Bindu Narula, born in India and lives in Sydney. She is a counselor and uses meditation and movement to support individuals and groups. She is a survivor too. Her Blog " A letter of Encouragement" speaks about her story.
Dear fellow survivor and thriver,
Just like you, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I was born in India, grew up in the Netherlands and now call Sydney, Australia home. This is my story.
My road to recovery began 20 years ago, when I was forty years old. One beautiful spring morning in Sydney, Australia, I went to visit a body therapist. Half way through the session, I screamed with pain, and it set off something I had never experienced before. My body and mind travelled down a rabbit hole, giving me an experience of memories and body sensations suppressed for 36 years. Fortunately for me, the therapist knew what was happening, and she brought me back into the present. She knew I was having flashbacks of sexual abuse.
I was shaken to the core as the session came to an end. The flashbacks showed me there were secrets about my life that even I didn’t know about. It put a fault line through my understanding of what my childhood looked like.
Before I left her rooms, the body therapist looked me in the eyes and said,
‘Promise me you won’t keep this a secret. You must tell others, and your daughters too when they are old enough to understand.’
‘I promise I’ll tell my daughters. I promise I’ll tell others. And I’m going to get help because I don’t want this to affect the way I parent my daughters. I Won’t let this destroy me.’
To this day, I believe the promises I made to myself made all the difference. It set me on a path that held the promise of recovery. For you see, the first step on the way home to wholeness when you are a survivor, is to break the silence. The perpetrator relies on shaming the victim to the point that the victim feels it’s her/ his fault, that they did something to ‘ask for this,’Trauma therapists refer to this process as ‘locus of control shift.’ It’s when the blame and responsibility for the abuse is shifted from the adult perpetrator to inside the child.
It took a long time to break the silence and fulfil my promise. In fact, the first 10 years after the memories came back were difficult. Unlike today, there was still very little knowledge in the general community about what sexual assault does to a human being. So, it was hard to trust others with the secret I carried. And the shame was eating away at me. To the point that on most days, it felt like there was a parasite within me, sucking out all the energy I had. There were times when I felt so alone, as if I was being tossed around in a world that couldn’t see, feel, or care about my pain. I’d wake up every morning overwhelmed by feelings of abandonment. On most days, it took an enormous amount of energy, and effort to put on a smile, get the children off to school, and do the never-ending chores and work.
And then, a dear friend came to my aid. She happened to work in the field of mental health and recognised all the feelings I’ve just described to you. She gently said,
‘I think you’re depressed, and maybe you should see someone who knows about supporting survivors of sexual abuse. This is not the normal kind of depression, it’s much deeper.’
With the support of my friend and my caring doctor, I began seeing an excellent counsellor who fortunately for me, knew the work already being done by the renowned trauma specialist, Dr Bessel Van der Kolk.
It was during these sessions I learnt that it’s not uncommon for a child to lock away the trauma. The body responds to trauma in different ways. It can flee, fight, freeze or disassociate. Dr Bessel Van der Kolk explains very succinctly the reason why I ‘forgot’ or dissociated when I was sexually assaulted as a child:
People have a range of capacities to deal with overwhelming experiences.Some people, some kids particularly, are able to disappear into a fantasy world, to dissociate, to pretend like it isn't happening, and are able to go on with their lives. And sometimes it can come back to haunt them. - Dr Bessel Van der Kolk.
Now that I understood what had happened to me as a child, my counsellor then encouraged me to take the next step. In all these years, I hadn’t told my parents or my siblings about the abuse. She wanted me to break the silence and tell my family.
‘You need to shed the weight, the burden of carrying this secret. A crime was committed, and it’s not your fault. They need to be told.’
After four months of therapy, I knew my counsellor was right, and I took the plunge and wrote a letter to my parents who were living in India. By breaking the silence, I began to slowly unshackle myself from the destructive patterns of shame and worthlessness.
There is one aspect of my recovery that is disappointing, but not uncommon. Even after13 years, my parents are still not able to ‘handle’ the fact that I was abused by family members. Back then, when I first told them, they cried, but within days, they refused to talk about it with me. They preferred to pretend it never happened. For a long while, the little girl within longed for them to hold her and apologise for what happened under their watch. But this they are unable to do. Perhaps it’s a generational issue. Either way, they still carry the shame. Which, by the way, doesn't belong to them either. Maybe they feel they have let me down as parents. But I don’t feel this way. I know they did their best. It’s taken a very long time, and in the past two years, I’ve forgiven my parents for not being able to support me on this journey.
What I know today is that I cannot control other people’s responses to what was done to me as a child. I was sexually abused by three different perpetrators at the ages of 4,7 and 10. Two of them were women. However, today, I am the adult in my life. And I have made a promise to my inner child. I will be the adult she missed out on. The one she can rely on when she’s feeling down or overwhelmed. Because, no matter how much work I do on myself to heal, there will be days when the inner child will suddenly feel frightened or overwhelmed. These feelings don’t vanish for ever. There are so many things that can bring on PTSD. This is the damage done to my central nervous system. I’ve also been living with an autoimmune disease called Fibromyalgia for the last three decades.
However, I refuse to be defeated. I have an array of techniques that can dissipate pain, fear and anxiety almost instantly. To continue my desire to thrive, I have a daily self -care routine. I use a combination of meditation, pranayama, yoga, exercise and connecting to Mother Nature. I also use dance, writing, journaling to get me through. Eating well, and mindfulness are a daily delight for me.
One of the most effective modalities that has worked to recalibrate the neural pathways in my brain is a method called Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais is awareness through movement that has not only transformed my gait after both hips needed replacement, but it’s helped me to navigate a way out of triggers that used to lead to PTSD. A combination of Feldenkrais and trauma talk therapy have got me through, and transformed my life.
I’m 60 years old now. I have taken back my life stolen by perpetrators. I am proud of the changes I’ve made in my life. But I didn’t, I couldn’t, do this on my own. I had a whole team walking beside me. I am, and will always be forever grateful to my loving husband and my two beautiful daughters. They have stood by me all the way, over the last 20 years. I also have many wonderful friends. On some days, I admit I forget to be compassionate to myself and I slide into the old patterns of worthlessness and shame. When we have been fed with lies that tell us we are unworthy, it’s easy to stumble back to old, out-dated belief systems. But that’s when I quickly remember to reach out to my support team. That’s when I have to remind myself that: Taking care of myself never stops!
These days, I am giving back to the community as a thanksgiving for getting this far. I could have easily fallen off the rails. But I didn’t. So, that’s why I teach meditation to groups of men and women. I run workshops for women. I am a healer, a Reiki Master. Last but not least, I am a lover of the Great Mother Goddess. I could not have got this far without a belief in something greater than myself. Also, I believe I was meant to survive so that I can spread messages of Hope and Love through my recovery.