Old Blog Posts from March 11, 2012 to May 9, 2012

*Please note – This is a copy of posts from my old blog.  The old blog was redesigned to point to this one, but not before I got all the old posts transferred.  What is here and the next few posts to the “Posts from The Old Blog” are copies of what I did thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and many thanks to Tracie Nall at FromTracie for telling me about this.  The links probably do not work and the pictures may not show up and to my dismay, the comments are lost.  I will try to reconstruct the links, but I apologize for these posts.  ~Jackie

Relearning Care

Many survivors I have met care deeply for other people.  They will give up anything to help out another.  We give and give and give, and if we aren’t careful, there will be nothing left.

With my ex-husband, I was so close to giving up myself.  I gave up everything for him.  My self was the last step.  I was right on the verge of losing it all; and the worst part of it was I thought I was doing it for a good reason.  I wasn’t.  I was just being stupid and blind and stubborn.  I put up with a lot from him, but the worst thing and the final emotional straw was when he told me I was selfish.  The remaining sense of self I had screamed in my head that it wasn’t true.  I did not leave at that moment, but it was shortly after that I did.

How could I be selfish?  I had given up jobs for him, friends for him, opportunities for him.  I was making bad choices, but I was not selfish.

The sense of self is a curious thing.  It is fragile.  It can become overinflated.  It can be shattered.  It can be rebuilt.  It can be oblivious to others.  It can be oblivious of others.  And it can change quickly.

For me, I was taught for so long that my thoughts and opinions didn’t matter.  But at the same time, I cared so much about other people that I really began to believe that what I wanted was not important and my only purpose in life was to make sure others were happy.

I used to apologize (sincerely) for everything.  It didn’t matter what the other person said or what happened to them, I apologized and felt responsible, even though it usually had absolutely nothing to do with me.  I felt responsible (and guilty) for everything.

From my experience, I’d have to say I’m not alone in feeling responsible for the problems of the world.  Many people cannot separate themselves from all the bad things that happen.  Some things, like natural disasters just happen.  No one is responsible and no one caused it.  But there are still lots of people that feel they could have stopped it or made it less harmful in some way.

Many abuse survivors feel they are responsible for what happened to them.  “If I hadn’t worn that, they would have left me alone.”  “If I’d been a good boy, he wouldn’t have had to punish me.”  “If I hadn’t liked it, she wouldn’t have done it again.”  The abuse totally warps or destroys our sense of self.

Many survivors are hyper-responsible and seem to have an apathy of care.  We care so much about others, but lack the knowledge to care for ourselves.  But it doesn’t seem to stop there.

For me, apathy of care means that I don’t know how to react when people care or try to care for me.  My fiance is a wonderful man.  He is such a good person and he cares so much for me.  And that is sometimes hard for me to understand.  He always asks if I have enough money.  He opens the car door for me and He puts gas in my car.  He worries about me and the stress I was under in my last job.  He does all of these things because he cares.  He doesn’t want anything from me.  He isn’t trying to control me.  He just loves me, exactly as I am.  Sometimes I poke him in the shoulder with my finger to make sure he’s real.  To my surprise, he is always real flesh and bone.

A basic understanding of what it means to receive care should be one of those things that is just part of human nature.  Someone should be able to offer me human care without me flinching or wondering what he wants from me.  That is not my experience, but I am learning just how wonderful and amazing that can really be.

Jeff and his dad collect antique tractors.  He has frequently said to me that for the right person, he would have given them all up, but the right person would never ask him to give them up.

The right person who truly cares about you will never ask you to give up who you are.  They won’t be focused on trying to change you.  And you won’t be trying to change them.  The partner who is right for you loves you as you are, just as you are trying love yourself.

“Never confuse someone caring about what you can do for them with them actually caring about you. These things are not the same.”

There are people in the world who only want to use you.  But there are some who do what they do just because they care.  Protect yourself and your heart, but don’t forget that some people are genuine and true.  Be true to you and never forget that you matter.

Stepping Back In

I went to my friend Christopher‘s concert last weekend.  It was so much fun and so nice to reconnect with a friend I haven’t seen in many years.

And the best part was that Jeff went with me.  We got to go together.  I have grown so used to doing things by myself.  It was almost strange that Jeff not only wanted to go, but that he drove, and didn’t throw a fit that we were doing something I wanted to do.  He didn’t fight with me about it.  Didn’t try to change plans at the last minute.  I asked him if he’d like to go and he said he’d love to.

Over the past few years, I gave up what I loved for someone else.  I was used to it.  I’d been doing it my whole life.  Since I was a little girl, I was constantly shown that I didn’t matter.  My father only wanted to use me.  My mother loved my sister more than me.  Other people tried to give me other messages, but the ones I learned the best were the ones I received at home.  I ate up the messages with cereal in the morning and pork chops at night.

And why?  Why couldn’t I hear the other messages from my teachers and friends?  Because the voices and the pain I felt at home were so secretive and so consuming, I couldn’t hear anything else.  My brain was actually reprogrammed because of the trauma and abuse I experienced.

My friend also preached the day after the concert.  Jeff and I went to that too.  Christopher sang a song at children’s time that brought me to tears.  That isn’t too unusual because a lot of songs bring me to tears.  Christopher said that he wanted to sing the song because a friend of his sang it and wanted every adult possible to hear it.  Every child needs to hear it as well, I think.  Perhaps you need to hear it too.

If you have a few minutes, please take the time to listen to it.  You can read the lyrics, but to play the song, just click on the play button next to the title.

how could anyone from Splash! (new 2010 edition)

How could anyone ever tell you You were anything less than beautiful? How could anyone ever tell you You were less than whole? How could anyone fail to notice That your loving is a miracle? How deeply you’re connected to my soul.

Credits:

Written by Libby Roderick

My father never told me I wasn’t beautiful, but he gave me the message every day that I didn’t matter.  He didn’t have to tell me I wasn’t whole, but he broke me.

I have finally gotten to the point that I can believe I am a beautiful person; or at least that I have a beautiful soul.  I have come to realize that I am not a burden on others (though this is still hard for me to say.)  I have worked extremely hard in therapy and in learning to trust people to become whole again.  It is a miracle that I survived, and that so many people survive so much tragedy and heartache.  And you are connected to my soul.  Your healing is bound up in mine and while I understand boundaries and setting them between myself and others in a healthy way, we are connected.  I feel much closer to healed, but I hope each time I write, or talk to you, that I am reaching out my hand to help you move forward in your healing.

Since I left seminary, I have stepped out of my connection with others.  I was tired in many ways and needed a rest.  I was also not in a relationship where I was supported.  Now I am.  And I have also gotten a rest.  I have been writing and have been part of a group for survivors, but I was on the edges in many ways.  It is time for me to step back in.  And I have been thinking about it.  Now it is time to stop thinking and do something about it.

I am filling out the application for CASA – court appointed special advocates – a group of volunteers who support kids through the court process if they have been abused.  My friend and I are working on a book we want to write.  I am doing what I feel I need to to reconnect with other survivors.  It is time and I am stepping in.

Posted in Survivors | 3 Comments

Love Thyself

I got my hair trimmed yesterday.  That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in my life, it has often been a big ordeal.

My father loved my hair long.  My hair is thick and heavy; and while pretty, it can be a pain.  It is hot and heavy, and when I was younger, more than one piece of gum got thrown into my hair.  My mom had to cut it out and it was quite traumatic to get it taken care of.  I got my hair cut at some point before my father had to leave our house.  Dad was furious.  I’d done something without his consent and he didn’t like it at all.

My father also loved the color of my hair.  It is almost the same color as his.  He used to tell me if I ever dyed my hair, he’d kill me.  I waited until he was in prison until I dyed it.  My friend Liz dyed it for me and I waited, holding my breath, expecting him to charge in and finish me off, even though I knew he was safely locked behind bars.  I dyed it a lighter shade of red. I have never felt the need to dye it again.

Last year for my birthday, I wanted nothing else than to get my hair cut.  It was down to the middle of my back and was very heavy and took too much care and time. to dry.  I made the appointment and tried not to let my ex-husband know that because I knew he would try to bully me out of getting it cut.  He had done it before.

When we lived in Illinois, there was a place where I used to love to get my hair cut.  I made an appointment and my ex found out.  He badgered me until I let him cut it.  No surprise, it looked terrible.  I had to go and get it cut anyway.  The man who cut it said, “So, what happened to your hair?”

I knew I made a mistake when the phone rang the day before my birthday and I answered it.  It was the salon calling to confirm my appointment.  After I got off the phone, he asked if I was planning to get my hair cut.  I said yes, that was what I wanted for my birthday (even though I was going to pay for it.)   Again, he began the badgering.  He finally “agreed” to it, as long as I got no more than three inches cut.  I got it layered in the front, so it was about three and a half inches shorter in the front and he threw a fit.  It was the next day that I left him.  My hair wasn’t the reason, but it was one of the last reasons.

Shortly after I started dating Jeff, I asked him what he would do if I cut my hair.  He looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.  He said, “It’s your hair.  You do what you want to with it.”  I believed him, and got it cut very shortly after that discussion.  He loved it.  And he loved it even more because I loved it.

I have often felt that being sexually abused killed my soul, or at least shut it down so tightly that i would never be able to nudge it to life again.

Yesterday I left Jeff a message that I was getting my hair cut.  He called me on the way home and was not belligerent or nasty about it.  He was excited.  And when he got home, he thought it looked great.

Jeff loves me just as I am.  Short hair, long hair; a little heavier than I would like.  He loves me just as I am.

He loves me in part because of who he is, but he also loves me because I have finally come to a place in my life that I love myself.  I deserve this relationship.  I no longer have to keep myself small or hold back who I am because I respect who I am and Jeff does too.

Life has a much different outlook when you love yourself.  I don’t feel ashamed of who I am anymore.  I don’t feel like everything is my fault.  I do the best that I can every day and don’t regret what I can’t do every day.

I used to feel guilty for everything.  It wasn’t my fault, but I was told so often it was that I began to believe it.  And I believed it for a long time.

Some things are my fault and I do make mistakes, but I have learned to take responsibility for my own actions.  That is all I can manage.  And it is all anyone should ever have to manage.

Take responsibility for what you have done, but even more important, learn to love yourself as you are.  That will open amazing doors for others to love you.  You can be who really are and people will have the opportunity to love the real you.  And if they don’t, you probably don’t want to be around them anyway.

Namaste

Old Blog Posts from October 21, 2010 through November 2, 2010

*Please note – This is a copy of posts from my old blog.  The old blog was redesigned to point to this one, but not before I got all the old posts transferred.  What is here and the next few posts to the “Posts from The Old Blog” are copies of what I did thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and many thanks to Tracie Nall at FromTracie for telling me about this.  The links probably do not work and the pictures may not show up and to my dismay, the comments are lost.  I will try to reconstruct the links, but I apologize for these posts.  ~Jackie

Let’s Talk

This weekend, as most people know was Halloween.  Most kids just thought about what they would dress up as and how much candy they would get.  I am relieved to know that some police had children’s safety in mind and didn’t care at all about the costumes or the candy.

On Saturday, a woman at work said she heard in Milwaukee registered sex offenders couldn’t even have a pumpkin in their yard for Halloween.  I thought that was a bit over to top at first because I’m one of those, “Gosh darn it, sex offenders are people too” kind of people.  Then I thought about it for a minute and decided it was actually in kids’ best interest if sex offenders aren’t encouraged to have festive Halloween decorations in their yards.

