When we have a wound or illness our priority is to heal ourselves and get better. The same goes for any mental wounds we may have, if they are left open then we will never heal but just suffer. So here is a guide to the healing path that we can take to feel better inside (stages: confronting and forgiving are not necessarily applicable to everyone).
Making the decision
The only person who can ultimately heal you is yourself, once a survivor has recognised that they were sexually abused then the next step is to want to heal. It can only happen when you are ready and willing to commit.
It is most probable that an abuse survivor has suppressed any memories of their past as a way of protecting themselves. Remembering is a way of bringing back memories and feelings once felt at the time.
When memories first start to come back it is natural for a survivor to doubt what they are remembering and wonder if it isn't part of their imagination. Believing that the abuse really happened is an important part of the healing process.
It is more than likely that an abuse survivor kept the abuse a secret during their childhood. Speaking to someone else about what happened to you and how it makes you feel is a powerful part of the healing process and a way of releasing.
Understanding who is to blame
At the beginning of the healing process a survivor may feel self-blame him and guilt about the abuse. A child will usually believe it was their own fault and that they provoked the abuse or could have done something to stop it happening. As an adult it is important to know where the blame lies and to direct it towards where it should go- the abuser.
Connecting with the inner child
A childhood photo can help a survivor connect with the inner child. Releasing feelings will also initiate a connection with the child who is still inside. Having an 'artist day' can also help make a connection. An 'artist day' involves a day out alone, treating the child within to what he/she never had as a youngster and starting to love the child and the adult.
Eventually a survivor may have an overwhelming feeling that comes over them on an artist day (as was my experience) because of the connection with the inner child. This will then allow a survivor to love/ care for others and feel like a whole person.
It may be difficult for a survivor to trust others therefore it is important to listen to your inner voice in order to heal. This should allow you to trust your feelings and intuition before trusting anyone else.
As when we lose a loved one in our lives, the same could be said for the inner child that we once lost. There was once an innocent, lovely child inside us who was swiftly taken away. So it's almost like that child died within us, therefore we must first grieve for that child and the childhood we lost. It's important not to dwell on the past and what happened but think about the child before the abuse took place. By grieving, a survivor will be able to come to terms with the pain and move on in life.
Of course it's natural that reflecting upon the past a survivor will feel anger towards the perpetrator and what he/she did. Initially a survivor may want to take out their anger physically/verbally on the abuser. However, it's important to think it through and try to come to terms with things first before doing anything. Perhaps the pent up anger needs to be released by doing something physical like boxing (that's something I did) and I felt great imagining it was my abuser I was abusing back. Ultimately, talking about the anger with a professional will help to release feelings and emotions in a healthy way.
This is something that is a final option in the healing process but isn't necessary in order to heal. I decided to confront my abuser twice and I can honestly say that it was the best thing I've ever done in my life. I felt so strong and ready to do it and I prepared with my counsellor before doing it. It may be advisable to have someone present for moral support but ultimately it's about confronting your past and letting out pent up emotions. It is more than likely that the abuser will deny the actions. In my case, I got a half admission, when my abuser said: "You're talking about something that happened 20 years ago."
Ultimately, you are showing that you are over it and that you are no longer scared. After letting it out, you will feel even more tension lifted from your shoulders! Though it may not be the end of your healing, it will help you put a stone on your past. Once you have done it you can do anything; it makes you even stronger than you were before!
It is not essential to forgive the abuser but it could be used as a way of trying to move on. At some point during the healing process however, a survivor may feel that they wish to forgive, which is great, as long as it's what they want.
Forgiveness of yourself is probably more important, although it wasn't your fault, forgive yourself for those feelings of self-anger or neglect.
Although a survivor will hopefully have a counsellor and family/friends supporting them, feeling another power greater than the self can also assist in the healing process. It could be found through religion, meditation or a support group.
At some point a survivor may consider reporting the abuse to the police, which may result in a court case. Whatever is decided it should ultimately be what the survivor wants, there is no right or wrong here. It's essential to be prepared for the worst, the case may not even go ahead (as was my experience, due to Italian law) or it may go ahead which one should feel ok about and prepared for.
As the saying goes: one step forward, two steps back. The healing process may feel like this and a survivor may feel themselves repeating certain stages, numerous amounts of times. Also there is no guaranteed period of time for the healing process; we are all different so we all heal at different rates. Of course we can't erase our past (it'll always be there) however, healing allows us to gain more compassion, awareness and strength to interact in the world with integrity.