Building Healthy (& Intimate) Relationships After Sexual Abuse

When you’ve been sexually abused, it’s not over even if the actual abuse is. Sexual abuse affects us long after the incidences have occurred and have a negative impact on most, if not all, aspects of our life.

It goes without saying that dating and marriage relationships will also be impacted because  of sexual abuse. Not only is sexual abuse a betrayal of trust, but it also attacks how we feel and think about sex, making intimacy and sex within marriage often difficult to navigate. Being touched, hugged, kissed, and engaging in sex require vulnerability and trust. It can be scary to let someone get that close physically and emotionally to you after being hurt so deeply.

First, you need to make sure you’re seeking healthy connections. It’s easier for victims of abuse to fall into future abusive relationships. Healthy relationships are based on mutual trust, respect, love, compassion, and safety. Those who abuse physically, emotionally, verbally, or sexually are not candidates for a healthy relationship. Watch for red flags suchBuilding Healthy Relationships.jpg as times where you are made to feel less-than or your significant other tells you that you deserve the poor treatment for whatever reason. Those are major indicators of an abusive relationship that should be avoided.

One you’ve found someone who will love and respect you, whom you can trust (or maybe you already found this special one), you may be dating heading toward marriage or already married. This is when intimacy naturally increases and we may begin to notice problems we have in regards to intimacy, yet another negative impact of sexual abuse.

According to healthysex.com, the 10 most common sexual symptoms of sexual abuse are:

1. avoiding or being afraid of sex
2. approaching sex as an obligation
3. experiencing negative feelings such as anger, disgust, or guilt with touch
4. having difficulty becoming aroused or feeling sensation
5. feeling emotionally distant or not present during sex
6. experiencing intrusive or disturbing sexual thoughts and images
7. engaging in compulsive or inappropriate sexual behaviors
8. experiencing difficulty establishing or maintaining an intimate relationship
9. experiencing vaginal pain or orgasmic difficulties
10.experiencing erectile or ejaculatory difficulties

How can we overcome these and build healthy, intimate relationships?

  1. Realize the abuse is not your fault and the abuse is not a part of who you are, but is something that has happened to you. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, disgust, discomfort, etc. that come from being sexually abused are normal, yet not something we want to feel. As you learn about how abuse has affected you and begin to heal, these symptoms will begin to alleviate. Being a victim of abuse does not change who you are. It’s not your fault.
  2. Establish healthy boundaries. As relationships progress, intimacy usually does as well. While dating may only involve hand-holding and kissing, and marriage takes intimacy steps further, any type of intimacy can be triggering. You need to know your personal limits and honor yourself by sticking to them. You probably don’t want to tell every person you’re dating “Hey, I’ve been sexually abused, so don’t do XYZ” but you can simply say you’re not comfortable with this or that yet, but such and such is OK. In marriage, it is probably a good idea to tell your spouse about your abuse so he or she can pay attention to your cues–if you tense up or disengage mentally–then whatever is going on during that moment needs to stop. Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse to stop doing something or say you need a break because you’re being triggered by past abuse. It’s not your fault if you struggle with any aspects of intimacy.
  3. Learn to ground yourself in the present. When flashbacks and memories creep in during intimacy, make a plan for yourself that will help you snap back to the present with your spouse. Take a deep breath and latch onto your current surroundings. Communicating and being deliberate with thoughts or touch during intimacy can help keep your focus straying to past events. It’s not your fault you experience flashbacks and triggers.
  4. Learn to trust. Trust is a huge part of intimacy. Sexual abuse is a huge breach on trust and sexual boundaries, so reestablishing trust takes time. Hopefully, you’re in a situation where you have every reason to trust your spouse and you can allow yourself to open up to trusting your partner. Building trust and being vulnerable takes time, so don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t happen overnight. Start with little things that require trust and build to bigger things. It’s not your fault that trusting others is hard.
  5. Avoid behaviors that trigger unwanted memories and feelings. Flashbacks and triggers can be unpredictable, but when you notice that certain acts or touches cause you discomfort–physically or emotionally–avoid them. You may need to tell your spouse that touching you here or there or doing this or that makes you uncomfortable or triggers memories so he/she can avoid it in the future. It’s not your fault that some kinds of touch are difficult.
  6. Take charge of intimacy. This can seem a bit scary, but it’s actually empowering. Learning what does or does not feel good and allowing sexual exploration between husband and wife is a healthy way to get more comfortable with intimacy and sex. Sex should be fun, enjoyable, and bond a couple closer together. Taking charge of bedroom activities means that you get to decide what happens when and for how long. While being sexually abused, we had no control over our situation. By taking that control back, we are giving ourselves permission to be intimate in a safe environment. You are not broken if you don’t experience sexual pleasure the way you want to. It’s not your fault intimacy is difficult to navigate.
  7. Understand the difference between healthy sexual intimacy and abuse. On healthysex.com, Wendy Maltz states: “The first step in sexual healing is to learn to distinguish abusive type sex from healthy sex. If you commonly use words like, “bad,” “dirty.” “overwhelming,” “frightening,” “hurtful,” and “secretive” to describe sex, you need to realize that these are descriptive of “sexual abuse.” Healthy sexuality is something very different. It is characterized by choice, consent, equality, respect, honesty, trust, safety, intimacy, and sensual enjoyment. In the books that you read and the movies you watch, decrease your exposure to abusive sex images and increase your exposure to examples of sex in which partners are responsible and express love and caring for each other.
  8. Seek professional help. Healing from the trauma of sexual abuse is very difficult and requires therapy. This may also include seeking marriage counseling. Getting therapy is a healthy step. It means you recognize there is a problem and you want to solve it. Healing from sexual abuse will lessen the negative effects on intimacy and other aspects of your life. This is a huge step in having healthy relationships after abuse. Including your spouse in the therapy process can help him/her understand what has happened and what you’re going through better so he/she knows how to help you better. Please consider taking this big step toward becoming more whole and healing. Being sexually abused and the subsequent effects are not your fault. You should never feel ashamed for needing help to heal from these traumatic experiences.

