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Jan 03

Note: The following interview first appeared on my blog, Stepping Stones: http://www.wellnessjourneys.com/blog as part of a series of inspirational interviews featuring people who have overcome adversity in their lives. I hope this interview with author and speaker Dan L. Hays helps light your way, as you travel your own life journey.

What follows is our interview:

EHB: Dan, I read your book, Freedom’s Just Another Word, and was inspired by your journey, and the way in which you were able to overcome so much of what happened to you in your childhood. Could you tell readers a little bit about the book and what inspired you to write it?

DLH: The book is a memoir set in Houston, Texas in 1987. It is about healing, and hope, and forgiveness. As the book opens, my life was spinning out of control, and I didn’t know why. I realized I was walking around with many of the symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), but didn’t have a traumatic event that I could connect it all to. As that was happening, my Dad died. In my struggle to deal with his death, I got back a buried memory about a violent incident with my Dad that made things begin to make sense.

EHB: What would you say helped you the most in terms of recovering from the abuse you dealt with when you were young?

DLH: For me it was a combination of things – I used a number of tools. Therapy was very helpful, both individual and group. I became involved with a 12 step program for people who had grown up with alcoholism, which was an incredible help. Particularly the 12 steps themselves, because they offered a spiritual solution. But a big component was a walk of faith, in being led to confront those dark events that had ruled my life since childhood.

EHB: As a survivor of rape and child sexual abuse I know that there can be many dark nights of the soul. What kept YOU going during those dark times?

DLH: My faith in God kept me going and kept me safe through those many dark nights of the soul, and enabled me to see the light on the other side.

EHB: You’ve mentioned that some readers said your book provides a sort of roadmap for people on their journey of healing from PTSD and all sorts of abuse. Could you explain what you mean by that?

DLH: In the second half of the book, I went through a number of healing experiences, some therapeutic, some a part of the journey of faith, that other people have told me they use as a template for how to get past their own abuse issues. I was really surprised by that, and very gratified. It turns out that people whose abuse was nothing like mine drew from the book, mainly by applying the healing exercises to their own experience. People have reported using some of the techniques I tried, most of which had been recommended by therapists or wise mentors.

EHB: I know you have some other projects in the works, including a couple of books and some radio shows. Could you tell us about those and how you feel they can help people?

DLH: Healing was a process that took place over several years, that wouldn’t all fit in one book. I have several books planned to share other parts of my journey. I think they will help put it in perspective for people that it’s not a quick fix solution. The radio spots are called Minute to Freedom. They are brief thoughts or insights from my road to healing, and people have said they get a lot of hope and insight from them.

EHB: In what way does all of this work you’re doing benefit you, personally?

DLH: It’s like they say, you don’t get it until you give it away. In sharing with others about my journey, it helps me see where I was and where I am now with a much greater clarity.

EHB: You’ve mentioned that you’ve done some mentoring with people who have been abused and/or have PTSD. Could you explain how you work with these people?

DLH: Mostly I share my experience – much of which is the things I describe in Freedom’s Just Another Word. I talk about how things opened up for me when I was flat on my back, and became willing to try things I normally would not try. Then I describe some of those things, if it seems appropriate in the conversation. Healing exercises, inner child work, letting go ceremonies, things like that.

EHB: Where do you hope all of the work you’re doing will lead you?

DLH: When I started dealing with the abuse issues, I felt pretty hopeless, like I was doomed to a life of unhappiness and frustration. For others who might be in a similar situation, I would like to be able to share the message that there is the hope of healing – there is a way to get beyond the effects of abuse.


Dan L. Hays is an author and speaker who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. You can learn more about him, and how to buy his book, at his website, http://www.danlhays.com


 

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach in Cleveland, Ohio who works with clients, by phone, all over the country, to help them overcome their challenges with courage, hope and optimism. She is also a regular contributor to ShareWIK.com.

 

Are you dealing with a challenging life transition? Or are you a survivor of abuse who wants to thrive, rather than simply survive? If so, I’d love to help out.

Visit my website at http://ellen-brown.com/  to sign up for an introductory session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

 

More Ellen Brown articles, click here.


©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

Feb 28

Years, ago, when I was healing from child sexual abuse, I found it SO important to be around people (and books and movies) who could inspire me, as I traveled the journey from victim to survivor (ultimately becoming a thriver). Because navigating that transition could be grueling at times, and there were days when I’d wonder whether I’d make it through the darkness and into the light. But when I talked with other survivors and read books about people who had traveled similar paths, I felt hopeful that I, too, would heal.

Back then, one of the people who inspired me the most was my therapist, Susan, who became a counselor, after transcending her own abuse. While she never talked about what had happened to her (thank goodness!), it gave me great strength to know that she had healed and been able to help other survivors like me. She’d made it through the storm, and I thought if she could make it through the storm, then maybe I could too!

During that time, I also read a number of inspirational books by survivors who had overcome abuse, as well as the proverbial bible for survivors of child sexual abuse: The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. That book, which was an emblem of hope and healing for me, offered a plethora of healing exercises, as well as numerous examples of people who had overcome their abuse. The authors, themselves, who are both survivors, were also a great source of inspiration. Though I never met them, I felt inexplicably connected with them, as I made my way through their 600-page tome. Sometimes, it seemed as though they were right there beside me, cheering me on, saying “you can do it, girlfriend: keep going. Don’t let anyone stop you.”

At that time, there were only a couple of websites you could visit to commiserate with other survivors, but today there are tons of online resources for people dealing with abuse and any other transition imaginable.

Today, as a coach, I encourage my clients to seek out an extra dose of inspiration, whether they are healing from child sexual abuse, dealing with the loss of a loved one, or navigating any other challenging life transition. While I certainly provide them with plenty of encouragement, as their coach, I believe there’s no such thing as too much inspiration!

Below is a short list of inspirational resources (listed by transitions) I often recommend to clients who are dealing with difficult transitions. But please don’t be limited by this list.  Explore the Internet and your local library and bookstores to find some resources that resonate with you.

Transcending Childhood Abuse

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, By Laura Davis and Ellen Bass. (See description above).

I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Featuring a number of moving testimonies by survivors of child sexual abuse—edited  by Ellen Bass, co-author of The Courage to Heal. 


Freedom’s Just Another Word, By Dan L. Hays – An inspiring memoir, set in Houston, Texas in 1987, about healing, hope, and forgiveness in the wake of his memories of childhood abuse.

Minute to Freedom: http://www.radiokevin.com/minutetofreedom.htm

One minute audio segments by author and speaker Dan L. Hays that help people transcend their difficult childhoods, one minute at a time.

Dealing with Illness and Healing

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, By Matthew Sanford – An inspiring story about hope and healing that chronicles the journey of Matthew  Sanford -- from when he awakens in the intensive care unit of a hospital after a car accident that killed his father and sister --  to becoming a yoga teacher and founder of a nonprofit organization.

 

Choosing to Be: Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master, By Kat Tansey – A wonderfully inspiring book that revolves around a wise Maine Coon cat named Poohbear Degoonacoon, his kitten muse Catzenbear, and author Kat Tansey, as they take the reader on a challenging and often times amusing journey from the disorienting haze of depression to the freedom and clarity of Buddha mind.

Insomnia Relief Recipes, By Kat Tansey http://www.insomniareliefrecipes.com/

This unique sleep program, created by Kat Tansey, is the result of the author’s personal quest to overcome insomnia. After spending many months researching the roots of insomnia and the nature of sleep, she was able to create her own unique recipe for regaining her confidence and learning how to get the restful, restorative sleep she needed, no matter what the circumstances. After realizing how pervasive insomnia truly is, she decided to develop Insomnia Relief Recipes to help others get a good night’s sleep. She used everything she learned from her research to put together a comprehensive program, complete with audios and videos, that will help you create your own, customized Insomnia Relief Recipe.

 

ShareWIK: http://www.sharewik.com –- A warm and inspiring online community in which experts dispense information about health and healing, regular columnists share their experience and knowledge, and people on the path to wellness gather to share what they know.

Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One

From Heartbreak to Happiness, By Aurora Winter – An intimate diary that reveals a single mother's journey of tragedy and triumph after the sudden death of her 33-year-old husband.

The Year of Magical Thinking, By Joan Didion --  Author Joan Didion chronicles the year following the death of her beloved husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, from a massive heart attack in 2003, while the couple's only daughter, Quintana, lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. While some may find this book less than inspiring, because of its rawness, I found it particularly inspiring and cathartic.

The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death Divorce, and Other Losses, By John W. James and Russell Friedman – A wonderful guidebook to help you navigate your loss and make you realize that time does NOT heal all wounds, but that healing is possible, if you take the necessary action. The book was inspired by the authors’ personal losses.

 

General Inspiration

Inspiremetoday.com, By Gail Goodwin: http://www.inspiremetoday.com

- – Free daily inspiration, designed to remind you that you have the power to create anything in your life you desire. A great way to start your day.

E-couragement,– Daily encouragement delivered to your email inbox by Thomas Waterhouse, a counselor in Tampa Bay, Florida, who believes that Hearts filled with courage can rise to any challenge.” Sign up here: http://www.simpleencouragement.com/eCouragements


Are you dealing with a challenging life transition? If so, I’d love to help out. Visit my website at http://ellen-brown.com/ to sign up for an introductory coaching session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach in Cleveland, Ohio who works with clients, by phone, all over the country, to help them overcome their challenges with courage, hope and optimism. She is also a regular contributor to ShareWIK.com



More Ellen Brown articles, click here.

 

 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

May 09

My journey began about 11 years ago, when I was working as a home-based writer, and memories of sexual abuse and rape suddenly began flooding my consciousness. It was a good thing I was self-employed, at the time, because what happened over the course of the next few years sent me spiraling out of control.


In the beginning, I experienced intense flashbacks and body memories, which forced me to re-live the abuse that occurred when I was young. At times, I was blind-sided by waves of physical and emotional pain.


At first, I couldn’t believe what was happening to me, and hoped and prayed I was inventing these horrifying images. That the physical pain I was feeling was fake. That I was creating these fantasies.  Because that was more comforting than believing that the people I trusted had betrayed me.


But the more I resisted, the more the memories persisted. On and on, like a nightmare that would seemingly never end.


The good news is that when I finally allowed myself to believe the memories were true, the flashbacks and body memories tapered off and eventually stopped.  But there was still plenty to overcome. Over the course of the next several years, I did a great deal of healing, in therapy and support groups and with the help of my wonderfully loving husband, Jeff and some supportive survivor friends.


Dealing with Abuse Takes Time, But How Much Time?


They say that dealing with child abuse or any difficult loss takes time, and that’s true. But in my opinion, it doesn’t need to take THAT much time, and sometimes, if you’re not careful, it can take a lifetime to move beyond the pain. One day, I realized that my life was slipping away, and I had allowed my entire identity to become tied up in being a “survivor.”


At that point, I realized I had a choice. I could continue to wear my “survivor label” like a badge of honor and blame others for what I didn’t like about my life. Or I could take responsibility for my life, and realize that my past didn’t have to define me. Yes, I was a survivor of sexual abuse and rape, but I was so much MORE than that. I didn’t want to just survive, I wanted to THRIVE!


It was probably no coincidence that I began exploring my spirituality at this same time. I had never been religious, (and I’m still not) but suddenly I wanted to believe that all these memories had bubbled up for a reason, that there WAS, in fact, some divine plan. That something good would come of these horrible revelations.


Transcending My Past and Helping Others Thrive


Over the next couple years, I traveled on a spiritual journey of faith and forgiveness that transformed my life. While I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anyone, the abuse I experienced taught me an important lesson: that I possess an amazing strength and compassion that can never be broken, a powerful spirit that can never be extinguished. Painful though they were, those experiences shaped me into the strong, compassionate woman I am today.