Police officers and parole officers visited all the homes of one hundred and seventy five registered sex offenders in Milwaukee on Halloween.  According to the story, one sex offender was found with an unaccompanied trick or treater in his house.  It seems extreme, but it looks like one child was saved from a life scarred by abuse.

I used to have such a hard time with that with my dad.  I didn’t want people to know he was a registered sex offender because after all, he was my dad and was a person.  I wrote a poem about his house and the things that were in there and how everything looked normal.  I didn’t want people to be mean to him, but I didn’t want him to be around any other kids either.  It was so hard to reconcile all of it.

Yes, sex offenders are people.  But first and foremost, they are sex offenders.  They chose what they did.  Even if it can be argued that they have a sickness and were abused themselves, it isn’t enough.  They chose what they did and their victims are left to deal with it.  My first priority has to be protecting kids.

When I was in seminary, Rev. Madison Shockley came to speak to us in chapel.  Because my friend was in charge of chapel and knew there was a strong change I’d fly into a rage when Rev. Shockley spoke, I had some warning.  Rev. Shockley is the pastor at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California.  In 2007, a two-time convicted registered sex offender approached Rev. Shockley and asked to join the church.  He said in his speech at Eden that he had always felt his church was open.  This situation challenged how open the church really was.

People in the congregation volunteered to escort the man when he was in the building.  The congregation talked a lot about the impact of allowing this man to join their church.  People were given an opportunity to speak, including victims of abuse.  Rev. Shockley said that many of the survivors in the church were in favor of allowing the man to join.

I got a second to speak with Rev. Shockley after he spoke and I gave him a copy of the O Magazine in which my story had been published.  We did not have much time to speak, but I was still angry, not at Rev. Shockley, but at the whole situation. Victims are repeatedly told to just be quiet about the abuse and try to move on.  Offenders are brought back into society and just told not to do it again.  I cannot sort out the disparity or unfairness of those two perspectives.

Victims of child sexual abuse often spend the rest of their lives trying to fit in and feel normal again.  Perpetrators blend right in.

There is a place in the world for sex offenders to be welcomed, but I do not know where it is and I don’t know that I could be a part of that place.  The one positive I see is that the sex offender is known instead of unknown.  There is some relief in that.

I often check facebook while I’m writing.  It gives me just enough of a break to refocus my work.  Today while writing this, two things struck me.  The first was a post by TAALK – Breaking the Silence that Surrounds Child Sexual Abuse.  The TAALK Tip #34 as posted today on facebook is as follows:

TAALK – Breaking the Silence that Surrounds Child Sexual Abuse on Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 12:09pm

Tip:  Don’t allow yourself to have a “them and us” attitude. Perpetrators  walk among us; they are from every race, religion and socio-economic  sector; they are somebody’s son and somebody’s daughter; and they are  often somebody’s husband, wife, father, mother, grandfather,  grandmother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or cousin. Child sexual abuse  knows no boundaries.

Statistic:30-40% of victims are abused by a family member.

The statistics are even higher for someone that the victim knew – a close family friend, coach, teacher, minister, older friend, babysitter, etc.

The second thing on facebook that struck me today was my friend Shelley Haynes‘ quote from the Dalai Lama.  “We should practice by showing one another love  and helping one another. It is a mistake to pursue happiness and to  seek to the avoid suffering by deceiving and humiliating other people.  We must try to achieve happiness and eliminate suffering by being  good-hearted and well-behaved.”

I find myself having to make choices as I read this quote.  To whom should I show love?  Who needs my help the most?  Sometimes I can’t be good-hearted in the face of what I see in the world.  I see too much suffering and not enough happiness and I don’t believe the suffering goes away just because we try to ignore it.

I know that child-molesters are people too.  But I choose to help protect them kids whenever I can.  They deserve safety and happiness and sometimes they need help to keep away from the suffering.  I choose to not always be well-behaved in helping them stay away from suffering.  For too long, well-behaved women have been defined by their ability to keep quiet.  I’m choosing not to be quite and therefore, will probably not be viewed as well-behaved.  At least I can live with that!

Survivor Archives Project

Last week, I wrote a submission for the Survivor Archives Project.  I am going to be a featured survivor and will share the link when that happens.  What I like about this project is the level of hope it is trying convey.  It isn’t a false hope or anything sugar coated.  It is about men and women who have been in awful, unimaginable situations, and they persevere.  They press on, they survive, they heal, and then they try to leave an imprint of healing for others.  These men and women are taking the awfulness of abuse, not just sexual, but emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual, and trying to paint a picture of what can be.  People can and do survive.  They may be a basket of broken pieces for a while and may have lifelong ramifications from what was done to them, but they are living and thriving.

One of the other things that amazes me about this project is I know a lot of these women.  I consider survivor Vanessa Kennedy to be a dear friend even though I’ve never actually met her.  Through the information super highway, I have been given access to other survivors and their stories of pain and healing.  And it isn’t like I was given access without their permission.  The survivors who are writing for this project want others to know that they aren’t alone.  They have written about their pain not in a grandstanding fashion  to make others look at them with pity or to treat them differently because they had a bad childhood.  If you read these stories, it is a reminder that LOTS of people have bad childhoods.  Most of them don’t turn into psychopaths, rapists, murders, or abusers.  Most of them try to live with what has happened to them and have a life that involves other activities and interests.  The subtext of Survivor Archives Project is “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”  How beautiful and how true.

I am proud to be part of this project and thankful to Joanna Doane and the other project creators.  All of them have a story to tell which touches on the pain of others.  They tell what has worked for them, and what hasn’t, and how to keep going, even when everything is really bad.

Writing for this project also makes me realize that I have gone through a tremendous amount in my relatively short lifetime.  It isn’t that I deny that or think that I didn’t, but I read these stories and think that the other people have done so well and do so much for survivors.  I hope I will be a credit to the project.  It is easier to say how great other people are doing and not be able to claim that I have done pretty well myself.  I guess that’s just one of those self-confidence without being arrogant things I am still working on.

Writing for this project also reminds me of my friends who are survivors.  They are not just survivors of sexual abuse, but physical abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, bad marriages, natural disasters, cancer, and the list goes on.  Life does not have to be this way, but for most people, it seems that it is and living means trying to figure out what to do with all of the things that happen to us.

Part of living is also about making choices.  We all do that everyday and sometimes don’t even realize that we are doing it.  Some choices are so easy, and others are so hard.  Some of the survivors from the Archive Project talk about choosing one spouse and then circumstances causing them to make another decision.  They made the initial decision, lived with it for a while, then made a different one.  I think there is a huge lesson to be learned in that.  Once we make a decision, it is ok to realize it wasn’t the best one we made and try again.  Sometimes we need to change the decision because of a realization about ourselves, or the other person involved, or a change in circumstances.  Life is filled with changes and new choices and we can only do the best we can do with each change and choice.

So, if you are feeling a little overwhelmed by life today and need some realistic stories with endings of hope, please check out the Survivor Archives Project.  I am honored to know some of these folks and commend their stories to you.  If you have a story you’d like to share and let others know they aren’t alone in their pain and experience, please consider writing it.  It will be healing for you and for others.  It also helps spread hope.  One thing the world can always use is more hope.

You’d Think I Was A Siren

I watched the movie “Prince of Tides” again over the weekend.  I absolutely love the book, but for once the movie is pretty good as well.  This is one of the few books I have read more than once.  I think Pat Conroy is an amazing author.

The pain in the movie is so palpable.  Everyone is trying to deal with abuse by not dealing with it.  They all really want to believe that if they just don’t talk about it and go on, it will really go away.  The main character, Tom, is about to lose his wife.  His twin sister has tried to kill herself on several occasions.  Their mother is a bitter, hateful woman who believes if she has money, nothing else in her life matters.

Tom, his twin Savannah, and their mother were raped by three escaped convicts.  Then their older brother Luke kills the convicts.  In the movie, he shoots two of them.  In the book, the deaths involve a tiger.  Their mother tells them to clean up the mess and never think about it again.

I used to watch this movie because then I could cry at their pain.  It was so realistic and brushed the edges of my own.  I could cry and say I was crying at the movie.  I was really crying for them and myself, but the movie was a cover for my own pain.

I spent a lot of time crying in seminary.  We had chapel three days a week, and it often felt like I cried during those periods of worship, and just about any other time that suited me.  For a little while, I felt like Fiona Apple’s song “Please, Please, Please” was my theme song.  “I’m so tired of crying, You’d think I was a siren.”   I’m so glad Miriam introduced me to it.  I just felt like I couldn’t stop crying.  I’d cry in class, in chapel, at lunch, in my apartment, by myself, with friends, with strangers.  I guess I was making up for all the times I hadn’t cried and had just held it in.  I was crying for all the times it wasn’t safe to cry.

Having times when it is not safe to cry isn’t solely a phenomenon of survivors of sexual abuse.  I think our whole society is based on the fact that we don’t take the time to cry and mourn our losses at a time when it is appropriate.  We are allowed to cry at funerals, but not for too long afterward, or we are seen as mentally unstable and just unwilling to move on.  We are allowed to cry at weddings, but only if it is tears of happiness for the joy of the new couple.  We can’t cry for our own marriages that may have failed.  Women who have lost children or were never able to have them can’t cry that those children will never be able to get married.

We have societal rules about crying that are so strict, it is almost impossible to know when emotion of any sort is appropriate.  I think society as a whole would prefer that we not have emotions because then no one has to figure out what is causing the emotion and we can keep living as if everything is perfect.

The other thing that always gets me about “Prince of Tides” is Tom’s struggle to name his abuse.  He has a sarcastic response for everything and says that is the Southern way.  When he tries to tell the psychiatrist what happened to his sister, he says he wasn’t doing anything while she was raped.  After minutes of struggling with language, trying to be masculine, not wanting to cry or admit weakness, he finally says, “I didn’t know it could happen to a boy.”

This is another flaw in our societal character.  We can barely admit in public that women are raped and abused, but God forbid that we admit men and boys can be abused too.  It happens.  Actually, it happens a lot.  The statistics are one in seven boys are sexually abused before the age of eighteen.  I do not know the statistics on men who are raped after age eighteen, but like so many other things there are people who never say a word or may never recognize it as abuse.

We have so much education to do.  And we have so many injustices to stop.  One way to educate yourself further on the issue of male sexual abuse is to watch the documentary “Boys and Men Healing.”  I have not ordered the film and watched it in its entirety yet, but what I have seen of it and read out it, it is certainly worth the time.  Another good organization that helps educate men and woman about abuse is (Wo)Men Speak Out.  Chris and Ophelia are amazing.  They have so many wonderful things to share.

So if you haven’t ever watched or read “Prince of Tides” and need space to cry, it is a good opportunity.  Educate yourself about sexual abuse if you weren’t abused, and heal yourself if you were.  Healing yourself brings healing to the world.  You are worth it.

Old Blog Posts from November 9, 2010 to January 12, 2011

*Please note – This is a copy of posts from my old blog.  The old blog was redesigned to point to this one, but not before I got all the old posts transferred.  What is here and the next few posts to the “Posts from The Old Blog” are copies of what I did thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and many thanks to Tracie Nall at FromTracie for telling me about this.  The links probably do not work and the pictures may not show up and to my dismay, the comments are lost.  I will try to reconstruct the links, but I apologize for these posts.  ~Jackie

I Am A Survivor, And I’m Not The Only One

I went out with some friends last night. An older man came over and started talking to me.  I have talked to this man before and he has said some things that are just on the verge of inappropriate.  Last night, he told me that he broke up with his girlfriend and attempted to tell me sexual things she enjoyed that he did to her.  I told him that I didn’t need to know any details.  The rest of the night, the man essentially blocked me in my chair and kept moving closer to me, even though he was standing there talking to my husband.