This list isn’t all encompassing, so please continue to seek for ways to improve your relationships–especially with your spouse. There are other resources available. Healthy relationships are possible and vital to your well-being. Look for websites or books with more information and ask your therapist for recommendations as well.

Resources (remember to take what you want and leave whatever doesn’t resonate with you. Not everything is for everyone.):

Healthysex.com

The Sexual Healing Journey by Wendy Maltz

And They Were Not Ashamed by Laura M. Brotherson

Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse

Life has taken over and I have neglected posting in here. It’s not because I haven’t been thinking about it and I’d love if anyone has a topic they’d like for me to cover (just send me a message or join our Facebook page).keeping-kids-safe-from-sexual-abuse

I’m thinking about kids and keeping them safe from sexual abuse. A few weeks ago, I saw
this really great article and graphic in a Huffington Post article. I thought it was fab and necessary (unfortunately, so very necessary). Every week, I see at least one new news story about yet another child or teen being sexually abused by some adult in their life and it’s sickening to say the least. We have to talk to our kids frequently so they can be aware of the dangers of even “nice” people or people they meet through the internet (really, we need to teach them to not meet people this way. Bad idea).

Here’s the graphic from the article:

protecting-kids-from-sexual-abuse

I love this because it’s a great tool for parents to easily open the door to talk about sexual abuse with their children. I wrote a pretty comprehensive post on this earlier, so I’m going to be lazy and link it here: Can You Prevent Sexual Abuse?

The biggest thing is to keep an open dialogue with your children. You need to listen to them and make listening a priority. If/when they tell you they have been a victim, BELIEVE THEM. Love your kids no matter what. You are best equipped to teach and care for them and to seek proper professional help if needed.

“If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear” (see Doctrine and Covenants 38:30). If we teach and practice what to do in various scenarios, our kids will be prepared because they know what to do if someone tries to or does abuse them.

Not-So-Happy Holidays

For various reasons, the holidays can be particularly difficult for victims of sexual abuse and other trauma. Maybe it’s the stress and pressure the holidays bring. Maybe it’s the cold and gloomy weather which also brings a lack of sunshine induced vitamin D. Or perhaps the holidays mean spending time with those who have hurt you or it could be around the time of year you were abused.

Regardless of why, the depression and anxiety, the triggers, and the memories seem to amp up around this time of year. And it’s hard. It makes this beautiful time of year tainted with our past and very real pain. I struggle with this every year, sometimes more, Finding the Light.pngsometimes less, but it’s always there. I feel like I’m on the fringe of being okay. Like any minute I could teeter into the darkness of depression and I won’t be able to climb out. I do whatever I can to hold onto the invisible railing keeping me okay. I hold on to hope, to faith, to the good things happening around me.

But sometimes, despite holding on, I fall in. It’s too much and I have to work to climb out, to find the light amid the darkness.

What can you do?

  • Take time for yourself to pray, meditate, relax, reboot.
  • Look for the things you have in life to be grateful for–friends, skills and talents, family, the gospel, nature, etc. Gratitude helps shine light in the darkness.
  • Notice when you are being triggered and make a note. You can try to avoid that situation or person until you have healed enough to deal with it (remember to talk about this at your next therapy appointment).
  • Maintain a healthy-for-you diet. Eating foods your body needs better equips you to deal with hard times. Some chocolate or other treat is okay occasionally, but don’t make a meal out of it day after day.
  • As discussed in a previous post, have your “emotional first aid kit” at the ready. Pull out your music, fuzzy socks, journal, or whatever you need to take care of yourself when you’re struggling.
  • Call or text someone who will help you talk through whatever you’re struggling with. You don’t have to do this alone. Having support people is vital. If you don’t have one, there are victims’ advocates and help lines for you to use.
  • Go to a movie. Go for a walk or run. Exercise or do yoga. Go to lunch with a friend. Do something kind for someone else. Sometimes all we need is to do something that takes our mind and body out of our normal patterns to pull us out of the darkness so we can better deal with it later.
  • Visit a place that brings you peace, like the temple or its grounds.

Above all, do not give up. There is hope. You will find healing and peace. Keep working to get better. There is no shame in therapy or medications to help you get through and heal. Do what you need to do to get better. You are loved. You are important. You matter.

How to be in Control

Victims of sexual abuse often feel like they, their circumstances, and everything else around them is out of control or are all things they can’t control. This may be because they did not have control over being abused. They couldn’t do anything to stop it, get away from it, or undo it. This feeling of a lack of control bleeds into the rest of our lives.