My spiritual journey ultimately led me to the realization that I could make a difference in the lives of people who have faced adversity, including survivors of abuse. Though it took me awhile to decide what form that might take, I finally decided to become a coach, because I wanted to help people move forward rather than taking them back to the past to explore their wounds.


After graduating from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland’s 18-month-long Gestalt Training Program and the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, (an ICF-accredited program) I became a certified professional coach.


Today, as a life transitions coach, I am honored to help clients navigate challenging life transitions such as job loss and the loss of a loved one (and the transition from survivor to thriver) with courage, hope and optimism, so they can create the lives they truly desire.


Visit my website at http://ellen-brown.com/ to sign up for an introductory coaching session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.


Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach in Cleveland, Ohio who works with clients, by phone, all over the country, to help them overcome their challenges with courage, hope and optimism. She is also a regular contributor to ShareWIK.com.

 



More Ellen Brown articles, click here.

 


More content on Sexual Abuse



©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010


May 10

When my daughter, Hannah was only 8 years old, a man who lived next door sexually molested her.  Eight years later, she stood in our kitchen, unfastened the loop of her two-inch wide, grosgrain-ribboned watch and revealed multiple cuts on the inside of her left wrist.

 

She was cutting her wrists with a razor. 

 

Floods of anguish rushed over me.  Today, I don’t even remember what happened next.  Did I hug her?  Did I cry?  Did I say anything? I think I said, “Why?” 

 

I had no idea of knowing then that cutting, or self-harm, was going to be the least of our worries.     

 

Memories of my blonde, pigtailed little girl testifying in court against our neighbor who had been charged by the state of Ohio on four felonious accounts came pouring back.  As did all the pain from feeling like I had failed to protect her from this predator.  Friends who couldn’t handle the truth walked away from me, as did others who didn’t want their kids around mine.   

 

Hannah’s counselors had warned us something like cutting, alcohol abuse and even suicide attempts might happen as a boomerang affect to the abuse.   They told us that as an 8 year old, Hannah was too young to absorb the impact of the immensity of the personal violation. They warned us the sexual nature of the abuse would not be understood by her until about the time she started to sexually mature or began dating. 

 

Was this my fault?  What had I not done to protect my daughter?  How had I failed to nurture this beautiful blonde, blue-eyed child?   If I was unable to heal, restore and raise her up who could step in, who could breathe life and truth into my daughter, who had the ability to give Hannah reason to live?  

 

As I wrestled with finding answers for Hannah and myself, I felt I had to do it all in secret.  I did not want anyone to know—especially her younger sisters.   I had to protect our family from being the “talk of the town.”  I had to hide and isolate.   Hannah and I were both masked.  How do I tell a friend or a family member that my daughter is dying from the inside, out? 

 

You don’t.  You just kept searching for answers alone.

 

At times I think this driven search for answers kept me sane.  It also kept me looking outward.  Denial was so alluring.  Running towards something beat standing still.  If I remained still what I saw in front of me was unbearable.   For, when I looked at Hannah, I saw darkness, hopelessness and a life of promise dissolving before my eyes. Hannah shared with her counselors that she was pretty much dead inside. Trying to fake it for so many years Hannah’s struggle to appear “normal” was over. For the first time I saw the depth of the pain inside her.  Hannah was at war with her physical body her weapons cutting, eating nothing, eating too much, abusing alcohol, taking too many pills, not taking pills. 

 

The masquerade was over.   

 

And I was so tired.   As I rested for the next lap, I saw the three blank and frightened faces of my other three daughters—then 13, 11 and 9 years old—standing in the background.  It was their turn to ask, “Why?”  “Why didn’t mommy not see them?”  Had I even looked for them, sat with them, laughed with them, hugged them, tucked them in at night, been a mommy to them this entire year? 

 

I was consumed with rescuing, with finding answers, with saving Hannah’s life because that is what a “good” mother would do.

 

I finally crumbled.  I was defeated.  Hannah was not improving despite the doctor’s visits and counseling sessions.  The time had come.  What I needed to do was to surrender Hannah.  I was to love her, listen to her, hold her, seek out the resources she needed.  But not to save her.  It was a huge leap for me. I was needed as a wife and a mother to my younger three daughters who literally felt invisible.

 

I had no idea that surrendering Hannah meant that she would leave our home for 8 months under the loving care of the Mercy Ministries Home.   It was there that she found her life and her purpose and the truth.

 

My three other girls were gracious as they allowed me another chance to show them how much I loved them.

 

All four of my daughters have wounds.  Some have healed.  But for those wounds that haven’t healed, we are determined to keep them open to oxygen, uncovered.  

 

If I were to tell you that the past does not still rear its sharp talons today I would not be helpful to you. But at the end of the day, I hope that more of my moments are spent not in running and searching for answers but in sitting still, with what is before me.  Not to ask “why” but to ask “how.”  How can I love without trying to fix or save and how can I love myself without the guilt. 

 

My dear friend recently encouraged me with this: “I just want to see you walk into a room with your shoulders held back and your head held high, like you know you have nothing to be ashamed of.” 

 

I’m almost there.   

 

 

What I Know Now:

 

·      Life is not fair:  Yes, I have said this to my children repeatedly.  But did I believe it?   Life dealt our family a set of circumstances and much of it was out of our control.  It was not fair.  I wished I would’ve accepted this earlier and dealt with it.  A favorite saying of my mom’s rings true.  “We do not determine the hand we are dealt but how we play the cards”.

 

·      Just because I say it is so does not mean it is so.  I told Hannah repeatedly that the abuse by the neighbor was not her fault, that she was beautiful, that she was bright and courageous, that she had a wonderful future ahead of her.  But just because I said it over and over again, did not make it so.  I needed to listen to what Hannah was saying to me even though it was not my reality, it was hers.   

 

·      Keeping things covered up isolates and causes more problems.  I wish I would have trusted a few close friends and family members with my situation earlier.  As I finally opened up I found dear friends with knowledge and experience and possible treatment options.  My family did what families do best: they loved each of us in all of our pain and brokenness.  Most importantly these faithful friends and family prayed for us.

 

·      There are resources for parents.  I found a wonderful group at our church called “Parents in Crisis” which met weekly.  The sharing and teaching restored hope and also made us realize we were not alone. 

 

·      The other children in the family know when something is going on.  By trying to pretend nothing was wrong, my daughters were left with their own imaginations to try to figure out why mommy cried so much, why she was angry, why she was quiet, why she was gone so much, why mommy and daddy talked much, didn’t talk much, argued too much.  I needed to intentionally pursue them letting them ask the questions they needed answered.  I needed to hold them more.  We all needed to allow ourselves a family time out once in awhile to have fun, to be silly to giggle.

 

 

·      When my second daughter started showing signs of depression and self harm behavior it was not copycat behavior.  My second daughter had suffered and turned all the isolation she felt onto herself.  Just because I had finally explained what was happening to Hannah, asking her forgiveness for being an absent mother did not mean that everything was okay.

 

·      Husbands and wives react very differently to crises.   There are some things that girlfriends are just better able to deal with...lots of listening to my lots of talking, being there for the crying and more crying and being patient with repeating myself over and over again.  I have learned that as my husband was watching his daughter die and his wife fall apart it was time for his own hunt. Searching for answers, to rescue and to fix.  We were not relating just reacting.  Counseling has helped us to see this.  We are still learning how to be there for each other.

 

·      There can never be enough Forgiveness.  I wish I would have seen earlier how I clung to all the wrongs that I felt were done to my family and me.  It gave me a very hard edge.  It also kept me frozen and withdrawn.  I actually tried to numb myself by trying not to feel anything.   I found that when I asked the “why” question it was the beginning of self-pity which led me down a rabbit trail that wasn't healthy for me or my family.  Forgiving the man that violated my daughter unlocked a lot of locked up emotions and released in me the ability to enjoy life again.   

 

·      I now have a mission. As with many of you reading this today, my suffering and pain has created a discovered passion within me.  I wish I would have known that suffering could be redeemed.  I have a new soft spot in my heart for families who are consumed with losing children to depression, self harm and sexual abuse.  I have joined an international organization that rescues young girls from human trafficking and slavery in their efforts to give freedom and life from bondage. 

 

·      Not everyone needs to know, nor will they understand.  After keeping secrets for so long, the flood gates opened and I began to share my story with anyone who would listen.  I learned the hard way that confidences and sharing are a fine line to be walked. I was on a mission to MAKE everyone understand my crisis and to not judge me for it.  Stinging me next was the realization of how much I had judged others dealing with what I was dealing with.  It is life’s great treasure that if we are willing to be truthful to a few, vulnerability and sharing occurs with a few.  There will always be those who don’t understand—I can’t change them, nor can you.

 

·      I will always be grateful to Mercy Ministries in Nashville, TN.  After I finally started sharing what was happening with Hannah, a dear friend gave me this resource.  My first reaction, as well as Hannah’s, was fear as we read that it was residential treatment home.  As a last resort we accepted that this was the only hope.  Surrendering was not easy nor did it feel natural to me as a mom.  However this leap of faith proved to be the first step towards healing.

 

 

Margaret is the mother of four daughters and lives in Ohio.    

 

More content on Sexual Abuse


©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

 

Aug 01

It was a frosty day in mid December, when I spotted it across the backyard: a purple petunia fluttering in the wind.


At first, I thought my eyes must have been deceiving me. I mean how could a petunia possibly survive in the snow? But there it was, rising out of a sliver of soil between two patio bricks, just waiting to be discovered.


Earlier that year, I’d planted petunias in the backyard in a riot of colors. But they were gone, with the first frost, or so I thought. Now I was shocked to see that lone petunia sitting pretty, surrounded by a dusting of snow.


Even more surprising was the fact that I noticed it at all. At the time, I was so consumed with the memories of child sexual abuse that were flooding my consciousness that I was often “there” in body but not so much in spirit.


As I bent down to touch the delicate flower, I was struck by its hardiness. Delicate, yes, but tough too. Its double ruffles refusing to wilt or fade.


Later that evening, as I described the purple petunia to my husband, he smiled. That purple petunia and I had something in common, he said. It was small and delicate yes. Yet tough, too, refusing to shrink or die. Not a victim or even a survivor. But a spirited warrior.


It’s been more than a decade since I discovered that flower, but through the years, as I’ve traveled my healing journey, I’ve never forgotten that purple petunia. Back then, that flower gave me hope and strength. And on days when my world seemed shaken beyond recognition, I was able to recall that image of the miracle flower. Delicate and fragile. Strong and determined. Unwilling to call it quits.

When we’re going through a tough time, whether we’re healing from abuse or grieving the death of a loved one, there are always signs of hope along the way.


Though they may be difficult to see, they are there, I assure you. But you need to slow down and take the time to notice. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a deep breath and looking around and becoming aware of whatever you can see or smell or touch.


Because when we’re able to become present and notice what’s right in front of us, instead of getting lost in our thoughts, we can see the signs of hope and healing all around us. Signs that remind us that we are strong and resilient and on the right path.


What signs of hope and strength have you noticed when you’ve dealt with a difficult life transition?



Are you dealing with job loss, the death of a loved one, or another challenging life transition? If so, I’d love to help out. Visit my website at http://www.ellen-brown.com to sign up for an introductory coaching session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.


In the meantime, please join me on my new Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ellen-Brown-Certified-Professional-Coach/347591665890  And while you’re there, please join in the conversations on the discussion boards. I hope to see you there soon!


Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach, based in Cleveland, OH, and a regular columnist on ShareWIK.


©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Apr 20

Admittedly I'm a sucker for inspirational stories.


So when I heard that Trisha Meili, aka, The Central Park Jogger, was going to be the keynote speaker at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s Faces of Change luncheon, I leapt at the opportunity to hear what she had to say.


I probably would have attended the fundraiser anyway, because I am so grateful for the many ways the Rape Crisis Center helped me years ago when I was struggling to recover from the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. But the fact that the Central Park Jogger was speaking at the luncheon, was icing on the proverbial cake.