I was so angry with him because he was invading my space and telling me things I had no desire to know.  I actually felt like I needed a shower.  It was just so disrespectful and I felt violated.

Then I got mad at myself because I don’t know him well and I tried to convince myself that I was just overreacting.  He’s just an old man.  He didn’t mean any harm.  Blah, blah, blah.

Whether he meant it or not, I found his comments offensive and then I blamed myself.  I have been so conditioned in my life to blame myself that even when I was angry with the appropriate person for his bad behavior, I got angry with myself for being angry.

I’ve done so much work to heal that it is frustrating when I find myself falling into old, bad patterns that were so ingrained I didn’t even recognize them.  I was just a child when I was abused and didn’t have enough experience or power in life to know that anything could be different.

Now I am an adult.  I don’t have control over every situation, but I do have control over how I react.  I was angry with good reason at a man I don’t know who was acting in much too forward of a manner.  He may not have laid a hand on me, but his words and movements were unwelcome and unwanted.

The other thing that really bothers me about this man is that he professes to be so Christian.  He tells me about his church and how much money he contributes every week.  Then when he’s not in church, he’s making inappropriate, sexual comments to people he hardly knows.  Those are the types of Christians the church could really live without.

Most of the time, my intuition is pretty tuned in to people I  feel are creepy.  Most of the time I pay attention to it and I may not ever know if I’m right about the person or not, but I have learned to trust my instincts.  This man sets off the creepy alarm less than some, but there are certainly warnings of discomfort.

I did not ask for his comments and I don’t believe he would have backed off if my husband hadn’t come back to our table just then.  And chances are, that next time we go in there, he’ll be right back in my face again.

So how will I act differently next time?  I’ll sit in a different place in the bar.  I will pay attention to my creepy meter.  I don’t need or want his attention.  I could stay home, but then I have to give up an evening with my husband because of some old man who is old enough to know better, but just doesn’t care.  I will continue to stand up for myself and tell him to back off if he  continues to be so forward.  I don’t deserve or want his attention.

It also makes me angry that I am the one who has to change my behavior.  I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I am the one who has to change and think about how I behave and react.  It seems like he should be the one who has to change.

It isn’t a great situation and I really hate that people have to be so thoughtless and inconsiderate of other people.  If people in general were more thoughtful of others and thought about how their actions impact others, the world would be a much different place.  People could all live in a world in which they were respected.  No would would ever be raped or abused.

As I often do, I’d like to close this post with a song. It is “I Think About You” by Raye Collin.  Please read the words and then listen to the video.  The emphasis is mine, but I think about every woman and man I know who was abused when I hear it.  The language in the song only refers to a girl, but I know both men and women are abused.

“I Think About You” sung by Raye Collin

Every time I see a woman on a billboard sign I think about you Saying “drink this beer and you’ll be mine” I think about you When an actress on a movie screen Plays Lolita in some old man’s dreams It doesn’t matter who she is I think about you

When I see a pretty woman walking down the street I think about you Men look her up and down like she’s some kind of treat I think about you She wouldn’t dare talk to a stranger always has to be aware of the danger it doesn’t matter who she is I think about

Chorus: You eight years old big blue eyes and a heart of gold when I look at this world, I think about You and I can’t help but see that every woman used to be Somebody’s little girl, I think about you

Everytime I hear people say it’s never gonna change I think about you Like it’s some kind fo joke, some kind of game I think about you When I see a woman on the news who didn’t ask to be abandoned or abused it doesn’t matter who she is I think about

Chorus

You eight years old big blue eyes and a heart of gold when I look at this world, I think about You and I can’t help but see that every woman used to be Somebody’s little girl, I think about you

It’ll Be Alright Again

The year is drawing to a close and I wonder if we are in a better place that we were last year.  And there are so many ways in which we can take stock in our lives.  How are our finances, our relationships, our feelings about ourselves and others.  We are still in that bleak period of time, now only with the weather, but with the holidays and all the emotions that surround them.

Before Christmas, I was having a pretty rough time.  We went to Texas and fought with everything we had and it felt like we came home empty handed.  We still don’t know the outcome, and like so many things, I think it will be a long time before we know anything.

I know talking about the ripples from one stone thrown in the water is trite.  But I believe it all the same.  I have learned to be cautious of people and the world in general, but my first instinct is always to try and love.  I think if you spread kindness in the world, a little bit of it is bound to come back to you.

As with so many other things, though, I get tired of waiting.  I try to be nice to every customer that comes into the store where I work.  Most of them are very pleasant and I enjoy working with them.  Sometimes, though, people are having a bad day or didn’t get what they wanted, or for whatever reason are having a bad life and take it out on me.  I try to smile and not tell them to go to hell.  So far, I’ve managed never to do that.

Sadly, I’m not always able to leave my stuff at the door either and it comes out as frustration with people who wait on me.  I try to apologize and tell them it’s not them.  For the most part, taking out frustration on someone who doesn’t deserve it doesn’t help anyone in any way.

The ripple story may be trite, but I think there is one thing we forget.  The ripples we send out don’t always come back to us, but they affect the world.  We may still have a hard time and bad things may still happen to us.  Being a good person does not guarantee that we will always get good things back, but I hope we can still try to pay it forward.

As a survivor, I don’t think this is easy.  I want to trust people, but I really struggle with that.  My ability to trust others was broken so severely that I could barely trust myself.  I didn’t trust the people who were supposed to love me and protect me because they had shown that there was no reason to trust them.  I didn’t trust strangers because I learned no one was trustworthy.  I always wanted to trust people, and have had more than one broken heart because I did.

As I have grown older and worked through some of my trauma, I have learned to trust again.  I am still cautious about it but I feel so much more whole now that I can trust people again.

This New Year, I wish you all hope, trust, and love.  Try to trust when you can and try to love yourself.  You may have been taught that you were unlovable but it simply isn’t true.  You are totally worth love, trust, and respect.  People can tell you that over and over, but until you can believe it for yourself, it will probably only feel fake.

On the way home from work the other day, I heard the song “Little Miss” by Sugarland.  the one line that really struck me was, “…sometimes you gotta lose til you win.  It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright. It’ll be alright again.

So I dedicate this song to all of my friends and fellow survivors as 2010 draws to a close.  It may not be alright right now and we may have to say it is, but it will be alright again.  Love and blessings to all of you who sometimes still see the world through the glass darkly and those of you who have come to know the light as well.

Rage Against The Dying of the Light

I just got back from a trip to Texas. I took the train on this trip and sat with a woman named Corinne.  She was a survivor of Hurricane Katrina.  During our conversation, it came out that I work with survivors of sexual abuse.  She said, “I never experienced that but I made it through Katrina.  How do I survive that?”

I told her to keep talking and keep crying and find people who understand.  That is no good advice, but it was all I could come up with at the time.

It would be fantastic if there were a one size fits all solution for survival.  My fear is that it would be something like the solution in Stepford.  We’ll make you into a robot, but you will smile and be happy all the time and never feel any pain.  Your life will be perfect.  There have been days when I would have asked where to sign.

It hurts to be a victim.  It hurts to heal and become a survivor.  There seems to be no end of things from which we have to survive.  I am constantly awed by the tenacity of the people I meet and the life force in them which helps them continue to survive.

The down side of that is that they sometimes work so hard to survive that they never learn how to thrive.  And how does one do that?  I wish I were an expert on that.  Then I could write a best seller and focus more on what I want to do than working to pay the bills and squeeze in what I love on the side.

I can’t even give you a direct map of how I’ve survived.  There have been points when I honestly just didn’t think I would make it.  I know I’ve said it before, but I really attribute my survival to my friends.  There is a force within me which refuses to give up, but it has been so battered at times that didn’t think I could go on.  My friends were always there to hold me up until I could continue on my own.

“And I’ll be there, yes, I will. You’ve got a friend.”  I have always loved this song because I have found friends throughout my life who proved they really would be there.  It wasn’t just lip service.  They listened to me and did not turn away from my pain.  For someone who is used to being ignored and put off, that is a powerful reality check.  My friends taught me that I was worth the time and the effort.  I couldn’t understand why, but they didn’t turn me away.

It took me a long time to figure out what people saw in me and why they cared.  I sometimes still struggle with that because it has to be about me and I’m not good at dealing with things that are about me.  I’m good at dealing with other people and listening to them, but I struggle to find the place for me.

There used to be a Saturday Night Live skit that featured Stuart Smalley in which he would say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”  Of course it was fictional, but there has been more than one day in my life when I’ve had to say that.  Sometimes, I’ve had to say it more than once a day.

So, here’s the bottom line.  Take the time to heal.  Talk, yell, scream, draw, write, speak, pray.  Do whatever it is you need to heal.  You are totally worth it.

I’ll close tonight with a poem I have always loved by Dylan Thomas.

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It may seem easier sometimes to just be quiet and not make a fuss.  As you do that, the spark of life within you loses strength.  It is worth the pain to heal.  Rage against the dying of that light.

Holiday Blues

I’ve been neglecting my blog.  I haven’t written for weeks.  As the holidays approach, I have to wonder why am I neglecting it.  Is it that I’m just so busy that I don’t have time to write or is there some other reason I’m not ready to address?

The holidays are a rough time for lots of people, for lots of different reasons.  The economy makes it difficult because we are supposed to be able to afford to get our friends and family the presents they need and want.

For Christians, this is supposed to be a time of celebration and anticipation.  This is when we celebrate the birth of Christ.  Births are supposed to be good things.  The stress and anxiety associated with it can be overwhelming.  That’s how many survivors feel about Christmas.

I think, emotionally, I’m in a better place about holidays than I have ever been.  I’m still feeling the drain.  There’s been a lot of things going on in my life and I’m just feeling drained.  There may be some things to celebrate and I know there are.  So I’m trying to focus on those, but also remembering when Christmas was hard.  Thinking of spending time with family and seeing people that would ask about my father was hard.  Thinking about how I was supposed to be happy was hard.  I’ve grown exceptionally good at smiling even when I don’t feel like it.  I have to stop and think sometimes if I’m really happy or just smiling because I’m supposed to.

When I was a kid, I was excited about Christmas.  I loved the excitement of it, and of course I loved the presents.  Mom always got us a new pair of pajamas that we opened on Christmas Eve and would wear to bed that night.

My sister and I usually woke up very early in the morning to open our presents.  As part of the family agreement for waking my father up early, we were not allowed to change into regular clothes.  We had to stay in our new pajamas through opening presents and breakfast.  It was an invitation for my father to see us in our pajamas, in a way that always made me feel vulnerable.  The pajamas weren’t revealing or inappropriate, it just made me feel exposed.

For years, when I would go to a friends’ house and spend the night, I would not put my pajamas on until I was in my room, or my sleeping bag.  I didn’t want to feel exposed by just walking around in pajamas.  I would also leave my shoes on until it was time for bed.  I never knew when I’d need to run away.

As the Christmas holiday approaches this year, I’m just not feeling the excitement.  I haven’t gotten the tree.  I have bought zero presents.  I’m thinking that perhaps I’d just like to skip the whole thing.  I won’t skip it and society won’t let me forget, but I hope other survivors are fairing a little better with Christmas than I am this year.

If you aren’t, please know you are not alone and just be gentle with yourself as we progress through the season.  Spend time with those you love and who love you, and know it is ok to avoid the family gatherings in which you do not feel safe or loved.

