Feeling Anger And Not Being A Doormat

I’ve seen a few postings on Facebook in the last little while that I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around.  The first is a posting that said tears are not an appropriate response to anger.  The second is something to the effect that people and their behaviors have no control over us.

I agree and disagree with each of these statements.  The first about anger is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  Anger was never a safe emotion for me.  As I’ve said in other posts, anger is the emotion I think of in connection with my father.  He was angry, and if he wasn’t angry, he was just being mean, which seemed to make him happy.  Anger wasn’t safe for me to feel because if I felt it when I was younger, I had to feel it in connection with my abuse, and that simply was not allowed.  The only way I was supposed to feel about being abused was that I had done something wrong and that I should just be quiet about it, because, after all, “What would other people think?”  In my opinion, people should have thought that my father was a sick bastard who should have been punished and kept completely away from children.  Of course, that was not the acceptable response.

So for a long time, I could not say that I was angry about something.  I would say other words like sad, frustrated, irritated, annoyed, but never angry.  There are many things in life that make me angry.  Honestly, truly, throw your head back and scream angry.  Child abuse is one of those things.  Victim blaming is one of those things.  Domestic violence, war, murder, rape, oppression, poverty.  I’ve got a list.

Now, though, it is safe for me to feel angry about all of these things and every day things.  I do not consider myself an angry person, but I can at least be in contact with the fact that I do get angry.  I try to deal with anger in an appropriate manner and I try to apologize if I lash out at someone, usually someone I love, over something that makes me angry over which they had no control or did not cause.

Sometimes I get angry because it touches an old scar which is not completely healed.  Most of my scars are not as visible and certainly not as painful as they once were, but they are not all completely gone because scars don’t ever completely go away.  In a situation like that, I have to learn a new way to deal with my emotions.  I don’t need to deny the feelings, but need to figure out why the situation made me feel like it did and how to react differently.  It took me a long time to learn not to apologize for whatever I was feeling, good or bad.

The second statement seems to effect me more in my present life than my past.  Jennifer wrote in her post, “Is Anybody There?” her therapist realized that she didn’t have low self-esteem; she had no self-esteem.  I used to be very much like that and I never argued or stood up for myself in any situation.  I was a people pleaser extraordinaire.  It was always easier for me to go along with the crowd and just blend in.  At some point, I began to stand up for myself and voice who I was.

While I am in control and responsible for my reaction to situations, how others feel does affect me.  If Jeff is having a bad day at work, I empathize with him.  My day may have been completely fine, but I try to be in tune with his feelings.  If my friend is having a hard time, it is ok for me to be happy, but I try not to rub it in his or her face.  If someone at the store is mean or rude to me, I do spend some time reflecting on it, but realize it probably had nothing to do with me because other people’s lives do not revolve around me.  If it happens once or twice, I just brush it off, but if it happens every time I see the person, I am less likely to try to be nice.

When someone is mean to me repeatedly, it begins to feel abusive, even if once in a while, they lapse into niceness.  The person can keep being mean to me and I’m just supposed to take it and not say anything.  I try to always be empathetic and consider the other person’s story, which I will probably never fully know.  But I can’t let that go on to the point that I am a doormat for someone else.  I did that for a long time and now know that I matter and other people don’t have the right to keep treating me badly.

Emotions are a curious and interesting part of the human experience.  We all have them, though we may not understand them or have the ability to articulate them.  We are all people and have different experiences.  Each person has a story, which we will probably never know completely.  All we can do is examine our own emotions and responses and try to be as compassionate to ourselves and others as we can.

Namaste.

Gotta Be

Happy International Denim Day

Many people today would not consider wearing jeans an act of rebellion.  I wear jeans almost every day because they are comfortable, acceptable, and they fit my live style.

For a long time in our history, however, women wearing pants of any kind was out of the question.  Jeans were designed for men to wear on the farm, in factories, in mines, anywhere that men did laborious work.

Women were supposed to wear dresses and look like a “lady.”  Always.  Even when they were working and cleaning the house.  As women began to wear jeans for whatever reason, they were criticized that they were being “unladylike.”