For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story of the Central Park Jogger, here’s a bit of the back story:


In April 1989, a young woman running by herself through Central Park in New York City at 9 p.m. was brutally attacked, raped and abandoned, believed to be dead. The woman, however, miraculously survived and recovered, beyond all medical odds.


For many years, the Central Park Jogger chose to keep her identity private. But in her book, I Am The Central Park Jogger, Trisha Meili went public with her story, which recounts her journey of healing and hope, forgiveness and transcendence. Today, she is an inspiring speaker and writer who encourages people to overcome life’s obstacles.


Though some people argue that what happened to Meili doesn’t compare to what some survivors have had to endure, because she never actually remembered being beaten and raped (due to a severe brain injury). To me, she is truly a symbol of compassion, strength and resilience for all of us. If not a hero, than pretty darn close!


It’s true that she never had to deal with the flashbacks and body memories that many of us have had to endure. And it’s also true that she received a great deal of support from her family, friends, and employer that many of us never had the good fortune to receive. And God knows she was blessed with a level of medical intervention that many would never be able to afford.


But to me, none of those differences matter. Though I used to compare my abuse to what happened to other survivors, I realized many years ago that drawing those comparisons only served to create separations, instead of drawing us together. While it’s true that Meili didn’t have to navigate the minefield of flashbacks and body memories, I wasn’t required to learn how to eat or dress myself again after my abuse, because fortunately I didn’t suffer a brain injury, unlike Meili.


In any case, I was so inspired by Meili’s keynote address that I ran out and got her book that next day, which was interesting timing since we were headed to Florida on vacation and her memoir isn’t exactly what one would consider a great beach read. Still, her book was compelling and inspiring and made me reflect on my longtime desire, as a survivor of sexual abuse, to use my journey to help others. To find a way to give back to other survivors who are travelling a similar path, to offer others a hand out of the darkness.


One of the parts of Meili’s book that really drew me in was her desire to use what had happened to her for the good of others. In her book, she writes:


“My desire to use my ordeal in a positive way began as a whisper, slowly and without my full attention, as a kind of nagging just below consciousness. I recognized from the beginning, however, that this would mean giving up my anonymity and that thought held me back … Yes, I knew I had something to share. But I couldn’t yet define it. It didn’t feel safe. I wasn’t ready.”


I could so remember feeling that way, when I had come through the worst of my recovery, that I so wanted to make what had happened to me, somehow help others. And, in fact, it was one of the reasons I became a coach. I believed that all the hard work I’d done to heal those childhood wounds could somehow help others.


And it has. As a life transitions coach, I help clients navigate their difficult life transitions with courage, hope and optimism.


Yet, I admittedly haven’t yet found a way to help fellow survivors. And Meili’s book rekindled that desire in me.


I, too, could write a book that could help people who have survived rape or sexual abuse. And I, too, could speak out about what happened to me, to fellow survivors of trauma.


Or maybe there is something else I could do, some still untapped medium that would allow me to offer fellow survivors hope. To help them see that healing and recovery are possible. That life isn’t just about surviving. It’s about thriving.


Trisha Meili has found her way.


For me, the search continues …


Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach, based in Cleveland, OH, and a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com.  Visit her website at http://ellen-brown.com

For more Ellen Brown columns, click 
here.


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

Jul 17

As a coach, I am often reminding my clients to celebrate their successes.  If they don’t take time to consider how far they’ve come, they will constantly be grasping for something bigger and better and will never feel happy or content.

But sometimes, I admittedly forget to follow my own advice. I reach a goal, or I experience an internal shift in attitude, and I don’t notice. Or I think “ho-hum, whatever, time to move onto the next thing.


Case in point. About a month ago, I received an email from a staff member at the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (http://www.clevelandrapecrisis.org/), who was looking for survivors of rape and sexual abuse willing to be interviewed by a TV station. The station wanted to interview them  about how they were being “triggered” by the graphic media coverage of Anthony Sowell (http://www.cleveland.com/anthony-sowell/), who is accused of the murders of 11 women and allegedly raping and attempting to kill a number of others.


Part of the point of the TV segment was to let survivors know that they can reach out to the Rape Crisis Center for help; they don’t have to go it alone.


As a survivor of rape and child sexual abuse, I volunteer to talk to the media if an appropriate topic comes up, as a way to give back to an organization that has helped me transform my life.


But when this opportunity came up, I immediately ruled myself out. I actually heard myself say “Nope, that doesn’t apply to me,” and promptly hit the delete button, sending the message into the trash bin.


In my mind, it didn’t apply to me, because while I was following the Anthony Sowell trial, I wasn’t being triggered. Did I have strong feelings about what I was hearing about how those poor women had been brutally raped and killed? Absolutely. But it was nothing like what I would have experienced many years ago, when I was in the early stages of healing from the sexual violence and abuse that I’d experienced as a young child. Back then, reading graphic descriptions about rape or murder or any kind of violence would have shaken me to the core, causing flashbacks and body memories and nightmares and literally making me sick.


In fact, there was a time when I shuttered myself from anything that smacked of violence –  sexual or otherwise – because I simply couldn’t bear to witness it.


But today while I admittedly don’t seek out violence on TV, in movies or on the news, I don’t avoid it either. I may cover my eyes during a particularly gruesome scene, but I no longer need to bolt from the theater or stay away all together.


Now that’s progress! But instead of celebrating my growth and saying to myself isn’t it great that I’m no longer triggered by violence like this, I was very ho hum when that message from the Rape Crisis Center arrived in my mailbox.


It wasn’t until weeks later – when I was reading another article in The Cleveland Plain Dealer about Anthony Sowell’s trial – that I began to notice this internal shift inside. I don’t remember what caused me to become aware it, but something clicked. Suddenly I realized that I was reading this article and feeling not exactly fine, but grounded enough to endure the gruesome descriptions of what had happened to these poor women. It was a change that had undoubtedly occurred slowly over the years as a result of all the healing I’d done.


Maybe my story isn’t dramatic enough for the 11 o’clock news. Maybe it isn’t what news is made of, but for me, it was a huge headline. It’s a story of courage and strength and healing, and ultimately, a story of acceptance and forgiveness. Mine is a journey that continues today, because while I’m miles away from where I was years ago, there is still more healing to be done.


Taking time to look at how far I’ve come, makes me grateful for all the people and organizations that have helped me along the way and for all the miracles born out of faith.

I tell you all of this because I know that sometimes, when we’re in the middle of a healing journey, it is difficult to see that we are actually making headway. So I am here to remind you that wherever you are on your journey, whether you’re healing from rape or child sexual abuse, or going through a grueling divorce, that you ARE making progress, and that you WILL transcend whatever you are facing.


Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach, based in Cleveland, OH, and a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com.  Visit her website at http://ellen-brown.com

For more Ellen Brown columns, click  here.

 

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always wanted to be invisible after that first time it happened.  I wanted to watch you, but I didn’t want you to see what I was up to.


I remember sitting in my parents’ living room, with my eyes shut down while my breathing became rather shallow. I didn’t want you to hear me either. 


I was always in my Sunday best – patent leather shoes with shiny buckles, poppy necklaces and frilly silly girly dresses that were held up by skinny little legs that sprung to life at the drop of a Broadway tune coming from my father’s HiFi.  But now I wanted to dissolve into one of those Tom Collins drinks that made their way around at my parents’ shindigs. In between all the merriment and my father’s wit that rivaled Oscar Wilde, there he was. Some one had let the devil incarnate in.


Everybody loved him. What was not to like? His laughter was contagious, his dance moves were legendary and he could hold his liquor. But he gave up his soul a long time ago. Maybe he left it at home? What the hell did a five-year-old know?


I did not have a shy bone in my body. I could entertain anyone at anytime. Even if they didn’t ask. I was your girl. I wish the little me could have hung out a little longer. But I understand. You had to go. You had to join the underground. Changed your name and burnt your dance card.  But he kept coming back and searching you out. Who let him in?


This was when adults knew everything. But they never knew this. I think my father would have killed him if he knew. But instead they shared cigarettes and war stories. 


Your lap was like a portal into Hell, and I wonder how many other little girls felt pain when you pushed them down on your lap. Our big tulle and taffeta skirts hid what you did to us.  Such a clever man you were.


But I had no one to tell and had no words to describe what had happened. I just knew that it hurt.

I realized if I stopped dancing, if I stayed with the other kids downstairs, if I never went near him again, then I could be safe. Funny how my five-year-old self became the mother/father figure who saved my own life.


I stuffed that pain down inside just like I used to stuff green peas into my mashed potatoes. Thinking that this crime against my innocence would never resurface. But these memories always do. It’s all a matter of time. For the longest time I did real well in the stuff it and snuff it department.


Until I was 25. 


I was living in San Francisco at the time when I was slammed against the wall with my memory, my hidden truth. My own personal earthquake had disturbed the sleeping beast and its black eye winked and welcomed me back home. It was that subtle.


I remembered what he had done to me.


I am so grateful that this sickening truth came back to me after my very anguished teen years. I can almost guarantee that I would have not survived those years.


I tried to find out if he was dead. I wanted to be afforded the opportunity to sit with him.

I was always told that I could give looks that could kill.


And I would have taken a really long hard look at him. 




Elizabeth Cassidy is a creativity coach for artists and writers and is a faculty member of the Art League of Long Island. Elizabeth showers her clients with support, motivation and dark chocolate when needed.  Her two websites are My Views from the Edge and Coaching for the Creative Soul. She is a national blogger for Skirt! and GalTime and interviews artists and writers for the Glen Cove Patch. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

 To read other columns by Elizabeth Cassidy, click here.

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



Sep 23

Unfortunately, I’ll never again forget my afternoon in hell.


My memory was jolted one evening when my mom called. 


From the moment I heard her voice I could tell she was deeply troubled.


She passed along news of one of my college friends who grew up with me in Minnesota.  It seems that he had filed an allegation of sexual abuse against the long-tenured well-loved pastor of his church.  What was alleged was not a one-time violation, but a pattern of sexual abuse lasting years, and had left him, after college, unable to function normally.


When he brought his charge, the initial church investigation led to the conclusion that there was no evidence to support the charge.  My friend’s response was to unsuccessfully commit suicide, which prompted the call.


My mom simply asked, “Do you think his story is true?”


My reply was simple. 


“Yes.  Because the same pastor sexually abused me when he was my Bible camp counselor in seventh grade.”


That was the moment I remembered my afternoon in hell.


I was 35 years old, and for the last 22 years that memory, which had been long locked away, was suddenly opened.  It grabbed me by the throat, demanded my complete attention, and has never completely let go.


I was suddenly transported to the north woods of Minnesota on a sunny summer day.  Going to camp for a week each summer was not something I enjoyed, as I always vacillated between being homesick and tormented by boys older and stronger than me.


But this week was different.  My counselor was not a high school student unable to control a cabin of junior high boys, but the camp pastor-in-residence for the week.  I was the smallest kid in the cabin, and from the moment I arrived the pastor looked after me.  He invited me to be in the bunk bed above his, and I gladly agreed.  No need to worry about some kid using his feet to push my mattress and propel me into space.


Half-way through the week, the pastor asked me if I’d like do something special after lunch, and I was more than glad to agree.   I loved pastors.  I wanted to be a pastor.  My favorite person in the world was my grandfather, who was a pastor.  I could think of nothing better than getting to do something special with THE camp pastor, who everyone loved.


He told me to come to a particular cabin, one to which I had never been.  When I arrived, he invited me into the empty cabin and closed the door.


He asked me to sit down in a chair across from him and said that he wanted to talk to me about one of God’s greatest gifts to us, sex.  He asked me if I knew anything about it, and in all innocence I said, “I don’t think so.”  All I knew is that it had something to do with men and women making babies, but I was unaware of sex as a gift.


