Lessons from Pain

Pain is always there to identify something we need to pay attention to in order to heal. A cut hurts so we will bandage it, a memory surfaces so that we can work through it.

There are two things that catch immediate attention about my life, that I’ve been paralyzed and I’ve had amnesia. Attention hones in, because those two things are unusual. When I explain the cause being severe childhood sexual and physical abuse the reactions split between discomfort or morbid fascination.

I have lived an unusual life. I tried to forget my past and it caused health problems that eventually led to the paralysis. When the truth began emerging my life fell apart. Since then I’ve been on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Denial, anger, pain, strength, and forgiveness carry me up and down. I’m blindfolded, so I don’t know when the ride will drop me, when I will be lifted up, or when it will end.

I have learned to live during the past two years. Have you ever noticed that there is no hiding on a roller coaster? Some people scream, some look terrified, some shut their eyes and others laugh in joy. It strips away the fake faces we tend to wear. That’s what has happened to me during this time of discovering the truth about my childhood. There is no hiding from anyone how my day is going. When I am happy, you will see it, when I am anxious, I can’t hide it, and when I am struggling, you won’t even see me.

When someone struggles to believe a woman who speaks up about sexual assault I know they would never believe my story. Mine is so horrible it defies comprehension. Even talking about a tiny portion of my story makes people look away in discomfort, or put me on a pedestal that I survived. Either way, it puts distance between myself and others. It is a lonely place to be.

There are gifts that compensate for the difficulty. I am strong. I am grateful. I am alive. I notice when others feel alone, left on the outside, or suffer in silence. I know what to say when those around me struggle and I have no problem conversing with people in wheelchairs, with disabilities, or caught in abuse or addiction. My empathy has grown. I am a fighter.

I would never choose to suffer the things I did, but I will take the gifts in order to find meaning in my life and strength to continue. Unfortunately, pain is a master teacher. To know the things I know, I had to pass through a great deal of pain. There were only two choices- to learn to live, or let myself die. I chose to live. And now I choose to fight back by talking about difficult things. Pain hurts, but on it’s heels it brings healing and a wholeness that can’t be achieved by ignorance.

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Weakness Molds Strength in the Brave

There are some days when the pull of denial still lures me. I want to reject the truth of the horrors done to me. I don’t want to have been the girl that the severe abuse happened to. Once amnesia has been stripped away, there is no going back. If I did try to go back, the conflict within me would rob me of a healthy life.

I am dealing with the truth of my childhood the only way I know how, using all the tools I have learned over the years. If I step back and look objectively at what I have accomplished and overcome in my healing process I am astonished. Some days I can’t step back. Some days I’m trapped within an emotion, trying to understand something that makes no sense, trying to wrap my head around the idea that someone would drug, rape, and torture a small ten year old girl, robbing her of her childhood, safety, and years of her future life, and do it all in the name of God using Satanic worship. There is no way to understand something that evil and wrong.

As I have overcome, my present reality grows distant from the past I haven’t unchained myself from yet. It feels like I am being stretched between two realities so disparate that they can’t coexist. Yet they do- within my mind. I am happy that the present and future I am creating are so far removed from the helplessness of that child trapped in pain. Until I heal that child, I remain chained to the past, while each bit of healing creates a future I never could have imagined. One day I will heal the broken fragments of my childhood. I will fully integrate the horrors of my childhood with the strong, empowered woman I am today and stand as a voice for change. But not today.

I first broke through my amnesia on July 30, 2016. Just over two years ago. I didn’t uncover the ritual abuse until January 28, 2018. If I think about it, I am amazed at the healing that has taken place since that first hot summer day and even that cold winter revelation. I have accepted that I have been raped more times than I can count, and experienced each type of rape defined by law. I know of fifteen abusers so far. I don’t know all of their names, I don’t even remember every face, but I remember what they did to me. I remember odd details about them that stand out clearly, things that those who know every detail of their faces might not know about them. I even know how they kept my own family from discovering what they were doing to me. It is amazing how much trauma, abuse, and even torture can happen without leaving anything that can be seen by others, and the power abusers hold over their victims.

Yesterday I had a bad day. I had to give myself the room to accept the pain that surfaced, to face the realities of being drugged, to let that child inside stop hiding the hurt and pain. I had the skills to keep myself safe and get through the day. I had the support I needed in my husband who gave me space when I needed it, and an outpouring of love when I was ready. Because I gave myself the time and energy needed to go through that piece of healing, today is a new day.