I have a propensity for being a control freak. I know this isn’t healthy and usually leads to more anxiety and stress and unwarranted fears. The list of all I can’t control goes something like this:

  • My kids’ behavior or their choices
  • Sickness and serious illness
  • Death
  • Car accidents
  • Scary situations at my kids’ school or on their bus
  • Whether or not people are mean
  • House fires
  • Earthquakes or other natural disasters
  • Actions of others, and how they think or feel

Logically, I know some of these things are ridiculous to worry over, but it’s still there. The only thing that calms me down is to pray and give it to God and let go. I have to rely on the knowledge that the things I cannot control are in God’s hands. He is in charge.

But there is one thing I can control: ME. I am in charge of myself, my thoughts, my actions, my responses to others, my healing. I get to decide what to do and when. I can choose to act positively or negatively. How to be in Control.png

Obviously, we can’t always control mental health or moods, but we can choose to let it fester and get worse, or seek help and a solution to it. We can be proactive in improving or working at it even while we are struggling.

A huge thing you can do is take control of who you let in your life and how you allow others to affect you. You don’t have to keep letting people in your life who hurt you. Put up boundaries to protect yourself. You don’t have to respond to phone calls, texts, emails, or attend gatherings that will do more harm than good. You couldn’t stop the sexual abuse from happening, but you can stop yourself from being around those who hurt you, physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.

Take control of your healing and your needs. You are in charge of yourself and can’t be responsible for the actions or feelings of others. They are in charge of themselves and have to make their own choices. We all have our agency. You are not responsible for the happiness of others. Someone else’s happiness is not contingent on what you can or cannot do for them. Their happiness is not your responsibility.

This may seem selfish, but it’s not. It’s being smart and taking care of your needs to keep you safe–physically and mentally. Give yourself permission to let go of everything you can’t control and focus on what you can: yourself. Take your control back and choose healing. Choose safety. Choose peace. Choose happiness.

Take control of yourself and let God take care of everything else.

 

My Story: Nightmare

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“I’ve hit delete and rewrote this several times, wanting to keep what I know needs to be said a secret. Still wanting for the events that marked my life to disappear from reality. I’ve spoken about the sexual abuse I experienced as a child with counselors and family members, but only snippets. Never the entire thing. I’m hoping by sharing my journey, those who share this kind of tragedy find hope.

“I was six the first time it happened. My parents had a very strict no sleepovers rule; they didn’t allow my siblings and I to go to anyone’s home, and no friend could ever come and stay at ours. I hated this rule. It was especially unfair when my favorite cousins moved into town. It took weeks of begging, doing extra chores and a convincing speech from my eldest cousin, promising absolute safety, that my mom finally let her guard down. After all, we trusted our extended family. What could possibly go wrong?

“The day of the sleepover, my mom surprised me and my sister with a new set of footed pajamas for the special event. A yellow for me and a red for my sister. Excitement filled the air, and I rushed to get ready.

“Upon arrival, my cousin *N*, a thirteen-year-old girl, rushed to my side and said she was mad at me and wasn’t going to let me stay over; to comeback in the morning.*N* had never looked at me so frightened and speak to me and with such harshness prior to this day. I had no idea what I’d done to make her so mad at me.

“My aunt heard the small exchange and punished my cousin, sending her to her room with no dessert.  I remember being sad and feeling guilty for getting *N* in trouble, until my seventeen-year-old cousin promised to let me watch a movie on his brand new beta-tape player, if I camped out in his room.

“Looking back, I should’ve seen *N* strange behavior for what it really was. A warning. She tried to warn me, but I was too young to understand. For years, I blamed myself thinking I made the choice to go into my cousin’s room, but in reality it was his doing. He forced me to look, touch and be touched in ways that still bring devastation into my heart.

“I can’t say I was relieved when it was over; after the physical part, he turned on the lights and forced me to stand naked in front of him. I tried to keep my eyes on my yellow pajamas, but his snickering made it difficult to tune him out. He then made me clean all traces of the assault all while threatening me to keep quiet about what had just taken place.

“I was terrified that my cousin would find his way into my home and assault me again, so I vowed to keep quiet.In the days that followed, I was convinced that what happened to me was my fault. This was the consequence for making my mom break the no sleep-over rule.It was too much; I was overwhelmed and to my delight my mind just tuned out, detaching itself from life and reality. My grades began to slip, but since my parents worked two jobs each, I never got in trouble.

“I don’t know how I managed to tune life out, but this went on for years.

“At twelve, my parents opened our home to my mom’s second cousin. He had recently lost his job and needed help getting back on his feet. After about a week or so, I remember being uncomfortable with the way he stared at me. I tried to avoid him, but it made no difference. The night both my parents worked the late shift, he molested me. I don’t remember too many details of that night, my mind’s ability to detach from reality was a true blessing.Nightmare.png

“Life was a blur, during my teenage years. I was depressed, had very low self-esteem, suffered from severe anxiety issues, and an eating disorder. I went in and out of treatment for what my parents and doctors thought was clinical depression and anxiety issues.

“My past was a painful and humiliating stain, I didn’t want anyone to know about, so when doctors considered there were things I was hiding, I stopped going to treatment around the same time I met my husband. Now more than ever, I needed to keep the abuse a secret. I feared that if anyone, especially the man I loved, knew the truth, he would be disgusted by me or think of me as damaged goods.Every day was a struggle, the secret I kept festered. It consumed so much of my spirit, making me even more depressed and anxious. I hated myself for it, but I was determined to succeed and keep my past behind me.