He spoke endearingly about this great gift, and asked me if it would be OK if he could teach me about this great gift. 


He had my complete attention, and he used it.


As I sit here writing 40 years later, I still cannot recall every aspect of what then transpired.  Every few years something jolts a new recollection of the afternoon.  Suffice it to say he gave me a up-close and personal introduction to sexual education.


My only memories are that of an out-of-body experience in which I am watching what is happening to me, but am not feeling it. 


It was no gift from God.


I cannot find words to describe emotions I can’t bear touching.


It was the most painful experience of my life.


It was so painful, that part of my soul immediately went numb, and permits feeling only with the greatest reluctance.


My mom’s phone call reconnected me with hell.  Once that memory was jarred it has never left. 


While there is much I still can’t feel and have no desire to recall, I cannot forget what I have remembered.


I can’t calculate the damage done.


My ability to be intimate, in every sense of the word, was immediately impaired.  This has impacted along with every relationship I have ever had or might have had.


If I deliberately pause to feel my heartbeat, it draws attention to pain and anxiety within that has never been released.


Some ask me, “could one afternoon have truly had impacted me so adversely?”


As hard as it is for believe, the answer is yes. 


Those of us who are part of the most unwanted of all fraternities are impacted in ways that cannot be considered coincidence. 


When a child submits willingly to an authority figure they trust, they do not have the ethical maturity to comprehend what has transpired.  When we think about it, we believe that somehow it was our fault.  We permitted it.  We made ourselves available.


We feel dirty and have no conception of clean.


We don’t tell anyone because we don’t know what to say.


Yet we feel deep guilt that because we didn’t tell anyone, others were victimized.


And there is so much more that I do not understand.


Yet, I do understand how profoundly that pastor hurt me, and all the more so, my friend who went to his church.


I can sympathize with the more than 200 of us who were caught in the devil’s lair.


I used to be harshly judgmental of people who could not understand a universe in which Hitler doesn’t end up in hell.  No more.


I believe in God.  I believe in love.  I believe in forgiveness.  And I believe in hell.  With all my heart.

  

Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking relationship beyond the age of Individualism.”  He is the Richard L. Bready Chair of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.  He serves as pastor of Emmanuel Covenant Church in Nashua, NH and is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 



Read other columns by Dale Kuehne here

 

 ©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


 

A therapist asked me once what my safest space was from childhood. My answer was not my home or my school or even my youth group – it was my summer camp, where the days were long, the cabin was all girls, and the boys only entered by invitation.


There was something pure about my camping experience – like Brigadoon; it existed outside the boundaries of “real-life.” I loved it there. Nestled in the comfort of a crowd most of the time, I could walk the roads at night alone and not feel threatened. I was invincible. I was protected and safe.


I was fortunate, for sure. Doubtless many women’s most terrifying sexual exploitations trace back to their days at a camp somewhere. Like Kristie McNichol and Tatum O’Neil in 1980, pressured to compete with their virginity in “Little Darlings,” camp is not inherently a safe space.  


In fact, for women, a truly safe space is hard to find. As a traveler in a woman’s body, we are a walking target wherever we go, regardless of our age. I was too young to understand this in my childhood as I navigated what I now know was an abusive situation. I only knew, then, that at camp I felt completely safe, in my cabin of girls.  After puberty, no place ever felt that way again.


As I became aware of my sexuality, I saw the gifts and risks inherent in wearing the body I had at 13. The gifts were easy – I could entice, influence and manipulate, and society encouraged me to use womanly wiles in that way. The risks came from “manning” the female form, objectified by the outside world, lacking confidence in my own internal struggle. That was more than 30 years ago. While (thankfully) my understanding of the gifts of my body has certainly changed, the risks remain ever-present, a constant if unwelcome companion on a woman’s journey.


To explore our sexuality is to be vulnerable, and to risk being wounded, both emotionally and physically. I had many “encounters” in my early years of sexuality that blurred the already muddied border between inappropriate and abusive. The one that sticks with me the most –nearly 35 years later – was, perhaps, the most innocent of them all. It leaves me wondering still, all these years later: when does teenage sexual curiosity and experimentation cross the line from inappropriate suggestion to abuse?


In eighth grade I was physically a fully developed young woman, and I started to look for outlets for my sexuality. I wasn’t dating, yet, when a ninth grade boy (might as well have been a senior he seemed so old and mature) began to flirt with me. I’m sure I encouraged him. I remember a particular conversation on the telephone (remember the telephone as a teen, cord wrapped around your finger as you paced in a three-foot area, connected to the wall by a giant rottini noodle?) I was wearing a long, pale blue, silky, quilted “housecoat,” standing in the kitchen next to a beige laminate kitchen table, my face flushed as I extended myself into a conversation with a supposedly “safe” stranger (he went to my school, right?!) about the details of playing the bases. 


We arranged to meet at the movies the next day, and even discussed what I should wear to feel most comfortable. It was premeditated petting.


The day was rainy and gross. The other kids I thought were going to the movie were not there. I suppose the mall must have been crowded, but all I can tell you for sure that the stairwells were quite empty. Just me, the ninth grade boy, and his right hand.


I don’t remember his name. I don’t know what movie we were to see. I do remember feeling dirty, and used, and scared, and shameful. I never told a soul about my encounter with this boy – the ninth grader who never spoke to me again. He’d gotten what he wanted. But hadn’t I wanted it, too?


I have often pondered whether it ‘qualifies’ as abuse if there is mutuality involved. I was clearly interested in experimentation, so was he really to blame for my shame? Sure, he probably manipulated me and the situation, but I was a willing participant… that is, until he crossed the boundary of my comfort, and I wanted to cry, and I didn’t know what to do, and I did nothing.


For the next several years I reached out to fill the void, toying with promiscuity, throwing myself into shallow relationships, trying to feel wanted, loved, worthwhile—something! Often, I found myself in situations I wasn’t ready to handle.


In college I became a rape crisis counselor and learned about the psychology of rape, and anger, and control. I learned how typical it is for women to do nothing, and then to blame themselves for it later. I understood it all too well.


As a kid, I had been conditioned to beware of crazy men lurking in bushes. We were taught to fear strangers, solitude and the dark. Sexual abuse was “out there” in the shadows, violent and menacing. It was an external force to be feared.


But what of the abuse that was so much closer to home? What of the vast majority of sexual predators, those who actually live with us in our daily lives, compounding abuse by their very presence in our kitchens, living rooms and yearbooks? Abusers are usually not strangers. And sometimes, we stand with them on that fine line between inappropriate and abusive, unclear ourselves as to where that line is drawn.


With a mature understanding of the nature of sexual abuse, I look back on my experiences and recognize the moments that, while moderately consensual, still managed to cross a fundamental comfort line. Certainly there’s a distinction to be made between sexual misconduct and sexual abuse. In my youth I encountered both – the former left me feeling dirty and ashamed, the latter, violated. Both have had their impact.


There is no doubt in my mind that abusers are not always aware of their abuse, as most people are unaware of their privilege of class and race. It’s the invisible privilege of power. That is probably even more the case when there is familiarity in the mix, and that makes it all the more challenging for the abused to get clarity about the nature of the experience.


As women, each of us must come to terms in our own way with surviving in a world in which our bodies are both a gift and a liability. We are taught to flaunt and celebrate them, and to hide them and hold them accountable. Our bodies are a wonderland, and they are a minefield. This conflict throws up a volley of confusion for all of us, male and female alike.


So, we women are captive to our bodies, caught in a contradictory culture, dancing on that invisible line between inappropriate (Clarence Thomas?) and abusive. Women continue to be victimized in the most vulnerable way possible, an outward manifestation of men’s challenges with rage and control. But we are also compromised by our own confusion. 


As we believe in ourselves, and the beauty of our bodies, and the confidence of our sexuality, we will teach our daughters to stand firmly on one side of the line, highlighting it clearly so that no one steps over it by accident.

 

Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a Life, Leadership and Parenting Coach and the founder of Touchstone Coaching and ImpactADHD™. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.


Read more articles by Elaine Taylor-Klaus here.

 

 ©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Over the course of my 35 years in practice I have seen a distinct connection between sexual abuse and disordered eating in my clients. This is not to say that all people with eating disorders have abuse history, nor do all people with abuse histories have eating disorders.  But food, among other substances like drugs and alcohol, is an easy and convenient vehicle for stuffing down painful emotions that are prevalent in the survivor’s psyche as well as giving the individual a sense of control or mastery over his/her body where they previously had none.

 

According to Mary Anne Cohen, CSW, Director of the The New York Center for Eating Disorders, “The connection between sexual abuse and developing an eating disorder is guilt, shame, anesthesia, self-punishment, soothing, comfort and rage.”

 

Sexual abuse can have many different ways of impacting one’s eating habits and body image.  With sexual abuse so severely violating one’s boundaries, people find great difficulty in identifying such things as true physical hunger, comfortable satisfied or fullness, sexual feelings, fatigue, and different emotional states.  People will turn to food as a coping strategy to deal with a wide range of disturbing feelings as a way of soothing and comforting their distress. 

 

The use of food serves multiple purposes for many sexual abuse survivors.  Apart from the comfort food brings, it is also a way of controlling the body.  I have treated clients who starve themselves to deny their sexuality as well as others who gain weight to protect themselves from intimacy and thereby, render themselves unattractive.  Others are caught in the never ending cycle of dieting, bingeing, purging, or starving as a means to create the “perfect” body in order to feel empowered, in control, and invulnerable.  In fact, they feel just the opposite.

 

Secrecy also plays a role in the survivor’s psyche.  Depending upon the circumstances of the abuse, the abuser may have threatened the victim or bribed him or her “not to tell.”  There is a great deal of shame and guilt that one can feel as a result of the abuse.  Furthermore, many survivors internalize a variety of negative beliefs about themselves such as “It was my fault this happened.” “I’m a bad person.”  “I am unworthy of good things happening to me,” and “I deserve to be punished.”

 

So how does one emerge WHOLE when so much of the inner self has been damaged, violated, and broken?

 

The case of Andrea is one of bravery, resilience, and illustrative of the fact that one cannot only survive sexual abuse but can also thrive and be whole again.  Andrea first came to see me at 19 years old, a student at a local university.  A beautiful, bright, engaging young woman with dreams of becoming an actress, she struggled with food over the years, starving herself in search of the perfect body.  At the point that she came to see me, she was bingeing, starving, over exercising, and occasionally using laxatives, all in an attempt to control her body. 

 

An alcoholic, disconnected mother and a workaholic, absent father, complicated her family history.  Her oldest sister, whom she adored and looked up to, was left to take care of Andrea and her two younger sisters.  Receiving no love and attention from her home environment, Andrea sought comfort in playing with the local neighborhood boys.  Andrea’s sister resented having the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings and was physically and emotionally abusive to them.  As a result, Andrea spent more and more time outdoors and began to be sexually abused by the boys in the neighborhood by the age of six. 

 

When Andrea finally gave voice to her abuse story in our session, something she had held in for 13 years, she began her journey toward healing.  She had never dared tell anyone her story.  The boys had threatened to hurt her if she did.  She never felt her mother was emotionally available, her father was unapproachable and working all the time, and her sister would only hit her and reinforce that it was her fault. 

 

So she felt alone, abandoned, and full of guilt and shame.  In addition, she divulged another truth that she felt was the most shameful—that it felt good and she thought the boys loved her; they treated her special.

 

As Andrea’s path to healing unfolded, we began to work on identifying and sitting with uncomfortable emotions as well as recognizing the negative beliefs she had about herself. She began to keep a journal to chronicle her thoughts and feelings.  Through journaling she realized that she had held herself responsible for the abuse.  She viewed herself as a “bad person” who needed to be punished causing her to want to starve herself or binge and purge either by over exercising or by using laxatives. 