For many of us in many cultures today, wearing jeans is no big deal.  We put them on every day to do our work, you know around the house, in the office, in restaurants, in factories, in mines, on the farm, wherever women work.

And women have been criticized for wearing pants in general, and jeans specifically.  In the 1990s, an 18 year old woman was raped by on April 24 by her 45 year old driving instructor.  The reason he gave?  She was wearing tight jeans and was asking for it.  His conviction was overturned because it was completely logical that he rape her because of her manner of dress.

That is startling to hear, but we live in a time just slightly more progressive than that in which jeans are more acceptable.  At least on the surface.  No one is ever asking to be raped, no matter what she or he is wearing.  That is a myth and a delusion.  In my deepest heart, I would like to believe that people have gotten over the delusion by now that whatever a person is wearing contributes to their rape.   I don’t believe it, but it is still my hope that we can get there.

Here are some images of people not asking to be raped.

tumblr_mfcow1PAKI1rmqd96o1_500I am Not Asking for It

tumblr_mh56qfMlUU1r6m2leo1_500whyher

rape-1024x746

broken

None of these people are asking to be raped.  They NEVER asked to be raped.   We usually think of adult women as rape victims, but please don’t forget children and men don’t ask to be raped either.

A young woman named McKenna Nerone from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin started a campaign for a class in her high school.  She is a senior and had heard about the young woman in Italy in the 90’s.  She decided to collect 1,050 pairs of jeans to donate to Pathfinders, a local nonprofit that helps young people who are survivors of sexual assault, homelessness and mental illness.  Her story was in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Tuesday, April 9, 2013, written by John Klein.

Why 1,050 pairs of jeans you might ask?  Nerone figured that during the time she is class every week, 1,050 people are raped in the United States.  Nerone met some resistance to her  project.  She speculates that people were resistant because, “(n)obody wants to talk about rape.”  She’s right of course, but as she goes on to say, “I want to make people start talking about it…”Many people think that if you’re going to be raped you need to have this criteria,’ she said listing weight, physical attributes and tight jeans. ‘But no, that is just not true.”

Did she make her goal?  Yes, she did.  Last night, April 24, 2013, at midnight, she and some friends and news crews gathered outside her high school for the display.  As she stated in her interview, each pair of jeans represents a person.  Here’s a link to a partial picture of her achievement.

If you did not know about International Denim Day, it is never too late to commemorate it.  Wear jeans tomorrow.  Put it on your calendar for next year.  Whenever you have the chance, talk about it, loudly and clearly.   Wearing dresses did not stop women from being raped.  Women, before the sexual revolution in the 1960s, were not asking to be raped either and they wore dresses.  No one ever asks to be raped, no matter what they are wearing or not wearing. And until we can talk about it, it will never stop.  And it MUST stop.

To close, a song we still need to sing, for human rights.  I believe it.  We Shall Overcome.

What’s This Ministry Thing All About?

For some time now, I’ve been trying to define what “Jackie Shaw Ministries” is all about.  It needs definition for others so they can figure out what I’m up to, and it needs definition for me so I have some direction in which to work.

According to dictionary.com, ministry is defined as “the service, functions, or profession of a minister of religion” and 2. “the body or class of ministers of religion; clergy.”  That is about as vague as what goes through my head when I try to define ministry for myself.  Writing usually helps me clarify my thoughts, but I struggle to define this, even after writing about it.

Perhaps it would be best if I talked about what ministry means to me, in my circumstances.  Going to church after being abused always put me in an awkward position.  I loved church because it was my excuse to get away.  It made my head spin because I heard things like “Honor your father.”  “Don’t partake in communion unless you have asked the one you hurt for forgiveness.”  I couldn’t sort it out.  My father was not honorable.  He was despicable.  I couldn’t figure out who I had hurt so badly that abuse was my punishment. I did learn it was not my fault and I hadn’t hurt anyone to cause the abuse.

