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Every moment of our childhood abuse asked us to manage the incomprehensible. Without personal power, we had to withstand what shamed, frightened, hurt, confused, and sometimes threatened our lives. One tool most survivors used was shutting down their feelings.

After the abuse, these feelings might come out in their every day lives as ‘anger at everything’, recurring depression, or schedules so full there is no time to think. There are as many reactions to shutting down feelings as there are survivors. For me, it was hiding behind a smile. This was the safe place I chose to build my life.

It worked well for me. My dissociated memories were blocked from my awareness by a thick wall of suppressed emotions. But years later, when my first memory broke through, feelings from my past crowded into the same elevator I was taking to healing. I could feel them breathing down my neck.

One afternoon, I paced around my living room, shaking. Like a zombie, I moved through the quiet house while my kids were at school and my husband at work. Four months into therapy, I knew my sexual abuse was the reason. I had no idea why I was in this state, but I chose to stay there rather than crawl away from it by getting busy or reading.

That choice opened the door to understanding. It took me to a piece of paper, ruler, and black pen. It was the beginning of using these friends to ‘see’ what I was experiencing.

Drawing converging black lines to a point on the paper, I recognized I believed my feelings would take me into a black hole, and I truly did not know if I would come back out. I was scared I would get lost in an unending darkness of feelings and wouldn’t find my way back to my life.

But healing journeys give us gifts of insight. I drew a small circle heading into the void. That was me. Then I drew another circle nearby. I didn’t have to go in alone… and that made all the difference.