I’m kind of stuck in my own bog at the moment and not looking out at the world around me. I hope you can find a little light to your soul.

Thanksgiving

I wrote a post about the TSA screening procedures.  It was pretty good.  I had links to the Early Show and the Martin Niemoller poem about remaining silent.  And you just have to take my word that it was pretty good.  Since the computer ate it not once but twice, I’ve erased what was left out of pure frustration. Ugh.

So I’ll move on to the topic at hand.  It’s late in the day on Thanksgiving and I wonder how my survivor friends are doing.  Holidays should be about spending time with family and relaxing, enjoying each other’s company.  For non-survivors and survivors alike, the mere thought of getting together with one’s family is often depressing, if not completely overwhelming.

For survivors of abuse, it often puts us back in the same room with our abusers.  We are forced to smile and look like we are enjoying our selves.  Sometimes we are even forced to pose for pictures with our abuser and look like we are happy to be there.

Holidays are tough for a lot of people.  Saying that, I found this blog that says a lot of good things for survivors.  There are a lot of good tips here.  Please read them and add your own.

You have seen through the glass darkly, but there is light and you are not alone.

It’s Not Free Speech.  It Is A Crime

The latest Facebook fire storm has been about a book on Amazon.com about how to have an encounter with a child without getting caught.  I am not going to dignify the “book” by listing its name or adding a link.

I don’t order many books, but I love Amazon.com.  I love the variety of books and products that I can buy.  I also love that I can buy used books.  I don’t always like using other people’s books, but I like saving money.

It isn’t acceptable that a world wide bookseller would allow a book to be sold which encourages criminal behavior and tells the correct way to have an encounter with a child.  One blog I read called Mischievous Muse listed fictional titles for other books she wondered if Amazon.com would list.  At first I didn’t realize she was being sarcastic and I thought they were actual titles listed by Amazon.com.  That was how realistic the titles were and how appalling the concept of these books are.

Amazon.com has said they do not believe in censoring the booksellers on the site and they believe in the author’s right to free speech.  For good or bad, people are allowed to write whatever they want, but it does not mean that retailers have to sell it.  Amazon.com benefits financially from each sale of the book.  It seems that they may wish to be more careful about what it posts.  There is already talk of a boycott, which would hurt them financially as well.

I agree with freedom of speech, but I think we take it too far.  I don’t know how to propose censorship, but when the work is encouraging people to commit crimes and gives specific instructions on how to commit that crime and not get caught, that is too much.  No, I do not have to read whatever was written and in this case, I refuse.  But other people will read it and in this case, children will be hurt and have to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.  Isn’t that a good enough reason to say, no we will not allow this book to be sold.

With the wonder of the internet, I know the author will just find another way to disseminate the information.  There is almost no way to stop information from being available once it hits the internet.  However, I don’t think places like Amazon.com or any other global book seller should promote anything that encourages hurting children, or animals, or women.

One man interviewed on the Early Show stated that pedophilia really meant a love for children.  I love children, but I am certainly not a pedophile.  It is so disturbing that we have learned to speak about illegal and immoral things, like pedophilia, in terms that make it seem not so bad.  It is the ultimate dangerous downplay to say that pedophilia is just about loving kids or that man boy love is acceptable because it is teaching the boy how to be a man.  As the man said on Oprah the other day, it is the stealing of a soul, not the nurturing of one.

As with all things, I want people to be free and I want to have the freedom to do and say what I want.  But I think we have to think about throwing around the words free speech without thinking about the implications of that speech.  Whatever someone says, someone else can object to or find offensive, but we also have to think it through.  There is a line when free speech becomes hate speech.  And then, once again, we have to use the voices we have found to stand up and say, hold on.  This is just abusive.  It is nothing that even resembles free speech.

Today Is About Becoming Free

I just did a couple things I never do.  I never watch shows online and I never watch Oprah.  Don’t get me wrong, Oprah has done and continues to do a lot of good things.  I think I’ve just gotten tired of some of her shows, and there are some things I just don’t care about.  BUT her show from last Friday is one that anyone who knows a survivor of sexual abuse should not miss.  Since we all know a survivor of sexual abuse, whether we know it or not, I guess we should all watch the Friday, November Fifth, Two Thousand and Ten’s episode.  If you haven’t had a chance yet, here’s the link.  It is totally worth the forty minutes.

The show stemmed from an episode where Tyler Perry admitted that his life as a child had been a living hell.  He admitted that he was sexually molested by several different perpetrators during his childhood.  The Oprah show last week featured Tyler Perry and one hundred and ninety-nine other men who were molested as children.  Most of them had multiple perpetrators.  All of them lived with the silence, the shame, the self-doubt, the constant daily struggle so common to survivors of sexual abuse, both male and female.

The pain of the men on the show was palpable, even through the small video screen on my computer.  Obviously, I am not a man, and did not have to grow up in a society as a boy who had been sexually abused.  I am a woman and did grow up in a society as a girl who had been sexually abused.  Many of the feelings the men described were as familiar to me as if they were my own.  That leads me to believe that we live in a society that allows horrible abuse of its children to occur, but has no adequate way to deal with it or stop it.  That is a frightening realization, but the survivors I know who have found their voice have done it for themselves and to help heal the world.

My friends, Ophelia de Serres and Chris de Serres, are speaking out.  Chris was one of the men on stage at the Oprah show last week.  He and Ophelia have also started a project called the My Name is Project to put a face to survivors of abuse.  We’ve all heard the statistics, but seeing a survivor makes it real and makes people more likely to care.  If I get up the nerve again to ask my mom for pictures, I’ll submit mine to the project as well.  I just really hate saying, “Hey mom, can I have some pictures of me at about age seven so I can post them on the internet and show the world the age I was when I was abused?”  It’s never a good conversation starter and it hurts so much to look at the pictures.

There were a few quotes from the show that struck me with their profoundness and wisdom.  One man said, “The shame goes so deeply within your soul.  It just becomes intertwined with everything.”  Another man named Paul said, “I thought he cared about us.  I thought he cared about me.  He stole my fucking soul.”  I think of sexual abuse as soul death.  It takes a lot to recover one’s soul, and some parts of it are gone forever.

During the show, Oprah reflected on a former guest’s definition of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a sticky subject for me and for other survivors.  I’ve always felt forced to forgive my father for what he did and just move on.  I couldn’t forgive him then and I’m not sure I have yet, but I have forgiven the little girl who couldn’t stop an adult from doing what he wanted.  Oprah said, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different and moving forward.”  Beginning to move forward is the first step to moving on with the rest of your life; not as it could have been, but as it is, realistically now.  You are in control of your life now, even though it may seem like you aren’t.  You are no longer a child who had no control and no choices.

The last quote from the show that struck me was also from Oprah.  She said, “It’s time to end the shame…Today is about becoming free.”

Today is about becoming free.  If we are making choices that aren’t the best, there’s always tomorrow.  You can make another choice.  As an adult, you have the option to do that.  As a little kid, you didn’t have that option.  You deserve good things and have the ability to choose them.

If you are a survivor, thank you for all your hard work.  If you are a supporter, thank you for your love.  If you are a victim, please know it will get better.  You aren’t alone in your suffering.  Hang in there.  The survivors who have gone before you and are still around know what it is like.  The supporters are there for you and wish you nothing but good things.  Hang on, reach out, and know that there is real love that doesn’t hurt.  Just keep looking for it.

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Old Posts from September 7, 2011 (Jennifer’s Story, Part II) to September 25, 2011

*Please note – This is a copy of posts from my old blog.  The old blog was redesigned to point to this one, but not before I got all the old posts transferred.  What is here and the next few posts to the “Posts from The Old Blog” are copies of what I did thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and many thanks to Tracie Nall at FromTracie for telling me about this.  The links probably do not work and the pictures may not show up and to my dismay, the comments are lost.  I will try to reconstruct the links, but I apologize for these posts.  ~Jackie

In Ways I Cannot Describe

I just got back from a wonderful vacation in Florida.  While I was there, I saw five dolphins.  To me, dolphins represent the freedom that I have never known in life.  They are so majestic and beautiful.  I have stood and watched for them for hours.

When I am lucky enough to see even one, it is as if my heart beats in a smoother pattern.  It beats as if there is a peace in the world and I may some day know it.  It touches my soul at a depth I cannot describe.

In 2001, my sister and I went to California.  Before we left, I had done some research into getting a tattoo.  I found an artist in Santa Barbara.  I loved her work and decided I wanted her to do my tattoo.

I wanted a dolphin.  I wanted a piece of that freedom as part of my body.  I felt like so much had been taken from me, I wanted a visual reminder of where I had been and how far I had come.

We went to the shop and realized it was almost closing time.  Pat Fish was congenial, though gruff.  I didn’t want flash, but was so nervous I couldn’t ask her to design something for me.  So I chose a design and she tattooed me.

It took two hours.  It didn’t hurt because my arm quickly fell asleep because it was tucked under my body so she had easy access to my shoulder as flat as it could be.

It is deep, and I bled a lot, but that is also somewhat symbolic.  All the pain I went through when I was a child was hidden.  I kept it all inside.  The tattoo reflected the pain and the hurt, but made it visible, and turned it into something beautiful.

Pain is not beautiful, but so many survivors turn their pain into passion and speak for themselves and other survivors as often as they are able.  In that way, the experience is transformed and something beautiful comes out of it.

My tattoo is in a place where I can show it if I want, but usually chose not to show it.  That, too, is similar to my experience.

When people find out that I have a tattoo, they are often surprised.  I often hear, “You don’t seem like the type to have a tattoo.  Why do you have one?”  I usually ask if they really want to know.  That gives them a second to think about it, and gives me a second to gather the strength to tell my truth.

It takes a lot less effort to tell my truth than it used to, but there are always implications, for me and the person listening.  For me, it is telling something that people do not really want to hear and risk touching the pain all over again.  For them, it risks touching their pain of they were abused as well.

There is no beauty in what happened to me.  Absolutely none.  I hope that I bring beauty to it by telling the story with grace, truth, courage and care.  I also hope it makes it easier for others to speak their pain.  That is the best result I could every possibly experience.

That, like the dolphin, touches my soul in ways I cannot describe.

But The Bad Days Don’t Last Long And I Know What It Feels Like To Be Whole

Jennifer’s Story, Part II

The first adult I told about “my affair with the pastor” was also a minister, who served at the denominational college I attended (recommended by my pastor, who continued to see me on visits to campus).  I was having trouble in a class at college and this man was asked to look in on me.  When I confessed to him what was going on, he said was outraged at my pastor but never considered turning in his colleague and friend.  It remained a secret, as I started going to him for counseling.  For the next year or so, we talked frequently and he tried to help me understand what had happened to me.  He admitted that he too had been attracted to girls my age when he was a pastor at a church and told me how tempting some girls were.  He made it sound like it was just one of those things…wrong but sometimes inevitable.  He asked me in our “counseling sessions” when was the first time I pleasured myself, concluding that I was one of those early sexual girls.  We eventually stopped “counseling” but remained friends while I was at college.  Just before I graduated, he started trying to have sex with me.  I guess he finally couldn’t resist.

The second person I told about what happened to me in my church was the Campus minister.  He informed me that if I wanted to, I could bring church charges against the pastor.  He said that if I chose to do so that I should be prepared to put my family through hell and have my entire sexual history exposed.  He recommended that instead, I focus on healing my own pain and guilt.  Basically, he treated me for sexual addiction.

