In Your You-Ness, You Are Not Alone

Writing a blog is an interesting experience. It is hard to know if the words written here affect people. Does anyone even read it? Even if they don’t, do I still feel it is worthwhile?

Blogging, at least for me, is not about comments and what people say. It is a tremendous and humbling experience when people comment and I get to know for sure, that someone besides bots are reading what I write. It is even more tremendous and humbling that people find what is written helpful.

It feels strange to say that. It feels strange to write into the abyss that I hope my pain and my healing can benefit someone else; and that is truly what I want. It feels egotistical for me to say that.

But my goal, and I believe Jennifer’s as well, is to get our stories out there, to let people know what we went through. The levels of hell we experienced are not just our own. There are so many people, far too many people, who know the same pain that we have known.

And there is always a fine line between comparing experiences and collapsing every experience into one which has no power. Every human being is part of the human experience, but that does not mean that we are not all different and things do not affect us differently.

This is an extremely over simplified example, but think of the game of telephone. One person thinks up something to say and then whispers it to the next person in line. Then that person whispers it to the next, and so forth until the thought reaches the end of the line. Then the final person has to say the first person’s thought out loud. It sometimes ends beautifully, sounding exactly like the person’s original thought, but probably more often, it comes out completely different than it sounded originally.

For some the game is fun; after all it’s just a game. But for others, for so many reasons, it causes anxiety. Some of us playing this game want every thing to be perfect. We want to hear EXACTLY what has been said so it will come out perfectly at the end. Some people may have hearing difficulties and so it may cause anxiety that the message may not come through clearly. Some people, from past experiences, get uncomfortable with people being too close to them. One person may be attracted to the person next to him or her and may be excited to be so close to that person. Some people are shy and they have a hard time speaking up loudly enough that the next person hears them. Some people speak too loudly. Some people don’t know how to play and relax.

Each person is part of the human experience, but each person also experiences the human experience individually. Then when we throw in the dynamic of different languages, different education, different cultures, different genders and sexes, and so many other things, it makes it complicated.

It also makes it beautiful and calls us to stand together and hold each other even tighter.

I cannot speak for someone who has been trafficked. I cannot speak for someone of a different skin color and claim to know how they feel. I can’t speak for someone who was born without a tongue. As perfect as I want to be, I can’t tell everyone’s story or fight everyone else’s battles. It’s not authentic to them or to me, but it also isn’t possible. Even if I had a twin, I could tell his or her story and claim it as mine because it isn’t.

That does not mean I can’t support all my brothers and sisters in every way I can. It means I can never say that it isn’t my issue. If it affects one of my brothers or sisters, it is my issue, but that does not mean I can speak to it with authority. It means, the best way I can share the story of another is to keep encouraging them to tell it. I can listen and help hear that person into speech. (I believe that term came from Carter Heyward.)

There is a lot of division in our world. I don’t think anyone would deny that. We are humans and that makes us similar, but not even close to all the same. We will never all agree on everything, and even with those whom we agree, there will be things upon which we do not agree.

Jennifer and I, through Learninghope, cannot deal with every complexity in the world, but we can encourage every person to tell their story. We can stand in solidarity of pain and healing with those who are suffering. So as we cast our voices into the abyss and the unknown, if you remember nothing else we ever say, remember that you are not alone in your struggle. No one knows what it is like to be you, but in your you-ness, there are those standing behind you, cheering you on to keep lifting up your voice.

In the movie, “Alice and Wonderland,” I loved the discussion of muchness. I posted the link below if you haven’t seen it. In your life, let your muchness fuel you, and if you’ve lost it, do what you need to find it, knowing that you are not alone.

 

Muchness

When We Speak, We Help Ourselves But Also Others

As part of my job, I frequently call people who are clients of the company I work for.  It’s one of my favorite pats of the job.  Yesterday, I had a very memorable and touching conversation with a woman in her 70s who had recently (three months ago) lost her son in a car accident.  Talking about her son’s death, and how the loss was affecting her wasn’t the purpose of my call.  Discussing the annuity she had chosen to purchase with the proceeds of his insurance policy was.  She said at first, that she had a limited amount of time to visit because some friends were meeting her for lunch soon, but we made time to talk.

We managed to review the annuity purchase, but we also spent a lot of time talking about lessons she has learned from her sons death and even more.  She described how losing her only child made her give much greater thought to taking steps to secure her financial well-being, because even though she is married, she now feels “more alone.”  She talked about how surreal it was to have spoken with him at 2 pm that Sunday and know that he died at 5 pm the same day, halfway across the country.  And then she revealed who her lunch partners were.  They were women from her church that she had known for years, but she had never known that they had lost children until she spoke aloud about her son’s car accident.  As a result, they have become even closer and had become a circle of support for each other.You are not alone. French, male

As she spoke, it struck me how our social networks, our communities, our churches, synagogues and mosques are wonderful vessels of support for things that we can share with each other.  “I’ve known these women for many years,” this woman told me,” and I had no idea that they had gone through this too.  And now here they are, picking me up for lunch today.”

Afterward, I thought of a quote from Nelson Mandela that was posted on our own Learninghope Facebook page, that says we will not put an end to abuse/rape, until it becomes an acceptable table topic….something  we can discuss and acknowledge it the same way we discuss and acknowledge other topics at the table.

When someone in our family, workplace, social group, or religious circle shares a story of sexual abuse, we often want to take the story out of that circle and put it where we think it belongs, in a therapist’s office, private place to talk, or away from our group altogether.  As Jackie once pointed out to me, “we want to take something that happened in a dark, secret place and only talk about it in another dark, secret place.”  Learninghope.org is trying to change that.  We are trying to provide an open, public, safe place where those of us who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, or who love some that has, or who ministers to those who have, can support each other, hear each other and learn to hope and heal together.  And the great thing about our forum is that you can receive this open, public support whether you want to remain anonymous, or not.

The last thing this dear woman said to me on our phone call was, “I’m sorry for monopolizing the conversation with talk of my son’s death and my grief process, but it’s what is most on my mind right now, so it just spills out when I talk.” I told her I was honored to have heard her stories.  It not only helped me understand why she had chosen the investment she did (which was germane to my call), but I had also learned great things from her that day and I knew that it had helped her to be able to speak about it.

Learninghope.org is a safe place.  You can share the pain and the lessons here.  You can discover how much you have in common with other survivors, and you can help all of us by telling your story.

Let’s Not Make a Deal

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When I was a kid, I watched “Let’s Make a Deal,” with Monte Hall almost every day.  The show has recently made a comeback on CBS, with Wayne Brady.  I haven’t seen it, but I assume it’s very similar.  In the show, contestants are often given something of value right away, then given the option to either keep what has been given them, or risk giving it up for something unknown that may be wonderful, or may be worthless.

Human nature is often to keep hold of what we have.  Losing something we think of as valuable creates huge anxiety, sadness and remorse.  And yet people volunteer for this anxiety on the show.  People line up to be put in this difficult position.  And we watch, because we know that MOST people would rather hold tight to what has been given them because it’s too scary to let go.

Abusers know this human tendency and benefit greatly from it.  Victims also know this and it’s a big contributor to keeping silent.  It’s known as grooming the community.  We would like to think of abuse as happening in a dark alley, or a vacant park, with no one around, done by random strangers that we can vilify when caught.  In reality, abuse rarely happens that way.  It happens in families, in churches and in schools, in broad daylight, when bystanders are just around the corner.  It happens inside the context of our lives.

My abuse happened in the church, sometimes when the ladies were meeting for Bible study upstairs.  Jerry Sandusky abused boys while others were milling about.  And when it is revealed, we as bystanders ask two questions about the perpetrator:

  1. How did I not      see this?
  2. What does this      mean about the context in which the abuser interacted with me/us?

And then we start to weigh things.  We weigh giving up what we thought we knew vs. coming to the aid of the victims.  We weigh the good memories we have vs. the possibility that we were misguided or manipulated. It’s a hard choice for many family/community members.  It’s why we can witness something that seems wrong, or inappropriate, or harmful and dismiss it.  We struggle with things like “he coached my kids in Little League and he seemed like a great mentor,” “He presided at my mother’s funeral and said things that helped me through it,” “she donated a children’s wing to the hospital that has saved lives,” “without his job, we could lose the house.”   Abusers don’t normally jump out of bushes.  They set a context in our lives and they put things of real value in our lives because they know that as a society we are not going to want to sacrifice or even rename those things.

We can end childhood abuse, but in order to do so, we as a society, are going to have to stop valuing things over the abused, and we personally must be willing to grapple with the fact that someone we admire and trust could be harming our children and not turn our backs, or walk on by.

 

 

That’s How the Light Gets In

(This was published before on the old blog. The way back machine could not find it, but I actually had a copy. I like this post so much and hope you do too.)

 

Part of my daily routine is getting up early. There isn’t much that gets done in the wee hours, but I try to gather myself and think about what the day might hold. One particular early morning, I decided to watch a movie – a Hallmark movie. So, I got out my kleenex and watched “The Russell Girl.”

It was clear from very early on in the movie that everyone was in a lot of pain, but it was unclear why. Sarah Russell, played by Amber Tamblyn, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She didn’t tell her family why, but she called her mom and said she was coming home. She pulls into her parents’ driveway, and tries very hard not to look across the street at their neighbors. And the neighbor seems very upset to see Sarah.

As the movie continues, no one wants to address the pain, and as the watcher, I didn’t really know the source of the pain. But have no fear, if you’ve ever seen a Hallmark movie, everything turned out well in the end. But the characters had to work at it. It was far from easy for any of them, but relationships had to be rebuilt and the characters had to actually say what was upsetting them and try to move through it.

Sarah does not tell her parents until almost the end of the movie that she is sick and then only does so because the neighbor is going to tell them if she doesn’t.

Many people who are sexually abused never want to tell. They feel that they are too broken to get well. And many people get stuck in the part where they feel the pain. As much as the pain hurts, it becomes part of their identity and if they are like me, they wonder what could be beyond the pain. I didn’t feel anything for a long time. I had to shut down feelings to keep going.

When I was still trying to feel, I would play the piano. I would pound it for all I was worth. Then my mother would tell me how beautifully I played and it made me want to be numb again so I didn’t have to feel the betrayal of feeling and her misunderstanding of my playing. So it became easier to be numb and push the feelings away.

