Thriving: The Prize of Healing from Abuse

thriving after abuse


In continuing this summer’s series on self-care and healing, I imagine the land of thriving just on the other side of healing’s rainbow, a land rich with beauty and possibilities.

Thriving, meaning to grow strong and vigorous, or to do well and prosper, is the prize we receive after committing to daily self care, and arduous inner work of healing from abuse and traumatic childhoods. Thriving offers life back in full measure.

The Old Norse word for thrive, thrīfask, meaning to grasp for oneself, brings to mind reclaiming our truest selves.

Thriving reminds me when I sailed as a crew member in a race in the Great Exuma Islands years ago when I worked for the television networks. The race was part of vacation adventure with colleagues to escape the icy, bitter cold winter in New York City.

It was a blustery, tropical day as our eager crew waited on the deck for the race to begin. The unsettled sea beneath us, rocking us back and forth, seemed impatient. Charcoal colored shelf clouds on the horizon threatened with a brutish stance.  They made me wonder for a moment if our 42-foot sail boat could weather a probable storm ahead. The warm wind, enough to blow our hats off, exhaled a sudden salty, gush. It seemed a warning.  A novice sailor, I assumed the captain of the ship, a daring television journalist, and a more skilled crew, could navigate potential rough seas.

We got word from the dock master we’d surely hit a squall heading our way. Giving us the choice to opt out of the race, captain daring–gung ho, TV journalist–cheered us to go on. The crew sang out, “yeah, let’s do it!”  Whether a coincidence or godsend, former America’s Cup winner, Dennis Conner–who happened to be in small row boat rocking next to us at the dock– offered our captain a few expert tactics to maneuver the storm.

Young and naïve, I never considered we could die within the hour.

As the horn sounded, the sails of our boat breathed in a brisk wind, pushing us out to sea without effort.

Soon, the dock house, only a tiny speck, stood muted on the dock. Our majestic ship tipped on it’s edge, skating with pride like a mighty warrior across the great, dark and shining sea. 

As the sky grew darker, large patches of black clouds climbed toward us like monsters. The wind kicked in several knots. We flew on our edge, drenched by rising swells splashing over us like great whales. Cans, jars, and fixtures fell off shelves, crashing below deck.


abuse survivors facing storms turbulentclouds


When a water spout emerged from the horizon like a bold dancer spinning onto the threatening stage, the wind kicked in again with a wicked breath, as the boat sailed like a torpedo against the thickening waves. We were courageous like a jaguar lurching toward it’s prey.


Storm of abuse


The relentless squall pushed harder toward us until we were engulfed in it’s swirling madness. Each crew member plunged into an impulsive, critical task. Seeing the main sail was caught on a wire, I crawled onto the bow, first wrapping my arm around the mast to secure my hold. Now the boat sailed high on it’s edge close to ninety degrees, my body hanging parallel, face to face with the mighty ocean.

With slow, methodical maneuvering, I was able to break the main sail free from a tangled mess. With a great bellowing exhale, the boat plunge forward with confidence.


Facing storms healing from sexual abuse


My team, their faces and movements terrified and animated, motioned me from the cockpit to crawl down from the bow. Their soundless words cried out, “Get in, get in!”  A massive hovering wave crashed down with a torrential warning.

I’m not sure if my rushing adrenaline, or shock, made me fearless. My arm still locked secure around the mast was my stable base. Everything else seemed to move as if in slow motion. Their lagging expressions, the growling wind, the rising, rugged waters, all moved in a deliberate, delayed, harmony. Rollicking minutes rolling by seemed like hours.

And then, the wind stopped short.

Stunned to find ourselves alive, we sat for several moments, engulfed in an eerie quiet. The great wide darkness of the ocean’s silence wrapped it’s arms around us. Patches of light shined through patches of dark, tired clouds. I saw land ahead, the finish line near.


healing from abuse sun will shine


Miracles happen in thin places. As we sailed toward the finishing line, a double rainbow beamed across the sky. The clouds descended as the blazing sun and blue sky peered from a secret, peaceful haven.


thriving after abuse like a double rainbow


We came in second place.

More important than winning first place, was the realization I was courageous beyond my wildest imagination.

When we trust our deeper selves in our healing process, we race toward thriving.  When we fish within our inner recesses, we discover untapped strengths. Like in the Norse definition of thriving,  I ‘grasped for myself” on that boat in the stormonly to discover an innate reserve of fuel that aided me in letting the main sail go free.

Yet, as illustrated in our last blog, The Hero’s Journey, thriving and reclaiming our true selves doesn’t happen magically. We must sign on for the adventure, get in the boat, prepared to face the squalls head on with courage. We must forge ahead into the windy darkness, weathering the pain of childhood abuse and trauma, financial limitations, loss, addictions and grief, so we can rise again.

In our film, The Healing Years, former Miss America, Marilyn Van Derbur, shares how she wishes she could take each survivor of childhood abuse through the finish line. Yet, having healed from years of her father sexually abusing her as a child, Marilyn knows the only way for a survivor to finish the race is if they do the ‘work of healing’. Although support networks are key, the primary healing work of the survivor comes from within.

Thriving means mastering the seafaring life of healing, staying on a steady course no matter how great the storms. It means wrapping our arms around the mast, holding tight to our centers—to our integrity– while unleashing our souls from tangled messes. It means being an integral part of a crew, yet relying on the support of skilled captains to navigate the rough waters: counselors, support group, workshop leaders, and trusted guides.

Thriving is sailing through our storms and rough waters, emerging a winner. It means allowing the winds of truth and healing to sweep us to islands of safety.

As we enter the finish line we realize that the great, mighty sun, hiding behind the clouds, was always shining.


Thriving after Abuse


And we realize, we deserve to thrive, to prosper, to live a rich and vigorous life. To sail through double rainbows.

thriving after abuse like a double rainbow



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