The third person I went to for help was also a minister, from another denomination.  He waited three days after I told him about my experience as a child to start molesting me.  I was 25.  He was 65.  When I tried to break it off, he became enraged.  He wrote letters to my boss, my friends and my husband describing the sexual contact we had been having.  He was defrocked by his congregation and forced into retirement.

The first non-minister, woman I told about my abuse was a professional counselor at the college where I was getting my masters.  She invited me to join a support group for survivors of sexual abuse.  We had a group of five and met regularly.  The group encouraged me to report my first abuser to the church, which I did.  I wrote the Bishop and told him that I had been molested as a minor, and named him.  I received a letter back from the Bishop weeks later saying he was very sorry but the statute of limitations had run out and there was nothing that could be done.  I’m sure that if my counselor at that time had known of his response, she would have been outraged.  She never got to see it, though.  She was killed in a car accident on the way to work.  The group disbanded.

From that point on, I went through periods of time, when I tucked my abuse away, other times when I went to therapists and worked on issues.  Little by little, I got healthier and understood more about myself.  But, for the next 20 years I carried one very unhealthy belief with me.  Deep down, I still believed that what happened to me at 15 was somehow special…unique, and that I was at least partially responsible.  That changed when I found out in 2008 that another woman had brought church charges against my abuser AND HAD LOST!  Suddenly, I realized that what happened to me was in no way special or unique.  For the first time in my life, I owned that I was a victim.  A victim of a master abuser.  I have heard so many times that in order to heal, you have to stop being a victim and become a survivor.  But truly, for me, real healing started when I stood in the realization that I was a victim.  Since that time, I have become a survivor and I have found the self that was lost for 30 years.

After finding out that my abuser was able to avoid a conviction in the church when my letter had established a prior history, I became extremely angry.  I started looking for the woman who had had the courage to bring charges.  When, I found her, it was incredible.  She told me that my letter was read aloud at her pre-trial hearing and even though it was determined that it could not be brought as evidence, it gave her the strength to continue when doubts filled her mind.  Life is amazing, and after she lost her battle to convict him, she continued on her path to becoming ordained and she is now the pastor at the church where I was abused!  We have become soul sisters and visit regularly, but I have not visited her in my home town yet.  I’m working on the courage to visit the church and let her make it a safe place for me again.

Every paragraph in my story is a story in itself.  I would like to start writing about my healing process and the insights I have embraced.  I have been blessed with finally finding and loving myself…most days.  Some days are still very hard.  The slightest thing can set me off.  But the bad days don’t last long and I know what it feels like to be whole.

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Jennifer.  I know it will help other people heal.

Old Posts from October 2011 to November 2011

*Please note – This is a copy of posts from my old blog.  The old blog was redesigned to point to this one, but not before I got all the old posts transferred.  What is here and the next few posts to the “Posts from The Old Blog” are copies of what I did thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and many thanks to Tracie Nall at FromTracie for telling me about this.  The links probably do not work and the pictures may not show up and to my dismay, the comments are lost.  I will try to reconstruct the links, but I apologize for these posts.  ~Jackie

I Refuse To Do It For Him

Music has always been a big part of my life.  I am at a point where I can no longer sing with much melody, but in my head, I still hear the right notes.  One particular song has been running through my head for days.  A friend asked me if I knew why.  I said yes, but was not ready to say it yet.

The song, Three Wooden Crosses, sung by Randy Travis, is one that I have always liked.  It is not my favorite, and I struggle with the notion of a cross.  In this song, however, the crosses are the road side memorials for people who have died in accidents.  They are always troubling to see, but a different kind of cross.

As I have moved from a victim of abuse to the person I consider myself to be now as a thriver, I have often wondered how I made it.  The stark reality is that many people do not.  They succumb to the pain.  In saying that, it is not my intention to pass judgment on them or claim that they are weak because they cannot take it anymore.  No one should ever have to survive the abuse I have lived through.  And I know many people who have survived much more severe abuse than I have.  I am by no means playing down what I experienced.  It was horrible.  But it stopped and I have been able to work through a lot of it, even though it still affects me every day.

The one line of “Three Wooden Crosses” that has been running through my head is “There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway.  Why there aren’t four of them heaven only knows.”

I could never figure out why I survived.  The pain and anguish I used to feel should have driven me to my knees.  In some respects, it did, but it was also part of my nature to get up again.  It was not something I could explain, and I always hesitate to say things like this for fear of sounding arrogant.  I cannot explain it, but I did get up – again and again and again.

Now, it doesn’t hurt so much.  I feel strong enough to handle it.  In looking back, I have a different perspective on the hurt.  I will never believe that there was a reason for it.  There was no divine plan that allowed it to happen so I could get to this place in my life.  It happened.  It was unbearably awful.  I have done a lot of work to get through the pain and the scars, but now I’m here.  On the other side of abuse, the world looks different, but it was forever changed because of someone else’s selfish and brutal actions.

In a conversation with a dear friend yesterday, I got a different perspective.  It was one of those things that just finally clicked in my brain.  If I had killed myself and had not been able to survive, I would have been doing my father a favor.  In his own way, he was trying to kill me.  If not the physical me, my sense of self and safety.  He was trying to kill my soul.  My friend said, “I refuse to do it for him (sic).  There are times when I am suicidal but when push comes to shove I refuse to do it for him (sic), he can damn well do it himself.”

And she is right.  Why should I help him kill me?  He was doing a pretty good job on his own, but why should I help him finish me off?  I can’t.  I can’t help him take that final blow against my humanity.  He has my blood on his hands, but I refuse to finish what he tried to start.  He isn’t worth it.

But I have finally come to the realization that I am worth the fight.  I am worth the fight against every bit of pain I have known.  I have something to say.  I matter.  And it is still hard to write those words.  It brings tears to my eyes for me and for anyone who ever had to doubt that they were worth it because of what someone else chose to do to them. out of selfishness and greed.

It is my hope that I offer an ounce of hope and courage when people are not feeling very courageous.  One of the beauties of the internet is that people can find anything if they are looking; and sometimes when they are not looking.  You can find a whole lot of junk on the internet, but I hope just one person finds this post and can finally begin to answer the question why their cross isn’t added to the many who have succumbed to the pain of being sexually abused by people who are supposed to love them.

You are worth the fight.  Keep fighting and don’t let them, or him, or her, whoever is abusing you make you help them in killing your soul.

I know I have used this poem before, but it still speaks to me in a voice that is loud and clear.  My high school English teacher gave me a copy of it when I was a senior and I have carried it with me ever since.  It speaks to my soul and helps me remember why I’m still standing.

DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rage at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

So, rage on my friends.  Do not help them kill that light within you.

Namaste

Let’s Unpack

A few months ago, I had to move.  The whys and hows are long and tedious, so I will not bore you with them.  I had boxes in three different states which I have finally gotten all together.

I live on the second floor of an apartment building so I have had to lug all these boxes up the stairs.  A few of them, I have lugged up the stairs, opened, and lugged back down the stairs.  They are either filled with books I now longer need or things that I no longer need or want.  So, I have been taking them to the library or Good Will.

In some of the boxes I have found things that made me smile.  Presents from dear friends or momentos from things I have done.  I found medals from a choir competition in middle school.  I found pictures with friends in places I had forgotten I had been.

Some of the things I found touched the edges of memories I did not want to uncover.  I found picture albums, which I have not gone through yet.  I will have to be in a particular mood before I am able to look at the pictures.  Now that I have identified the dissociative stare, I am sure I will see it a lot in those pictures.  That will take some time.

I think packing and unpacking is much like healing from abuse.  When I packed these boxes, I put a lot of things in them, usually because I had run out of time to pack.  I didn’t sort through what I put in each box and I packed it all in such a way that it fit perfectly in the box.

With the memories of my abuse, I had to pack them inside and make them at least look like they all fit.  As I lived and had different experiences, the memories shifted around.  Sometimes, they shifted into a painful position.  Then I had to get help, usually through therapy or a good friend, to reshift the memory so it was not so painful.  Sometimes it took a long time to move the memory and get in a place that caused me less pain.

This move, I am doing a lot of sorting.  I have been carrying around a lot of stuff that I do not need.  In the same regard, I have been carrying around in my soul a lot of memories and attitudes that I do not need.  As the sorting goes on, space is freed up for more appropriate attitudes and memories.

And I am in charge of them now.  I get a say in my experiences.  I have choices.  When I was a child and being abused by my father and silenced by people who did not want to know what was happening.

I realize that there are things in life that will happen which are out of my control.  But the realization that I had a choice in what happened to me was at first terrifying, then freeing.  I am no longer that chained up little person with no choice and no self.

I am a person of worth and I do not have to carry memories and pain which I did not choose.  This did not happen over night and I am by no means saying it is easy, but I’m saying it can get better.

As we travel through life, we pack things and carry them, some of which we need and some of which we do not.  Each time we make a move or make a change, we have the choice what we take and what we leave behind.  It is a process of examination, remembering, mourning, anger, healing, and letting go.

As in a move, we will be in a new place and if we are willing to do the hard work of unpacking and examining, we can have a new perspective and a new start.  The break isn’t easy, the work is strenuous and in some ways, feels just as bad as the abuse we suffered, but when you’ve gone through the process, think how much lighter the bags which you are carrying will be.  The difference will change your world, and in the process, you will change the world.

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin

 

Through Many Dangers

As a survivor of sexual abuse, I have been in many emotional places in my life.  Many have been painful, but there have also been the highs most people experience.  Since I started writing this blog, I have not written from a place of direct pain.  I have not been in a place of pain related to the abuse for a while, but that is where I am tonight, and so I write from here.

Survivors talk about triggers.  If that does not make sense, it is a place, a smell, a sensation or a particular something that takes the person back to his or her abuse.  I used to have more triggers, not as many as some, but enough.  I have been able to work through a lot of them.  Except one.

I have mentioned this before, but in a detached way that did not touch the pain it brings me.  My trigger is a song.

No matter how little of it I hear, it stays with me for hours, sometimes days.  Since I heard it tonight, I will have to wait and see how long it stays this time.

I like to set my radio on scan until I hear a song that I like.  Sometimes, this is a dangerous idea because this song is played on the radio and occasionally I stumble upon it.

“I remember Daddy’s hands, soft and kind when I was crying, hard as steal when I done wrong…But there was always love in daddy’s hands.”

I do not have to hear even a single word of this song.  I took enough music lessons that I recognize the notes alone.  When I hear it, my heart starts to beat faster.  I frantically look for the button on the radio to make it stop.  The “off” button never comes to mind.  I hit the scan button, but that makes it stop on that channel so I have to listen to more of it instead of less.

My stomach gets tight and I feel like I’m going to vomit.  My trigger has been set.  My mind sees one thing.  Hands.  Coming toward me in a way that is far from loving.  I will not go on, more for me than for you.

Then I’m very distracted.  It is hard to fight off the images.  There are many tactics for fighting off flashbacks, very few of which I’ve ever found effective.  This particular trigger is only banished by another song and the battle between the two is epic.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.”  That is as far as my brain will go.  Then “there was always love in daddy’s hands.”  Then “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.  Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until I can get to “that saved a wretch like me.”

I always wanted to be saved from the abuse, but didn’t know how.  I felt wretched.  I did need to be saved, but realize now that i was not the one who was wretched.

The first song reminds of what was supposed to be.  My father was supposed to treat me in a loving way.  He let me down again and again.  He hurt me.  There was not a single loving thing in his hands.

And it is nothing short of amazing that I survived.  But that is true not just for me.  Every single survivor who survives is nothing less than amazing.