When I started therapy in seminary, I finally found a therapist who could sit with all my pain. She listened to everything, but she also encouraged me to keep moving through the pain. I think the worst/best day of therapy was a day when I couldn’t stop crying. She knew I was struggling with money and she offered to get me a soda. She said I’ll pay for it. I said please, just don’t leave. And she sat back down and just sat with me.

That was all I really needed. I feel like I turned a corner that day because I felt all my emotions. I didn’t fall apart and I wasn’t broken beyond repair. And I also realized that there was more than just the pain.

Before that, I could not imagine being more than a survivor. But I was already on my way to being more than I ever imagined.

In the Russell Girl movie, Sarah’s mother asks the neighbor, “Doesn’t she want to be well?” And the neighbor replied, “I didn’t for a long time.”

It is as if we become well, we fear that no one will remember our heartache. Worst of all, there is a fear that we might forget. We might go on living and be happy and forget about the pain.

What if going on was betrayal of who I had been. Should I become who I could be and be more than broken? Probably if I had thought about that process during that counseling session, it would have been too much to bear, but the healing had already begun.

There is an ancient Japanese art called Kintsugi. It is an art formed out of brokenness. When a tea bowl was created for the Japanese tea ceremony, it was symmetrically perfect. If the bowl was dropped, it broke and was no longer symmetric or functional. Instead of throwing out the bowl, artisans created a lacquer paste with gold flakes mixed into it and repaired the vessel’s brokenness. When the bowl is repaired, it is more beautiful than it was before. It was also often more strong than it had been before.  It did not need to be broken to be beautiful, but its beauty is enhanced by the repair of its brokenness.

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People in my life have loved me even when I didn’t want to be loved. They sprinkled gold flakes into my broken places and helped to make me strong. For much of my life, I didn’t think I could be loved; or strong. But I am both loved and strong. I did not need to be broken to be strong, but I was abused and it broke me. The gold flakes sprinkled in my brokenness made my scars strong and beautiful.

You are strong and beautiful as well.  You did not need to be broken, but you were. It is real. It happened, but in your brokenness is strength and beauty. Fill the cracks with love, lacquer, and a little gold. Don’t let your abuser win.

Anthem, by Leonard Cohen

What If It Really Does Matter?

Learninghope.org is a work of love and the brainchild of Jennifer and me.  You may not have known that Jennifer and I live in different places and until this past Friday, we had never actually met.

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Jennifer found my blog through a friend of a friend in 2009.  She commented on some different things I had posted and I asked her if she would like to do a guest post.  After giving it some thought, she agreed to do it; and it was a great post.

Whenever one considers sharing his or her story, there are many factors to consider.  The person has to consider, first of all, whether or not to share at all. Many people chose not to tell, anyone, ever. Then how much to tell? What is the right time? What if people don’t believe me? What if they do believe me? What if I’m the only one? What if I’m not? Am I ready for this? Am I ready to be public about such a painful thing?

One good or bad thing with sharing your story on a blog, especially on the blog of someone’s blog you haven’t actually met, is privacy and anonymity. There is some safety to being an anonymous person behind a computer screen. But it can also be a lonely experience.  There isn’t anyone there, in the room there, to hold your hand if you are in a place you can accept that kind of response.  You put your story out there and wait for a response, or a criticism.

You wonder what your family will think, because even though it is your story, it touches them too. Your pain and your hope touch your friends. It touches people who walk down the street past you, because even though you may not speak to them, the message you put out in the world changes the waves of the universe.

That sounds big and dreamy, and I sometimes wonder what gives me the right to think I can change the world. Then I wonder what gives me the right not to try and change the world. I cannot fix, save, or help everyone. In the moments when I think I can save the world and then I read the newspaper and see the atrocities still occurring ever day, it would be nice to give up. It would be nice to hide in the garden and be thankful that I survived and wish other survivors luck, on their own, to do the same.

But I can’t do that. I can not be silent. And last Friday, I was reaffirmed in my believe that Jennifer can not be silent either. The world may not be ready for us. I was reaffirmed in my believe of this also, as we were seated at a tucked-away table in a swanky, but excellent restaurant on Chicago’s North Shore. We sat and talked, shared stories about our lives now, our lives before, when things were pretty painful, and talked about trafficking survivors. I can’t say for certain, but I’d say these aren’t topics discussed every day in that particular setting.

I also felt myself being reaffirmed that our partners back us up 110%. It might not be their fight, but they are behind us as we fight it. I love Jeff more for that and love Jennifer’s soon-to-be spouse for it as well.

In my lifetime, I do not realistically believe that we can completely end childhood sexual abuse. In my moments when I let fear overtake hope, I do not believe I am doing a single worthwhile thing that will help end childhood sexual abuse.  I believe that I’m just talking to myself. On days when my head is a little more clear, I think to myself, “What if we actually are making a difference?” How completely scary and wonderful might that be?

I read an article on “The Daily Good” today. I think this paragraph may teach Jennifer and I much and inspire us, and I hope teach and inspire you, onward in your journey to hope, to love, to be whole.

“What if we could offer our work as a gift so lightly, and with so much love, that that’sreally the source of fearlessness? We don’t need it to be accepted in any one way. We don’t need it to create any certain outcome. We don’t need it to be any one thing. It is in the way we offer it, that the work transforms us. It is in the way we offer our work as a gift to those we love, to those we care about, to the issues we care about. It is in the way we offer the work that we find fearlessness. Beyond hope and fear, I think, is the possibility of love.”

Jennifer and I multiplied life by the power of two on Friday. Actually, I think we multiplied it at least by the power of four, but that isn’t in the song. We have each walked our own journey and will continue to do so, but our paths have joined and together, we’ll keep on walking and fighting, not knowing where this road will lead us. And I hope, you walk this journey with us and know that you are not alone.

Power of Two

This is one of my favorite stories. I heard it almost every week when I worked with Habitat for Humanity.

A young woman was walking down the beach at sunrise. In the distance, she saw a figure. The figure, though far away, appeared to be dancing. She continued to walk, mesmerized by the motion of the figure. As she got closer, she saw another young woman picking something up from the beach and tossing it back into the water. As she went closer still, she could see that the woman was picking up starfish that had beached overnight and was tossing them back in the sea. She said to the woman, “There are millions of miles of beaches in the world and there is no way you can save all the starfish. What does it matter?” The other woman, startled by another’s presence, said, “Yes, you are right. I cannot save them all and to many it would not matter.” She picked up another starfish, considered it and said, “But it matters to this one.” And tossed it back into the sea.

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While the stories and the pain of surviving childhood sexual abuse may not seem to matter, please know, that to Jennifer and me, it matters. You, your pain, your story and your healing matter. We hope you find this a place to keep learning hope.

 

Jennifer’s Story, Revisited

I discovered a couple weeks ago that my old blog was gone.  Jennifer, because she is one incredibly smart cookie, actually saved a copy of her story when she sent it to me a few years ago to put on the blog.  If you didn’t have a chance to read it before, or would like a refresher, here it is.  I highly recommend it to you.

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My name is Jennifer.  I am a survivor of sexual abuse.   My abuser has never been stopped from abusing people, even though he has been accused multiple times by multiple people.

I grew up in a small, Midwestern town in the sixties and seventies.  I was born with a difference; I am one-handed.  In a small, Midwestern town, we didn’t get very many “different” people, so I experienced a lot of overstated reactions as a child.  People would gasp, point, cringe, and pity, and almost everyone I met asked “what happened to your arm?”  I didn’t know how to answer.  Nothing happened to my arm,   so I would answer ‘I was born this way.”

7th and 8th grades were particularly hard for me.  I wanted more than ever to fit in, be accepted, and couldn’t.  I found it difficult to talk to my parents about things, so I turned to my youth group pastor for counseling.  He was a wonderful man.  All the youth loved him, and he always made time if you needed to talk.  We did a lot of talking and I finally started to feel as though someone really cared and accepted me.  Then he left.  He decided he wasn’t cut out for ministry and he left the church.

In my denomination, pastors were assigned by the bishop.  The conference was having some problems with another pastor who had gotten into an argument with his secretary and slapped her.  She sued for assault and won.  The bishop decided that a new start was what this man needed, so he was assigned to my parish.

I see now that I had already been groomed to be his victim.  I was isolated, depressed, hungering for acceptance and love.  I didn’t talk to my parents, didn’t have many friends and was eager to please.  He must have been salivating the day I walked into his study and introduced myself, asking for help.  He dropped everything, stopped his unpacking and listened to me describe my fears, anxieties and woes for over an hour.  At the end of my visit, he hugged me long and hard and told me that he hoped I would come back.  He mentioned that Saturday mornings were a good time because it was quiet in the church and he could spend more time with me.

On one hand, he was very quick to act.  He was touching me on the hips, buttocks and small of my back.  On the other hand, he was so patient.  He waited months for me to decide that he must be in love with me and “make the first move”.  He asked me to show him around the new church, asked me my opinion about decisions he had to make, and caressed me when he talked to me in private.   We were sitting and talking one day on a couch in a Sunday School room, and eventually started hugging.  When I stood up to go, I noticed a lump in the front of his pants.  It so happened that we were studying human reproduction in Biology class at the time and soon after, I saw an animated film that told how when a man is in love with a woman and they want to make love that a man gets an erection.  Suddenly, I knew — he was in love with me and didn’t know how to tell me!  The next time we met, I let him know that I loved him too, but I wasn’t sure that it was right that we have sex.  Again, he was so very patient, but the touches became much more sexual.  I would have done anything for him at 15 years old.  And I did –for three and a half years.

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.

Old Blog Post From August 7, 2011 Through August 18, 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

The Power of Change

Today, President Obama spoke in my home town.  He spoke in Atkinson, Illinois.  If I were able, I would have gone.  I love the fact that the president spoke in my town.  I am excited that Obama is president of the United States.  Not everything has gone as he thought and hoped, but I think the fact of who he is, his heritage, ethnicity, etc., gives me hope.  It takes a looong time, but society and attitudes can change.  That does not mean there isn’t a struggle, and there aren’t people who are angry, but things can be different.

I know someone who used to work for the President, and I sent him this email when I found out about Obama’s trip to Atkinson. “Hi Mike.  I know you don’t have direct ties to the president anymore, but if you have his email, could you let him know on his trip to Atkinson, Illinois, he will be in the town of a convicted child molester who no longer has to report, and who has brutalized the lives of at least nine people?  I just think he should know.”  After I hit send, I added, “Here’s my blog address if he’d like to read up.”

Did he speak about child abuse while he was in Atkinson?  No.  Did he have the police arrest my father for just being a general danger to society?  No, unfortunately not.