 

Furthermore, having always been a people pleaser, she realized that she was using this as a strategy for getting love and attention.  However, people pleasing had instead robbed her of the ability to know what she wanted and needed.  She either focused on the needs of others, or did things she should do, not what she wanted to do.  I gave her homework assignments noting and practicing taking care of her own needs and identifying her own wants.

 

Since journaling was so useful to her, I began to have her keep a food journal and trained her to eat mindfully.  As she gradually began to recognize and decode her body’s hunger language, she realized that she was bingeing to stuff down her feelings of shame and guilt, to quell her anxieties, and to protect herself from the strong sexual feelings she had for her boyfriend. 

 

This was the first of many crucial steps in her learning to differentiate between her emotions and her feelings of hunger.  The abuse had caused her to misread her emotional and physical signals.

 

We worked through her feelings of guilt and shame and the negative beliefs she held.  Her deeply held shame about feeling the pleasure during the abuse, disappeared as I explained that it was natural for her body to feel pleasure when it was stimulated and that she was not a bad or her body wasn’t betraying her. It was her body’s natural response.  This also led to a lot of anger work toward her parents for not being “available” emotionally and physically and for not protecting her from the her sister or the neighborhood boys.

 

As time went on she felt more and more empowered using her voice to speak about her needs and feelings instead of stuffing them down.  She was able to tolerate difficult feelings and felt less fearful sexually.

 

 A big turning point though, was when Andrea told her boyfriend her abuse story.  As a result, she felt safe being intimate with him and was willing to be open about what forms of sexual touch she felt comfortable with and what she didn’t.  Their intimacy improved.

 

Twenty years later, I received a call from Andrea.  She was happily married to the man who was her boyfriend at the time, had a peaceful relationship with food and her body, and had a successful career as a teacher.  She realized that acting was her mother’s dream, not HERS!

 

She had truly found her voice, her self, and became whole again.

Most of all, she had become strong in the broken places.

 

Allyn St. Lifer has been a therapist in private practice for over 30 years and specializes in teaching clients mindful eating to determine physical hunger and the point of satisfaction.  She is the founder and director of Slimworks, a mind/body, non-diet approach for managing weight and transforming one’s relationship with food, body and self.  To find out more about Allyn, please visit her website: www.slimworks.com.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 

 

Read other Allyn St. Lifer columns here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Sep 19

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, I’ve never been one to preach forgiveness. I remember running into some of those proverbial “preachers” early on in my recovery who told me “if you want to heal, you have to forgive.” And I remember thinking “who are YOU to tell me what to do?” Or “why SHOULD I forgive my mother and the other people who betrayed me when I was young? They don’t deserve my forgiveness. Besides, some things are unforgiveable.” Or so I thought …


Today, I have an entirely different take on forgiveness. Though I still believe forgiveness, like anything else, is a personal choice, I’m a big believer in the power of forgiveness. Not only does it allow us to release anger and resentment, which is good for our emotional and physical well being, but it also helps set us free, making us less burdened and bound by our past. As a result, we have more energy to use in our lives today.


As for me, I know I’d be a totally different person had I NOT decided to forgive my mom for the emotional, physical and sexual abuse she inflicted upon me.


I know that because I once WAS that other person. Bitter and angry. Always angling for a fight. Constantly on guard against people who might betray me.


The funny thing is that way back I couldn’t see that anger and bitterness in myself. But I COULD spot it in others, especially in some survivor friends I met early on in my healing journey. I remember one conversation vividly. We were sitting around in someone’s living room talking, and when the topic of forgiveness came up, a few of them exploded into fits of hysterical laughter. “Forgiveness? There is no way in hell I’ll ever forgive my father for what he did,” I remember one friend saying. “I hope he rots in hell, if there is such a thing.”


If there were ever a defining moment, that was it. That incident made me realize that something had to change. Because I didn’t want to be sitting around with my friends in my 60s and 70s, shriveled up like a bitter prune, defending my right to stay angry with my mom. Or, worse yet, blaming her for the way my life had turned out.


There was no question my mother had hurt me, and what she’d done was brutal and just plain wrong. But marinating in my anger and bitterness wasn’t hurting her; it was hurting me. I was convinced that if I didn’t do something to let go of this anger (and the sooner the better!) it would eat away at me until I was like an old and holey car held together by rust.


But the problem was that I wasn’t sure how to go about forgiving her. I’d heard about “forgiveness workshops,” where you swung through the doors an angry bitter person and emerged at the end of the day light and free and forgiving. But they always seemed too magical. Too easy. Seemed too much like snake oil to me.


As it turned out, it took me years to forgive my mom. In fact, I can’t exactly tell you when that happy day came. Looking back on the process, I think it happened little by little, over time. It was sort of like sloughing off dead layers of skin that were no longer serving me. Until one day, I no longer felt a sense of anger and bitterness when I thought about my Mother.


Though I don’t pretend to be an expert on forgiveness, having forgiven my mom for all the abuse she inflicted on me, here’s what I know, or perhaps more accurately, this is what worked for me:


Forgiveness is for me, not for “them” – When the topic of forgiveness first came up in the context of being abused as a child, I thought that forgiveness was about letting my mom and the other people who had hurt me off the proverbial “hook.” And there are certainly plenty of religious leaders who will tell you that that is what forgiveness is all about.


But over time, I realized that forgiveness was about me, not about them. I was forgiving the people who had hurt me years ago so that I could let go of the anger and bitterness and feel less constrained in my life. Though I forgave them, I didn’t condone their actions. What they did was wrong and hurt me beyond measure. But staying angry didn’t change what happened. And it didn’t punish them. It punished me.


Forgiveness is a process that requires us to feel our feelings – As I mentioned earlier, forgiveness, in my experience, is a process, not a one-time event that happens at a day-long workshop. While a workshop may help you begin the process, forgiveness takes time and effort. Most importantly, it requires us to feel our feelings in all their colors and permutations. For me, that meant, feeling angry at my mom for what she did and grieving my losses. And feeling sad about having a mom who abused me and betrayed me. The process was painful and prolonged, though it was well worth it.


It may help to imagine what circumstances led to your abuse – I’ll just say from the get-go that this is something I needed to do to forgive my mom, but it may not be something YOU have to do. For me, it was helpful to try and understand why my mom abused me.


For example, I’d heard that her father – my grandfather – whom I’d never met – had abused my mom physically, because my aunt had admitted that much. And I knew that he was an angry, aggressive person. So, was it possible that he had abused my mom in the same way she abused me? I may never know, because my mom died more than a year ago, and when she was still alive, she refused to talk about her relationship with him. But I knew from my aunt that my grandfather was a volatile person. And that he drank alcohol to excess and may have been an alcoholic.


So making the leap to imagine that perhaps he’d abused her like she abused me, wasn’t such a hard leap to make. I can’t say that I ever came up with a definitive answer about why my mom hurt me. But I pieced together a theory that was plausible. Though nothing will ever justify my mother’s actions, doing this “research” and trying to understand my mother helped me come to terms with my abuse and ultimately allowed me to forgive her and have sympathy for her.


Having sympathy for her was never a goal; it was just a natural extension of the forgiveness process, for me. I have some friends who are horrified that I felt sympathy for my mom after what she’d done to me. But as far as I was concerned, being able to experience that sympathy was a blessing that demonstrated my capacity for compassion.


You don’t need to forget to forgive – Though many people insist that we need to forgive AND forget, I, personally don’t agree. In fact, I strongly disagree. It is not that I WON’T forget, but I wonder, what’s the point in doing so? For 35 years or so I forgot that I’d been abused. I repressed the memories, and they went underground, until the memories emerged in my late 30s, but the feelings remained and ran my life … Today it is hard to imagine forgetting what happened. And I wonder why I would even need to do so. If I’ve forgiven my mom and the other people who hurt me, and there is no emotional charge around what happened, what would be the sense in forgetting?


Forgiveness and reconciliation are not synonymous – Even after I forgave my mom, if not to her face then certainly in my own mind, there were people in my life who would say “You STILL don’t talk to your mother, REALLY?” To be fair, many of these people didn’t know the whole story. They didn’t know what my mom had done to me, and that she’d never responded to a letter I’d sent to her, itemizing her betrayals and demanding that she apologize.


So when they put their seemingly innocent question out there, I just let it hang in the breeze. I knew what was best for me. I had no plans to reconcile with my mom. I’d forgiven her, yes. But she was still the same angry, verbally abusive person she’d always been, forever dousing whoever crossed her path with her venomous brew. I was an adult now, not a child. And I had no interest in putting myself in harm’s way again. Ironically, I DID end up reconciling with her at the end of her life and finally forgave her to her face – not because I felt obligated to do so – but because I wanted to – but that’s another post for another time. My point is that it’s possible to forgive someone who’s abused you without reconciling with that person. It’s entirely up to you.


What are your thoughts about forgiving the “unforgiveable?” I’d love to hear what you have to say. Please leave a comment here on ShareWIK.com.

 

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach, based in Cleveland, OH, and a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com.  Visit her website at http://ellen-brown.com

 

For more Ellen Brown columns, click  here.  

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

 

 

 

Sexual abuse shatters and disrupts the core of a person’s sense of safety, self and worth.  The damage inflicted can influence every aspect of a person’s existence. Because sexual abuse attacks the body and soul of the victim, it can cause shame, depression, disconnection from one’s own body, distrust in others, tumultuous relationships, addiction and eating disorders.   


At the same time, human beings are amazingly resilient.  Children who are abused by the same person in the same ways may grow up and turn out very differently.  An abuse survivor may into a drug addict or she may turn into Oprah Winfrey. 


Many variables determine the course of one’s life after sexual abuse.  How a victim copes may depend upon the relationship to the abuser, the frequency of the abuse, the nature of the abuse (from inappropriate touching to penetration), the stage of development of the victim, and whether physical force was used or other insidious forms of emotional manipulation. 


In my practice, I often work with adults who experienced sexual abuse as children or teens.  They typically show up for help dealing with other problems: depression, eating disorders, marital infidelity, addiction or trust issues.  It can take months or even years before an abuse history is uncovered.   When the story does come out, it is not uncommon to hear that the adults in their lives handled things worse than poorly.  In fact, their response to the abuse often compounded and deepened the damage.


·      Sherri’s mother not only didn’t believe her when she said that her step-father had molested her; her mother stayed married to him. “I had to just shut up and deal with it if I wanted to be part of the family.”


·      When Catherine’s mother discovered that Catherine had been abused by an older cousin, she beat her daughter for “bringing shame on the family.” At the time Catherine was seven years old.


·      Ashley’s mother was well aware that her husband was raping their daughters.  Even after he’d been incarcerated multiple times for these crimes, her mother continued to take him back, setting up Ashley and her sisters for more abuse.  


These stories may seem extreme, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.  Because of their family members’ denial, narcissism, or mental health issues, these women were shown not only that the abuse didn’t matter but that THEY didn’t matter.  It’s no wonder that they have suffered from poor self-image, tumultuous relationships, addictions, self-harm and eating disorders.  


These days we know more about brain development, reaction to trauma and ways to help victims of abuse recover. We are better equipped to shore up the resilience of a victim and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome in their life, if we handle things correctly.  


In the case where adults discover that a child or teen has been abused, there are several important steps that may help ensure the best possible result for the victim: 


1.    Adults need to believe the child who shares a story of abuse


2.    The adult must protect the child from any future incidents of abuse by physically removing the perpetrator from the child’s life and/or taking legal action


3.    The victim must be told (sometimes over and over) that in NO WAY was the abuse their fault and that it was 100 percent the perpetrator’s fault (despite what the abuser may have told her).


4.    The child needs permission to experience and express his or her feelings about the abuse (through crying, play therapy, art, poetry, journaling, self-defense, etc.).  The adults’ job is to help the child learn healthy and appropriate ways to do this.  


5.    While making sure the child does not feel at fault, adults should help the victim develop a safety plan in order to empower him/her to feel safer in the future.