“The charade was up on our wedding day, the thought of allowing anyone near my body terrified me. After the reception, I ended up locking myself in the bathroom of our honeymoon suite–where the broken child inside me sobbed in agony. I had no choice; I had to tell him the truth. To my surprise, he understood and was patient. But even his love and patience couldn’t erase the deep rooted pain, disgust and blame I had for myself.

“We lasted 3 years before he filed for a legal separation. Feeling lost and alone motivated me to come clean to my parents and to commit to a long term psychological treatment. At the hospital, I poured my heart unto my Heavenly Father, and asked for help. I needed him and our Savior’s atonement to patch my shattered pieces back together. For months after, he carried my spirit and answered my prayer. A wonderful doctor said the words that my mind and soul needed, to start the healing process. “Stop punishing yourself, the abuse was not your fault. You are a daughter of God, and you are of great worth. Stop letting the memory of what happened, keep you emotionally and mentally hostage. Stop allowing it to keep you from living.”

“It’s been 15 years and I’m doing better than I thought possible. Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle from time to time, but thanks to the atonement, the power of prayer, great doctors, the miracle of forgiveness and a loving family, I have moved on with my life to enjoy along with my hubby and my kiddos.

“It’s still difficult for me to talk about the specifics of the abuse, and I know that it’s something that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life. But I know that there’s hope. For those who are struggling with the sting of abuse, know that this is not your fault. You are a beautiful son or daughter of a mighty Heavenly Father who knows your pain, your trial and your heart. He loves you and will never forsake you.”

~Anonymous

My Story: Silent No More

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“I was 10 when my neighbor friend, Thomas took me into his backyard. We’d played there a million times before. They had a playhouse. He took me inside the playhouse and blocked the way out. Then he told me to take down my pants. I’ve blocked out most of what happened, but I vaguely remember him touching me and me touching him.

“The one thing I do remember is his words. They are burned into my brain. “You don’t touch girls older than 10 because you could get them pregnant and then you’ll get caught.” I don’t know why he said it. It doesn’t make sense but I heard those words and I knew he knew what he had done was wrong. That was the first time I was assaulted. I was 10 years old. 10! I feel rather lucky because I spend the next 6 years without incident. Isn’t it sad that is my attitude? Because I know people who haven’t been that lucky.

“I was 16. It was August. I was super excited because a senior boy had asked me to a concert at the high school. He didn’t have a car so my dad let me take the van. I picked him up and he asked to drive. I’m sure now that he was already thinking and planning what he was going to do to me. I was enamored with him so I agreed.

“He didn’t take us to the high school. He took us to a remote lookout point. Then we talked for a while. When we first got to the lookout point I was anxious. I knew it was bad. But then he didn’t try anything. I let my guard down. That’s when he first put his hand on my breast. Under my bra! I was shocked. I hit his hand away. He laughed. I don’t remember anything he said to me. I don’t remember how he got my pants and underwear down. I just remembered lying on the middle bench seat staring out the window at the stars. Crying. At that point I stopped fighting him. I prayed. and looked at the stars. Trying to take myself (if only in my mind) to another place.

“I don’t remember taking him home or getting there myself. I do remember feel shame. Worthless. I remember going straight to my room, shutting the door and crying. I don’t understand my choices, but the next evening I snuck him into my room and let him have sex with me. He had already taken anything worth having, right? I continued to “date” him for about a month. Who else would want me? I was soiled. More than when Thomas touched me. When we broke up I continued down a dangerous path.

“I talked to my bishop. He told me I needed to repent. Clearly I had done something terribly wrong. My church leader was telling me that. I didn’t feel I still have only told a handful of people that I was assaulted..pngworthy of my Savior’s love and forgiveness. Which I was also told meant I wasn’t doing something right and needed more repentance. I lost hope. In myself. In those around me. And I strayed. Far. I slept with most of my boyfriends. Why not? I wasn’t worth anything anymore. How could God forgive me? I couldn’t forgive myself. And that was part of the process. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I learned about love and forgiveness.

“I remember the night he asked me to marry him. I heard an angel shout, “Yes!” So I told him yes. I remember telling him about my past in the following days. I remember the hurt look on his face. I remember feeling like everything was falling apart. Again. I remember him taking me home without telling me if he still wanted to marry me. I remember the joy I felt the next morning. He had prayed or the spirit had talked to him. I’m not sure. But he learned that I was not broken. And that was the first time I learned it too. From him. He read me his patriarchal blessing. The part about his wife. He told that part was about me. What a great blessing to my soul at that moment! I still struggle with everything. But I have a partner that I can lean on through the hard times.

“I still have only told a handful of people that I was assaulted. I think that’s going to change. There is strength in numbers. God will never abandon us. We are his children. He loves us. I was married and sealed to my husband 16 years ago. I am blessed to be a mother to 4 children. I have been blessed with an education, which I think has helped me find my voice. I know that I have been forgiven for my actions after this trauma. I know that my experience helped me handle my daughter’s sexual assault. I know that I’m worth so much. I’m a daughter of God. I’m strong. I’m kind. I’m Denise.”

~Denise Stiegmann

 

My Story: My Path to Healing

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“Though I suppressed the memories for almost thirty years, the child abuse I experienced influenced every moment of that time. As the shock wore off, my heart broke.

“For weeks I felt like I was drowning in a sea of my own tears. The only thing bigger than my pain was my anger. First there was my abuser to be angry at. I was a naïve, sheltered, and twelve years old (while he had perfected the art of manipulation and grooming young girls by the age of seventeen) when I first met him. For two years the abuse and then rape continued. He even introduced one of his friends into the “games” we would play so they could both have fun.