But it doesn’t really matter.  Just by sending that email, it is a reinforcement to me that things have changed.  I have changed.  The way people see sexual abuse survivors and the way laws are written and enacted is changing.

It is slow and painful and there are days that I don’t believe one single thing will ever be different.  Children are still being abused.  People are still turning away and ignoring it, but people are also aware.  Mandated reporting has become the norm, not the exception.  It is harder for priests and ministers to say they couldn’t report because of confidentiality.  Some states are also moving toward charging a mother or father as an accessory to a crime if they knew and did nothing.

People like Chris and Ophelia de Serres are posting videos and speaking out in the My Name is Project and Male Survivors, helping people find their voices.  They are letting people know that there is no shame in being abused.

People like me, from small town, rural, 950-people Atkinson, Illinois are telling their stories.  I found my voice.  I lived through the pain, the self-hatred, the shame, the thoughts that it would be better if I were dead.  I got through always feeling like a freak, an outcast, “unclean.”

These are all things I never thought I’d do.  And most of the things I do in my life are all things I never thought I would do.  I never thought I’d go to college.  I never thought I’d get a master’s degree.  I never thought I’d travel outside the country.  I honestly never, ever, ever thought I’d survive.

The pain of being abused was blinding.  I could not see anything that was not connected to abuse.  I saw abuse in everything I read, every sentence that was spoken to me.  It was everywhere.  My senses were flooded with it and I could think of nothing else.

There are still days in which my senses tingle with the memories.  The anxiety sometimes lives just under the surface and makes it hard to breathe.  I see men that look like my father and feel the flight mechanism take over, then have to remind myself that it isn’t my father and I am safe now.

I’m still cautious and aware, but I am no longer haunted with flashbacks.  It has been years since I had one.  That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have one, but to me, it means I’ve worked through a lot of the pain.

In most situations, I can now say to people, “I am a survivor of sexual abuse” without feeling like my insides are being ripped out.  I can listen to the pain of another survivor who is struggling and actually listen.  I am no longer overlaying their pain with mine.

It took a lot of therapy from a very good therapist and the love of truly understanding friends.  I could never have done it by myself.  But I have moved through most of the pain.  As a girl from a small town, I did things no one expected of me.  I have done things that were not only not expected, but discouraged by my father.

I am reminded again of the grace and tenderness of my friends.  They could see the potential through the broken, anguished person I felt I was.  And they held on.  When I wanted to give up or thought I had had all I could take, they were there with open arms on which I could lean until I was able to move on my own.

It is a constant process, but I see myself more through the eyes of my friends and people who believe in me than through the eyes of a pedophile.  It is an amazingly different perspective.

I’m still a small town girl, who is proud that the president went to her town today.  But now I’m a small town girl with dreams and tangible potential.

 

I Just Have To Remember

I went to the fair with my friend last weekend.  She knows practically everyone in town.  And she has friends from high school with whom she still hangs out.  They play and frolic like kids when they get together.

And seeing that was a beautiful thing.  They laughed, they sang, they danced.  It was like being in some sort of dream.  I will laugh and have a good time.  I used to sing, but I never dance.

I do not feel the freedom.  The music touches my heart, but it does not touch my feet.  They root to the floor and refuse to let me move.  I am afraid I will look stupid.  I am afraid that people will be watching me.  I am afraid I will lose control.

As a survivor of abuse, I spent a lot of my life feeling completely and totally out of control.  I used to be in gymnastics and swimming.  I think I had some talent at it, but what I had to wear made me too uncomfortable to learn the moves or enjoy the water.  I felt exposed.  I always felt that I held back because I didn’t want to be noticed, either for a talent or for my body.

I didn’t want to be noticed.  Most of the time, I wanted to hide.  I wanted my life to stop spiraling out of control and not having any say about it.

I wanted to stop hurting.  I didn’t want to be scared.  I didn’t want to have to hide such a horrible secret.  I didn’t want other people to have to hurt as much as me.

There are many survivors I know who are dancers.  I greatly admire their physical presence and the freedom they exhibit in their dancing.  My friend is a dancer.  She created a dance about healing from sexual abuse.  She choreographed it, and her best friend wrote and sang the song in the first video.  I have watched the video several times before, but never listened to the song until today.  Before, I loved the grace of the dance.  It gave me chills before.  Today, it touched that deep place in my heart that has no words, but strums the heart strings.

As a reminder of part of the freedom I have gained, I got a tattoo on April 11, 2000.  I had wanted one for a long time, but held back.  I finally got it on a trip to California with my sister.  I got a dolphin on my left shoulder blade.  I love it.  The day after I got it, I was still in a little bit of pain, but we went to Disney Land.  I felt more free on that day than I ever had before.

People ask me why I got a tattoo.  I always ask them if they really want to know.  If they say yes, then I tell them because I was sexually abused as a child and it helped me reconnect with my body and it helps me to feel free.

As I said when my friend dance at the fair, I was reminded that dancing allowed them to be free and in connection with their bodies.  She kept apologizing to me because she was having fun and I was sitting on the sidelines.

I wasn’t having fun necessarily, but I was having a moment.  I was getting a reminder of something that was taken from me.  I was reminding myself that even though I don’t dance, doesn’t mean I don’t know what freedom feels like.  I just have to remember.

 

It Isn’t Always Easy to Hope

I had to get a tire changed on my car today.  I also had to get the car jumped last night.  It’s a new to me car and I believe it sat for a while, so it has some issues.

Those seem like simple things, but for me, because of my abuse, it is not always easy.

My father was a diesel mechanic.  I guess he still is, but it is hard to talk about him in present tense because then I have to wonder about the safety of any child with whom he may have contact.

It sounds silly, but it is hard for me to get anything done with my car.  I can do it, but it sometimes takes some convincing.  The memories are close to the surface when I see the shop, but especially when I smell the grease.  My father always had grease on his hands.  It did not matter how much he washed his hands or what he washed them with, the stain of the grease and the smell never went away.

When I go to get my car fixed, I have to do a little deep breathing before I go in.  I have to focus.  My father is not going to be in the shop where I am getting my car fixed.  I will not have to go to the bathroom with all the pornographic pictures hanging around.  I will not have to wonder what will happen while I am there, or on the way home.  I will not have to feel the pain and disgust of what happened on the way.

An oil change is a simple thing, but it can be a lot more complicated.  That is one struggle that survivors have.  A simple thing that others do with ease or without thought is anything but simple for a survivor.  Because there are so many sick people in the world, the list of things survivors have endured is endless.  A food can be a trigger.  A phrase, a glance, the name of a place, a piece of clothing, a picture.

Our minds, bodies and spirits have endured so much.  It is unimaginable, and for some of us, unendurable.  For the survivors who might read this, I’m going to skip the list of things that come to mind that trigger some of us.  The things that we have lived through would astound you.

And I hope appall you.   I think we are often desensitized to the pain and violence that surrounds us.  We have to shut part of it out, so that we can continue to survive.  We have to be able to believe that there is good left in the world.  If we take in all the pain people actually experience, and all that we see on television, our hope is doomed.

Hope is a fragile, yet durable thing.  I have often tried to give up hope.  I have wanted to give it up, but still it burns within me.  Sometimes, it is as small and fragile as a freshly kindled flame.  It could easily be blown out.  It is usually not.  Hope keeps me going.  It allows me to do the simple things like get the oil changed in my car.  It allows me to do the hard thinks, like live through the abuse in the first place.  Hope allows me to make it through the flashback and anxiety.  And more importantly, it allows me to speak, loudly and as often as I can.

I may not have all the answers, but I have the tools to keep going.  It helps me write, breathe and live.  I am grateful for hope, and know I couldn’t go on with out it.

I hope for you hope.  Wherever you find it, hold onto it.  Be gentle with it, as I hope you can be with yourself.

Survivor Archives Project Posted!

My contribution to The Survivor Archives Project is complete.  It was a wonderful, rewarding and daunting experience.  The letter to my father’s other victims was by far the hardest piece of the Project to write.  Even though I write about sexual abuse and my experience regularly, writing to the others I know exist gave it a startling new reality.  I cannot tell their stories, yet I have to treat them with infinite care and discretion.  Some have spoken out, and some have chosen to keep silent.  I know there are others about whom I do not yet know.  It will be another blow when I I learn of their pain, but it will also steel my determination to keep speaking.  We have walked through searing pain, and come out on the other side.

Old Blog Posts From July 2, 2011 Through July 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

The Survivor Archives Project

I have learned another secret.  It is another one which I can not share because it is not my story to tell.  But it does impinge on my story and I wonder how it changes me.  It knocked me out when I first heard.  I could not stop crying.  When the voice started, I knew what it would say.  I knew the fear, the pain, the anxiety, the disgust it would disclose.

I was angry and sad.  Actually I was furious.  Not at the person speaking but at the person who caused the pain, and the others who stood by, turning their heads and pretending they did not see.

I have put this off too long.  Almost a year ago, I agreed to be part of the Survivor Archive Project.  It is another telling of survivor’s stories.  I got all the paperwork in except this last piece.  I did not want to write them all a letter as I said I would.  It was too hard.  I did not know what to say.  I did not want to put a torch to their pain unnecessarily.  I did not want to touch my own pain.  I have learned that it is easier to tout my strength than to remember to pain and what it was like before I felt like I was a survivor.

So here goes.

Dear other survivors in my family,

I am so proud to know all of you and to know that in a huge way, you have all battled a monster masquerading as a man.

You battled, and you survived.  It was not your fault.  You did not ask for it.  You did not deserve it.  You deserved to be treated with love and care, but all that was taken from you.

You are not alone in your pain and your struggle.  There are many of us.  I am actually not sure of the exact number but I do know it is far too high.  One child that endures abuse is too much.  We are many.  None of us asked to be in this family of violence and pain.  We were all initiated into a group in which we did not wish to belong.

We had good times too, but it is hard for me to remember any of them.  They feel tainted and I remember them as I do the abuse – as if it was happening to someone else.

We were different ages when the abuse began.  We are different genders.  We all thought it was our fault and we did something wrong for which we had to be punished.  That is one of the lies we were told.  We were told to be quiet and not tell.  It was like being fed poison, but we had no choice.

I remind survivors who are having a hard time and having lots of flashbacks not to hurt themselves and remember that the pain is in the past.  Writing this letter feels a little bit like it is still in the present.  When I revisit the pain, knowing that there is more bound up in each of you.  The tentacles of abuse are long and strong.  Sometimes it feels like they are wrapping around my neck.

