In Untangled: A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph, Alexis Rose offers raw, forthright descriptions of the repeated abuse she experienced in childhood and into adulthood. I would caution anyone who has experienced abuse themselves to carefully evaluate whether they are far enough along in their own healing to feel safe while reading this kind of account; I would suggest a better place to start might be Alexis’s other book, If I Could Tell You How It Feels, which focuses more on the healing process. Aside from this caveat, this is a powerful, eye-opening book. It is truly remarkable that Alexis has been brave enough to share her story, and is able to tell it so clearly, in a manner that is calm yet still captures the emotional devastation at the time. She very effectively describes the hell of not only living through traumatic events, but struggling with the lasting trauma reactions afterwards. She also touches on many questions that those unfamiliar with trauma might wonder about, including trauma bonding with an abuser, continuing to follow instructions drilled in by the abusers, and maintaining silence.
The sexual, physical, psychological, and ritualistic abuse began at an early age at the hands of her parents and others. As she was being abused, she would imagine seeing the house next door on fire through her window; she eloquently described how this helped her to find a “golden thread of survival. That thread kept the pieces of my shattered soul together, and gave me the strength I needed to wake up and face another day.” Messages to remain silent were frequently drilled into her, and as she grew older, various techniques were used to keep her under tight psychological control.
Alexis describes a horrific pair of trips to the Middle East, where her mother moved after her father died. She explained the bizarre trauma bond she developed with a man she was forced to live with who exerted complete control over her and frequently spoke down to her as if she were garbage. She was informed that she was to serve as “a killer and a whore,” or else she herself would be killed. She observes that by that point, “any shred of my psychological health had been obliterated.” She ended up being tortured and beaten, and she describes the ways in which she dissociated as her mind tried to protect itself.
When she was finally allowed to return home, she began the processing of repressing the memories of what had happened to her. Without other skills available, she relied on this strategy of repression continued for as long as she could manage. Her abusers continued to make themselves known periodically, through phone calls, mail, and in person, and she was subjected to ongoing psychological abuse from her mother.
She began to have flashbacks, although she lacked the knowledge to understand that’s what they were. She writes that she had “no idea that the level of abuse I survived as a child was worth talking about or bothering with.” At one point she stopped therapy because she was unable to move past the brainwashed messages that she must remain silent. She adopted a pattern of trying to “push feelings aside and keep moving”, as this was the only way she knew to keep going. She made the interesting distinction that “it wasn’t that I was living in the moment; I was just continually on the move.”
Things came crashing down after her daughter was hit by a car while crossing the street. Alexis writes about the extremely intense flashback triggered by the call she received from the police, and finally realized that “my mental health was hanging by a very thin thread that was about to break”. At that point she started seeing the psychologist who became “my healer, my teacher, and the one I would call my Sherpa, who truly started me on my journey. Walking into his office that day I began six years of a difficult and treacherous trek up the highest of mountain peaks, but that was also the day I began to claim my life and start to live, not just survive.” She finally got to a point where she could begin “forgetting how to forget”.
Despite the horrific things that have happened to her, she has been able to leave behind those who have abused her and move forward with healing. She has been able to draw on resilience and an ability to thrive, and has reached a place where she can be optimistic and thrive. Alexis writes: “I’ve untangled myself. My courage has set me free, and now nothing can keep me tied to the past. I can truly live today with blinders off and eyes wide open.” This is a truly inspiring book that tells an amazing story of survival through adversity.
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