” Like, seriously, who does that? He also connected me to a support group for sexually abused individuals where I learned for the first time, how many women, and even some men, were impacted by the devastating reality of sexual molestation. The good news of it all? I wasn’t alone.
A few months after working with the psychologist and support group, I began meeting with a Christian counselor at a church I had been attending. This counselor worked with me every week for about a year, and I have to say, it was some of the hardest, and yet some of the most rewarding, emotional work I have ever done in my life.
My childhood trauma was meticulously, painstakingly unraveled, examined, and worked on, all with the help of this counselor. I believe this person was put in my life by divine intervention. So much of who I am today and the work I do as a counselor stems from his impact on my life. One of the greatest gifts that he gave me, that is still bearing fruit today, is that of helping me date and marry my incredible husband, Michael. And now as we have adult children, I can honestly say that working through my childhood trauma is one of the greatest gifts that I could give my family.
I went through counseling two more times after those initial sessions. I was required to go through individual and group therapy as a graduate student in my counseling program. This was a pivotal time in my life where I was connecting how my personal experiences would be able to help my one day, future clients. It was a powerful and rewarding time. It gave me hope that all I went through could be used to help others.
I then sought counseling, years later, for a couple of months after my mom passed away. I grieved in a way that I had never experienced before, and these counseling sessions helped me understand the role she had in my childhood trauma.
I would love to tell you that I went to counseling for a few sessions and then I was completely healed, but as you have read, I can’t. I have healed immensely, but the truth is, I am still in the process of healing. I’ve come to realize that overcoming childhood trauma or any painful experience may not be an instantaneous, one time, easy peasy, quick fix. It may be quicker for some than others, but I hold to the belief that if you are truly living your life in awareness, there will be things to re-visit, work on, grow in, and heal from throughout your lifetime. I’ve come to realize that healing is a lifelong process.
It wasn’t easy, but I am grateful that I reached out for help when I did. I can’t even begin to imagine what my life would look like today without having received professional counseling along the way. Those counseling sessions helped me unravel painful experiences that otherwise could have left me permanently emotionally paralyzed throughout my lifetime.
I had people in my life that were trained as counselors to help me, but even more importantly, I had people in my life that had huge hearts to help me. Every individual I received counseling from was an example for me. They listened to me, witnessed my pain, believed in me, inspired me when I was at my worst, and had the tools to help me out of some pretty difficult situations. Counseling has impacted my life in ways that I will always be grateful for.
If you have thought about getting counseling, I hope this article has encouraged you to do so. Sometimes the first step is the hardest, but I promise, the growth and healing you will receive will be so worth it. One of the greatest benefits of counseling is that you have someone to help you. You don’t have to work through your pain or trauma on your own.
Please know this, you are worthy to have someone witness the pain you have experienced. You are worthy to have someone help you work through it. And you are worthy to live a full, joyful life. This is what counseling can do for YOU.
~ Debbie ~
Debbie Whitehead is a licensed professional counselor (M.Ed, LPC), certified personal trainer (CPT), and certified nutrition coach. She owns a practice in Plano, Texas where she helps clients break free from trauma and live a beautiful life – mind, body, and soul.