But I am no longer in that little town.  I am no longer a child forced into silence.  In our own ways, we have all spoken out, even if i was only a small, strangled “yes.”  Yes, it happened to me too.

I love you all and am honored to have you in my family.  I am glad you have found lives and loves and were able to say yes, me too.

I wish I could put your pictures here to show people the faces of other survivors.  I know some of you do not wish to be named and I would never betray your trust.  We have all been betrayed enough.

Be well and namaste.

Jackie Lawrence Shaw

Wilson Philips \”Hold On\”

 

Where Does It Come From?

In my mind, I have been trying to answer a question.  There are many questions that rattle around in my head which I cannot answer.  This particular question weighs more heavily on my mind than most, perhaps because it is one to which I think there is no answer.  I have asked it for years.  Many survivors, at least the ones I know, have asked the same question.

Where does child sexual abuse come from?  Is it inherited through genetics?  Is it a learned behavior?  Do the abused become abusers too?

I do not know the answer.  I do not believe that every abuser was abused and I certainly do not believe that everyone who is abused becomes an abuser.  The majority of abuse survivors DO NOT become abusers.

Are some people just born bad?  How can they overcome the societal taboo of sexually abusing a child?  And what is the root?  How do they learn to groom children to be perfect victims?  How do they learn to recognize the kids who will tell and those who will not?  How do they learn to lie to other adults and completely deny the extent of their actions and refuse to take responsibility for what they have done?  How can they say, “Well, if she didn’t dress so provocatively, I wouldn’t have bothered her.”

Does that make any sense?  I have actually heard people use that as an excuse.

How does a child dress provocatively?  By putting on clothes, that were bought by the adults in her life?  That makes no sense.  It is not the child’s fault.  And how do the other adults in the child’s life say, “Oh yes, if she hadn’t been wearing that dress, he never would have touched her.  That makes perfect sense.  It is her fault, (even though she isn’t old enough to tie her own shoes), she knows how to seduce an adult.”  It’s not like the child is buying corsets out of the Fredrick’s of Hollywood catalog.

I researched this questions to see if there was any valid research.  No one seems to know where it comes from.  Even Wikipedia does not profess to know the answer.

There are, of course, groups within society that say the hurt done to children is minimal.  Another group says that it is normal and just educational for the children.  My response to that is you are delusional and a child molester.  I refuse to even post the links to their pages because it’s so irresponsible and abusive, there is no place for it here.

This is an issue that has plagued society since the beginning of time.  Even the rape of Tamar in the Bible shows how destructive and harmful it is.

With all our tests and analytical abilities, this is a question we still cannot seem to answer.

And I wonder.  Do we not want to know?  Are we so afraid of the answer that we can’t ask the question?  Or is it just a cosmic roll of the dice?  Some people molest kids, most do not.  And would we be able to stop it if we could answer the question?  Again, I do not know.

I do know that there are survivors all over the world.  This is not something that only happens in one culture.  The world is filled with survivors, and in my opinion, a very small number of people who molest children and cause a tremendous amount of harm.

So, after all this, I have to admit, I just do not know.  I wish I did because if this could be answered, and if we could realistically deal with the answer, we could save people a lifetime of pain.  And I would do that in a heartbeat.

If You Aren’t Outraged, You Aren’t Paying Attention

I’m feeling a little helpless today. I’m feeling like what I do may not make a difference and there are too many hurdles to climb.

I saw a story on the news that an accused pedophile who molested little boys has chosen to defend himself.  That is bad enough, but because he has chosen to defend himself, and he made tapes of what he did to the little boys, he gets to watch the videos in prison to prepare for his defense.  I am appalled that he molested these boys, taped it, got caught and now our “justice” system lets him watch the tapes.  If they believe for a single second he is doing it primarily to prepare for his defense, they are so far off base, I don’t know where to begin.

I think that is my problem today.  I don’t know where to begin.  Casey Anthony got off for murdering her daughter because there wasn’t enough evidence.  Elizabeth Smart went back to a loving family who never gave up on her.  Jaycee Dugard did a fabulous job of telling her story to the world and she got $20 million plus the money she will receive from her book.  She doesn’t have an easy road ahead of her, but she certainly has the resources to get the care she needs and provide for her kids.

I’m fighting a battle that, for the most part, people do not want to hear.  We can easily watch stories like that of Jaycee and Elizabeth because it is the stranger which we fear, and we don’t have to face the reality.

There are strangers who kidnap children.  That is true.  But most children, women, men, people in general are raped, abused and murdered by people who they know.  Even worse and more unsettling, it is by people we know.  It is pastors, police officers, upstanding citizens, bankers, mechanics, mothers, fathers, neighbors, brothers, sisters, friends.  It is people we all know, or think we know.

And as a survivor, and someone who cares about kids and people, let me tell you that is terrifying.  It is sometimes hard to look at people and not wonder about the secrets they are hiding.  I know I can put on a good face and pretend that I’m ok.  It is my guess that other people know how to hide secrets as well.

My friend Becky recently wrote this:

I  am really having a problem with the media sensation with the Jaycee  Dugard case & before that the Elizabeth Smart case. The media  playing up to the fact that both of these young women are surviving  & thriving so quickly after being found & suffering such  horrific horrors at the hands of their captors. What they are failing to  point out, in my opinion, is the fact that these girls had loving,  caring families before they were taken & loving, caring families  after they were brought home. For the majority of us who were abused,  beaten, tortured we weren’t offered that comfort, love, care. I feel  they are making it seem like it’s just a matter of all you need to do is  set you’re mind to it & you can get over these horrible things. I  feel it’s making it more difficult, not easier, for the rest of us.  Society is now going to see those of us who are struggling with  depression, anxiety, PTSD, DID, etc. and say, “Well, look at those 2  girls…they are living happy, productive lives. Why can’t you?”

Are those of us who were abused by family and friends out of line?  Should we just move on and forget about it?

The answer is absolutely not.  The more of us who speak out and keep lifting up our stories and our pain, the more likely it is that someone will hear us.

Another friend Kimberly Zarley, who is going to seminary and is a member of the Disciples of Christ, recently got a resolution passed at the General Assembly entitled, “Preventing Sexual Abuse and Ministering to its Victims and Survivors.”

I know this journey is like chipping away at a giant, perverse, underground, incestuous, dark iceberg.  Even though I get discouraged and think that every time someone comes forward and speaks his or her truth and breaks the silence, one more rock with a slime ball child molester hiding under it is placed.  I sometimes think that there are more child molesters than people with the strength to speak up.

Then I remember it isn’t true and it’s hard and painful and sucks to heal, but I wouldn’t trade healing or stop talking for anything.  It has been too important and too healing for me to start to speak.

Survivors of sexual abuse aren’t whiny or weak because they don’t instantly heal.  The media may portray them that way, but for the most part, the media and society just wish we would stay quiet.  If you don’t talk about a problem, no one has to do anything to change it.  That is way easier than actually acknowledging there is a problem and then doing something about it.

So, Becky and anyone else who is discouraged, fear not.  The laws are wrong.  The media is wrong.  A strong tree doesn’t grow in a day.  It cannot stand up to wind, storms, drought, whatever comes its way, overnight.  It takes time to grow free and be strong.  Anyone who is trying to dismiss you or hurry your healing just wants to get back to ordinary life.  That requires no thought, no care, no change.  It also requires no heart nor compassion nor hope for the victim.

The media may paint a pretty picture, but as with so many things, the media is just misguided.

And I’ve said it before, if you aren’t outraged, you aren’t really paying attention.

“It is not shameful to be abused.  What is shameful is when no one helps.

Last night, Jaycee Dugard’s first interview was aired on television.  She was walking to catch the school bus, was tazed, and held hostage for eighteen years.  To say the least, it must have been horrible.  She was very hopeful and bore no apparent bitterness or anger at the two people who kidnapped her, repeatedly raped her, and held her hostage for eighteen years, and her two children hostages for their entire lives.

She was very hopeful in the interview.  She kept saying that she held on to the hope that she would some day see her mother again and that got her through.

I knew the interview would be difficult, and I give Jaycee a tremendous amount of credit for doing it, and writing a book about her experience.  Her face would cloud with pain when she talked about her experience of being raped, starting when she was eleven years old.

Diane Sawyer did a good job in the interview.  I could tell she was outraged at the way Jaycee was treated.  She was also appalled by how many people had let her down when they searched the house and didn’t find her.  It was what wasn’t said that reminded me we have so far to go in making society aware of the extent of the abuse that goes on right in our own backyards.

At one point, I thought Diane might take it to the next level, where the conversation needs to go.  The conversation turned to statistics.  The statistics were given about how many children are kidnapped, how many return, and how many times children are not returned alive, or never found.  That is harrowing enough.

The reality is that most children are not kidnapped and raped by strangers.  These statistics are old and somewhat vague, but this gives you an idea of the reality.   In 1995, local child protection service agencies identified 126,000 children who were victims of either substantiated or indicated sexual abuse. Seven percent of these children did not know the person who raped them.

Math is not my best subject, but that would imply that ninety-three percent of 126,000 children were raped and abused by family members.  That works out to be 117,180 children.  Molested and raped by people who knew them and were supposed to love and care about them.

And that is the number of children who were able to overcome the fear and the threats and report what happened to them.  Most children are so wracked with guilty, fear, threats of violence to their parents, their own being, their siblings, and their pets that they don’t report what happened.  They don’t report it at the time, and many are never able to overcome all the obstacles and tell.

And if they do tell, the legal system is another harrowing experience in itself.

I told three different people that I was being molested by my father.  I told my mother, I told my Girl Scout leader and I told my minister.  My mother said, “I thought something like this was happening.  I’ll talk to him and make it stop.”  It didn’t.  My Girl Scout leader had just given a presentation on what to do if someone was abusing you.  Her husband was a state police officer.  She did nothing because she later said she was afraid of my father.  My minister counseled my parents and told them to spend more time together and go on more dates.  Eight months after I told her, I told her again.  She finally called the police.

And what a painful, misguided process that was.  I know I’ve written about this before, but it still amazes me at the repeated ineptitude.  The minister called the police.  The police had to call in people from another county because the local authorities didn’t have anyone trained in child sexual abuse.  Mind you, this was 1989, not the 1700s.  Then the police officer and his wife came to our house and interviewed me in the living room and then interviewed my father in the kitchen, right next to the living room.  I could hear every word they said.  I think the police officer’s wife (I’m still not sure why she was there) realized I could hear what they were saying.  She sent me to my grandmother and grandfather’s house two doors down.  Grandma later told me that my father was her son and she would always support him over me.