6.    The victim must be taught healthy ways to self-soothe (positive self-talk, relaxation, meditation, etc.) so she or he does not turn to addictive behaviors for comfort.


Even those survivors whose family members took all the WRONG steps can still heal as adults.  Typically the path from victim to thriver involves a therapeutic intervention.  An excellent book that outlines the path of healing is Dr. Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery.  Herman describes a number of stages in the therapeutic process. 


Here is a brief overview: 


·      Healing Relationship: Since sexual abuse is a breach that occurs within a relationship, healing from the trauma must occur within a relationship (i.e. you can’t go off by yourself and “fix” your abuse!).  The unique boundaries of a therapeutic relationship (confidentiality, a predictable time and place, a focus on the client’s needs) can make it an ideal place for the survivor to start to heal. 


·      Safety: A client who has been abused might “test” the safety of the therapeutic relationship by pushing the boundaries.  If the therapist consistently holds onto the boundaries in a loving but firm way (unlike their parents who may have had rigid, harsh or no boundaries) then the client will start to feel safe.  They will need to believe that the therapist can “handle” their feelings without rejecting, dismissing or humiliating her.  This takes time.  Be patient. 

          

·  Remembrance and Mourning: When the safety of the relationship has been established (which may require months or years) then the client may go into more details about their story.  They may tell stories from their life that they never thought they would share. Breaking the silence and telling the entire story is very empowering, especially if the perpetrator or the family imposed silence.  Long-buried feelings of shame, sadness and anger may be felt and expressed for the first time.  The therapist can help the client accept these feelings and start to look on the child who experienced the abuse with more compassion. Grieving the childhood that they wished they’d experienced is often part of the process. 


· Reconnection: As the stories are told, feelings released and coping skills developed, the client will start to choose, create and build healthier relationships outside of the therapy office.


·  Commonality: The survivor will start to feel less alienated from the rest of the world, and they’ll experience greater connection to self, others and the web of life. 


Through this process, people can free themselves from the grip of their abuser and live a life with new meaning and purpose. They can integrate the story of abuse into the rest of their life story and put it in its proper perspective.


This therapeutic process can allow them to tap a surprising reserve of energy-- energy which used to be used repressing and numbing the memories and the pain.  Many who go through this recovery process discover creativity, productivity, generosity and even gratitude that they have never experienced before.



Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.

 

More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Nov 19

The sexual molestation scandal at Penn State is not about football, but about sexual predators and their victims.  President Obama underscored this when he stated that this incident points to a broader issue about protecting our children. Precisely. The Penn State scandal presents our nation with yet another opportunity to protect our children from sexual predators, and if we don’t, next time the blame is on us.


I was one of more than 200 children molested in one of the largest Protestant clergy sex abuse scandals that emerged in the 1990’s. This Penn State incident is about those victims.  It is also about those of us who can hardly bear to listen or read the news reports without reliving our own afternoon in hell.


I appreciate that an increasing number of coaches and media commentators are focused on care for the victims.  But what is clear from the news commentary is that virtually no one understands how devastating sexual abuse impacts children.  How seriously did a one-time incident damage me?  So deeply that 35 years later I still cannot allow myself to fully explore its impact on my life, but I can still see its impact on the faces of those I try to love.


The sexual molestation of a child is criminal act of the highest order.  I would prefer being physically tortured and dismembered to being raped.


It would be easy in the days to come to for our nation to watch this sordid tale unfold with a voyeuristic fascination and self-righteous indignation. We will condemn the people involved and express shock and outrage that this occurred at all.


Let me express shock and outrage that we live in a culture that is surprised this occurred.  Sexual abuse is a silent epidemic in our country. Whatever statistic you read about the numbers and percentages of people abused, it is higher; much higher.  We victims are so shamed by our experience that we rarely come forward.  Indeed the predators pick on us because they know enough about child psychology to know whom they can victimize without risking a subsequent accusation.


There are many things we can do limit the number of future victims, but let me start with four.  First, we need to be educated on the psychological profile of predators so that we can look out for our children.  Not just anyone molests children.  We can become smart about the ways of the predator world, and look out for everyone’s child.


Second, we need to adopt and enforce institutional guidelines that do not allow children to be alone with an adult without parental permission. 


Third, we need to become serious about eradicating pornography from our lives and nation.  Overwhelming evidence exists that links child pornography to predators.  Additionally, those who get into porn casually, find themselves drawn in deeper and darker.  Unchecked porn addiction leads to the unmentionable.


For some reason very few Americans are aware that porn is illegal.  The reason for this may be that the Justice Department hasn’t seriously prosecuted the porn industry since the Clinton Administration.  We can legally get rid of this repugnant stuff that harms both the actors as well as the users, if we only have the political will.


Finally, we ought to do in the U.S. what Prime Minister David Cameron just proposed in the UK, -- change the Internet to an opt-in system.  Rather than trying to limit our exposure to porn by filters that can’t keep up with the multiple sites the porn industry erects daily, we have the technological capacity to take control of the Internet and what sites we and our children access.


Nothing I’ve proposed is hard, but there is a great reluctance to curb the availability of pornography.  Why?  I believe it is because it is so widely used and sex has become so casual that we have allowed ourselves to be seduced by the idea that outside of child porn, it is “just sex.”  Pornography has manipulated us into thinking it is “just sex.”


Try telling that to the boy who has been molested by someone who became addicted to porn.  Try telling it to a young woman who was pimped into the porn industry and after 18 months is discarded because she is so deeply scared no amount of plastic surgery can help her.  Try telling it to the 70 percent of our children who have seen hardcore pornography by the age of 14, and who act accordingly.


We can vilify Joe Paterno and the Penn State administration, just as we vilified Cardinal Law of Boston.  If we truly care about victims, we can take real steps to stop the abuse.  If we don’t, next time we should vilify ourselves.

 

 

Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking relationship beyond the age of Individualism.”  He is the Richard L. Bready Chair of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College and is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 

 

Read other columns by Rev. Dale Kuehne here. 

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Dec 11

I keep thinking about the heretofore anonymous suffering of the boys—now men—who live still in the legal and social shadows of the crimes allegedly committed upon them by “mentoring” role models at more than one major university. 


“Penn State” has become another metaphor for heinous pedophiliac misconduct; we can hardly imagine the actual felonies being inflicted on lads drawn into the steam, showers, and darkness of truly ailing men living in delusional fiefdoms of impunity.   

                                                                                                          

When the victims were impressionable boys, they were profoundly violated.  Now as men, they remain permanently scarred and they relive the horror every time they think.


What happened to me years ago, in my sophomore year of college, carries barely of trace of comparison—and can hardly be referenced as against the egregiousness of the now high-profile Penn State / Syracuse repulsions. 


I was a member of a semi-professional acting troupe in a rather well-known local theater.  The director was a jovial, experienced man of the stage, a former Broadway journeyman with a significant regional following.  He encouraged me and took a hearty interest in my work, my problems and my life in general. 


When my father suddenly took ill during that period, Mr. Berwick (not his real name) was—I thought at the time—exceptionally sympathetic and indulgent.  He took me aside often, his hands resting firmly on my back and shoulders, and encouraged me to pour my fears out.  After rehearsals, he’d invite me to long interludes of counseling and advice.   Before long, we’d be talking about many things other than my father. 


Mr. Berwick, so worldly, so funny, so well-connected with theater personas (he claimed) that he could connect me with, soon led me into discourses about music, books, careers, love, and my very sexuality.


It was a difficult and transformative period of my youth and I naively believed that my teacher was trying to shepherd me with insight and regale me with a vision of existence that seductively drew me out of what was a contented, but basically myopic immigrant existence at home with beleaguered parents and my much younger siblings.


One night, he suddenly produced a selection of fine slacks and fashionable sport coats that he suggested I try on.  “You dress rather plainly,” he said.  “I’d love to see a pleasing young man like you decked out in clothing that is appropriate to your elegant looks.”  (This was flattery, not fact.  It was also, I suddenly realized, sick.)


“Shall I take them home to try them on, Mr. Berwick?”  I asked, my sensitivity to his motives quietly choking my heart and provoking not a little bit of fear in me.  “Oh no, no, Ben,” he responded, offering me a smile and a wink that I still sometimes see in nightmares.  “Let me watch you as you check out this new wardrobe.”


I left the clothing and any serious career in the theater behind, running out the door in shame and disgust. 


And to this day, I despise that little part of me that stopped me from reporting my gruesome teacher—whom I had trusted with too many secrets.

  

Ben Kamin is one of America's best known rabbis, a multicultural spiritualist, NYT Op-ed contributor and author of seven books, including his latest, "NOTHING LIKE SUNSHINE: A Story in the Aftermath of the MLK Assassination."  He is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

 

More Ben Kamin articles, click here 

 

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Why did I pick this article on being sexually abused?

 

I am known as a humorist so this would not be a subject I would visit much less write about. When the subject on abuse was featured on ShareWIK, I felt it was my time to reveal what had happened to me – not what defines me as a person, but what a neighbor had done to me when I was five years old.

 

I remembered being asked if I had been sexually abused about 20 years ago by a friend who was a social worker and I assured her, along with my best friend, that I had not. I lied, but I did it to protect me. I hate labels and did not want to be that little girl who suffered being abused. And what the hell in my personality made her think I was abused? Sadly, she passed before I could ask her.

 

When the piece was published I heard from so many women who emailed me. They still were not ready to share or talk about what happened to them publicly, but they thanked me for giving them a voice. That was so powerful. We can go on after something this dastardly befalls us. It happened to us. It does not define us. We need to embrace that. I am much more than that. We all are. Don’t give them your power.


Dancing with the Devil who lived down the street. This predator always liked to lead.

 

I always wanted to be invisible after that first time it happened.  I wanted to watch you, but I didn’t want you to see what I was up to.

 

I remember sitting in my parents’ living room, with my eyes shut down while my breathing became rather shallow. I didn’t want you to hear me either.  

 

I was always in my Sunday best – patent leather shoes with shiny buckles, poppy necklaces and frilly silly girly dresses that were held up by skinny little legs that sprung to life at the drop of a Broadway tune coming from my father’s HiFi. But now I wanted to dissolve into one of those Tom Collins drinks that made their way around at my parents’ shindigs. In between all the merriment and my father’s wit that rivaled Oscar Wilde, there he was. Some one had let the devil incarnate in.

 

Everybody loved him. What was not to like? His laughter was contagious, his dance moves were legendary and he could hold his liquor. But he gave up his soul a long time ago. Maybe he left it at home? What the hell did a five-year-old know?

 

I did not have a shy bone in my body. I could entertain anyone at anytime. Even if they didn’t ask. I was your girl. I wish the little me could have hung out a little longer. But I understand. You had to go. You had to join the underground. Changed your name and burnt your dance card.  But he kept coming back and searched you out. Who let him in?

 

This was when adults knew everything. But they never knew this. I think my father would have killed him if he knew. But instead they shared cigarettes and war stories. 

 

Your lap was like a portal into Hell, and I wonder how many other little girls felt pain when you pushed them down on your lap. Our big tulle and taffeta skirts hid what you did to us.  Such a clever man you were.

 

But I had no one to tell and had no words to describe what had happened. I just knew that it hurt.

 

I realized if I stopped dancing, if I stayed with the other kids downstairs, if I never went near him again, then I could be safe. Funny how my five-year-old self became the mother/father figure who saved my own life.

 

I stuffed that pain down inside just like I used to stuff green peas into my mashed potatoes. Thinking that this crime against my innocence would never resurface. But these memories always do. It’s all a matter of time. For the longest time I did real well in the stuff it and snuff it department.

 

Until I was 25. 

 

I was living in San Francisco at the time when I was slammed against the wall with my memory, my hidden truth. My own personal earthquake had disturbed the sleeping beast and its black eye winked and welcomed me back home. It was that subtle.