“Then there is the anger at his mother, who discovered us one day. After yelling at him she turned to me and began calling me names. “You whore! What are you trying to do to my son? If I hear one word about this from anyone I’ll tell everyone what a tramp you are! Leave this house and don’t you ever set foot here again!”

“I tried to talk to my mom about what had happened but I didn’t have the words. She only knew that I had gotten yelled at for playing games at the neighbor’s house. Even if she had asked what we were playing it would have sounded innocent- things like “Prince and Princess” and of course the princess has to kiss the frog. I had no idea that the real name for the frog was a penis. All I knew is that I hated it when the frog jumped into my mouth and made me gag.

“Suddenly, my life made sense. For years I had blamed myself for changing from a sweet and fun little girl to a suicidal teenager experimenting with alcohol. I blamed myself for every boy who took advantage of me. I blamed myself for marrying an abuser at age nineteen when God had warned me not to do it. I blamed myself for giving in every time he pushed me to do things I didn’t want to do. I blamed myself for my anxiety, depression, and lack of trust in others. I even blamed myself for the many health problems I struggled with over the years.

“In one moment of clarity I realized it was not my fault. Any of it. While the abuse brought pain, the realization of what the abuse had done to my life and those that loved me made me angrier than I had ever been. Thirty years of blame that wasn’t my fault. Thirty years of pain without proper therapy. My anger turned to fury.

“My relationship with God helped me cope with the pain and anger. God helped me heal My path to healing.jpgrather than turn bitter. I needed my husband, my therapist, my mother, and medication to get through it. My experience with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) for healing from the abuse inflicted by my ex-husband years ago gave me the courage to do it again. When I had felt I couldn’t face the memories and pain God had been with me, strengthening me and telling me it would be worth it. I counted on His help again.

“With EMDR, I could do in six weeks what would take four years to accomplish in talk therapy. We worked through the abuse, desensitizing areas of my body that were experiencing flashbacks and empowering me to face life without fear and guilt.

“At what turned out to be our final session, I wasn’t sure what I still needed to work on so I drew some pictures with my non-dominate hand which was how I accessed my inner child. After a few pictures I started with a new page and drew three things across the center. First was a stick figure representing my abuser. He was surrounded by a large red circle with a line across it. Next was a heart, broken and bleeding. Finally, I drew a sad face with tears running down the page.

“I needed to ban my abuser from my life, I needed to heal my broken heart and I needed to stop the pain. We began with the first item- getting rid of my abuser. I held the picture in my head and let go of control.

“In my mind I held a photograph of my abuser in my left hand. It was worn and blurry. I hadn’t seen him for almost thirty years. From slightly behind and off to my right a bright light shone through. I knew it was the healing power of God. When the light landed on the photograph it began to burn in little spots all over the picture. The spots blackened, expanded, and eventually disintegrated into bits of ash that blew away until there was nothing left. Instantly, I was freed. It felt like a ghost that had haunted me my entire life permanently vanished.

“The next thing I decided to tackle was the ocean of sadness I had created with my tears. I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t to be standing there in my mind with my twelve-year-old self at my side facing the mother who had shamed me into forgetting everything about my abuse. I began by yelling at her because that was what I wanted to do but it wasn’t what I needed to do. Instead, I needed to listen.

“It was as if this woman was somehow there, speaking to me spirit to spirit. She explained that as a mother she had been dealt a shock that she didn’t know how to deal with in that moment. She said things she didn’t mean because she had no idea what to do or say. Over the years she had worried about me. She was happy to know that I had moved on, met a wonderful man and had a full and satisfying life. She was grateful I had been healed. She apologized for hurting me and asked me to forgive her. As I did, I felt a peace descend on us both. It was as if a chord drew her back to heaven and away from me.

“I turned to my child-self and hugged her. I missed her innocent joy in life. I missed her play, smile, and silliness. I loved her and wanted her just the way she was. The light that filled her eyes with hope and joy was beautiful to see. In that moment she merged with me, fully integrated into who I am today.

“There was only one picture left. My broken, bleeding heart. My therapist and I began again. In all my other visualizations I had been there helping my child-self through things. My child-self had been fully integrated into myself and so this time I stood alone, unsure what to do.

“As I stood there feeling alone and exposed I began to understand that the broken heart was because of the shock and pain I experienced as an adult knowing what had happened to me as a child. It represented the full realization of how the abuse had affected my life and my children’s lives. I felt that it had literally broken my heart.

“I looked down and I held my heart in my hands. A white finger showed me the huge tear down it and how it needed to be fused back together through the power of God. I saw that when it was done my heart would be whole and complete without even a scar showing where the tear had been.

“I heard within my mind that this could only be done through the power of the priesthood. I fully accepted this and what this angel was trying to do. In my mind I heard the angel begin, Sandra Dawn Rytting, by the power of the Melchezidek priesthood…

“In that moment I heard every word of the blessing I was given. I felt my heart heal just as I had been shown. I did not see the angel but I heard him and saw his finger through my mind’s spiritual perception. By the time I left the office the rest of the blessing had left my memory, all except those first few phrases, but the effects were amazing. Every part of the abuse, the pain, the anger, and lingering effects were wiped clean. It felt like a rebirth.
I share my story because I want all to know that the power of God is real. For years I prayed that God would just come down and heal me without me seeking help or working through it. I just wanted the pain to be gone. However, I realized that I couldn’t let it go so God couldn’t take it.