My brain couldn’t sort it out.  Some days I still can’t.  I tried to sort it out in seminary.  I gained a lot of insight and helpful perspective.  I asked a lot of questions and pushed a love of boundaries, sometimes to the chagrin of my professors.  But I learned I believe in God.  Yes, that may sound crazy from someone who was in seminary studying for the ministry, but there are times when I’m not so sure.  I believe that God sometimes feels distant from me, but then I have to stop and figure out what’s going on.  I believe in life and freedom from abuse. I believe no one deserves to be abused.  I believe that survivors were never at fault for their abuse.  I believe that forgiveness may never come, and that it can’t be forced upon anyone.

Ministry to me is sitting with someone in pain, hearing their story.  My friends have done that for me.  Some of them heard more than they probably ever wanted.  But they heard me, and they listened, with pained faces.  And they never denied what I was saying or made me feel like it was my fault.  That was a ministry of friendship and care they offered to me.  I can hope to do no less.

This is what I want to do.  I want to speak to large audiences like Marilyn Van Derbur.  I want to work with survivors and write healing services.  I want to work with ministers and help them minister to the survivors in their congregations.  I want to preach and teach and speak at every opportunity I am given.  I want to stop abuse everywhere.

Big dreams?  Impossible?  Perhaps.  But I believe in empowering people one person at a time.  I became empowered, and it took years of pain, and tears and friends who listened and believed in me.  Everyone deserves that.  If I can talk and give resources that may help survivors, I’ll keep doing it.  That, to me, is ministry.  It isn’t in a church building at this point, but it is part of church as I have come to understand it.

I tried to be concrete with this.  It took two days to put together because I can’t define what this journey will look like yet. I tried to define this ministry, but I can’t see it from here yet.  Follow with me as it develops further.

If you need someone to hear your story, email me or comment on the post.  I’m listening.  If you need someone to preach in your church about sexual abuse, email me.  We may be able to work it out.  I’m in the Midwest, but love to travel!  If you need resources for a survivor in your community, perhaps I can help you find them.  You want to have a service of healing in your community?  I’d love to help write it. I believe that survivors have a lot to give the church and the church has a lot to offer survivors if it is willing.

It has been my honor and my privilege to walk with a few survivors on pieces of their journeys.  To me, if I can help one person learn that they are not alone in this horrible soul-sucking abuse that they are experiencing or have experienced, that will be ministry enough to me.

Still Like Dust I’ll Rise

After experiencing so much liberation in such a short time, I must admit I was a little winded.  I had put so much energy into getting to the point of healing, I didn’t quite know how to react.  I still stop and think about all this and wonder is this real?  Did I do all those things?  Am I still really doing and saying all these things?  Then I look around and realize that I am doing them and saying them.

There are so many songs, poems, books, people, and experiences that inspire me to keep going.  Even when I seem to be stagnant on the outside, I find myself doing things to support other survivors and cheer them on.  I have come to realize that there isn’t a prize at the end of this game called life that we get for doing it by ourselves.  Sometimes I need people to lean on and that is perfectly normal.  Although getting to that place of trust is sometimes very difficult.  I used to trust freely and openly.  Then I was abused and taken advantage of by so many people who should have helped me out.  That made trusting super hard.

One survivor who has always been with me is Maya Angelou.  I don’t even remember when I read her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”  (This link takes you to the poem.)  I don’t think I knew she was a survivor when I read the book, but she was raped when she was young and she didn’t speak for years.  Not just about the abuse.  She didn’t speak at all.  Then she lived her life and got to a place of strength where she wrote books and poems and was able to speak again.

I never stopped speaking in general, but the abuse was so painful that I couldn’t speak freely about it at all.  I kept trying, in small, pain-constricted ways.  It seemed no one wanted to hear about it anyway.  It felt like people were saying, “Aren’t you over that yet?  I’m so tired of hearing about it.  Can’t you just get through it?”  I couldn’t though.  Even today, twenty some years after the abuse is over, there are still a few tender spots that are healing.  It isn’t something that will ever just go away.

Another one of Maya Angelou‘s poems that has always resonated with me is “Still I Rise.”  It lifts me up, even when I’m not feeling like being lifted.  The sensuality of it used to make me squirm a little, but I’ve gotten to the point of understanding that it is just another part of life.  If I can’t be a little sensual and a little open about a real part of me, what is the point of healing and going through all this?

