Recovering The SelfA Journal of Hope and Healing

Abuse Recovery

Nellianne’s Story – Troop Forward and Carry On

by Leila R. Ferrari

Nellianne and I attended the same university for graduate work. We sometimes had coffee together and shared personal stories. This story is in Nellianne’s own words.




I will share some images that stuck around in exactly the same way over several prior decades. The environment included stained glass windows, blue, which appeared in a church-like setting, maybe the rectory or a building sometimes associated with Catholic Church activities. I remember looking down from a perch near the ceiling and watching events, which could have been out-of-body experiences. People wore dark clothes and brightly colored masks, and the type of headpieces familiar from Knights of Columbus ceremonies. I was quite young while all this went on. 


One thing that happened repeatedly, which kept me from talking about this to anyone for the longest time, is that my dad’s life and well-being were threatened if I were to speak about any of it. Any actual Catholic Church connection is unknown, although sometime during earlier adulthood I did have a correspondence with one bishop, who responded with an apology, should any of it have happened directly in relation to the church. My writing to a church higher-up and his written response did contribute to my healing process.


It took quite a few years to come to grips with this issue. I read, journaled, wrote poems, made jewelry, and scribbled designs and ideas. A couple of teachers, around grades 5 and 6, gave me after-school activities and therefore a bit of extra attention. Throughout childhood, my strong family life was a definite plus. The family influence helped me focus in school, play with neighbors, siblings, and various cousins, swim and bike sometimes with them, other times on my own. I got through many things thanks to my family, even though it was not long before I thought my parents overprotective. 


Dreams were another part of healing during that era. A couple of repeated dreams occurred over about two decades. One was that I often dreamed I would die at age forty-three. What actually happened that year, after I survived my birthday, was that I decided on therapy and discovered that the whole death image was the death of an old way of being, of focusing on the negatives and fears about the images that seemed to get locked in my brain and re-emerge somehow over and over. 


I changed my energy pattern, learned to set internal priorities and to act on them, and felt free to dismiss ideas and images that proved undesirable. This of course, did not happen overnight and in fact was a process that took quite a few years and involved various therapies, from gestalt and cognitive, to sand tray, hypnosis, and finally to body work. Fortunately, I have been gifted with tenacity and perseverance, and was able to set aside troubles when I needed to carry on with life in other ways, such as completing schoolwork. 


There is another dream I would like to tell you about as well. This dream recurred over two decades of my life from my mid-twenties to mid-forties. In the dream, the same person and setting re-appeared time after time. It was of a middle-aged woman wearing a babushka of reds, blues, and purples. She stood behind a tall counter while she sold coffee to soldiers. The soldiers were generally somewhere between slightly worn out to just about exhausted. They seemed to consistently appreciate and like the coffee. 


More was going on hidden in the background, however. The woman was instrumental in distinguishing which soldiers were the ones to go surreptitiously through a trap door, and which were to leave out the front door, the way they came in. The out-the-front-door group never knew about the others. The soldiers who went through the trap door had an enormous task to complete. Their job was to stay alive and get through the immediately encountered tunnel, out to the light and back to nature, peaceful civilization, and to the productive and healthy life that lay ahead of them. Regardless of obstacles encountered along the way. I had this dream so many times that I really became acquainted with it. After a while, it no longer scared me. It became more of a journey and a nighttime exploration.     




Nellianne showed resilience on different levels. This included the ability to carry on, complete schoolwork etc. even while blocking certain images/dreams that were so scary. She developed an interest in many different hands-on projects and other activities, which contributed to her ability toward prioritizing, making choices, and sound decisions. Her use of various types of therapy helped solidify the healing process. Strong relationships with teachers and family members provided an additional strong basis for resilience to develop.  


About the Author

As a psychology major, educator, and later a family therapist, Leila R. Ferrari has a keen interest in how individuals face difficulties and solve problems. She obtained permission among acquaintances in the business and professional world, co-workers, administrators, and personal graduate school friends at the time, to interview and tape-record their personal stories. The topics covered overcoming obstacles, surviving and thriving beyond traumatic events, as well as solving everyday challenges. This is one of those stories.

*Names and other pertinent details in this story were changed to protect privacy.

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