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Overcoming Negative Thinking

“The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”  While bedridden with tuberculosis, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote this little homily in 1883 as part of A Child’s Garden of Verses. Before I completed recovery, I would read this and it only angered me. Doesn’t he know the world was full of bad things and that I would never be happy because so many bad things had happened to me? Like a child in a looking glass, I saw only the pain, the ugliness, the debauchery to what I had descended. I saw a grown-up who felt as a child, one who had never had any real love and so was unable to love themselves. I felt I was ugly, no good, evil, all words my mother ascribed to me. I bought it all, completely. On the outside, I functioned as a human being, a mother, a grown woman with a job, one who owned a house and had responsibilities as a result. I was a friend, a sister, a mother, a granddaughter and a grandmother. But I was still ugly and no good and lived in hope that no one would see how bad I really was; that no one could see inside my soul and see how diseased it had become, how festered the real me was.

My self-image was so poor that once, in a department store, I saw a woman on the other side of the room and thought desperately, I would give anything if only I looked like her.  As I walked closer, I realized her body movements matched mine.  I was staring in a mirror.  Even then, I waved my arms and made faces, then finally touched the glass before I became convinced it was me.  You would think it would have caused me to look at myself in a different light.  It didn't.  I wasn't ready to believe there was anything about me that was beautiful.  Even my frequent quip over the years, "If you took sex out of my life, I'd be a near-perfect person," did not encourage me to see that although I had a dark side, there were many gems beneath my surface.     

Working through the REPAIR program while in recovery taught me that the origin of everything I had done for which I felt shame could be traced back to that night my father entered my bedroom and raped me. Many child sexual abuse victims feel, in their emotionally disturbed psyche, that the only value they have is their sexuality. Since a perpetrator validated it so strongly, it becomes the one thing they cling to that they have to offer. In recovery, you learn that what happened to you in your childhood is a separate thing from who you are. Your behavior is often a direct result of the child sexual abuse you suffered.

You are not the sum total of this trauma. The real you, once revealed through recovery, is an entirely different person. It is as if you looked into that mirror, saw something ugly, then went through recovery and afterwards stepped through that looking glass and became what you really are, a beautiful person, a beautiful soul.

You are finally able to say, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings,” and mean it.