Please do not misunderstand.  There is no real point in being abused.  It isn’t about what I’ve learned and the person I’ve  become because of it.  It was a horrible thing that happened to me and I had to learn to deal with it.  I do not believe that God had some dealing in this happening to teach me a lesson.  In my opinion, that would be a pretty horrible thing for God to allow to happen just to learn a lesson.

Healing has allowed me to become more in touch with my whole self.  I still make decisions that may not be the best, but they are the best I can make at the time.  I’m making much healthier decisions because I am healing.  I’ve decided not to be held down by pain.

Pain is like water.  The weight of it can hold a person down.  It can actually suck them down.  But water also chips away at mountains.  It cuts deep through stone, causing rock to change from a solid surface into a stream filled with new life.  The Rio Grande is a perfect example.  Thousands of years of water wearing away at solid rock created a beautiful river teeming with life.

As a survivor, I’m the same way.  Pain held me down.  I couldn’t rise.  I couldn’t think.  I couldn’t function.  But it penetrated the depths of my soul and taught me a new way to rise.  None of it was a good experience, but it happened.  Now I have taken the pain that held me down and learned to float.  I’ve learned that still I can rise.

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise… Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise… I rise I rise.

(content edited)

I’m A Survivor. Now What?

After the Celebration Service, I did what everyone does after a life-altering event.  I caught my breath, went to lunch then went to class.  The class, at least, was a pastoral care class.  Some of the students knew bits of my story.  Most did not.  The professor did, but she was not someone I knew well.  We had a time of sharing joys and concerns at the beginning of each class and I shared part of the struggle that I’d been going through.  I said it had been hard, and I think that was the first time I admitted that having my story published was hard.  It had just been another one of those things that I did to protect others.  It hadn’t really hit me yet that it was for me too.

The semester progressed and nothing had fallen out of the sky on me, so I assumed things were going to be ok.  I have decided each person should try to define a little better what ok actually looks like for him or her, so they can see it when it is and question it when it is not.  Being in a place of “my life has just completely changed” is a bit of an adjustment.  I just tried to stay on that cloud and ride it out.

I don’t think I realized the full impact of what had happened until December, 2006.  My friend from seminary was getting married in Hawaii.  There was no way in the world I could realistically afford to go, but how many times in life would I be able to go to Hawaii, go to this wedding, and spend Christmas in paradise?  As I stood in the airport gift shop on my way to Hilo, I saw O Magazine on the racks.  I just stood there and stared.  That was when I finally began to realize all the people who could have possibly seen the article.  People I grew up with could have seen it.  People I would encounter in church, at school, in the grocery store could have seen it.

It has been almost four years ago that the article was published and I am still a little taken aback when I see where the magazine is.  I’ve seen it in libraries, in doctor’s offices, in airports.  I wish I believed that it had as big an impact on the world as it did on me, but I know I cannot change the whole world at once.  I do hope that it has had an impact on a small corner of it though.

The responses people have posted to my blog posts have been amazing.  A lot of them have been private posts through facebook.  That is completely ok with me.  So many people I went to high school with have contacted me and apologized.  They said they had no idea what I was going through.  No one did, really.  Not even the other survivors knew.  We were all isolated from each other and lied to.  Statistics say that the average pedophile abuses 100 people in his or her lifetime.  I will just say I am not the only one who survived this horror.

As I said earlier, it has been four years since the article came out.  I’m still trying to figure out the “now what?”  I want to work with churches and pastors to educate them and help the survivors in their congregations.   It is easy for pastors to say there are no survivors in their congregation because no one has approached them.  It is the age old case of don’t ask, don’t tell.  If it isn’t brought up, that sends a clear message to survivors that their pain isn’t welcome.

In case anyone wonders, I did graduate from seminary in 2008.  I tried to educate my classmates as I went through the rest of the program and tried to tell my classmates to call me when they were faced with the opportunity to report abuse.  It is an opportunity, even though it is harrowing and overwhelming for all people involved.  It is an opportunity to stop suffering, and that is one that doesn’t usually come along very often.