So, I’m still a little teary and a little raw, but “Amazing Grace” will win out.  Daddy’s hands will never win.

(And after the song, a prayer I can never say.)

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come.”

You’ve Come A Long Way Baby

There have been a lot of transitions in my life of late.  Transitions often mean sorting through things that have been put in boxes.

As I sorted today, I found pictures of past relationships, past experiences, and something I had not planned to find.  I found pictures of my past self, and some of them were barely recognizable to me as me.

Other survivor friends have talked about seeing pictures of themselves and what they have described as the dissociative stare.  It is the look in the eyes in a picture that most people would not recognize, but survivors recognize it in themselves as pain.  They see the dissociation in their eyes that they learned to avoid the pain.  Dissociating is a coping mechanism I am not sure I can explain if you have never felt it, and I honestly hope you never have to learn what it means.

The first picture I found was from my passport.  I took a trip to Russia in 1997.   By that time, I was no longer being abused.  My father had actually already been released from prison.  Nonetheless, when I look in my eyes, there is a pain I can almost not tolerate to see.

I know you can’t see it well in this picture, but my eyes look completely glazed.  I was on the journey to healing, but in the throws of hell.

The second set of pictures was taken when I lived in California in 2001.  My sister was attending photography school and one of her friends needed some models for pictures.  In these pictures, I am not quite so dissociative, but my weight was the greatest it has ever been.  I was in a better place, but far from a good place.

I have said here before that weight was always a struggle for me.  It is not the sweater and the turtle neck making me look that way.  It’s truly how I was.  That was closed to the most I ever weighed.  Being larger than society says you should be is not bad, but for me, it was just a sign that I was not taking care of myself.  At all.  I was unhappy in my life, in my relationship, with the fact that I could not get the counseling I needed because I simply could not afford it.

I have changed so much since 2001 when this picture was taken.  I was going through hell and had been for a long time.  In 2001, I was twenty-five years old.  I had been dealing with the life-altering results of abuse for a minimum of eighteen years.  That includes only the time when I remember things being inappropriate with my father, not the whole dynamic of having a child molester always living in my home.

I am now thirty-five.  It is hard to realize that the percentage of my life dealing with abuse will never be less than the percentage of my life when I didn’t deal with it.  And it will never go away.  No matter how hard I work and how much I heal, it will always be a part of me.

I have gotten to the point that it is not a bad thing to be a survivor.  I wish I had not gone through it, but I did and I have lived to tell the tale.  And I tell it every chance I get.

I was sitting with a group of women the other day, none of whom I knew well.  I was asked to introduce myself and explain what I did.  The introduction was easy, the general pieces of what I do where also easy, but then it was time for the next step.  It was time to describe this blog that I write and why I do it.

I hesitated.  It wasn’t that I was ashamed or afraid to say it, but I wondered how I could say it most gently so as not to hurt anyone at the table.   Considering there were seven other women sitting at the table, statistics told me that at least one of them, excluding me, had been affected by sexual abuse in her lifetime.  No one cringed or looked pained as I talked, but it still left me wondering who the other survivor was.

As survivors, we go through a lot of stages.  I know the five states of grief, but do not know that anyone has ever created stages for survivors.  Right now, I’d say I’m in the liminal space.  I’m not in a hurting place; I’m not in a thriving place; I’m just in between.  it isn’t a bad place to be.  It’s just where I am.

I keep thinking to myself, “You’ve come a long way baby.”  It’s true, and I have a long life ahead of me to go.

I’m No Super Hero

Of all the emotions I have had to face on my journey to be a survivor, anger is certainly the hardest.  Anger is an emotion, at least in my opinion, society has decided it is not safe to have.  The perception is that women cannot control anger, and therefore should not have it.  Anger is a masculine emotion.

I never wanted to be angry because I did not think I could control it.  I thought once I tapped into the anger, I would never stop being angry or that I would be consumed by rage.

Anger can lead people to be out of control if they are not in control of it.  Anger can be taken out on others inappropriately, but anger is also powerful.

I have joined a support group for survivors of sexual abuse.  The stories these people, who are predominately women, tell are astounding.  They have been tortured by members of their own families.  These are people who are supposed to have loved them.

These people have been bound and gagged, electrocuted, kidnapped, raped repeatedly, harassed, burned, drugged, gang raped, raped with objected, beaten.  I can barely tolerate to hear the stories of suffering.  I am angry at their abusers and angry at systems of “justice” that fail to act.

If we heard any of these peoples’ on the news, we would be appalled.  The outcry would be so loud and cries for justice would drown out the sound of traffic in New York.  There would be thousands of people storming the gates at the Hague to raise cries of crimes against humanity.

Because that is exactly what child sexual abuse is.  It is a crime against humanity and a violation of human rights.

I did not get that for a very long time.  I knew what happened to me was bad, but I did not realize how bad it was.  To use an overused phrase,  I could not see the forest for the trees.  I was so broken by the abuse, I could not see how bad it really was.  I could always see how bad it was for others, but for myself, I simply could not see how bad it had been.

It was so bad, it almost destroyed me.  And there are parts of me it actually did destroy.  My thought process has been permanently altered.  I have struggled to feel safe, to form a lasting relationship, to be in charge of my sexuality, to live my life to the fullest.

But I have battled back.  I am in charge of my life and even thought the abuse has changed me, I push on, even when it’s hard.  I get up every day and try to live life to the fullest.  Some days I don’t succeed, but I’m come to the point that I can take that in stride (at least for the most part) and get up again the next day and try again.

I don’t do that because I’m a super hero.  I wish I had a cape, but that would just make me a regular person with a non-breathable polyester cape.

I do it because again and again, I see the people in this group get up and battle back.  They express their pain and frustration, then in the next second, they are comforting someone else who is hurting.  I do it because I see people move from being broken and feeling victimized to saying, “I won’t take this anymore.  I’m choosing me.”

It is worth it to deal with the anger, even though I don’t like it because on the other side of the anger, there are amazing people living every day.  It is hard, and it is hard for them, but they go on and show such strength and such admirable courage.  I will keep writing my little blog posts, spurred on by the courage and strength of others.

I make no suppositions that I do this on my own.  I write for myself, but then I write for every survivor who keeps pressing on.  I also write for the survivors who did not make it, and for whom the pain was too great.  There is no shame in that, except that we as a world full of human beings, do not feel the collective anger necessary to stop abuse.

We don’t feel that anger because we don’t feel connected, and we don’t hear the stories.  But there are people who have heard the stories, and their lives and perspectives are changed because of it.  I don’t give up because I know peoples’ perspectives can be changed and then they are aware.  The awareness may not change the world, but it is one step closer to a changed world because another person recognizes the horror of abuse.

So, I’ve been dealing with the anger and the outrage, and in the process, I got a reminder that every bit of it is worth it because I’m not the only one who feels it or who fights against abuse.  For me, that is more than enough.

Old Posts from December, 2011 through February, 2012

*Please note – This is a copy of posts from my old blog.  The old blog was redesigned to point to this one, but not before I got all the old posts transferred.  What is here and the next few posts to the “Posts from The Old Blog” are copies of what I did thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and many thanks to Tracie Nall at FromTracie for telling me about this.  The links probably do not work and the pictures may not show up and to my dismay, the comments are lost.  I will try to reconstruct the links, but I apologize for these posts.  ~Jackie

New Hope for New Beginnings

My friend sent me an email this week and asked if he could use part of my story in a sermon.  He was my minister in high school.  I always liked and trusted him.  He has seen me fight and struggle to get where I am.  And he has always been a good and supportive friend.  He likes to remind me that he is in my corner, and I very much like to hear that.

“I’m writing a sermon on wounded healers. Was wondering if I could use your life story as an example. You embody that phrase!”  This is what my friend wrote to me.

As always, I am honored and taken aback.  I have just found a way to survive.  I can recognize the extraordinary strength it takes to survive-in others.  In myself, it just seems like something I did.

On different fronts, I guess I am discouraged and have been letting that dictate how I feel about myself.  I am forgetting the one front on which my life is extremely good and wonderful.  My goal is to focus on that and rebuild the pieces that are frustrating.

And I think the most amazing thing in this rebuilding is that for the first time ever, I have support.  My friends have always supported me, but this is support of a different kind.  This is from my partner, my love.  He supports me in so many ways I never imagined.  Not only is he kind and gentle, but he listens when I speak and hears not only my words, but what is on my heart and what I haven’t always found the words to say.

At this moment, I have to wait and not post this.  My divorce isn’t final, so I can’t write about the love of my life.  And just to be clear, I did not meet my true love until after I had been downtrodden by another man who was supposed to love me.  Today, I filed the financial paperwork to end the marriage.  It is down to legal paper work, and anger.  I am not good with anger, but it is the only emotion I have left for a person who I loved, and I thought loved me.  In his own way, perhaps he did, but it was a way that was destructive to me.  He ran up bills, or promised me he would help me pay bills that he wouldn’t.  I worked two jobs to make sure there was enough money to pay the bare minimum of bills and not be homeless.  He liked to throw money into the stock market.  And would sometimes make money, but much more often lose it.

I left him two years ago, when I found out he had had affair.  Of course, he said it was just a fling and he was drunk.  That was supposed to make it ok.  I was supposed to forget because it only happened once.  The back story was that he went to the place where they met almost every day.  He would get angry at me or say he needed space, and go out, in my opinion, with the intention to run into her.

So, I left.  And the place where I went wasn’t a safe place for me to be.  Physically, I was safe, but emotionally, it was too close to what I had known.  The town was too near to the town I was abused in.

So, I went back, knowing I couldn’t stay there for long, and trying to figure out how I could make it on my own.  I stayed just under a year more.  By that point, I was thinking about going on medication for depression.  Even with all I had been through, I had never been that low.

I didn’t have a plan, but I couldn’t stay anymore.  He told me he wasn’t happy with me and was no longer attracted to me.  That was all my self esteem could take.

BUT, it rebounded quickly.  I felt so much better without him than I ever had with him.  I stayed for the wrong reasons.  I hate to admit that, but it was one of those things I did.  I knew it was a bad choice, but made it anyway.  I learned a huge lesson from that.

If I know it is a bad decision, I won’t be choosing whatever that is in the future.

I am worth so much more.

I am capable of truly loving; and being truly loved.

What I have been through has been immense, but I feel whole.  I love who I am.  I am loved.  I am strong.  It took me years to get here to that person, and now I have earned and worked for everything I have.

I feel free.  And I feel like I can be myself.  It is an amazing feeling.  I know it will change my writing, and I feel life can only get better from here.

It wasn’t an easy road and it is by no means over, but I have so much hope for where it can go from here!

watch?v=LZ34LlaIk88

Posted in Survivors | 6 Comments

Yeah, I’m Good Enough, Just For Today and Maybe Even Tomorrow

Shut Up

Who are you to speak like that and treat me in this way

You criticize me constantly, not one nice thing to say

You misuse me and abuse me and you don’t think it’s wrong

You always say I’m worthless and that I don’t belong

You’ve deceived me and you’ve lied to me for way too many years

Always bringing up the past, surrounding me in fear

Twisting my reality so I can’t see what’s true

So shut up mirror, shut your face

It’s time I put you in your place

I’m a divine creation, a ray of light

just for today I WILL shine bright

God created me, stay out of the way

I’m good enough, just for today

Thanks to my Higher Power, I have faced these thoughts of mine

for years they have kept me hopeless, frightened, lost and blind

I see I’ve grown addicted, to putting myself down

But my Higher Power’s shown me, that what was lost is now found

So shut up mirror, shut your face

it’s time I put you in your place

I’m a divine creation, a ray of light

just for today I WILL shine bright

God created me, stay out of my way

I’m good enough, just for today

Yeah I’m good enough, just for today

My friend wrote this poem.  She read it to me recently and at first, I thought it was talking about another person.  In my experience, I could have attributed the actions the poem describes to my father.  He ran me down and made me feel like I was worthless.