Dad had to move out, but didn’t have anywhere to live, so he went to his parents’ house, two doors away from my house.  They had foster kids.  I don’t remember how long he lived there before someone realized it might not be the best idea for an accused sex offender to live with foster kids.  In the meantime, we were assigned a case worker.  She came to our house for a little while and we had family meetings twice a week.  We’d all sit down and have dinner together because, as everyone kept telling me, my dad was going to come back home.  Oh great.  How wonderful.  That was nowhere close to what I wanted or what should have happened.

One night out of the blue another woman showed up for dinner at our house.  She said she was there to replace Cindy, which was really confusing because that is my sister’s name.  She didn’t even know our names.

We also went to family counseling.  The only thing I remember out of that mess was that she made me apologize to my father for breaking up our family.

Dad pleaded guilty and was put on probation and was ordered to undergo counseling and rehabilitation.  During his rehab program, he molested another girl who was not a blood relative.  Because she was not related by blood, his crime then became more serious, because it wasn’t that bad that he was molesting his daughter.  He did go to prison for two and a half years, which is amazing, because so many offenders serve no time at all.

My story is not uncommon.  I wanted to hear Diane Sawyer say, “And Jaycee Dugard, while her story is awful, is in the minority.  Most children are molested by friends, family members, ministers, someone who is close to them.”  I also wanted her to say, “Join me next Sunday night to listen to the story of Marilyn Van Derbur, former Miss America who was molested by her father for thirteen years.”  It didn’t have to be Marilyn Van Derbur.  It didn’t have to be me, but there are millions of survivors who are willing to share their stories and break the silence of how they were abused and the system let them down over and over again.

I commend the interview with Jaycee Dugard to you.  I also commend you to listen and read what other survivors are saying.  There are predators in your own backyard, and if we keep silent, they are perfectly content to go on using that silence to destroy countless lives.

It is not shameful to be abused.  What is shameful is when no one helps.

I’m Only Here For The Food

One of my favorite sayings is, “Lunch is one of my three favorite meals a day.”  I think I may have even come up with it.  I like to eat, and not just to be fed.  When I’m happy, I eat.  When I’m sad, I eat.  When I’m bored, I eat…I think you get the picture.

In the last few years, I have tried very hard to learn to eat when I’m hungry.  It is a struggle.  I realize as I’m putting something in my mouth to eat that I’m not really hungry or that what I have is not really what I want or need.  *Sometimes* I can stop myself and put it back.  Other times I cannot.

I have heard this from a lot of people, that as a survivor of abuse, eating is a way to cover up the pain and try to fill the emptiness inside.  With the mentality that if I’m overweight, no one can touch me, or even worse, no one would want to touch me.

I am not saying that overweight people are unattractive or bad because they are overweight.  There are many reasons for that, such as gland problems, never having been taught how to eat what is good for you, trying to hide yourself from leering eyes, genetics.  The list is a long one.

For me, it was a combination of factors.  I never consciously thought, ok, so if I eat too much, my father and the others will leave me alone.  It was more a combination of genetics, not having very much money as a child for proper nutrition, and trying to fill the gaping hole of pain that was inside of me.  I remember being about ten years old and being at home by myself or watching my sister.   My mom had just bought a new jar of peanut butter and it was like it was calling to me.

I would grab a spoon and start eating it, right out of the jar.  When about half of it was gone, and I realized what I’d done, I’d try to smooth it over so it didn’t look like I’d eaten so much.  As I was smoothing it out, I’d think just one more spoonful…  Apparently I couldn’t count, because it would usually be like four spoons.  Then I had eaten almost the entire jar.  Mom would get home and not be terribly pleased that I’d eaten almost the whole jar.  I had no answer for why I’d done it, but simply could not stop.

In 2001, my sister and I moved to California.  One would think, being in California, close to the beach, that weight loss would be easy.  I kept on gaining.  None of my clothes fit, so I started buying men’s jeans because they fit and then I didn’t have to admit how overweight I was.  I couldn’t face the size I had actually become.  I don’t honestly know how much weight I gained, or what size I should have been wearing.

While we lived there, I went to visit some friends and they were both very slim.  When the pictures came back and I saw myself, I was so upset at how overweight I was.  At that point, I started paying a little better attention.  I also weighed myself around the same time and I had gotten up to 229 pounds.

Now, I wear a size eight.  I say that not to brag, but to show what a more realistic and healthy weight for me is.  I am not sure exactly what I weigh, but I realized I never wanted to weigh that much again.

I don’t think it was so much how much I weighed, but just how unhappy I could see I was in the picture.  I didn’t feel good.  I couldn’t do very much without getting winded.  I was just completely unhappy.

Losing the weight didn’t make me happy.  It made me feel different, but not happy.  Dealing with the sexual abuse and facing it gave me a glimpse of what it could be like to be happy.  It gave me freedom I had never known.  Even though I lost weight while dealing with the abuse, dealing with the abuse and being able to talk about it lifted a HUGE weight off of my soul.  It made me feel like I was a person.

While thinking about this post, I kept thinking about the movie Ever After.  There is one scene in the movie where the two step-sisters (one of whom is not wicked at all) are going to the palace for a ball.  The step-mother has been grooming one of them to garner the prince’s attention.  The other sister, Jaqueline, has no chance at the prince, at least in the mother’s opinion.  Her mother and her sister have gotten in a bit of a rough spot at the palace and her mother accuses Jacqueline of helping to put them there.  Jacqueline, who is the nice one, says, “Of course not, Mother.  I’m only here for the food.”

The food is good, but I assure you, I am no longer here just for the food.  I finally realized there is so much more.

Old Blog Posts From February 8, 2011 Through June 20, 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

Precious Hope

I watched the move “Precious” last night.  Yes, I know I am about two years behind in watching the up and coming films, but I finally got to it.  It was SO hard, but so hopeful.

I also watched the interview with Sapphire, the author of the book, “Push,” on which the movie was based.  She said the way it was presented in the film, she hoped it caused people to see everyone and not to dismiss people.  My story was not the same as Precious’, but there were many elements to which I could relate.  I could see everyone in that movie in my life.  I saw the teachers who refused to give up on me, I saw the silly girls to whom I could not quite ever relate, but loved anyway.

The only person in the movie who became less of a person to me was the mother.  For me, she devolved as the movie went on.  At first, she was just horribly abusive to her daughter, but at the end when she said her boyfriend had started abusing her daughter when she was only three years old as the mother and her boyfriend were having sex, it was like all the humanity was gone from her.  How could she just lay there and let the man she supposedly loves molest the child she also supposedly loves?

I don’t think it was over the top or taken too far.  I think it was actually pretty realistic.  I think women get jealous of their children for “taking away” the person who was supposed to love them.  It should not be a competition, but some people have such low self-esteem, they cannot see that it is just plain wrong what is happening.

I watched the movie, horrified and mesmerized.  How could she live through such horror and get up every day and go to school and love her kids?  She could do it for the same reason at the end of the move, she took her kids by the hand, and didn’t know how she would do it, but knew that she could take care of them better than anyone else.

I also watched “The Secret Life of Bees” this weekend.  Again, I am behind.  I read this book, but did not remember all the details to it as I sat down to watch.  I was struck by the similar theme of the movies.  “The Secret Life of Bees” did not deal with sexual violence as “Precious” did, but it did deal with women put in impossible circumstances who carried themselves with hope and dignity.

And I think of all the survivors I know and how they carry themselves with such grace and hope.  They may not even be feeling hopeful, but to see them, unless you really know them, you wouldn’t even know.  They press on and persevere, even when they don’t feel like it.  They may not even want to but they can do no other.   “Here I stand.  I can do no other.  Amen.“  Just as Martin Luther stated so many years ago, and under completely different circumstances, there are things for which we must stand, even if we are not completely sure why or what the consequences will be for standing.  We are also unsure of what will change by taking a stand.

So, even though it is hard, I encourage you to hope.  Even though it is terrifying, I encourage you to keep trying.  Even though it is daunting, keep  going.

The path is not smooth on the way to healing.  It is not fun or easy to get there, but I guarantee when you get there, it will be totally worth it.  With love in your heart, carry on, knowing you are loved and never alone.  Keep shining your light, even through the glass darkly.

“Some folks has a lot of things around them that shines for other  peoples. I think that maybe some of them was in tunnels. And in that  tunnel, the only light they had, was inside of them. And then long after  they escape that tunnel, they sitll be shining for everybody else.”

And just because I like this song and it is kind of my theme, in case you haven’t heard it, here you go. Christopher_Grundy_-_Holding_Up_the_Light_-_11

A Protest Against The Day In Favor Of Not Losing Yourself

My survivor friends are already feeling the strain of an upcoming event.  This is one of those events that strikes a chord of fear and anger with many survivors.  And in my opinion, it is one of the more difficult days of a survivor’s year.  Why is that?  Because it is the celebration of something that is supposed to be very special and for many people it is a no-brainer to celebrate.

What day is it?  If you haven’t run to your calendar to check it out or aren’t one of those people who prepare early for such magnanimous events, it is Father’s Day.  I have finally come to the point in my life that this particular day does not make me want to hide in the closet and throw things at anyone who might approach me in my sanctuary.  I can type the words without feeling sick to my stomach.

For many other survivors, there is still a deep, gut-wrenching pain associated with the person who should have loved and protected them.  Instead, they were violated and abused by that person.  They were raped, often as small children and left with emotional and physical anguish, with no way to deal effectively with the pain and terror that was left behind.

Many of us endured Father’s Day for years without ever telling anyone what happened.  We blocked it, ignored it, tried to tell and weren’t believed.  The response to our pain varied, but the national commendation of fathers continued.

And before I continue, let me just say that I know not all men are bad.  There are plenty of wonderful fathers in the world.  I just wish the world would come to recognize there are many who should never be able to hold the title of father.  The destruction they cause in their children’s lives should be enough for the world to say, “You are not a dad, you are a destructive monster.  You may have been the sperm donor, but that is the end of your connection to this child.”

When I was in Girl Scouts, we used to have an annual “Daddy Daughter Date Night.”  The whole concept just made me ill.  My father DID view it as a date night.  He didn’t see the innocence of just spending time with his daughter.  And sadly, I know he was not the only one.

