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Recovery on Yellow Brick Road, Part 1: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

“It is a long journey, through a country that is sometimes pleasant and sometimes dark and terrible…The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick,” said the [good] witch. 

– L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz

 In the next few articles, I will take some ideas from my book, (Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst) and apply them to the world of men in recovery. In these first two articles, I will present my first principle from my book: We don’t change in Kansas, we change in Oz!

Anyone going through recovery from a past trauma is, by (my) definition, in the Land of Oz.  Kansas symbolizes what we are familiar with. It is the mental paradigms that we take for granted and live by automatically—without reflection. It is the accumulation of all our established assumptions about who we are (e.g., good or bad), the nature of relationships and intimacy (e.g., safe or dangerous) and what the world is like (e.g., hospitable or threatening).  Many people traumatized as young children form a “settled”—but always uneasy—narrative about their abuse, either by “forgetting it,” putting it in the back of their mind, or seeing it as “something that happened in my past.” But at some time in their life, a tornado disrupts their Kansas and drops them off into the Land of Oz.  

I worked with a man—let’s call him John—who, in his late 20s, after “drinking a little too much” with his wife and some friends, suddenly “remembered” being sexually molested by a series of different men throughout his youth. (He actually did not really forget that it happened. He just had it some place in his Kansas.) As a result of recalling this, he was shaken to his core. It was like a twister picked up his house and dropped him into a strange land—“a dark and terrible place.” As a result, he began to painfully re-experienced aspect of the original trauma buried deep in his psyche. It was like an emotional dam broke. And to add insult to injury, he started to obsessively question his sexual identity—something that was never an issue for him before. He was deep in the Dark Forest of Oz.

For today’s reflection, I want to reassure the victim of childhood abuse that this unsolicited tornado-driven trip to the Land of Oz is not only common, it is in some ways necessary for healing and recovery. This upheaval is a beginning of a journey. This journey is by no means easy. (It was not easy for Dorothy, and it is not easy for anyone who ventures down the road of yellow bricks.) But for those who courageously take this journey, healing and restoration of emotional and relational freedom are possible. 

There has been a great deal of research done over the past few decades in trauma recovery and the good news is that witches do melt. In the next article I will continue to use the theme from the Wizard of Oz to sketch out some of the principles of recovery for anyone willing to walk down the Yellow Brick Road. Read more on the Joyful Heart Foundation

By Sam Alibrando , Ph.D.

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Sam Alibrando Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, CA. He has worked for over 30 years with individuals and families using a “collaborative healing” process, where the client and the professional team-up to achieve a therapeutic and growing process—together. Specializations include adults abused as children and sex addiction. Dr. Alibrando is nationally respected as an organizational consultant, speaker and author of Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst. He served as President of the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association and liaison to the California Psychological Association (CPA); Director of Fuller Psychological & Family Services; and as an Adjunct Professor at Fuller’s Graduate School of Psychology.

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