Then I thought it could have described the man I am divorcing.  He played a lot of games and everything was all about him.  I never felt like I mattered to him.  I mattered only for what I could do for him.  He told me I mattered, but again and again, he showed me that I only mattered if my thoughts and feelings were in accordance with his.

There was one day that he told me I was selfish.  A little voice in my head said that wasn’t true.  I had done nothing but sacrifice my job, my friends, my opportunities, and almost my sanity for him.  Having done that before for another man, once I finally got out from under his thumb, I felt like I could breathe again.

Then my friend read the line of the poem about the mirror.  “So shut up mirror, shut your face.”  In the few short lines of the poem that preceded this, I could point the finger at someone else.  This line made me turn the finger at myself.

Yes, my father had run me down.  Yes, the man I thought loved me had run me down.  But I had gotten so good at internalizing it, I didn’t need them to do it anymore.  I had become an expert at doing it myself.

My tears were still flowing, and my friend read on.  The next part of the poem that really struck me was, “Thanks to my Higher Power, I have faced these thoughts of mine.”  I struggle to find comfort in the Divine Higher Power.  The image of the higher power that is stuck in my head helped plant the seeds of self-doubt and shame.

As a lower-middle class Caucasian who grew up in a small town, most of the images of God I ever heard referred to a white man with a long flowing beard who sat on a throne.  In my young and abused state, that sounded a whole lot like my father.  He didn’t sit on a throne, but he certainly did have a chair in which no one else could sit.  What he said was law.  What he wanted to do, well, without question he did.  He acted as if he was above the law and he did things with little or no consideration for what anyone else wanted or needed.

The correlation wasn’t exact, but as young as I was, I could draw a direct line between God and my father.  I had never known a man who was all-knowing and wise, and not abusive.  He took his knowledge manipulation and control and warped my world.  I know people who experienced God as loving and gentle, because that is what they knew.

What I knew was very different.  What I experienced affected my relationships.  I didn’t know how to pick a good spouse; and picked two who were not good for me.  It took having some good and gentle male friends who weren’t domineering or manipulative to show me how a relationship could be.   I couldn’t imagine how it could be different from what I had experienced, but I now know that it can be.  I have the rest of my life to experience how it can be different.

Yeah I’m good enough, just for today.

I think that will help me remember that I’m good enough for tomorrow and all the following days too.  I’m not without flaws, but I’ve finally realized I’m good enough.

Posted in Survivors | 6 Comments

Hoping for Hope

From the Christian perspective, this is the season of light and hope.  From a survivor’s perspective, it is often hard to see either light or hope.  The tunnel out of pain is long and dark.

The Christmas season is supposed to be filled with anticipation of the celebration of a child’s birth.  It is supposed to bring light and happiness to our world filled with dreariness and depression.

The birth of every child should be a celebration.  Every parent to be should want a child so much that they can hardly wait to hold that child in their arms and love them – in an approprite, safe parental way.

The romantic part of me, or some part I cannot name that makes no sense, wants to only focus on the hope and the light.  I want to believe that every child born is wanted and that nothing bad will ever happen to him or her. 

My live has shown me that is just a fantasy for some people.  Many people do come into this existence and are genuinely loved and wanted.  Many people, however, do not.  They have to struggle for everything in life that should just be a given.  It should be a basic human right that everyone has enough food.  It should be a basic human right that everyone has shelter.  It should be a basic human right that everyone is loved and cared for and no one is ever abused.

Knowing that abuse is real and that even basic human rights are not guaranteed, it has often been difficult for me not to give up hope.  Believe me, I wanted to give up on it.  I used to believe that if I could give up hope, and just accept what was happening to me, it wouldn’t be so hard to know my father was treating me like a sex object.  It would have been easier to just succumb to the fate he had in mind for me.  What he did was pretty extensive, but I think he was stopped before he was ready.  I never had to deal with what he truly had in mind.

As I listen to women and men struggle with the abuse they have suffered, I feel the anxiety and their willingness to give up hope.  Without hope, it is easier to take all the crap and say it doesn’t matter because I don’t matter.

Well, you do matter.  You don’t matter to your abusers because they are so selfish they can’t even see you, but to at least one person in your life, you do truly, unequivocably matter.

And that may be the hardest bit of hope to handle.  I have been in a place in life when I didn’t want to hope.  It felt like hope hurt too much and that it was an unattainable, tricky thing.  Hope made me want to believe that things could be different when I didn’t really believe that they could.

And how would I have to be different if hope was real?  I was already going through hell and felt like my heart was broken.  Healing sometimes hurts about as much as getting hurt.

Hope allowed me to go on, even when I didn’t want to.  I would say that I had given up, that it was too much hassle and struggle to go on.  In the depths of my soul, I held on.  I would take out the hope and examine it and wonder why I couldn’t just throw it away.  I wondered why I kept it – it didn’t seem to be doing me any good.

I kept going.  I kept getting up every day and even if I felt like my life was a complete ruin, I couldn’t stay down.  I never understood why, but it was as if I couldn’t help but go on.  I trudged through the tunnel that never seemed to end, but finally I got to the other side.  I am not without scars, but I am a better person than I thought I could be.  I have found that I can love and hope and dream without feeling like my life is about to end in agony.

And it feels so strange to say, but I am actually happy.  Happiness always felt as illusive to me as the Lock Ness Monster or a unicorn, but now that I have found it, I cannot imagine being with out it.  I am actually at a point that I not only believe I can be happy and have hope, but that I deserve it.

And as we progress into this season of hope, it is my sincere hope that you know you deserve happiness too.  You are brave and strong, no matter what your abusers tell you or have told you.  You are ok and it is ok to hope, even if it feels weak and a little awkward.

 

 

Paths to Healing Conference Part Two

This is part two of the description of the Paths To Healing Conference I attended last week.  It felt strange to be a blogger with a notepad, but written notes work better for me. In the previous post, I described the conference up to lunch.  If you’d like to read it, click here. The choices of workshops after lunch were “Ten Things You Should Know about Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse” led by Christopher Anderson, From MaleSurvivor and “Healing Families: When Sexual Abuse Hits Home” led by Chris Wirth and Rainbow Marifrog of Canopy Center.  I chose the first workshop. What are ten things you need to know?  I wrote down many more than ten, but here they are.

  • there is no comparing, better or worse.
  • self-care. self-care. self-care. Being a survivor and/or providing support to survivors is an act of love the REQUIRES you to participate in self-care.
  • behavior survivors use may not be wrong or bad.
  • according to the Adverse Childhood Experience (ASE) study, the majority of people have experienced trauma.  All of us are survivors of some kind.
  • a part of us is always that kid within who was hurt.

What is sexual abuse? It is the non-consensual interactions of a sexual nature.

  • what are the effects?
  • how many have experienced this?
  • David Finkelhor has recently said male abuse rates are going down. We all hope this is true.
  • what do we know?
  • 1 in 6 boys are abused before the age of 16.  That is 16% of the population, or 25 to 30 million men.
  • it can take a minimum of 20 years to come forward.
  • it is minimized.
  • when men come forward, they are told men can’t be raped.
  • that they are supposed to defend themselves.
  • after they come forward, they are told there are no resources for them.
  • the myth that they are more likely to become a perpetrator after being abused.
  • men will disclose when they feel safe.
  • what can we help make them feel safe?
  • plant certain seeds.  Abuse is never the fault of the victim.  You are not alone.  It is not your fault.
  • it is possible to heal.
  • many men who have been abused are emotionally emaciated.  It takes a long time to build up from there.  There is a strong need for slow, measured nourishment.
  • abused men are hungry for: love, attention, support, guidance and protection.
  • many are angry, but not necessarily in the immediate moment.
  • the anger may not come out as expected.
  • anger is the only allowable emotion for men, but they many not be allowed to feel it.
  • many men are lonely. They feel false intimacy, normalize their feelings and shut down.
  • many men need to be taught interpersonal dynamics. They want to show and share healthy and appropriate relationships, but need help re-learning what they have been taught.
  • many men are tired. The effects of stress are exhausting and living with stereotypes every day is overwhelming.  Give men time and permission to recharge.
  • healing is an active effort.
  • stabilizing can’t be the end.  How do they move to thriving?
  • give them permission to feel bad, but not to wallow.  Group therapy is a good way to help them recognize patterns and keep working to change them.
  • through repetition, patience, and lots of time, men can create new skill sets, new pathways in the brain and a new sense of self.

Did you learn ten things? I certainly did.

The last set of workshops for the day was “Choose Your Difficulty: Survivor Activism as a Path to Justice and Healing” led by Peter Isely, of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or “Healing Through Creative Expression” led by Callen Harty. I chose the first one listed.

Peter Isley attended St. Lawrence Seminary Boarding School here in Wisconsin.  From this presentation, I learned a lot about the sexual abuse young boys were forced to endure right here, essentially in my own backyard.  This is one of the topics that I know a little about, but don’t know enough to speak about with any great amount of detail.  I know a lot more now than I did last week.  Here are some of Peter’s quotes I found the most profound.

It (talking about sexual abuse) is difficult no matter what you do. It is difficult to speak up.  It is difficult to be silent.

The path to truth is part of the truth.

First you do what’s necessary, then you do what’s possible, then you do what’s impossible. (St. Francis)

We’re on our own.

The speech of it (sexual abuse) brings it into the world.  It doesn’t happen until it’s heard, in part because you are still saying it to yourself until you can hear it. (This doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  As with so many secrets, it doesn’t seem real until it is spoken to yourself or another person.)

Speaking about it is a moral struggle.  When you speak about it, you can really move beyond victimhood.

Survivors have to struggle with that speaking.  They feel responsible because the crime itself creates shame. The perpetrator usually does not feel the shame and the shame gets poured into the body of the child, who carries it. They (the children) think it’s theirs.

Speaking allows it to go back where it belongs – to the perpetrators, law enforcement and organizations that allowed it to happen.

We have each other and that’s enough. It’s more than enough.

There is no solution without survivors’ voices. Survivors’ voices push and move.

If you’d like to know more about SNAP and the priests who abuse children, search Donald McGuire, one of the most prolific child abusers.  It is my hope to post a sermon by Peter as soon as I can find a link.

That is a play by play of my experience of the day.  This isn’t a review of my emotional experience of the day, but I hope it has helped you learn, as it did for me, more about male sexual abuse survivors. My reflection and response is still coming, but if you have the opportunity to see or hear any of these folks that spoke at the conference, or hear counterparts from their organization, please take the opportunity. You will learn so much and education is such a key to stopping sexual abuse in its tracks.

Paths to Healing Conference Part One

Last week, I had the extreme fortune to go to a conference in Madison, Wisconsin entitled, “Paths to Healings: A Conference on Child Sex Abuse Survival With a Focus on Addressing Male Survivors.”  A survivor I have come to know here in Wisconsin keyed me into the conference, for which I am extremely grateful since I haven’t gotten “plugged in” here yet.

