Isn’t this a beautiful tomato plant? I grew it myself!!! This has not been my most stellar year in the garden, and this tomato plant is just one victim of my lack of attention to my plants this summer. As I looked at it today, though, I was struck by the fact that there are a number of healthy tomatoes on what otherwise appears to be a neglected, and dried up plant. (And yes, they were supposed to be cherry and not beefsteak tomatoes!) I feel like this is a great metaphor for women who have survived abuse, either in their childhood or in adult relationships. If you have survived an abusive relationship, you know that there are many parts of you that feel dry, brittle and thirsty. This can leave you feeling that you do not have any strengths or healthy fruit in your life. But they are there, and one of the tiny steps that you can take towards healing is to start to try to identify them. They may seem small to you right now, but if you dig deep you may be able to identify some of your strengths.
What are your skills, talents and abilities? Were you able to graduate from high school? What got you through your classes? What is one thing that you are able to do that gives you pride? That may be something as small as making your bed each morning, or having neat printing, but if you are able to start with some of the small things you may be able to start noticing some of your other talents as well. What are some of the resources you have been able to implement in your life? What coping mechanisms did you use to survive the abusive relationship and keep yourself alive? Perhaps you were able to go to a safe place in your mind while being yelled at. Maybe you developed a friend at work that listened to you, even if it was just about small stuff. Maybe you have found a way to identify when someone else is hurting, even though they don’t say a word, and find yourself caring for them. Maybe you developed a sense of humor to cope with the pain, but it has now developed into something that makes others laugh and feel comfortable around you.
How can you identify with the tomatoes on my plant even just a little bit? Those tomatoes were resilient, and stubbornly clung to life and health even though I did not provide for them properly. They dug deep to find water and nourishment. They drank in the water that was provided through myself and the very little rain that we had this summer, and they rationed it out in order to cling to life. As you look back, how have you been able to find even just drops of nourishment and water in your parched experiences of life? As you move forward, maybe there are ways that you can receive drops of water through reflecting on your own strength and resilience. I want to assure you that I do not feel that just looking at some of the positives in your life will heal all of your pain. However, when you are starting out on a road of healing, it is the small things that are important. As you begin to build safety and strength within yourself you will be able to take bigger steps that may include reaching out to someone else whether that is a friend or a professional to help you in your healing process.
Lisa Catallo, MA, CCC
Haskell, L. (2003). First stage trauma treatment: A guide for mental health professionals working with women. Canada: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health