“My prayers did open up paths to healing. Each time I was ready I found the right therapist for what I needed at that time. Looking back I could see how God had held me in his arms and guided my path where it needed to go so I could heal. Sometimes that meant going places that were painful and difficult. Sometimes it meant tearing down the walls I had built so I could get to those memories. Through it all He had never deserted me even when I had walked away or blamed Him.

“The love of God is more powerful, more infinite, more glorious than we can ever imagine. I have caught glimpses of it as if from afar and even those shadows of His true self leave me in awe. He is there for you and always will be whether you can feel Him there or not.
I learned that forgiveness does not mean that I condone in any way what others did to me. I don’t have to understand it or make sure that the other person knows the pain they have caused. Forgiveness is being willing to let go of judgment, thoughts of revenge, pain and bitterness and allow God to enact his perfect judgement with mercy and justice. That is why the forgiveness is for me and not for my abuser. It allows me to give my burden to the Savior and carry it no more.

“No matter what horrible things have happened to you I want you to know that God still loves you and will heal you. The paths are difficult but are worth every painful step. Each person has their own unique combination of treatments and gifts from God to get to that healing place. God will guide you if you are willing to trust Him enough to keep moving forward. There is light at the end and it is more glorious and wonderful than anything you could have hoped for.”

You must think I’m strong to give me what I’m going through.
Forgive me if I’m wrong but this looks like more than I can do- on my own.
I know I’m not strong enough to be everything that I’m supposed to be.
I give up, I’m not strong enough.
Hands of mercy, won’t you cover me,
Lord right now I’m asking you to be strong enough for the both of us.
Maybe that’s the point, to reach the point of giving up.
Because when I’m finally at rock bottom that’s when I start looking up and reaching out.
I’m broken down to nothing but I’m still holding onto the one thing-
You are God and you are strong when I am weak.
I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
I don’t have to be strong enough.
Matthew West, “Strong Enough”

 

Using the Healing Power

Recently, at an address given at the General Women’s Broadcast, part of the LDS General Conference, Carole M. Stephens (1st counselor in the General RS Presidency) spoke about the Atonement available through Jesus Christ–The Master Healer. The talk was beautiful and I thought I’d share a portion of what she said. You may read, listen to, and/or watch her talk in full here.

“[T]he Master Healer can comfort and strengthen us when we experience pain because of the unrighteous actions of others. I have had many conversations with women weighed down under heavy burdens. Their covenant path from the temple has become a difficult journey of healing. They suffer from broken covenants, broken hearts, and lost confidence. Many are victims of adultery and verbal, sexual, and emotional abuse, often as the result of other people’s addictions.

“These experiences, though no fault of their own, have left many feeling guilty and ashamed. Not understanding how to manage the powerful emotions they experience, many try to bury them, pushing them deeper into themselves.The Master Healer.jpg

“Hope and healing are not found in the dark abyss of secrecy but in the light and love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“If you find yourself in this situation, sisters, healing may be a long process. It will require that you prayerfully seek guidance and appropriate help, including counseling with properly ordained priesthood holders. As you learn to communicate openly, set appropriate boundaries and perhaps seek professional counseling. Maintaining spiritual health throughout the process is vital! Remember your divine identity: you are a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents. Trust your Father’s eternal plan for you. Continue daily to increase your understanding of the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Exercise faith each day to drink deeply from the Savior’s well of living water. Rely on the endowment of power made available to each of us through ordinances and covenants. And allow the healing power of the Savior and His Atonement into your life.”

This message is beautiful to me. Sister Stephens accurately describes how victims feel, and our attempts to bury our emotions so we don’t have to keep feeling them. But, instead we need to not keep them inside, we need to give them to our Savior. Like she says, healing may be a long process (though we wish we could just be done, right?) and we may need ecclesiastical as well as professional help to overcome. But, one thing never changes: God loves us and we are His children. Trust in Him and His plan for you. Rely on Him and the Atonement of our Savior to get through the healing process. Peace will come, maybe not all at once, but bit by bit. The Atonement is not only for sins, but also to heal the brokenhearted and to give us succor from all our pains and afflictions, including being victims of sexual abuse.

My Story: The Broken Child

 

***TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content in this post may be difficult for some readers because it is a story of sexual abuse. Please be mindful of your well-being.***

“I remember it like it was yesterday.

An orange, floral couch and wooden rocking chair were the only furniture in the family room of the house.  Ms. Brown* sat on the couch, cuddling Jennifer*, a five-year-old of her home-based preschool. My five-year-old daughter, Annie*, was seated in the rocking chair, rocking back and forth, back and forth.

I sat across the couch in a rickety chair I had pulled from the kitchen table in the next room. Jennifer’s mother sat in another kitchen chair to my left.

Ms. Brown spoke first, “Something very serious happened today.”

“Ok,” I said, not knowing what to expect.

“Today on the playground Annie touched Jennifer in an inappropriate way.”

I listened to Ms. Brown as she explained the details of the situation. Unsupervised. Compulsive. Forceful.

I know what it is like to be the mother of a victim. I had been through that when Annie came to us a few years before. She had been touched by someone else, and it was heartbreaking. I thought it was every mother’s nightmare. Add now, my daughter was not the victim; she was the victimizer.  Now, I was the mother of the person behind the cause of pain.  I felt sick.