The conference was organized by Callen Harty, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  His hard work and dedication brought together about 75 people – covering the spectrum of church, community, activists, survivors, rape crisis center workers, and other folks willing to give a day of their time to learn about childhood sexual abuse.  For some, it may have been just a part of their job, but I would like to thank every single person who came.  This is not an easy topic to spend a day discussing and I am thankful for all that we learned and were able to say together.

After an introduction by Kelly Anderson, Executive Director of the Dane County Rape Crisis Center, we had the option of attending two workshops – one entitled Male Survivors’ Safe Space and Discussion, led by Callen Harty and Joseph Weinberg or Sexual Abuse Survivors 101, lead by Stephen Montagna and Lynn Johnson.  I chose the second workshop listed.

As we talked and sort of got a scope of who was there, I was struck by one woman who raised her hand and said she was a member of the public.  I was totally floored that someone from the public would want to learn about sexual abuse.  At lunch, I thanked her for coming.  We had a very good conversation and I am pleased to know that people are willing to learn about sexual abuse.  It has recently affected a member of her family, but I am still extremely grateful that she took the time to learn and ask and listen.  She believes the member of her family and is trying to learn the best way to support that person and be an ally for other survivors.

During the workshop, there were several interesting things put forward.  First, I’ll list what I found very informative and insightful.  We talked about safety first.  If you need a break, take one.  We know there are survivors in the room because there are more than three people in the room.  It is ok to have your cell phones, but please put them on silent.  Survivors come first.  What is said here, stays here, but what is learned here leaves here.  Please use real language, not euphemisms.  There are support people in the room in case anyone, survivor or ally, needs someone to talk to. (Just because someone needed to talk doesn’t mean they are necessarily a survivor. Allies need support too.)

This next bit will be a list of things we discussed, all of which could be an entire post of its own.  I’ll try to just list things, but expound a little on things that may not automatically be clear.

Males/people who identify as male:

  • as (potential) predators
  • as victims
  • as (potential) allies
  • duplicity – be a man
  • men have consequences for not being dominant enough
  • women have consequences for being sexual

Issues for having men in the anti-violence against women movement

  • no research on young male survivors
  • how do you collect information?
  • we don’t ask the question (of abuse)
  • legal ramifications – used as a disguise
  • judgment and shame
  • no one is predestined to abuse, even if they are survivors

Institutions were abuse occurs:

  • boarding schools
  • prisons – just because they are in jail doesn’t make it ok. (that means that jokes about dropping the soap are not ok ~ this parenthetical is mine, it was not said at the conference.)
  • military

As male victims, what are the similarities to female victims?

  • powerlessness
  • shame
  • impact on trust
  • people are afraid being abused makes them gay (being gay is not bad, it just has a lot of cultural stigma)
  • what does it say about me that I was abused?
  • sex and sexuality are not easy topics to discuss
  • medical concerns
  • loss of faith
  • arousal
  • revictimization
  • what will happen to my family?
  • economics (if I tell and my father goes to prison, how will we survive?)
  • coping mechanisms
  • internalization/externalization
  • guilt
  • the element of special-ness (yes, she touches me and it hurts, but at least she tells me she loves me.)
  • it’s about power and it’s about sex
  • rape culture
  • lack of education
  • minimization among peers
  • feelings and boundaries – men have them as well

The issues for male and female survivors are different, just as they are for each individual survivor, but many of them have common roots and complexities.

At lunch, Representative Chris Taylor spoke to those gathered.  She reminded us that 30% of people who are abused never tell anyone.  90% never go to anyone in law enforcement.  One of her closing comments was, “We have to do everything possible to stop childhood sexual abuse.”  I wholeheartedly agree.

Please check out my next post to learn about the rest of the day.  I will go back and talk more about my reactions to the day and what I learned.  Please stay tuned for that as well.  I always think I know a lot about childhood sexual abuse, which I do.  I am also always reminded that I still have a lot to learn.

Don’t Check Out

Yesterday was Father’s Day.  For many survivors, it is a terribly difficult day.  Sometimes, it is not so hard for me, but yesterday it was.  We went to buy a card for Jeff’s dad and as I stood there while he read cards, I felt like I was standing a little too close to the cards.  It felt like all their sappy sugary messages might rub off and me and make me physically sick.  I think the worst part about it is I knew the cards were all telling me how to feel about a particular person on a particular day.  There was no room for tragedy, heartache, or loss.  I was right back to where I had always been in church – honor your father.  There was no room to ask what should be done if your father just simply is not honorable.  That, sadly, is not a Hallmark option.

Hallmark, “when you care enough to send the very best.”  It is not that I don’t care, it is just that caring was dangerous and would be still because I do not believe my father has changed.  I believe the children of his step-children are in serious danger, but I also know there is not a single thing I can do about it.

I did what I could.  Last week, I reconnected with a friend I have known since middle-school.  As we perused each other’s facebook pages and commented on old pictures, she said that I was speaking out even back then.  I always felt as if I was speaking into the din and no one ever really heard my words.  I was screaming on the edge of a black hole and it was sucking in every sound I could utter.  Even more than that, the brokenness in my voice made it too hard and too painful for people to understand what I was saying.  The sound of joy could not be distinguished from the sound of weeping.

Except I had no joy.  There was only weeping.  As most people who have experienced trauma and post traumatic stress, I could put on the face of a smile probably not a truly joyful face, but I was good with a cover up.  And I would cover up my pain until I just couldn’t anymore.  Then I would have an emotional breakdown, usually by myself in the shower, or in all the privacy of a chapel service where, at least in my perception, those around me quietly squirmed, but most tried to pretend no one was crying.

Have you ever been in a small space, such as an airplane, and tried to pretend that a child is not crying?  I think one would have to be a true Zen master with noise cancelling headphones to not want to scream at the child, and the parent who had the nerve to bring a child on a plane.  But it is not the parent’s fault, or the child’s.  It is just one of those things that makes others around the unhappiness seriously, incredibly uncomfortable.

And that is what it’s like for most people in society to hear about child sexual abuse.  We want to turn our noise canceling headphones completely up and make an impenetrable bond between the reality we are hearing and our eardrums.  But we have only been supplied with poor quality headphones for which there is no seal over our eardrums.  There is no seal over our hearts, either.

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The sooner we realize this and stop trying to get people to stop talking about it, the sooner we can make other options available for Hallmark.  We can make other options for our selves and our kids as well.

Childhood sexual abuse does not have to happen.  It can be stopped.  Teach your kids to respect themselves and others.  Teach them that their bodies are theirs and no one can touch them in ways that make the child uncomfortable.  Teach them that if someone is trying to touch them to scream, kick, bite, do whatever they need to to get someone’s attention or get away.  Teach them that adult strangers do not need their help to find a missing puppy – the adult has many more resources than the child to find it.  Educate yourself.  Listen to your children.  Listen to your nieces, nephews, neighborhood children.  If it doesn’t feel right to you, chances are high that they aren’t right.  If the words are too perfect or the smiles too bright, just be aware of what might be behind them.

So, what are some other concrete things you can do to prevent child sexual abuse?

1.  Admit that it is real.

2.  Educate yourself about the signs and how to prevent it.

3.  See children as real people.

4.  Educate your children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, school children, Sunday School children, neighborhood children, all children in age appropriate ways how to be safe.

5.  If a child tells you something, listen.  You do not have to have all the answers to hear a child’s concerns.  You do not have to investigate to hear a child’s pain.

6.  If a child has told you something, or you see signs that cannot be explained, call the proper authorities.  This is not always a satisfying answer and if abuse has occurred, may not lead to a conviction, but please don’t ignore the child and think that he or she is just making it up.  You may be the only person she or he ever tries to tell.

I do love Hallmark, but once in a while, step away from the sugary sweetness and look at the world.  See it for what it is, and how wonderful a place it can be if we keep working at it together, one piece and one person at a time.

I wish this song used inclusive language for God, but please try to live your life in reality of the splendor and the pain and not watch it transpire From a Distance.  We need you here, present; heart, strength, ears and voice.

 

Signs Of Hope

A friend I have known for a long time sent me a message a couple weeks ago.  She wanted to ask my opinion on something.  In her message, she alluded to the work I do with abuse survivors.  It is always in that instant that I know, even if I had no suspicions of abusive experiences in the person’s past before.  It is one of those, “Well, damn” moments.  It is always a story I hope not to hear.  It is not that I don’t want to hear the person’s story, I just really want the world to get to the point where I hardly ever hear a person’s story of abuse because it is so rare hardly anyone has a story to tell.

As we talked later that day, she had two primary questions for me.  “Is it my fault?” and “Am I the only one?”

Survivors of abuse have been so isolated by their abusers and so convinced that they did something wrong that these are probably the two most common questions I hear.  The really sad part is that I hear them from survivors and from people who know little about abuse.  Did the victim do something to cause it?  Abuse is pretty rare, isn’t it?  In the year 2013, we shouldn’t have to ask these questions anymore.  It should be a fact that no one has to think about.  No, it is not the victims’ fault, and no, frighteningly, it is not rare.  For a crime that is vastly underreported, it is estimated in the United States that one in three or four girls are sexually abused before they turn eighteen and one in six boys is sexually abused before they turn eighteen.  It is far more common than rare.  I don’t know all the statistics for other countries, but the rates I have seen are similar.

If you have been abused, or know someone who was, it is not their fault.  They are also not alone.  It is probably more truthful to say that someone who has not experienced sexual abuse is rare and more alone in that untouched-ness.

As my friend cried and told me her story, it broke my heart to hear, as it always does.  No one should have to experience that much pain and despair.  She said, “I feel like the only one.  Is it my fault?”

I try to let people tell their stories and not interrupt.  It breaks the flow of words they may never have said out loud before.  It can make someone feel as if I am not listening, but in that moment, I had to interrupt.  “Let me be clear.  It is not your fault and you are not alone.”

When I was in the early stages of my healing, other people would tell me that.  It was almost as painful to hear as it was to feel it was my fault and that I was alone.  I needed people to keep saying that to me, until I could finally own those words and know it was not my fault and I was not alone.  As I work with survivors, I have found that I was not alone in my inability to own those realities either.  The owning is painful, and sometimes, a survivor needs lots of positive affirmation that it is not their fault and they are not alone.

To my friend, I said, “I don’t care if you write out “Jackie says, You are not alone and it is not your fault” and hang it where you see it everyday.  At some point, you have to be able to say that to yourself and believe it.  In the meantime, please let me help you remember.

From that grew an idea.  Jennifer and I discussed the commonality of these two questions.  As we discussed how often survivors ask these questions to us in English, we surmised that survivors all over the world ask these same questions in their own languages.  So we have started the “Signs of Hope” campaign.  We have asked a couple survivor photographers to supply pictures upon which we are placing these two sentences in as many languages as we can.  At this point, we have only asked real people we know to translate them into languages they know and when we have exhausted the knowledge of our friends, we will ask Google Translate.

We have added and will be adding more pictures to a new part of learninghope called “Signs of Hope.”  We encourage the printing of these pictures.   Use them, share them with people who need to hear that they are not alone and it is not their fault.  Print one for yourself.  Read it until you can say it to yourself and know that these two simple sentences, “You are not alone” and “It is not your fault,” are indisputable.  Wear out the paper it’s printed running your finger over the words.  Smear the ink.  Read it until it becomes part of your own knowing.  It is not your fault and you are not alone.

You deserve to heal and Jennifer and I hope that this can be an aid to your healing.  Healing and hope are possible and each and everyone is worthy of it.  If you know a language that we haven’t used yet, email us.  The more broadly this can be circulated, the more people can begin to know that they are not alone and it is not their fault.