Father’s Day also always falls on a Sunday.  Sundays were never very good days for me anyway, and then I would go to church, sometime even sitting next to my father, and hear how my father was great and strong and to be worshiped just like God, because, after all, God was also my father in heaven.

That made my head spin.  God was supposed to be good, as was my father.  My father wasn’t, so did that mean God wasn’t either?  I still haven’t been able to completely work that one out in my mind, but now, as an adult, I can at least hear the possibility of a difference.  It took a long, painful time to get here though.

I could never get my mind around how to approriately address this day in church either.  People expect you to say Happy Fathers day to all you great guys out there, knowing perfectly well that some of them are just not great.  There is also the knowledge that there are victims and survivors in the congregation.  I never know how to hold the tension of these dynamics and not hurt some worse than they have already been hurt.

So, how will we make it through another Father’s Day, trying to maintain our own integrity and also believing that not all fathers are bad?  My friend is posting pictures of her husband on her profile this week.  She is reminding herself, and others, that her husband is a good husband and father.  Sometimes it takes a lot of reminding to not get caught up in the “well, he is a man, and therefore I have to protect my daughters from him” mentality.  That requires a great deal of trust in your spouse, and in yourself, for chosing someone different than your father.

I have a few male friends to whom I write happy father’s day.  I don’t say anything else, just those three words.  Each of those men are good men, and they know what a struggle it is for me to even write them.

What is a survivor to do on a day that can be very triggering and just downright sucky?  I vote for just taking care of yourself.  If you need the day off from television, read a good book.  If you need a way out of the family get-together, take a bike ride.  Fly a kite, go fishing.  Love yourself and those around you who are lovable.  If it doesn’t feel like you are taking care of yourself, stop doing whatever it is and try something else.

Be well and be strong.  It may seem like there is no light in this darkness, but the dark cannot last forever.  And in the morning, there is the dawn.

The Sound of Weeping Cannot be Distinguished from the Sound of Joy

I had the opportunity to go back to Eden Seminary two weeks ago.  Every spring, there are speakers and a reunion of sorts for students.  It sounds silly, but I was hesitant to go back.  I wanted to see my friends, but I didn’t want to answer the question, “So which church do you serve?”  The answer is, I don’t.  I am still a fringe member of a church in Illinois, but as far as working for one, I haven’t figured that out yet.

At Eden, I got to hear Otis Moss III preach and Rita Nakashima Brock speak.  Rev. Moss is the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.  His sermon was focused around Ezra 3: 10-13.  This text focuses on the rebuilding of the temple after it had been destroyed.  The young people are excited and yelling with loud voices in anticipation, but the older people who remember the pain of the destruction are weeping.  The sound of the praise was drowning out the weeping.

Rev. Moss related this text to the African American experience of knowing the blues, and knowing how to praise.  “Praise and pain are first cousins.”  He spoke of the connection between being connected to the pain and being able to turn it into a gospel shout.  I was right there with him through the whole sermon until he got to the end and talked about the violence that Jesus knew in his lifetime and the connections we hold dear to the violence in our lives.

Quite honestly, that is a large part of what turns me off from church.  I believe in God and I believe in Jesus.  I do not believe in glorifying the violence of Jesus’ experience.  God is supposed to be good.  God is supposed to be love.  I cannot say these things are true and believe that God sent his own child to be killed for the sins of people who had not even been born yet when he died.  I have always thought that made God into a cosmic child abuser.

From the pain I have experienced through being molested as a child, I simply cannot abide with the doctrine of atonement.  Jesus was killed by men who were threatened by his voice and his opinions.  People are still tortured, shunned and murdered for speaking their truth because it threatens the social order and disrupts the lives of those in power.

The final part of the day at Eden featured Rita Nakashima Brock discussing her book, “Saving Paradise.”  I read Rita’s book “Proverb of Ashes” twice during seminary.  I liked it a lot, but felt like she and Rebecca Ann Parker took it right to the edge of revolutionary and then swallowed the party line about the violence of Jesus’ death.

“It took Jesus a thousand years to die.  Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century.”

The early Christians did not write for the most part, but they left us reminders of their beliefs in their art.  Jesus was in paradise with them.  He did not leave them behind to go to a palace in the sky.  He was still with them in their memory of his works and the people he had healed during his life time.  He left behind his love, and the Holy Spirit poured out on the people who watched him die.  They carried that love with him and that is the mark Jesus left on the world.

Paradise is here and now.  It isn’t some far off point we get to when we die.  It is here.  We can be better to each other, but for all our brokenness and pain we inflict on each other, we move further and further away from what we can be.

This is theology I can buy.  I am tired of the violence.  I am not unrealistic about the violence and sins of the world.  Far from it.  I have known violence and it is nothing to be celebrated.  I am tired of empire winning and telling us that violence is ok.  I’m tired of women being abused and being told that Jesus suffered violence so it is just their cross to bear as he bore his.  I am tired of men being abused and being told to just keep quiet and be a man about it.  Putting up with violence doesn’t make anyone more or less of a person.

I stand outside the Christian tradition while standing within it, if even on the fringe.  I don’t think it is about what we have turned it into.  I think it was about community and fellowship, not about violence and keeping people out.

If we want to be like Jesus and follow in his footsteps, perhaps we should actually look at what he said and did, not make assumptions that fit into a political scheme that doesn’t work for anyone.  Communion was about eating together for Jesus.  It was about inviting people in to share in the feast.  It has turned into something vastly different and oppressive to many people.

Every time we go to the communion table and celebrate someone’s death, we reinforce the violence we are willing to live with.  Many people don’t realize there were other traditions that honored people and relationships over death and violence.

Paradise can be here on earth.  It is all found in how we treat each other.  There is enough paradise for everyone, not just enough for a select few.  Look around and find it within yourself and the world in which we live.

Other than spending some much needed time with my friends, there was one other very important experience I had while in St. Louis.  There is a song we used to sing while I was in seminary called “More Than We Can Ask.”  I cried almost every time we sang it.  The words of the song are as follows:

More than we can ask,

more than we can ask,

more than we can ask or imagine.

Again, as I sat in a sacred place where I had struggled and gained so much, I cried again.  I am on the brink of dreaming, and hoping for more than I can imagine.  I hope you can do that for yourself, or if you are in a place where you can’t imagine it, I wish you someone in your life who can.

Resurrection Reflection

I’ve been working on a video for My Name is Project.  This Project was started by Chris and Ophelia de Serres who run (Wo)Men Speak Out.  As their website states, “(Wo)Men Speak Out™ is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating  rape, sexual assault and gender violence. We seek to educate both men  and women, cultivating healthy relationships and gender equity.”

My Name is Project started when Chris posted a video on Youtube to offer hope to survivors of abuse.  There is so much silence and division when people are abused.  The stigma of “what would “good” people think” used to haunt me.  If anyone found out what was going on in my house, they would think I was the one to blame.

Even when I was young, though, I didn’t believe that.  A secret that big that made me hurt so much just couldn’t be right.  I was always well behaved and got good grades, so what could I possibly have done to deserve what was going on?  The simple answer to that question is I didn’t do anything.  The more complex answer is that I didn’t do anything and neither did any of the other survivors.  We were just kids who were abused by adults.

The web of secrecy and silence that surrounds abuse is so sticky and complicated that it is hard to even imagine people getting out.  But they do.  They survive, and so many survivors even become thrivers.

Chris’s video on Youtube has brought a lot of survivors hope.

Chris is doing what I see so many survivors doing.  He is using his pain to let others know they are not alone.  He is offering hope to the hopeless who feel broken beyond repair.

I was finally able to finish my video in response to My Name is Chris.  It was an emotional work of love, but I am so glad to have it finished and have it out where other survivors can see it.  The day after I posted it, I felt extremely anxious.  It was really stressful to know that much of myself was out on display and could be seen by anyone in the world.  I returned home to find really positive and uplifting comments.  As I said in the video, I would not have made it without the love and support of friends.  The anxiety diminished and I was reminded of how many people I know who really do care.

I’m so glad to have another outlet like the My Name is Project.  At times, it feels like I am not doing enough to help survivors of abuse.  I try to do as much as I can, while still having a life.

If you are a survivor, please tell you story in whatever way you can.  It can be a video in response to My Name is Chris, it can be in poems, in letters, in the Survivor Archives Project.  It can be over coffee with an understanding friend.  It is not your fault and you have done enough by surviving.

In the (Wo)Men Speak out blog, Chris wrote, “Sharing your story is the greatest gift you can give to another  survivor.  When I made My Name is Chris I was only trying to heal from  my pain.  Imagine the impact our collective montage of stories will have  on survivors who need to hear that they are not alone and that their  pain matters.”

As a survivor of abuse, I have often felt that the light would be eclipsed by the darkness.  Today, I am convinced that the light still continues to shine.  This is how I relate to the resurrection.  Today is Easter and I feel like I have come back to the living from the dead.

My friend Sara Kay wrote this song which will soon be released on a CD.  It is called “Resurrection.”  It resonated with me today and I would like to share part of it with you.

I believe in the resurrection

And I affirm that it is real

Every time I stand my ground

For all those who’ve been trodden down

Every time I voice concern

For those not able to be heard

Every time tears flood by eyes

For those who’ve no tears left to cry

Jesus lives in me

To all those who have have survived, happy Resurrection.

Toward the Towering Beast

In February, I wrote a post called, “It was an ordinary day.”  Today was another one of those anniversaries and it didn’t feel like such an ordinary day.  Today is my abuser’s birthday.  He is fifty six today.  Much too young in my opinion, as he can still do so much damage before his demise.  I hope he is not.  I hope he was cured in prison, but I don’t even really have a small bit of hope that he was.

I don’t believe prison cures.  It is not a system of “correction” as it claims, but a system of punishment, and in his case, the punishment came no where near to fitting the crime.  He received two concurrent sentences.  One was for four years and the other was for five.  The most he could have served was five years, but because the prisons are full and in the eyes of the court, his crimes were not that violent, he served just over two years.  That’s fair, right?  He got two years and his victims, each and everyone of us, got a life sentence, through no fault of our own except that we were born or adopted into this twisted family.

His birthday is always a harder anniversary for me than others.  It’s not so much because we used to celebrate it more than other birthdays, but I think it’s so hard for me that he is still a menacing force in my universe.  I am no longer afraid of him, but I hate him.  I am still angry that he did what he did, and to so many people.  I am sickened by his existence.