Jackie Shaw jackielshaw@yahoo.com
Submitted on 2010/09/01 at 6:06 pm | In reply to Rosa Lee Osterbur.

It was horrible, Rosa Lee, but it doesn’t hurt so much now and I’m trying to use what I’ve learned.  Thanks so much!

Rosa Lee Osterbur rosieherb@aol.com

Jackie, I am so proud of the way you acknowledged your absolutely horrible abuse; it is an honor to be a “longtime friend”!  Love you, Rosa Lee

The Question

question mark During my lifetime, I have been asked the same Question what seems like millions of times.  For anyone who doesn’t already know, I was born one-handed.  The Question is, “what happened to your arm?”   It’s a perfectly innocent question, except I don’t really get why it matters so much.  Plus, having it asked over and over and over, has had an effect.

Imagine if, while growing up, every time you met someone new, they asked you what happened to your ____________ (fill in the blank)…nose, ear, hair, etc.  Imagine how that might shape your self image.  And what made it even harder to answer The Question was the fact that there was no gory story to tell.  This is me.  This is how I was made.  Nothing “happened” to my arm.

I was raised in a rural town in the Midwest in the 60s.  Lots of people who lived there had never left town and hadn’t been exposed to people who are born different from the norm.  Many people simply had no frame of reference for me.  So, I got asked  The Question a lot.  When I was 18, and preparing to leave my small town environment to attend college.  It occurred to me that I got asked The Question less frequently because most everyone in the county had met me by then, but I was going to soon be meeting at least a thousand new people at college and would certainly be asked The Question many times over.  Ughh!  It almost made me not want to go.

So, I decided that if I must go through it again, then I would have some fun with it.  I spent the next year, answering everyone, regardless of the situation, with the same reply…”I used to wrestle alligators.”  I had a lot of fun that year, but I was unprepared for how many people responded with BELIEF!  So, ad hoc, I developed a follow up line…”Yes, my record is 19 and one.”  Most people figured it out at that point.BBCalligator

I still get asked The Question once in a while, but it’s far, far less.  I think the reason is that our society is more connected to the outside world and diversity is more of a given.  Most people today accept that many people are born different and there are endless ways that can happen.  I also think that The Americans With Disabilities Act and people speaking up and out about disabilities has had a big impact.  Maybe the Violence Against Women Act and sites like Learninghope.org, which encourage people to speak up and out about childhood sexual abuse, will make people stop asking the victims to figure out what they might have done to cause the abuse.  That’s The Question we all need to put an end to.

Fixing Stuck

Two of my friends wrote excellent posts this weekend.  The first by Ann Kruse entitled, “Stuck,” details Ann’s realization that she was stuck in a rut.  I always love her use of language and words.  Sometimes, she uses words which I don’t always know.  She uses the words in such a way that I can interpret what they mean by their usage.  That, to me, is always a sign of a very good writer.  The use of language encourages the reader to learn, not be left behind or shut out because they don’t know a specific word.

The second post I read was by my friend Tracie.  Tracie writes about things that are yellow and often about things that make her happy.  In this post, people she knows are struggling.  In her post, “Possibilities,” she writes about how her friends are hurting.  She wants to help them.  Immediately – go to them and fix their hurting.  But she knows that she can’t do that.

Both of these posts struck a chord in me.  Both of these women often write words that touch that place in my being where the only thing I hear is that “hmm.”  It isn’t a hum as much as everything in me is in complete sync with their words.  I could not have said what they said any better.

For different reasons, both of these women are amazingly strong in my eyes.  They have struggled to get where they are and to become the people they are.  And yet, they persevere.  And they smile as they do it.  And they make me want to persevere.  I am honored to know them both.

To me, these are the markings of a good friend.  When you are happy, there is no one else you want to call.  When you are sad, you know you can call them and they will listen to you.  After the conversation is over, you will probably feel better.  If not better, safe.  You know you can tell them what is truly on your heart and they won’t turn away.  They will probably want to fix your hurt, but know they can’t.  And you will probably want to fix theirs.  That is the nature of friendships – sharing each other’s hurts and joys.