Today I finished my grieving and put on the armor of truth I have uncovered about myself- that I am strong. I am a survivor and I refuse to give any more years, months, or days to my abusers. They might have robbed me of my past but they will not rob me of my future.

Our world is filled with victims of abuse, and new victims are being hurt as I type these words. Lives are being shattered as you read these words. It is time to break the cycle of abuse. We must start with protecting children- boys and girls. We must change our culture, to create a safe place where victims can be heard so that the abuse is reported immediately instead of years and decades down the road when they are finally strong enough to face the difficulties that come with reporting abuse. We must realize that abuse is happening in our own neighborhoods and take a stand there. Start with educating yourself on how to protect your own children, and then broaden that education to protect all the children around you, using love as the powerful conduit for change.

I am healing and growing stronger each day. I am doing it for myself, but I am also doing it for you. I am doing it to show you the way, whether you are a victim, a predator, or a protector. I am shaping myself into a voice for the voiceless, a beacon of hope, and God’s hands and feet on the earth to help those that aren’t strong enough yet to help themselves. I do this because I know that together, we can eradicate the scourge of abuse. I do this because it will only happen together. I can protect a few, but together we can protect many.

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Balancing Pain with Laughter

I love comedy. Not so happy about the swearing, particularly the F word which triggers me due to my abuse. It was hard to find clean comedy acts until Dry Bar Comedy came around.  Now whenever I need a good laugh, I can find an abundance of funny comedians, using their craft skillfully instead of relying on crude jokes or swear words. I laugh so hard I forget that I was ever abused. I laugh so hard I can’t breathe. I laugh so hard that sometimes my husband has to pause the show so we don’t pass out.

This has helped me discover something about the need for strong emotions in our lives. Children live fully. When they laugh, they never slightly chuckle- they laugh out loud using their whole bodies. When something goes wrong, they cry as if it’s the end of the world. When Mommy puts a bandaid on their scrape and gives them a hug, all is right in the world again. I have decided the reason they can let go so easily, is that they expressed the emotion fully.

As an adult I held everything in all the time. It was miserable. By holding in my pain, I was also holding onto it and I could never let it go. I talked about it, but I never let it go because I refused to allow that emotion to be expressed. I never cried. Eventually I had to learn to cry and feel pain. I explored the darker side and I did feel better, but I then had to learn to express joy as well.

I was unbalanced living in a world of expressing pain until I learned to express joy. Expressing joy can be hard in a world where we are always trying to look grown-up, sophisticated, and fit in. Laughter gives us the perfect opportunity to learn to express ourselves.

When I watch a great comedian on Dry Bar Comedy I forget all my problems. I am caught up in the shared experiences of being nerdy, not fitting in, or having something embarrassing happen to me. I relate, and laugh, and am able to see those experiences no longer as horrible bits of my past to be suppressed, but in context, as something that happened to me that also happens to lots of other people. I laugh about it.

As I laugh, I connect with myself on a deeper level. Afterward, I am more loving and patient with my kids. I feel greater satisfaction with my life. I balance the pain with the joy, and everything looks better. My children know instinctively what I have forgotten, that laughter is vital to balancing a painful life. Even before you learn to cry again, learn to laugh again.

Dry Bar Comedy comes from the conservative Mormon town of Provo, Utah and is provided through VidAngel, a service that offers filtering for Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming. They have hilarious clips you can watch for free on YouTube.

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Guest Blog American SPCC: Empowerment

I wrote this guest blog for the American SPCC at their request, telling my story. It was published on their site August 30, 2018.

I still remember the moment of disbelief when the first glimmers of childhood sexual abuse emerged. I was forty-one years old. The memory was there, yet I still tried to deny it, even as more memories surfaced. It took days to sink in. Once I had cracked the shell of my dissociative amnesia, memories came flooding out. It felt like everything I thought I knew about myself was suddenly ripped away.

At first, I tried to move through my normal life, but flashbacks cropped up without warning, stripping away my feeling of safety and causing me to burst into sobs no matter where I was. Week by week, more horrible memories surfaced. I had no idea how many more there were or how much worse they would get. I felt frightened, alone, and out of control.