And yes, I know I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him.  I wouldn’t have been exactly who I am, but I know my spirit would have been in this world, even if in a different form.  I could have lived without being abused.  I am grateful, and continually surprised, that I survived, but I refuse to be thankful for such pain.  It seems I need to write a healing service for this particular anniversary, for my own healing.  Perhaps I should base it on the unresolved Psalm.

This is kind of a side note to my current rant, but something triggered this thought last night.  We went to play pool and one poster hung on the men’s bathroom door was of a very curvy blond woman wearing a tight shirt and tight short shorts.  She was pulling the shorts down as she walked, or so the picture implied.  The picture took me back to all the pornography that covered the walls in my father’s shop bathroom.  It was like wall to wall pictures of naked women, some in very awkward positions.  Standing in the bar last night, I could smell the soap and grease smell that always hung in that bathroom, even though I hadn’t been in that room for over twenty years.

It has been said that I am a prude and just don’t understand pornography.  I would say I have many reservations, with good reason.  Yes, the women in the pictures may be smiling and look like they are enjoying themselves.  They may also get paid a lot of money to do whatever they are doing.  Please don’t forgot that looks can be deceiving and even though the woman may be ok with what they are doing, what happens to the pictures afterward is a whole different ballgame.

I do not know where they got these statistics, but the law firm of Estey & Bomberger states that “77% of child molesters of boys and 87% of child molesters of girls  admitted imitating the sexual behavior they had seen in pornography they  had watched.“  I know one of the girls my father abused was shown pornography by him.

Pornography also plays into the distorted sense of self so prevalent among young girls.  They are exposed to more sexuality than they are prepared for and they are also bombarded with distorted images of what they should look like and how they should perform.  Young men are presented with a distorted image of how they should look and are shown things they and their partners probably cannot realistically do.

I know a lot of people do not believe pornography is bad, but I disagree.  They believe the images have no affect on anyone who views them.  Some twenty years after seeing the pictures hanging up where my father worked, I was still transported back there in a heart beat.  I used to look at the pictures in the bathroom and be intrigued and repulsed by the pictures at the same time.  I was intrigued by the positions in which the women were posed.  Why would anyone want to wash a car without wearing clothes?  Or ride a bicycle?  I was repulsed by what the women were doing and appeared to enjoy.  My knowledge of sex was pretty limited but most of what was depicted in the pictures did not look fun or loving.  Some of it even looked painful.  I don’t understand how it could in any way be described as healthy.

I am not naive enough to believe that sex is always about love and relationships.  Sometimes it is just about sex, but it seems there should be limits about what people would find acceptable, but with the number of child pornography sites on the internet growing so rapidly, it looks like I am off base once again.  I will never believe that child pornography or anything that is abusive is “normal.”

So, as I’ve said before, I have looked through the glass darkly in life.  Today, it still seems pretty dark.

Resources

http://www.wisechoice.net/porn-statistics/

http://www.enough.org/inside.php?id=2uxkjwry8

http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/204911.pdf

http://www.jimhopper.com/abstats/

Wedding Vows and Happy Times

I went home for my sister’s wedding last week.  I love my sister a lot and am really glad I got to go to her wedding.  Going home is such a mixed bag for me because I have so many bad memories of it.

I stayed with a friend with whom I have never felt anything but safe.  As strange as it is, my friend and her husband live two blocks from where I grew up and where my my father and his new wife live now.  It was so good to see my friends and I didn’t have the sense of dread that I used to when I would go out of my friends’ house.  I saw one of the trucks owned by the company my father works for and I had an overwhelming urge to flip off the truck.  It has nothing to do with the company, but with the fact that my father’s boss saved his job for him while he was in prison.  How insane is that?  My grandmother saved her house for him so he’d have a place to live and his boss held his job for him.

In that moment of seeing the truck, it was all I could do not to flip off the driver.  He wouldn’t have seen me and none of it was his fault, but I would have been doing something.  A lot of my life I felt like I was standing around unable to do anything.  I know now I was doing the best I could in an impossible situation.  I know adults let me down and it wasn’t me who was doing nothing.

So back to my sister’s wedding.  No one knew I was coming.  The wedding was in the town where we used to go to counseling as a family.  It was in the court house, across the street from the counseling center who made me apologize to my father for breaking up our family.  It isn’t a place where I feel exactly at ease, but at the same time, I wasn’t there for me.  I was there for my sister and I struggled less than I imagined I would going into the building.

I didn’t know where I was going in the court house.  I was just on time, if everything went smoothly.  Of course it didn’t.  I went to the security entrance, turned off my phone and handed it to the officer.  He said I couldn’t have it or my camera in the building.  So I ran back to the car and threw them in, then ran back to the court house.  I went through security, then the guard said, “Oh are you here for the wedding?  We make exceptions on cameras and phones for weddings.  Do you want to go back and get it?”

At that point, I just decided to pass.  I knew there would be enough other cameras that mine would just be one more flash.  (There was enough time before the ceremony that someone else ran out to the car to get my camera and I got lots of nice pictures.)  Then I walked around the corner and surprised my family.  My uncle stood, mouth open, and just stared at me.  Then everyone else realized I was there.  We all laughed and talked until the judge was ready to perform the wedding.

I didn’t know who the judge was, until I walked in the room.  Then I realized the judge was the same man who had prosecuted my father.  A surge of anger ran through me because I used to be angry with this man.  It was seriously messed up that I was angry with him, but I could only hold so much anger for my father and then some of it spilled over onto anyone else who was around.  The prosecuting attorney was one of the people my anger spilled on.

It took me only a few seconds to realize I wasn’t really angry with him.  The heat of the moment passed.  The wedding started and it was really quite nice.  My sister and her husband are now happily married.  I am so glad I was able to go, even with the up and down emotional roller coaster I was on for most of the trip.

Life is just like that sometimes.  There are things I can anticipate that may upset me.  I am so glad to note that they are far less than they used to be.  I am rarely blindsided by emotional upheaval anymore, but there are still times as I found out.  I have more skills to handle them now and more emotional maturity to be able to step back and really see and feel what it going on.

Posted in Survivors | 1 Comment

Business Cards and Revelations

I ordered business cards this week.  That seems like a simple enough task, but I kept starting them and then I’d stop.  I was struggling to define myself in the words that I’d put on two-hundred and fifty, glossy double-sided business cards.  Who did I want to be?  How did I want to describe what I’m doing here with this blog?  How did I explain what I consider a somewhat ambiguous endeavor which I had undertaken?  Lots of people blog.  Lots of people recover from abuse.  Some of them write books, or blogs or columns to describe how horrible it was and how one can survive it.

The denomination of which I am a part has not officially condoned or denied my ministry.  The denomination is large and there are lots of people doing lots of things.  I consider myself another one of those who is doing something.  To be fair, I have chosen not to be ordained at this point, so I do not blame the denomination.  For me, it has just been one of those occasions that life happened.

So I designed my business cards.  I tried to use a similar color scheme to my website so that people would mentally link one to the other when they saw either the business cards or the website.  I got to name myself and describe what I did, briefly, but distinctly.  I chose to describe myself as a writer and an advocate.  I hope someday to be an author, but at this point I feel like a writer.

And I find strength in that.  I write this blog.  I slowly write healing services.  I can work with other survivors to write healing services that are personal and meaningful to them.  Shockingly to me, people read what I write.  I don’t have a huge following and no one pays me for it, but I am honored that others read what I write.

And I find relief in writing.  It gives me a place to rage against all the atrocities I see in the world.  That, I do primarily for myself.  It’s a good way for me to vent and catalogue what is going on in my life.  And I am constantly reminded how much sexual abuse touches my life.

Today, I got an email from one of my uncles.  He identified another victim who was molested by my father.  That, to my knowledge, brings the count eight.  I am sickened to believe that there are probably more.  Of the other children who were around at the time, the number could be as high as twenty.  It is my guess there are a lot more.  My grandparents had foster kids.  They lived two doors down from our house.  My father was over at their house all the time.  When he was forced to move out of our house, he moved in with my grandparents and their foster kids.  He lived there until social services figured out there were other kids in that home as well and that might not be the best place for him to live.  There were a few other kids in the neighborhood.  Cousins, friends I brought home from school.  I honestly have no idea how many children could have been affected.

And now there is the new generation.  My father remarried and she has two daughters, who could have also been victims.  It if my guess they will have children and bring them around their mother and my father.  The cycle could continue.  And the way the laws were in Illinois at the time, he no longer has to register as a sex offender.  It was the law at the time that after he had been out of prison for ten years and had not molested anyone else, he was essentially cured.  I do not believe he is cured, and the laws have changed.  That doesn’t make it a whole lot better for me or the other survivors of his crimes.  That does not heal the wounds or take away the memories.

It does matter that at least he was charged and convicted.  People may not know that who know him now.  But it is something I will always know.  The other survivor who came forward will always know.  Until very recently, she did not know I had come forward at all.  We were young and not really encouraged to share our stories.  Actually, we were not encouraged to talk at all.  And for the other survivors who were not given the chance to come forward at the time, I want you to know how strong and amazing I think you are.  I am so sorry you had to live with these terrible hurts all by yourself.  I love each and every one of you and admire you for your strength to survive.  I hope you have each found your voice and have been able to find some healing.

To all survivors, every where, I wish you blessings on the journey.  It is a long and painful one, but you are loved and not alone.

Better Wake Up and Pay Attention

I just got back from another trip to Texas.  While there, I met two very different people, each of whom had been touched by sexual abuse.  The first was a chance meeting in the airport.  He asked me what I did and I told him primarily I wrote a blog and healing services for survivors of abuse.  I think he was a little taken aback by my answer, but said that a colleague’s husband had been arrested for being a pedophile.  He said it was so hard on the family because they had no idea.  The second person I met was an arranged meeting with a minister in the town I was in in Texas.  It was actually my husband’s idea that I contact this minister.  We had lunch and he revealed to me that a man in his church was recently arrested for parole violations from charges stemming from inappropriate contact with a minor.

Meetings like this sometimes cause me to stop and wonder if there is a single person in the world who is not touched by sexual abuse.  I know some people genuinely believe they are not touched by sexual abuse.  They have never known anyone who was sexually abused.  They certainly have never known anyone who was sexually abused.  They have seen it on the news, but their lives go completely unaffected by it.  I do not believe that is true, but I know many people believe that it is.