At the end of her post, Ann shared a video of the Avett Brothers song February Seven.  She said it would be worth watching and it totally was.  I hope you feel it is worth the watch as well.

February Seven

One of the lines I like best from this song is “Life stepped in and pulled me to my feet.”  Usually it is the other way around.  Life jumps in and knocks me to my knees.  This is the side of life Tracie is describing about her friends.  They are struggling and she wants to pull them to their feet.

This is no news to you I’m sure, but life has many different factors which we all encounter every day.  It has ups and downs, stuck places, places where we need traveling shoes to keep up, and everything in between.  Sometimes we hurt and sometimes we sing.

The part of Tracie’s post that resonates most with me was when she acknowledges that it is a choice to heal.  Sometimes people are not ready.  It is too scary or too painful to try one more time and hope for something better.  I have been there.  It is a place where pain has blocked our vision from ever seeing a new horizon.  And unfortunately, no one can fix that for us.  Nor can we fix it for anyone else.

But once we realize we are in that place, that stuck place, we can move on.  We may have to sit by the sidelines and rest.  As in the story of the Good Samaritan, we can only hope that someone will watch the road for us while we recover.  Or that we can be that person for someone else when they are in that getting unstuck space.

My friend, Jim Manley, wrote a song called “Watch The Road” that I wish was on youtube so I could share it with you.  It speaks in that profound “hmm” way to me.  “I will watch the road for you, oh I will watch the road.”  Jim, the singer of the song, takes watch so that the person to whom he is singing, can rest and regain strength to carry on.

We all need that sometimes.  That someone who cares to watch the road and make sure we are safe.  That is my wish for you today.  The world needs you to be strong and carry on.  I hope you are in that place, but if not, I wish someone to watch the road for you so that you can go back to doing what feeds your soul and doing what the world needs most from you.

Namaste

 

 

 

A Service of Celebration

What does one do when facing the fact that such a painful part of her life story will be posted in a major magazine? As stated in the previous post, as a seminary student, I talked with my friend Christopher. He and I discussed having a service to acknowledge where I had been and where I was now. I began to work through scripture and song and write it. I picked seven friends, Robin LaBolt, Miriam Prichard, Lora Whitten, Patrick Poole, John Morton, Christopher Grundy, and Michael Kinnamon. These, of course, are busy, active people. Coordinating schedules was almost a nightmare.

I wrote and talked and wrote some more. I reworked some Bible passages for the service and had to keep asking Christopher if it was ok. It wasn’t that I needed his permission, really, but I needed the support that what I was doing would be alright and that I wouldn’t get to this very important moment and have God strike me down in the chapel for not being good enough to rework a sacred text. As so many victims know, I could never seem to get enough reassurance that I was worthy of what I was doing. I wasn’t feeling broken anymore, but I was a long way from feeling secure and worthy.

I went on writing, going to class, watching the newsstands for the newest version of O Magazine. I think I looked together on the outside, but inside, as I said about the magazine article, I was just a blur of frantic energy. There were so many things I wanted to do and feel and be all in those moments of waiting.

We had set the date for the Celebration Service and hoped that the magazine would be out in time. We were going to hold the service in the Eden Theological Seminary Chapel, a place that is quite warm even in mid-October. Would it be too hot? Should we use candles? How would the chairs be arranged? All these questions rolled around in my head. I also spent a fair amount of time in my therapist’s office and on the phone with her throughout this period. I wanted to invite her to the service, but did not know how to ask.

The release of the magazine timed perfectly with the service. We held the service on October 18, 2006. I spent much of the morning getting ready, setting things up, trying not to freak out from excitement and emotional overload. My life long friends, Keran Olm-Stoelting, and Rosa Lee Osterbur sent flowers to show their continued support.