I went to group, saw my therapist, and tried every type of healing I could find. It took almost two years of memories, therapy, and hard work, but I finally came out the other side. I have tried EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), hypnotherapy, visualization, meditation, writing, sharing my story, non-dominant hand work, energy work, coaching, spirituality, and massage therapy. Some worked better for me than others.

Now I know that I am the survivor of ritual abuse, torture, numerous types of rape, childhood sexual abuse, and deep emotional trauma. I have uncovered memories so horrific I could never have made them up, my imagination isn’t that twisted and dark. I have added thirteen abusers to the two I knew about before uncovering my amnesia. I hope I have uncovered it all, but I don’t know for sure.

When I shared a small, relatively minor memory with someone, they said, “You never really heal from something like that, do you?”

I was shocked and responded, “Of course you can.”

I have heard variations of this sentiment many times now. Survivors wonder if they can ever have a healthy relationship, learn to trust, or be touched without flashbacks. My message is one of hope. It is possible to heal from anything, if you are willing to do the work, cope with the anger, and move through the pain.

Breakthroughs in neuroscience unlock the power of our brains and bodies to heal themselves and reveal the amazing connections between the two. New therapies are being used that help people heal without adding additional trauma. There has never been a better time to achieve deep and lasting healing.

No matter what you have been through, you are not alone. I have met dozens and dozens of victims and survivors. I have heard a broad range of stories. The problem of sexual abuse is deeper, wider, and more common than most people realize, with devastating consequences to the body and brain. No matter how horrible your story is, you can overcome.

There is power in standing up and choosing a different future. You will find your individual path to healing when you decide that is what you really want. You might think you want it, but you have to want it bad enough to face what happened and be willing to change what isn’t working in your life. Then you will find the people you need to help you along the way. You are literally surrounded by other survivors. You walk past them at the grocery store, see them playing with their kids at the park, sit next to them in church services. They are men and women that look like you. Abuse happens at every socioeconomic level, in every neighborhood around the world, across all religions and ethnicities.

Making the decision to heal completely is not easy. For me it was scary. I began to realize that the fingerprints of my abusers were everywhere in my life. In the things I liked and didn’t like, the quirks and fears I had, the way I interacted with others. I wondered who I was apart from being a survivor. Even something as simple as my trademark short hair turned out to be the result of men using my long hair to inflict pain and control me.

I began making a list of the parts of my personality that had nothing to do with the abuse. My abusers might have influenced what I paint, but my love of painting has nothing to do with them. I began to see that all the good things in my life were things I created. I realized why I had short hair, but I also realized I turned it into something unique about me that I love. I took something negative, and over the years, owned it as something unique and creative. I began to see that I was more than my abuse.

For the first time I realized my dreams for my future were attainable, that I was stopping many of them from happening in one way or another. Who did I want to be? What did I want to have or do? What did I need to change to make those things happen for myself? If I changed the narrative about things in my past to create the life I currently had, I could also change myself again and create any future I wanted. Step by step, I moved toward my dreams and they began to come true.

Now I have a happy, fulfilling, and exciting life. My home life has completely turned around, my relationship to my kids is better, and I wake up excited to do the work I know I am meant to do. I experience new things every week. In the last year, I have gone down a bobsled run (hated it), tried sushi for the first time (loved it), and made it through a cave that previously caused me to have a panic attack (felt empowered but still don’t care for caves). I’m not lost in dreaming of something far off in the future, I am working each day to obtain goals that are right there within my grasp which will also lead me to where I eventually want to be.

Sharing my story through writing, speaking, and coaching others has been incredibly powerful. I have healed from the abuse of my past and now get to help others. I have more energy, sleep better, and am more productive. I am more empathetic and less judgmental. I am no longer a victim, but more than a survivor. I am a thriver. I spend my energy helping others heal and learn to be thrivers as well.

 

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Helping Those in Abusive Relationships

I wrote this guest blog for the American SPCC and it was published on their site August 9, 2018.

My parents didn’t understand why their quiet, helpful child turned into a withdrawn and angry teen. I didn’t understand either. I became suicidal for years before marrying an abusive man I barely knew shortly after my nineteenth birthday.