Jennifer sat on the couch, retelling the incident in her own five-year-old-words.

Annie listened to the story as she rocked in the rocking chair, emotionless. Robotic. I hardly recognized her. Who was this child?

And what of me? How does a mother come to understand and accept? How does a mother love a child who does this? How could my daughter do this?The Broken Child.jpg

Jennifer’s mother sat in her chair listening.  I watched her, waiting for her reaction. I expected her to yell and cry, because that’s what I would have done.

Ms. Brown sat on the end of the couch, stroking Jennifer’s hair as she spoke.

Annie rocked back and forth, back and forth, staring at Jennifer like a robot.

When Jennifer finished with the story, her mother told her how proud she was that she had the courage to tell a grown up. Jennifer beamed.

Then she turned to Annie.  I froze and I anticipated an attack, ready to protect my daughter—the daughter who just violated hers.  But she didn’t. Rather she spoke just as softly and kindly to my daughter as she did to hers. She told her that sometimes kids were curious, but it was never ok to touch another child there. She was glad they were friends, but Annie needed to know that that was not OK.

Then, it seemed in unison, all eyes turned to me. It seemed it was my turn to say something. But what does a parent say in this situation?  I didn’t know how to feel, let alone respond.

I felt light-headed as I spoke, a thousand voices in the background telling me what to say and how I should act. I told Jennifer that I too was proud that she had the courage to tell Ms. Brown.  I told her I was glad she was OK. Then I turned to robot Annie, still rocking.  I leaned forward and stopped the chair. I wanted to yell at her and tell her what she did was sick and wrong.  I wanted to scream and ask, How could you think it’s ok? But I knew I couldn’t.

I had to think of the perfect thing to say; the one insightful and amazing thing that would make it all go away. I wanted it to all go away.

All I could say was, “Annie, I still love you, but that was not OK.”

Jennifer’s mother looked at me with kind eyes. Why wasn’t she angry? Why wasn’t she yelling at me? She was so kind.

I felt like a terrible person. So mad, so grateful, so sick, so lost.

There was my daughter, or the child that looked like my daughter, rocking and staring at the wall.  Do you have something you want to say? She stared and rocked.

Then fear and sorrow pressed through. My daughter was damaged. I knew when we adopted her that she had some issues, but nothing like this.  I thought I knew her. We had spent hours talking, playing, going to therapy, and I never would have expected this.

The dam broke, and the tears could no longer be stayed.

I apologized to Jennifer’s mother; I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Again, she was kind, too kind. It made the tears come harder.  I couldn’t breathe.

Ms. Brown said, “Annie, do you know why your mom is crying? It’s because she loves you so much.”

No! The thought blasted in my head.  I am crying because what she did was wrong, so wrong. I am sorry for Jennifer, and I am sorry for Annie. I’m sorry that I don’t know what to do.

I stood up, apologizing to the sweet mother. I grabbed Annie’s hand and tried to leave.  The knob of the front door had a child-proof covering on it. My hands were sweaty and shaking.  I struggled to open it, but I couldn’t. I felt trapped. I wanted to get away from Ms. Brown, Jennifer, and the kind mother. I wanted out.

I tried again, finally opening the door to the outside, away from the ambush, away from them. But Annie was still there.

I whisked Annie to the car. Ms. Brown followed me out. I couldn’t hear her words, but her face showed sadness and regret.

I drove, silent except for the stifled sobs. I knew I should have kept it together, for Annie’s sake, but that wasn’t my Annie.

Half way home I finally glanced at her in the rear-view mirror. She was staring straight ahead, unemotional. Then the anger came, and so did the questions. A switch flipped in
my mind. One after another I spat them out through the tears in rapid-fire succession, “What were you thinking, Annie? How could you do that? Haven’t we told you that was wrong? Do you remember when that boy touched you at your old school? How could you make someone else feel that way?”

She only stared.

I stopped and tried to compose myself.  Annie had never seen me cry before.  She spent the first five years of her life taking care of a drugged-up mother with abusive boyfriends; she didn’t need to take care of me, too.  It was her turn to be taken care of. But how could I take care of this?

I couldn’t hold back my anguish. I looked at her in the mirror and asked, “Why?”

She simply shrugged her shoulders.

I yelled, “Why?”

Nothing.

The tears continued until we arrived home. I sent her upstairs to her room. I stayed in the garage. Thoughts swirled in my mind: What kind of person touches someone else? I wasn’t expecting this, so what other surprises are there? Just how damaged is she?

Emotions tore at my heart. I felt anger, betrayal and despair. I was angry because I didn’t
want a damaged child. I felt betrayed because when I prayed about adoption, I felt warm inside. How could God make me feel so good about someone so bad? I felt despair, because I knew giving up wasn’t an option: We adopted her and were sealed to her: An eternal commitment had been made. I was stuck being her mother; and right then, I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want complicated. I didn’t want difficult. I didn’t want her.

I didn’t want to be the parent of a broken child.

There are myriads of resources for mothers of victims of sexual abuse. But what about mother’s of the perpetrators? What about us? What about me? I was hurt, angry, and afraid.

I did things I thought I’d never have to do, like call and report my own daughter to CPS (which is mandatory when adopting a child through our state). I prayed for the girl my daughter had touched, that she wouldn’t be scarred—that she wouldn’t continue the cycle my daughter was on. I prayed to know what to say, what to do.