It was so beautiful. Some of the details have escaped me, but I cannot imagine how it could have been better. The part I remember most was getting to the end when we were singing “Holding Up the Light.” We sang it as we processed down the staircase to the main bulletin board at Eden. Singing in a stairwell will always get you some attention! Professors were coming out of their offices, students stopped to stare, and everyone was trying to figure out what in the world was going on. Most of them just silently watched. Others tried to question what was going on, but people in the group that accompanied me somehow managed to stop them from causing a raucous.

Lora carried the candle and we followed her down the stairs, then the crowd parted so I could walk to the bulletin board and hang up the article. I walked to the bulletin board, but the whole time, a little voice in my head was saying, “You aren’t going to do that. That is just too far. You aren’t going to do that.” But I did. I placed the article on the bulletin board, then practically collapsed from overwhelming relief and gratitude into my friends’ arms.

We stood there for a few minutes, then went back to the chapel. Everyone, including me, had things to do that afternoon. I had to get myself back together and go to class! I wanted to give everyone a small reminder of the day and had ordered an Isabel Bloom statue for each person. I wanted to give them a candle, but had to give them a butterfly instead.  The butterfly seemed almost as appropriate as the candle would have been.  I had come out of my chrysalis at last!

I wasn’t totally healed, but for the first time, in longer than I could remember, I felt like healing was coming. It was working within me, and I was no longer silenced by everything that had been done to me. I had seen through the glass darkly for so long and was finally beginning to see the light.

Mommy, I Want To Be An Advocate

When you were a child, what did you dream of doing? I dreamed of being a teacher, or a veterinarian, or an eye doctor. It was hard for me to imagine growing up. Not so much the physical act of doing that, but surviving long enough to get there.

There’s a commercial I’ve seen on television for insurance I think and different people are saying what they wanted to be when they grew up. My favorite answer is a fire truck. The man clarifies that he didn’t want to be a fire fighter, but an actual fire truck. I love the imagination in that.

My imagination was much more stilted. I just knew I wanted to get away from where I was. I had no idea how I would ever get away, but I wanted to be anywhere else. And what would I be when I got there (assuming that I ever did)? I had absolutely no concrete idea. It was too scary to actually hope for.

This morning, I was having a conversation with a friend. She thanked me (and another survivor) for being “real stand up people.” I am extremely touched that she considers me to be a stand up person. And there were many days (many, many, many) that I thought I’d never make it, or if I did, would not be able to speak about my experience if I did survive.

But I did. And even if my voice shakes when I speak, I do it when ever I can. A lot of people still don’t like the fact that I talk about childhood sexual abuse. It either strikes a nerve with their past, is too uncomfortable for them to hear about, or some other reason that people would just prefer for me to be quiet.

sexual_assault

I can’t seem to be quiet. Some would probably say that I’m opinionated and talk too much. It took me years to speak out and even more years to build the confidence to keep speaking and speak with authority. My story is what I know and if I can’t speak that with authority, there isn’t much I really can ever say. Yes, I know the statistics and I know about what many other survivors have survived. I’ve talked to them. I’ve read many of their books. I have also read books that are more research-based to see what the “experts” have to say. I hope you will listen to other survivors, read their books and listen to the clinicians that have worked with them as well.

I cannot tell anyone else’s story. It is inauthentic to them and to me. Sometimes I will share a part of another survivor’s story, with their permission, because it shows a different piece of reality that I did not know. I can never tell their entire story. It is theirs alone to tell.

It is my hope that sometimes I can help another survivor find their voice. Perhaps my asking their permission to share a story gives them courage that they too can share it. I hope it gives value and validation to their story. It is my eternal hope that seeing a part of it here or hearing it said by someone else that they begin to understand the power in their experience. I hope it encourages them to become a stand up person, for themselves, for other adults who never make it to the point of healing where they can share their stories. Most of all, I hope they can become stand up people for children. It is much easier and less costly to educate people not to abuse kids or rape people than to heal the brokenness after abuse has already happened.

Life has brought me to the point that it would be completely unconscionable for me not to speak. My scars are my badge of honor and I would be a fraud to hide them. I have earned the right to speak. And in the words of Martin Luther, “I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.” It just wouldn’t be right for me.