The abusive relationship almost destroyed me, but I was able to escape after a year and a half and put my life back together. This time I married an amazing man and eventually uncovered dissociative amnesia covering ritualistic abuse, childhood sexual abuse, and every type of rape perpetrated by at least fifteen abusers.

There are three paths a victim might take after being separated from their current abuser- getting into another abusive relationship, becoming an abuser, or breaking the cycle of abuse. I learned firsthand what helped me overcome and found that the same thing helped others as well. Now I am an Abuse Life Coach and help others who have been abused take charge of their lives. These are the things you can do to help someone you know who is being abused.

  1. Share Truth- Don’t Control

The victim is being controlled by their abuser. When a well-meaning friend or family member uses control to try to help them, such as “I’ll tend your kids if you leave the relationship,” it creates the same feelings within the victim as the abuser gives them. As a victim I had to choose the lesser of two evils, I did what my abusers wanted so they wouldn’t hurt me in far worse ways.

What helped me escape was counseling as a teen and the support of a good friend. My mother and my therapist tried to help, but I wasn’t ready. However, it laid the foundation for my ability to escape. My abuser cut me off from my family, but I was able to maintain minimal contact with one person from my past who listened without judgement and gave little bits of truth. He told me I didn’t have to do whatever my ex-husband told me to do. He told me he would come pick me up immediately if I ever decided to leave. He helped me see that I had choices, rather than trying to control me to do what he knew would be best for me. Even though I got upset at the gentle suggestion to leave, it remained in my head. I held onto it, and I began planning how to get out. It took me six months, but I did it. I was the only one that could get myself out of the situation, no one else. In deciding that I didn’t want to be in an abusive relationship, I made sure not to escape one situation just to jump right back into another one.

  1. Be Supportive, Don’t Save Them

Leaving an abuser is scary and hard. I had no self-esteem, few skills, and no money of my own. My parents let me move back home with no judgement and no conditions, though I knew there were certain things they would not allow such as alcohol, drugs or men. They gave me space and quietly took care of me in any way I would allow them to. Many people don’t have that type of safety net to allow them to deal with the pain of leaving while still having boundaries that help them stay away from harmful coping mechanisms. There will be sadness in ending a relationship, even one that was abusive. Just like anyone else, they need to grieve the loss.

If someone in an abusive relationship wants to leave but doesn’t see a way out, that is the time to let them know what resources there are to help them. Let them know you are there for support, and what community resources are available. Be clear what you can and can’t do for them. They need an example of someone who has boundaries. They need to know that you will support them, not tell them what to do, but not save them either. To be effective, this must come from a place of love, not judgement.

  1. Listen

Listen if they want to talk without telling them how they should feel about it, what they should do about it, or to forget it and move on. Validate their feelings, don’t dismiss them or tell them it couldn’t have been that bad. If someone listened to me, I let myself talk a little more. Those who judged, refused to accept what I had to say, or told me how I should feel or act, got the wall of China. Once I knew they heard what I was saying and accepted it, I was open to suggestions. You can give them options as long as you let them choose for themselves. Sometimes I let the victim talk through the possibilities and give them the truth of the consequences, but I always make it clear that it is their choice.

  1. Be Patient

The hardest thing is to go on with your own life while you know someone you love is being hurt. Change takes time. Sometimes lots of time. Don’t give up. Keep loving them within your own healthy boundaries. Keep sharing truth, being supportive, and listening. Know that the person being abused sometimes lashes out. Let them know you still love them, but don’t allow them to turn into an abuser by offering up yourself as their punching bag. Be firm, be loving, and be patient.

There is hope and healing. Encourage your loved one to seek out the things that will help them overcome and become strong. It might be more traditional forms of therapy, meditation, hypnotherapy, or spirituality. There is no right way, only the way that works for the individual.

No one saved me. I did that myself. But I couldn’t have done it without help. I needed to lean on the strength and wisdom of others I felt safe with. In making choices myself I became strong, learned who I was, and what I wanted out of life. Now I tell people that I am no longer a victim, but more than a survivor. I am a thriver.

For me surviving was the first, steep climb. Then I wanted more. I wanted to be happy, live life to the fullest, and heal every part of my body and soul. I kept pushing forward, doing what I needed to achieve the healing I knew I could find with enough time and hard work. Now I wake up every day grateful and excited to participate in my life and help others heal and learn to become thrivers themselves.

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