I prayed most fervently that God would hold her in His arms, but when I did, I felt cold. She wasn’t my daughter. I didn’t know this girl, this girl who could do that to someone else.

We took Annie to counseling. Turns out I needed it just as much.

Through months of counseling, praying, studying, talking, and purposeful decision making (choosing to love her despite her choices, etc.) I began to learn what it was like to be the mother of a victim and a victimizer. I learned how to recognize my anger and accept it. And I learned how to keep her and others safe. No one was allowed to go into her room. She must play downstairs when friends came over. We made sure nothing even remotely salacious would appear on our TV, as to not trigger her. We locked down all computers and left her with one hand-held device that was not internet-capable. Our home was as safe as it could be for her.

Oh, how I wish I could have kept this incident within the walls of our home. But I understand that with my knowledge of my daughter’s past choices, came the responsibility to not only keep her safe, but to keep others safe from her. It was a painfully delicate and sobering responsibility. I had to protect other children from my own daughter. I met with the school psychologist and principal, who enacted discreet rules at school to ensure the safety of those around her. I spoke to the parents of the few select friends we allowed Annie visit in their homes. Heaven forbid she do this again.

The counseling helped all of us. We gained tools and insights that allowed us to cope. But prayer worked the miracles. Prayer allowed me to see Annie through God’s eyes. I realized that I had lumped my daughter into the same pile as adult habitual perpetrators: anyone that could touch another person beyond their consent was monster. The judgment was quick, naïve, and wrong. There had been no malice in her motives, no sexual appetite to feed at any cost. She had been a victim of circumstance, a follower of a twisted example. She was dealing with demons she couldn’t recognize, especially so young.

In the ensuing days, I began to catch glimpses of her through her cloaks of self-protection and fear. She was hurt, confused, and afraid—but not broken. Not a monster. She was my daughter, and I did, and do, love her.

I am not condoning what she did. It was wrong. Not natural—for a healthy person. But, for what she had been exposed to, it was normal. Normal and natural are not the same. And it’s been my job since that day to help her redefine what is normal and reset what is natural. And that was a great revelation for me: my daughter wasn’t broken; she was wired wrong. She was wired to sit on men’s laps and wiggle so they will like her. She was wired to be familiar with touching and being touched in private areas. She was wired to have no regard for personal space, and to live in squalor. She was taught by example and experience until all these things were wired in her brain.  It was my job then to protect others while I rewire and build up my daughter.

It still is my job. She has grown up into a beautiful young woman, filled with faith and hope and forgiveness. She has put this incident behind her, and has not done it since. Still, I cannot relax fully. Years later, the rule still stands: no friends in the bedroom. We always know where she is. Our watchful eyes have caused some to accuse us of being helicopter. They don’t know why, and frankly, I don’t care to explain that I am protecting their child. Yes, Annie is doing remarkably well, but the sad reality is that it happened: someone abused her, and she abused someone else. She belongs to an ugly chain whose links stretch wide.

But Annie and I share a few things that are key:

  1. The understanding that she is, first and foremost, a daughter of God.
  2. The Atonement can heal victims and perpetrators.
  3. The notion that rewiring a mind is possible.
  4. The determination that she is the last in that chain.
  5. That power of unconditional love.

I pray the wake of her dysfunctional childhood will be small, that the child she touched years ago has also experienced healing. I pray that she doesn’t feel shame. I pray that she will continue to develop healthy relationships. I pray that she will keep seeking the tools she needs to keep her mind and body in a healthy place. And I pray that her relationship with God and her family will continue to grow.

I love my daughter. She’s been hurt. And she’s hurt someone else. But, she is changing, growing, healing. With professional tools, hard work, and faith, she is becoming the young woman she chooses to be, not the one she was taught to be before she came to us. I’m changing too; growing and healing. Together we are learning the true meaning of the grace that the Atonement affords, and the hope it offers—hope that the cycle will be broken. Hope that she will not just be ok, but be happy, joyful, and healthy; not broken—but whole.”

~Anonymous

*The names in this story have been changed.

Note: It’s important to note that children may experiment out of curiosity, and that does not mean they are sexual abusers. We do need to teach our kids what is and is not okay conduct.

Additionally, children who have been abused may act out what has happened to them and unintentionally hurt another child. Please try to understand how this trauma of being abused has altered their perceptions. They may not understand what they are doing is wrong; it may seem like a normal action because that’s what they’ve been exposed to. Please help your child understand what is appropriate and what is not and make sure they get the proper professional help they need to heal from their abuse.

Some children, particularly as teens, may become abusers. Sometimes it’s because they have been abused, but often it stems from pornography use or other means of seeking sexual gratification. The abuser needs to receive proper counseling and therapy as well. Do not hesitate. The consequences of revealing this are far less then letting it continue onward without intervention, allowing the abuser to develop worsening behavior and harming more innocent lives along the way.

A Little Friday Inspiration

I’m a little tapped out to think of really great posts because I’m in the midst of this really huge project (so, if there is something you’d like me to address, please let me know! *hint hint*).

Anyway, I saw this The Piano Guysgordon-b-hinckley
video, and I knew this was a perfect day to share it. Because no matter what has happened to you, where you are in your life right now, it’s going to be okay. For reals. Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “Keep trying. Be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out.” (June 1995 Ensign)

So, click on this link and watch this video and remember it’s going to be okay. This Is Exactly What You Need to Hear Today – OKAY – ThePianoGuys