I would imagine no one ever said to his or her mom or dad, “I want to be a survivor of sexual abuse when I grow up. I want to start a blog and share my pain with the world.” It was not my dream for people from high school to send me articles about other people who are being abused, knowing that I’ll read it and talk about it. I am honored when people do that. I hope they think of me as someone who won’t be quiet.

Maybe more importantly, why should I be quiet? I have made mistakes in my life, but in connection with my abuse, I didn’t do anything wrong. I was the victim of a mean and selfish crime. It wasn’t your fault either. You didn’t do anything wrong!

While it is all a process and some days will be harder than others, I encourage you to become a stand up person too. In any way you can, speak those words. Say what happened. Know the signs. Teach your children that it is ok to say no, don’t do that. It is ok to tell your mom or dad or another trusted adult that one of your friends told you they are being hurt. Secrets, bad ones like the secret of sexual abuse, hurt everyone.

“It could change if we just get started. Lift the darkness, light a fire. For the silent and the broken hearted, won’t you stand up?”

I’ve used this song before, but I love it and it speaks to me. I hope it speaks to you as well.

Stand Up

Who Do You Say That You Are?

Hi, my name is Jackie. (Hi Jackie) I’m addicted to “What Not To Wear.” I do not remember when I first started watching the show, but it is my go to when there’s nothing else on. And I record it. I don’t record all the episodes and keep them forever, but I watch each and every one of them.

When I first started watching the show, I was appalled that people could spend $5,000 on clothes. I was perplexed that people could spend an entire week focusing on fashion. I think secretly I was jealous that people could spend an entire week on themselves.

As I have continued to watch the show, I became much more enamored of it and I now appreciate the struggle so many of the women have gone through. They recently aired an episode where Dolly, the person getting the make-over, openly stated that she had been sexually abused as a child. Dolly talked about learning to hide and not wanting to spend time on herself because then people would notice her.

The women on the show are pediatricians, Episcopal priests, moms, lawyers, bookkeepers, personal trainers, airline attendants, musicians, artists, real estate agents, business owners, and have just about any possible career you can think of. Some of them are too over the top and want to be seen. Others, like Dolly, prefer not to be seen and do everything they can to avoid attention.

Many of them are not survivors of sexual abuse. But many are. They have survived domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, poverty, cancer, heart attacks, loss of children, children with disabilities, the loss of a spouse, love gone wrong, and love betrayed. And they get nominated for a show which tries to lift them up. How could that be bad?

Even though I think I watch the show too much, what Stacy and Clinton are trying to do for women, I cannot help but applaud. I love how the women walk confidently out on the stage after their transformation. They have gotten new clothes, new hair styles, and a fresh approach to make up, but as they often stress on the show, those aren’t the things that make the biggest impact on the person’s life. They stand taller and walk with pride. No longer are their heads hanging down, hoping to avoid everyone’s gaze, or wearing short, skimpy skirts to get everyone’s attention.

I think the part that I always like the most is that the women got to spend time getting to know themselves. They get to know what they like, what colors look good on them, how to choose things that fit. And they get two well-paid people to help them figure out if it looks good or not. That is a luxury that many women do not have or never take the time to discover. “What is it that I truly like?”

The episode I watched today was the story of Liz, a clinical psychologist and mother of twins. For anyone, those are some great accomplishments. Liz talked about always being someone’s daughter, mother, sister, wife, and never feeling like she had an identity of her own.

When I am introduced to someone new, it is always intriguing how they speak about themselves. Do they define their lives by their business? By whose daughter or son they are? By their children? I also wonder how I will respond. I try to say that I am a writer. Sometimes that is better received than others. Then there’s the inevitable question of, “what do you write?” “I write a blog for survivors of sexual abuse.” That is usually followed by a period of silence. I am ok with the silence; the person I am speaking to is not always ok with it, though. But that is their stuff and not mine. This is what I do and I’ve come much too far to be silent.

So my question to you, is what do you do to take care of yourself and get to know yourself? And who do you tell people that you are? And if you don’t know yet, what can you do to figure it out?

Who Are You?