 

I remembered what he had done to me.

 

I am so grateful that this sickening truth came back to me after my very anguished teen years. I can almost guarantee that I would have not survived those years.

 

I tried to find out if he was dead. I wanted to be afforded the opportunity to sit with him.

 

I was always told that I could give looks that could kill.

 

And I would have taken a really long hard look at him.

 

I recently found out that my abuser died in 2005. The only feeling I had was that he would never abuse a little girl ever again.


Elizabeth Cassidy is a creativity coach for artists and writers and is a faculty member of the Art League of Long Island. Elizabeth showers her clients with support, motivation and dark chocolate when needed.  Her two websites are My Views from the Edge and Coaching for the Creative Soul. She is a national blogger for Skirt! and GalTime and interviews artists and writers for the Glen Cove Patch. She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

 Please visit my site: My Views From The Edge

You can become a fan of mine on Facebook at:  elizabeth cassidy Views from the Edge with a Slice of Reality

Follow me on Twitter at: EdgyCoach 

To read other columns by Elizabeth Cassidy, click here.

©2012  ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Aug 06

It’s definitely a dangerous world. Much more dangerous than the world I grew up in. But it’s not just international or religious terrorism, although that’s what gets the most attention.


Every day, we hear about another murder – or multiple murders, most recently in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater, or now south of Milwaukee in a Sikh temple. On the fringes of the political debate, we hear some talk about gun control. Statistics comparing the U.S. to other countries as far as killings with guns are paraded in the headlines of the newspapers and on our TV screens.


Then there are also the headline-grabbing stories of pedophiles.


But wait! Many of those stories are not about recent events. Whether the perpetrators were football coaches or priests, as the stories unfold, we learn that their crimes against children had been going on for years, even decades. We just didn’t know about these youth and the assaults on them. Sexual abuse wasn’t reported or even talked about when I was growing up.


That doesn’t mean sexual predators haven’t been around forever.


Sometimes the media reminds us that as much as we worry about the stranger in the mall, or the guy lurking in an old, beat-up car near a school bus stop, the predators are usually someone the children know.


I know. I was sexually abused by a family member when I was about 12 years old. It was, obviously, distressing, but I didn’t mention it to my parents for years. I was in high school when I finally told them. Their first question was whether I had dreamed it or not. I told them, truthfully, that I had asked myself the same question. 


But really, how could I have dreamed something like that as a child? I remember details that I couldn’t have imagined as a protected child in the mid-60s.


Fortunately, my parents believed me. They knew how the situation could have happened and they knew the family member. Again, fortunately for me, once I shared this traumatic event with my parents, I pretty much put it out of my mind. And, psychologists might argue with me, but I don’t think the horrendous experience marred me for life.


But I was reminded of the incident recently when I heard about an elementary school student whom I know. I am going to be very vague about the particulars, but again, the predator was someone known to the child, and to the parents. This child, too, didn’t tell anyone right away. Only when the child started having emotional issues did the truth come out.


So what can we learn from this? I don’t think it’s the fact that the world is dangerous especially for innocent, vulnerable children. It always has been, and it probably always will be. Instead, I think parents and teachers need to worry more about the fact that children are reluctant to tell anyone about these sexual attacks. They are embarrassed or feel responsible or feel dirty; I’m not sure of the reason why I didn’t say anything for years. 


I’m not a professional therapist by any means. Nor am I a parent. But somehow I believe that disgusting, uncomfortable topics of conversation should not be ignored or avoided. I understand that parents feel they are protecting their children from the ugliness of the world, but I wonder if they are really protecting themselves from having these difficult conversations. Somehow adults must establish a trust, openness, an acceptance, willingness and an ability to convey all of that to our children. The children must believe that they can share their experiences, good and bad, with someone immediately. Only then might we minimize the chances that more children are abused.


Jan Jaben-Eilon is a long-time journalist who has written for The New York Times, Business Week, the International Herald Tribune, the Jerusalem Report and Womenetics. She was a founding reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and was international editor for Advertising Age before she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Israel. Jan and her Jerusalem-born husband have an apartment in that city, but live in Atlanta.

 

In November 2006, she was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and has kept a blog on her cancer journey since December of that year. 


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Oct 06


The past lives in me, and I need to make it homeless.


What scares me is that the past has twisted me to the point where I feel as though I can’t live without it.  

 

My past shapes my self-understanding by creating a personal narrative that seeks to define me.


In my case, my narrative is shame.  Overwhelming and self-defeating shame.  


I am not alone.


We victims of sexual abuse all struggle with shame guilt, and inadequacy.  Overwhelming shame.


But you don’t need to be a victim of abuse to have a personal narrative of shame.  It is impossible to take the journey of life and not be shamed by others or yourself.  


Each of us can instantly recall experiences in our past that have come to define us.  These are not the good experiences, but the painful ones.  


Guilt and shame seek to define us all.  


They neutralize and defuse the positive potential of the good parts of our past.  Guilt and shame relentlessly shout that these good things were accidents of the cosmos, We don’t deserve good because we are not worthy.


There are so many good things about each of us and much that is good in our past.


There is also much that is good in our present, but the past that defines us provides us with a narrative that seeks to rob us of enjoying the good of the present.


I am have been married to an incredible woman for 32 years.


We have three children whom I wouldn’t trade for anything.


I have a dog that wants nothing more than to be with me.  


It is criminal that I allow my shame to rob me of the gift of their love.


It is beyond sad that my shame has created such insecurity within me that I don’t believe I can love them well.  My shame tells me that I am a danger to them and so I repeatedly deny them the gift of me and my love.


My shame has created a life-long identity crisis and it leads me to deny to myself what I believe to be true for everyone else.


We are not our past.


What are not what people say about us.


We are children of God, loved by God.


That is who we are.  That is who I am.


It is what we always have been and always will be.


My shame is seeking to deny me the truth of who I am.


And I have submitted to the shame willingly.


Daily.


The past can’t tell us who we are, but it is constantly speaking its lie into us.


It speaks hypnotically and seeks to take us into captivity.  


If we succumb, it becomes us.


I have become my past.


For decades I couldn’t see it.


But now I can.


Which is good news.


But only if I say no to the past.


And saying no is proving to be the hardest thing I have ever done.


I literally can’t let it go.  It has taken up residence in my heart.  I send it eviction notices but never follow through.


Despite all of its pain, I made friends with my past.  It has become me and I am desperately afraid to let it go.


I feel as though that without my past I am nothing.


I Iive the contradiction a wise man stated eloquently.


I don’t do the good I know to do, but rather the evil I don’t.


I want life, but I prefer death.


Who will save me from this body of shame?


How will I be saved from this body of shame?


My hope is in the future.


My only hope is divine deliverance.


God stands at the end of history singing us a love song


It is a song that speaks the truth about who I am.


It is a song that can free me from the prison of my shame


How can I do what I need to do allow this song to define me?


I can’t.


I’ve lately realized I don’t even have it within me to say “Yes” to God.


Instead I have to stop saying “No”.


The truth is that shame isn’t me.


The truth is that I am made for love.  To love and be loved.


I can’t save myself, but I can stop saying no.


Love rescue me.


Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking Relationship Beyond the Age of Individualism.”  He is the Richard L. Bready Chair of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Dale serves the Evangelical Covenant Church of America as an ordained minister and is the Interim Pastor at Monadnock Covenant Church in Keene, NH. He a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.  


Read other columns by Rev. Dale Kuehne here


©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



Sexual abuse shatters and disrupts the core of a person’s sense of safety, self and worth.  The damage inflicted can influence every aspect of a person’s existence. Because sexual abuse attacks the body and soul of the victim, it can cause shame, depression, disconnection from one’s own body, distrust in others, tumultuous relationships, addiction and eating disorders.   


At the same time, human beings are amazingly resilient.  Children who are abused by the same person in the same ways may grow up and turn out very differently.  An abuse survivor may into a drug addict or she may turn into Oprah Winfrey. 


Many variables determine the course of one’s life after sexual abuse.  How a victim copes may depend upon the relationship to the abuser, the frequency of the abuse, the nature of the abuse (from inappropriate touching to penetration), the stage of development of the victim, and whether physical force was used or other insidious forms of emotional manipulation. 


In my practice, I often work with adults who experienced sexual abuse as children or teens.  They typically show up for help dealing with other problems: depression, eating disorders, marital infidelity, addiction or trust issues.  It can take months or even years before an abuse history is uncovered.   When the story does come out, it is not uncommon to hear that the adults in their lives handled things worse than poorly.  In fact, their response to the abuse often compounded and deepened the damage.


·      Sherri’s mother not only didn’t believe her when she said that her step-father had molested her; her mother stayed married to him. “I had to just shut up and deal with it if I wanted to be part of the family.”


·      When Catherine’s mother discovered that Catherine had been abused by an older cousin, she beat her daughter for “bringing shame on the family.” At the time, Catherine was seven years old.


·      Ashley’s mother was well aware that her husband was raping their daughters.  Even after he’d been incarcerated multiple times for these crimes, her mother continued to take him back, setting up Ashley and her sisters for more abuse.  


These stories may seem extreme, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.  Because of their family members’ denial, narcissism, or mental health issues, these women were shown not only that the abuse didn’t matter but that THEY didn’t matter.  It’s no wonder that they have suffered from poor self-image, tumultuous relationships, addictions, self-harm and eating disorders.  


These days we know more about brain development, reaction to trauma and ways to help victims of abuse recover. We are better equipped to shore up the resilience of a victim and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome in their life, if we handle things correctly.  


In the case where adults discover that a child or teen has been abused, there are several important steps that may help ensure the best possible result for the victim: 


1.    Adults need to believe the child who shares a story of abuse


2.    The adult must protect the child from any future incidents of abuse by physically removing the perpetrator from the child’s life and/or taking legal action


3.    The victim must be told (sometimes over and over) that in NO WAY was the abuse their fault and that it was 100 percent the perpetrator’s fault (despite what the abuser may have told her)


4.    The child needs permission to experience and express his or her feelings about the abuse (through crying, play therapy, art, poetry, journaling, self-defense, etc.).  The adults’ job is to help the child learn healthy and appropriate ways to do this 


5.    While making sure the child does not feel at fault, adults should help the victim develop a safety plan in order to empower him/her to feel safer in the future


6.    The victim must be taught healthy ways to self-soothe (positive self-talk, relaxation, meditation, etc.) so she or he does not turn to addictive behaviors for comfort


Even those survivors whose family members took all the WRONG steps can still heal as adults.  Typically the path from victim to thriver involves a therapeutic intervention.  An excellent book that outlines the path of healing is Dr. Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery.  Herman describes a number of stages in the therapeutic process. 


Here is a brief overview: 


·      Healing Relationship: Since sexual abuse is a breach that occurs within a relationship, healing from the trauma must occur within a relationship (i.e. you can’t go off by yourself and “fix” your abuse!).  The unique boundaries of a therapeutic relationship (confidentiality, a predictable time and place, a focus on the client’s needs) can make it an ideal place for the survivor to start to heal. 


·      Safety: A client who has been abused might “test” the safety of the therapeutic relationship by pushing the boundaries.  If the therapist consistently holds onto the boundaries in a loving but firm way (unlike their parents who may have had rigid, harsh or no boundaries) then the client will start to feel safe.  They will need to believe that the therapist can “handle” their feelings without rejecting, dismissing or humiliating her.  This takes time.  Be patient. 

          

·  Remembrance and Mourning: When the safety of the relationship has been established (which may require months or years) then the client may go into more details about their story.  They may tell stories from their life that they never thought they would share. Breaking the silence and telling the entire story is very empowering, especially if the perpetrator or the family imposed silence.  Long-buried feelings of shame, sadness and anger may be felt and expressed for the first time.  The therapist can help the client accept these feelings and start to look on the child who experienced the abuse with more compassion. Grieving the childhood that they wished they’d experienced is often part of the process. 