When Senator Scott Brown went on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago and broke his silence about being sexually abused by a camp counsel, I thought it was pretty big news.  That is something many public figures would like to keep quiet.  He is not the only public figure who has come forward though.  The ones I can think of off the top of my head are Maya Angelou, Tyler Perry, Teri Hatcher, Marilyn Van Derbur, the three Brown sisters, Desirae, Deondra and Melody, of the group the Five Browns, and Mackenzie Phillips.  These are just a few people I can think of off the top of my head.

I know the accepted statistics of childhood sexual abuse.  Most people when quoting statistics state that one in four women and one in six men are sexually abused.  I believe that the statistics are not accurate because so many people never tell anyone about the abuse they suffered.  One article written by Donna Trussell about Erin’s Law (Get Away, Tell Today) and Senator Scott Brown stated that thirty-nine million people in the United States are survivors of sexual abuse.  Thirty-nine million.  That is an inconceivable number.  That means that the combined total populations of the ten most populated cities in the United States does not equal the number of sexual abuse survivors in the United States.  Those cities include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose.  This list of cities is actually a little short.  About sixteen million short, give or take.  That means, a more fair representation of thirty-nine million survivors of sexual abuse would encompass approximately the populations of the top twenty-seven most populated cities in this country.

Can that even be right?  It seems like such an insanely high number.  And sadly, it is probably not high enough.

So, what can we do?  I know I am overwhelmed with thinking about this statistic.  I know it hasn’t stopped and kids are still being sexually abused.

Here is a short list of practical things that you can do to protect the kids in our world from very real and present danger.

1.  If you are a survivor, speak up.  There is no shame in what happened to you.  Surround yourself with loving people who want to see you get through all of this and who will not abuse you further.

2.  If you are a church leader, a minister, a teacher, a parent, a person, educate yourself on the signs of sexual abuse.  There are tons of sites that list the signs.  Here is one of them.  Signs of Sexual Abuse.

3.  If you have people or children under your supervision, train the adults with a program like Darkness to Light.  If you are the leader of a church, implement a Safe Church Policy.  If anyone resists discussing a Safe Church Policy, consider their motivations for resisting.  They may not be a sex offender, but why wouldn’t they want to keep people safe from sexual abuse?

4.  Check the sex offender registry before letting anyone volunteer around children.  This is free.  There is a national registry and usually one for each state.  They are pretty easy to search.

5.  Pay attention.  If someone regularly volunteers to be around kids, especially if the person tries to be alone with kids regularly, make sure another adult is always with them.  That is a good idea anyway.  Have open door policies and be mindful of adults and children being alone together.

The bottom line is sometimes you are the only person standing between a child and a lifetime full of pain.  This is definitely something they can survive, but wouldn’t it be better for everyone if no one ever had to go through sexual abuse ever again?

The lens of sexual abuse is a dark and oppressive one.  Help shine a little light and prevent the fall into darkness.

It Was An Ordinary Day

Yesterday at work, I realized it was the seventh of February.  With a bit of panic, I realized it was the date of something I was supposed to remember.  I’m really bad at remembering birth dates and anniversaries, so I was wondering whose birthday it was that I’d forgotten this time.  While waiting on customers and trying to remember, I remembered.  Yesterday would have been my mother and father’s thirty-fifth anniversary.  I was suddenly extremely relieved that I had remembered and that they were no longer married.

My father actually filed for divorce when he was in prison.  How strange is that?  The perpetrator filing for divorce.  I used to beg Mom to divorce him, but she was married for life and never wanted to end a marriage.  One Sunday afternoon, I remember having the conversation with Mom again that she really needed to get a divorce.  I did not know that dad was outside the window “working” on the house.  He was working on something, but he was also listening.  I wasn’t allowed to see him by myself at that point, but Mom told me later how hurt and upset he was that I thought they should get a divorce.  What else could I have possibly hoped for?

After my father had to move out of the house, he and my mother would have date nights.  My sister and I would stay with my grandparents, two doors down from our house.  It was so strange.  I’d stay up most of the night playing Mario Brothers.  I did it in part because I totally wanted to win the game.  I also did it because I wanted to see if Mom and dad came home.   And I admit, I didn’t want them to come home.  I was so mad at my father for abusing me and so mad at my mother for failing to protect me and staying married to him. I thought my sister and I would be better of in a foster home.  Things are better between my mother and I now, but it took a long time to get there and there are still things we don’t ever talk about.

The date of their anniversary was also significant because his birthday and my mother’s birthday are also on the seventh.  Their birthdays are in different months, but dad always acted like it was some preordained pattern and that it was so important that those three occasions happened on the seventh.  I was not born on the seventh.  Therefore, in his mind, it was my fault that the pattern was broken.  For a long time, I believed him.  I felt like some kind of freak because I wasn’t born on the seventh.

As I grew older and began to understand more about human biology, I realized it wasn’t my fault that I wasn’t born on the seventh.  I was far from the one to blame for that.

I was born on July twenty-sixth, in the same year in which my parents were married.  If you are good at math, you will quickly realize that is less than nine months.  That was also a source of shame for my mother.  She was pregnant before they got married.  She actually sat me down at one point and explained to me that she was pregnant with me before she and my father got married.  She wanted me to know so that I could be prepared for it when the other kids in my class figured it out and teased me about it.  She didn’t think I would figure it out.

The seventh of February was always strange for me and I am relieved that this year it didn’t haunt me.  I had to really think about what the date was supposed to signify.  And I realized it doesn’t have a significant meaning for me.  It is a date.  There are people I know who where born on that day.  I am sure there are people of significance who died on that date.  But to me, it is primarily just a day.  Yesterday, I worked, made dinner, played pool with my husband, did laundry.  It wasn’t a day of pain in the remembering.  It was an ordinary day.

And to my great relief, there are many just ordinary days.  There are few days that I think about being a victim of childhood sexual abuse.  I still remember it and know it is a part of who I am, but it is not the primarily definition of my life.  It used to be.  I was just a shell of a person defined by sexual abuse.  It was all I thought about and I was tormented by flashbacks and memories.  Now it is something I know is there, but no longer feel so broken by what happened.  I actually don’t feel broken anymore at all.

That isn’t to say that I don’t still have hang ups from being abused or things I need to work on, but in general, I’m a whole person and not a bunch of broken pieces just rattling around.

In seminary, my friend talked about a concept he’d learned in Greek class.  The word in most modern translations of the Bible used to describe Jesus as perfect was mistranslated.  A better translation would have been whole.  That was one of the most profound things I learned in seminary.  I cannot be perfect; but I can continue to work toward being whole.  That is a goal I think everyone can attain.

Hold On

Jeff and I like to watch the show “The Haunting of…” If you haven’t seen the show, it deals with celebrities who have had experiences of the paranormal.  The show is an extended version of “Celebrity Ghost Stories.” It is an hour of a particular celebrity meeting at the place of his or her haunting with Kim Russo. If the paranormal and psychics are not your thing, please don’t give up on this post.  It is more of a platform on which to build the rest of the post.

The featured actress in last Saturday’s episode was Nadine Velazquez. She and Kim went to her childhood home, where described her experience with a ghost. Usually the show goes to one place, but this time, they went to two. In the second home, Nadine said one of her parents still lived there, but she didn’t go upstairs when she stayed there. She and Kim went upstairs and Nadine was clearly uncomfortable and in many ways, it looked to me as if she was trying not to dissociate. She also made a face several times that looked like she was trying to fight off a feeling.

If the term dissociate is unfamiliar to you, it often happens when a person is being abused or experiencing trauma.  It is as if they leave their body.  Many survivors describe their abuse from a detached perspective.  Many are hovering over their bodies and watching it from above or watching it from a different part of the room.  Many of my memories are from the corner of my parents’ bedroom, watching what was happening to me from outside my physical self.  If you’ve never experienced it, it may not make much sense, but it is a survival tactic many survivors use.  Some only dissociate when they are being abused, but many dissociate at any sign of trouble in their lives. In therapy, many people work toward stopping dissociating, which is helpful so people can stay present, but is a very difficult thing to learn.

As Kim and Nadine talked, Kim asked Nadine what was going on in her life when she had her ghostly encounter in that particular room.  Nadine said she was being sexually abused and she said she had never admitted that in public before. She said she was embarrassed about what had happened. I wanted to tweet her and tell her it was not her fault and she had no reason to be embarrassed. It is never the survivor’s fault.  The shame and embarrassment should never be the survivors, but the abuser puts that on them.  The abuser puts shame, guilt, emotions, and experiences on the victim without further thought of what that does to a small, innocent child.

If the statistics are correct, and I believe they are extremely underreported, especially for men, one in four girls(some statistics say one in three) is sexually abused before they turn 18 and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.  I know of several actors and actresses who have come forward about their abuse including Nadine Velazquez, Carlos Santana, Oprah, Tyler Perry, Teri Hatcher and Corey Feldman. Instead of being filled with shame and embarrassed about experiences of abuse, Hollywood could be ablaze with people speaking out about their experiences of childhood sexual abuse.

For instance, in one of my favorite recent movies, “Oz, The Great and Powerful,” there were one hundred and forty-four actresses and actors.  There are approximately eighty-eight male actors in the movie and fifty-six. (I did count, but I some names could have been male or female and did not have a picture. I also rounded down.) Going with the statistics society uses, that means that seven women are survivors of sexual abuse and fourteen men are survivors of sexual abuse. That’s probably a low estimate, but a whole lot of painful memories all in one place and that is just one example. This only includes the actors and actresses and does not include all the other people who worked on the film in various other ways.

It is hard and it is embarrassing, until you say the words enough. “I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It is not my fault. I am not the only one. I did nothing wrong.”

I thank each and every survivor who has come forward. I am grateful to every survivor who has survived and I mourn the loss of every survivor for whom the pain was just too much. The shame is not yours. It is not your fault and you are not alone.

When I went to the Paths to Healing conference last week, Peter Isely said that the abuse doesn’t really become real until it is spoken for the first time.  He doesn’t mean that the victim is making it up, it is more that in the telling it becomes real. It is no longer a painful secret hidden and festering in the darkness.

When one has a wound, the would needs to be covered to keep out dirt, but it also needs air and light to heal. The same is true with the wound of childhood sexual abuse. Keeping it in the dark creates a covering for the pain, but to heal, it needs to be aired. If you have found and recovered your voice, please keep speaking. If you have not yet spoken of it, I encourage you to keep trying to find the words and speak your truth. You are not alone.

I know that there is pain…Hold on. You didn’t get yourself into the mess of childhood sexual abuse, but you can change the impact it had on you. You can be free.