· Reconnection: As the stories are told, feelings released and coping skills developed, the client will start to choose, create and build healthier relationships outside of the therapy office.


·  Commonality: The survivor will start to feel less alienated from the rest of the world, and they’ll experience greater connection to self, others and the web of life. 


Through this process, people can free themselves from the grip of their abuser and live a life with new meaning and purpose. They can integrate the story of abuse into the rest of their life story and put it in its proper perspective.


This therapeutic process can allow them to tap a surprising reserve of energy-- energy which used to be used repressing and numbing the memories and the pain.  Many who go through this recovery process discover creativity, productivity, generosity and even gratitude that they have never experienced before.



Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally known clinical psychologist and author who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image in both adults and adolescents. She is a weekly columnist for ShareWiK.com. You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.orgFind Dr. Zeckhausen's new book, The Ultimate Tween Survival Guide to Eating Disorders: Understanding Them, Preventing Them, and Helping a Loved One, here. Follow Dina on Twitter @DrZeck

 

For more Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 


A therapist asked me once what my safest space was from childhood. My answer was not my home or my school or even my youth group – it was my summer camp, where the days were long, the cabin was all girls, and the boys only entered by invitation.


There was something pure about my camping experience. Like Brigadoon; it existed outside the boundaries of “real-life.” I loved it there. Nestled in the comfort of a crowd most of the time, I could walk the roads at night alone and not feel threatened. I was invincible. I was protected and safe.


I was fortunate, for sure. Doubtless many women’s most terrifying sexual exploitations trace back to their days at a camp somewhere. Like Kristie McNichol and Tatum O’Neil in 1980, pressured to compete with their virginity in “Little Darlings,” camp is not inherently a safe space.  


In fact, for women, a truly safe space is hard to find. As a traveler in a woman’s body, we are a walking target wherever we go, regardless of our age. I was too young to understand this in my childhood as I navigated what I now know was an abusive situation. I only knew, then, that at camp I felt completely safe, in my cabin of girls.  After puberty, no place ever felt that way again.


As I became aware of my sexuality, I saw the gifts and risks inherent in wearing the body I had at 13. The gifts were easy – I could entice, influence and manipulate, and society encouraged me to use womanly wiles in that way. The risks came from “manning” the female form, objectified by the outside world, lacking confidence in my own internal struggle. That was more than 30 years ago. While (thankfully) my understanding of the gifts of my body has certainly changed, the risks remain ever-present, a constant if unwelcome companion on a woman’s journey.


To explore our sexuality is to be vulnerable, and to risk being wounded, both emotionally and physically. I had many “encounters” in my early years of sexuality that blurred the already muddied border between inappropriate and abusive. The one that sticks with me the most –nearly 35 years later – was, perhaps, the most innocent of them all. It leaves me wondering still, all these years later: when does teenage sexual curiosity and experimentation cross the line from inappropriate suggestion to abuse?


In eighth grade I was physically a fully developed young woman, and I started to look for outlets for my sexuality. I wasn’t dating, yet, when a ninth grade boy (he might as well have been a senior, he seemed so old and mature) began to flirt with me. I’m sure I encouraged him. I remember a particular conversation on the telephone (remember the telephone as a teen, cord wrapped around your finger as you paced in a three-foot area, connected to the wall by a giant rottini noodle?) I was wearing a long, pale blue, silky, quilted “housecoat,” standing in the kitchen next to a beige laminate kitchen table, my face flushed as I extended myself into a conversation with a supposedly “safe” stranger (he went to my school, right?!) about the details of playing the bases. 


We arranged to meet at the movies the next day, and even discussed what I should wear to feel most comfortable. It was premeditated petting.


The day was rainy and gross. The other kids I thought were going to the movie were not there. I suppose the mall must have been crowded, but all I can tell you for sure that the stairwells were quite empty. Just me, the ninth grade boy, and his right hand.


I don’t remember his name. I don’t know what movie we were to see. I do remember feeling dirty, and used, and scared, and shameful. I never told a soul about my encounter with this boy – the ninth grader who never spoke to me again. He’d gotten what he wanted. But hadn’t I wanted it, too?


I have often pondered whether it ‘qualifies’ as abuse if there is mutuality involved. I was clearly interested in experimentation, so was he really to blame for my shame? Sure, he probably manipulated me and the situation, but I was a willing participant… that is, until he crossed the boundary of my comfort, and I wanted to cry, and I didn’t know what to do, and I did nothing.


For the next several years I reached out to fill the void, toying with promiscuity, throwing myself into shallow relationships, trying to feel wanted, loved, worthwhile—something! Often, I found myself in situations I wasn’t ready to handle.


In college I became a rape crisis counselor and learned about the psychology of rape, and anger, and control. I learned how typical it is for women to do nothing, and then to blame themselves for it later. I understood it all too well.


As a kid, I had been conditioned to beware of crazy men lurking in bushes. We were taught to fear strangers, solitude and the dark. Sexual abuse was “out there” in the shadows, violent and menacing. It was an external force to be feared.


But what of the abuse that was so much closer to home? What of the vast majority of sexual predators, those who actually live with us in our daily lives, compounding abuse by their very presence in our kitchens, living rooms and yearbooks? Abusers are usually not strangers. And sometimes, we stand with them on that fine line between inappropriate and abusive, unclear ourselves as to where that line is drawn.


With a mature understanding of the nature of sexual abuse, I look back on my experiences and recognize the moments that, while moderately consensual, still managed to cross a fundamental comfort line. Certainly there’s a distinction to be made between sexual misconduct and sexual abuse. In my youth I encountered both – the former left me feeling dirty and ashamed, the latter, violated. Both have had their impact.


There is no doubt in my mind that abusers are not always aware of their abuse, as most people are unaware of their privilege of class and race. It’s the invisible privilege of power. That is probably even more the case when there is familiarity in the mix, and that makes it all the more challenging for the abused to get clarity about the nature of the experience.


As women, each of us must come to terms in our own way with surviving in a world in which our bodies are both a gift and a liability. We are taught to flaunt and celebrate them, and to hide them and hold them accountable. Our bodies are a wonderland, and they are a minefield. This conflict throws up a volley of confusion for all of us, male and female alike.


So, we women are captive to our bodies, caught in a contradictory culture, dancing on that invisible line between inappropriate (Clarence Thomas?) and abusive. Women continue to be victimized in the most vulnerable way possible, an outward manifestation of men’s challenges with rage and control. But we are also compromised by our own confusion. 


As we believe in ourselves, and the beauty of our bodies, and the confidence of our sexuality, we will teach our daughters to stand firmly on one side of the line, highlighting it clearly so that no one steps over it by accident.


Elaine Taylor-Klaus coaches parents from around the country, on the telephone, to confidently help their families thrive. She is the co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, a free resource for parents, and works together with her husband, David Taylor-Klaus, in their company, Touchstone Coaching. Elaine is a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com and ImpactADHD.com, and writes for “Living Without” and "Womenetics.com" magazines. Follow her on Twitter @TouchstoneCoach and @ImpactADHD.


For more articles by Elaine Taylor-Klaus, click here


 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Oct 21

Unfortunately, I’ll never again forget my afternoon in hell.

My memory was jolted one evening when my mom called. 


From the moment I heard her voice I could tell she was deeply troubled.


She passed along news of one of my college friends who grew up with me in Minnesota.  It seems that he had filed an allegation of sexual abuse against the long-tenured well-loved pastor of his church.  What was alleged abuse was not a one-time violation, but a pattern of sexual abuse lasting years, that had left him, after college, unable to function normally.


When he brought his charge, the initial church investigation led to the conclusion that there was no evidence to support the charge.  My friend’s response was to unsuccessfully commit suicide, which prompted the call.


My mom simply asked, “Do you think his story is true?”


My reply was simple. 


“Yes.  Because the same pastor sexually abused me when he was my Bible camp counselor in seventh grade.”


That was the moment I remembered my afternoon in hell.


I was 35 years old, and for the last 22 years that memory, which had been long locked away, was suddenly opened.  It grabbed me by the throat, demanded my complete attention, and has never completely let go.


I was suddenly transported to the north woods of Minnesota on a sunny summer day.  Going to camp for a week each summer was not something I enjoyed, as I always vacillated between being homesick and tormented by boys older and stronger than me.


But this week was different.  My counselor was not a high school student unable to control a cabin of junior high boys, but the camp pastor-in-residence for the week.  I was the smallest kid in the cabin, and from the moment I arrived the pastor looked after me.  He invited me to be in the bunk bed above his, and I gladly agreed.  No need to worry about some kid using his feet to push my mattress and propel me into space.


Half-way through the week, the pastor asked me if I’d like do something special after lunch, and I was more than glad to agree.   I loved pastors.  I wanted to be a pastor.  My favorite person in the world was my grandfather, who was a pastor.  I could think of nothing better than getting to do something special with THE camp pastor, who everyone loved.


He told me to come to a particular cabin, one to which I had never been.  When I arrived, he invited me into the empty cabin and closed the door.


He asked me to sit down in a chair across from him and said that he wanted to talk to me about one of God’s greatest gifts to us, sex.  He asked me if I knew anything about it, and in all innocence I said, “I don’t think so.”  All I knew is that it had something to do with men and women making babies, but I was unaware of sex as a gift.


He spoke endearingly about this great gift, and asked me if it would be OK if he could teach me about this great gift. 


He had my complete attention, and he used it.


As I sit here writing 40 years later, I still cannot recall every aspect of what then transpired.  Every few years something jolts a new recollection of the afternoon.  Suffice it to say he gave me a up-close and personal introduction to sexual education.


My only memories are that of an out-of-body experience in which I am watching what is happening to me, but am not feeling it. 


It was no gift from God.


I cannot find words to describe emotions I can’t bear touching.


It was the most painful experience of my life.


It was so painful that part of my soul immediately went numb, and permits feeling only with the greatest reluctance.


My mom’s phone call reconnected me with hell.  Once that memory was jarred it has never left. 


While there is much I still can’t feel and have no desire to recall, I cannot forget what I have remembered.


I can’t calculate the damage done.


My ability to be intimate, in every sense of the word, was immediately impaired.  This has impacted along with every relationship I have ever had or might have had.


If I deliberately pause to feel my heartbeat, it draws attention to pain and anxiety within that has never been released.


Some ask me, “could one afternoon have truly had impacted me so adversely?”


As hard as it is for believe, the answer is yes. 


Those of us who are part of the most unwanted of all fraternities are impacted in ways that cannot be considered coincidence. 


When a child submits willingly to an authority figure they trust, they do not have the ethical maturity to comprehend what has transpired.  When we think about it, we believe that somehow it was our fault.  We permitted it.  We made ourselves available.


We feel dirty and have no conception of clean.


We don’t tell anyone because we don’t know what to say.


Yet we feel deep guilt that, because we didn’t tell anyone, others were victimized.


And there is so much more that I do not understand.


Yet, I do understand how profoundly that pastor hurt me, and all the more so, my friend who went to his church.


I can sympathize with the more than 200 of us who were caught in the devil’s lair.


I used to be harshly judgmental of people who could not understand a universe in which Hitler doesn’t end up in hell.  No more.


I believe in God.  I believe in love.  I believe in forgiveness.  And I believe in hell.  With all my heart.

  

Rev. Dale S. Kuehne, Ph.D. is the author of “Sex and the iWorld. Rethinking Relationship Beyond the Age of Individualism.”  He is the Richard L. Bready Chair of Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College and founding director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. Dale serves the Evangelical Covenant Church of America as an ordained minister and is the Interim Pastor at Monadnock Covenant Church in Keene, NH. He a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.  Follow Dale on Twitter @DaleKuehne.


Read other columns by Rev. Dale Kuehne here

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved. ShareWIK does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information, please read our Additional Information, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

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