Reclaiming Hope – The Haven Retreat

Reclaiming HopeThis past week, I was able to attend The Haven Retreat put on by the Younique Foundation for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

I signed up a couple of months ago, but the last week leading up to it, I was really anxious, scared, and nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know the other women who would be there. I only knew I’d be there with other female childhood sexual abuse survivors.

The first day, we did Kintsugi, which is a powerful metaphor for victims of sexual abuse. It’s a Japanese art form. The idea is that from a broken life (the bowl), we can become stronger (the gold lacquer). We took a bowl and struck it hard with a hammer. It broke into several large pieces as well as some tiny shards. 2017-08-07-14-38-09.jpg

Taking special glue and mixing it with gold powder, we then put the pieces of the bowl back together again. It took patience, work to fit the pieces together, and many of the pieces no longer fit. In fact, my bowl even has a hole in it.

It made me think that perhaps, as I become stronger and make beauty out of my broken pieces, some old aspects–people, emotions, beliefs about myself–no longer belong in me, can no longer be part of my life. The gold replaces it, or rather new emotions and beliefs, new people, new knowledge and experiences can fill in the missing pieces and make me stronger and a better, more valuable person.

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We also participated in a drumming circle. I know, I know…sounds crazy. But it was fun. I mean, I was totally uncomfortable at first, all my introverted-ness showing. But the power from the collective group of 24 women was amazing to feel. Therapeutic in a way I can’t yet explain.

 

 

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Each woman also received a makeover and had a photoshoot. This was a first for me as well. It was fun, yet awkward, haha. 🙂 They’ll send us the official pictures in a few weeks.

 

I attended classes on overcoming shame, understanding forgiveness, restorative sleep, healthy body image, nature experience, and art journaling. We learned tools for grounding techniques and meditation. For me, because I’ve been through a pretty comprehensive group therapy prior to this and because of my own research, not a lot of the educational parts were new to me, but still an important refresher course.

We also participated in Muay Thai–an emotional experience to watch as women reclaimed their feeling of power after sexual abuse has made us feel so powerless (And a pretty legit workout!). We did yoga on two of the mornings, which no matter the shape of my body, always makes me feel strong as I hold those poses, and helps me calm my anxiety.

And the location and place we stayed were absolutely gorgeous.

We were taught important, eye-opening information about how our brains work; that even though we aren’t currently being sexually abused, our body and brain remembers, our soul remembers, which is why we can be triggered. Just because the abuse isn’t happening, doesn’t mean everything feels fine now. I loved realizing that sexual abuse survivors have normal responses to an abnormal experience.

The food was AMAZING. I noticed I felt so good physically, which is a good reminder that how we treat our body impacts how we feel. And when you’re dealing with hard emotional things, like trauma from sexual abuse, nutrition can make a huge difference in how you cope, and your mood.

Above all, meeting all these brave, strong, survivor women is the best. Realizing you’re not alone, making connections, finding strength to fight for healing, and creating a new group of friends who understand you better than others, is irreplaceable.

I am so grateful to the people who worked hard to start the Younique Foundation (watch a video about the Maxfields here: https://youtu.be/uX54nCUSv-w) and those therapists, chefs, case managers, and others who give so much more than time to help abuse survivors find healing and strength.

This was just a quick rundown of everything. Perhaps in the coming weeks and months I’ll share some things in more detail. As this past week settles, I’m understanding more about myself and my healing process. Perhaps even some new breakthroughs!

If you are a female (I hope there is something like this for males in the future!) survivor of childhood sexual abuse or know someone who is, please use this information and find out more about The Haven Retreat. (And it’s FREE. You just have to get there.) YouniqueFoundation.org has many resources for survivors on their website as well as ways you can help fund this cause.

You are not alone. There is hope. Healing will come. Reclaim your hope and power. You can choose boundaries. You get to decide the course of your life and who gets to be in it.

You have value. You have worth. You are strong, brave, and amazing.

More about The Haven Retreat.

 

 

You are Not Forgotten

I was listening to my scriptures this morning while getting ready for the day (basically the best way for me to get any scripture reading in…because kids and life) and a verse jumped out at me like it never has before, though I’ve read it or had lessons on it many times before.

The verse is 1 Nephi 21:15 (also found in Isaiah 49:15): “For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee…”

First I thought about many recent tragic news stories where children had been forgotten-...yet will I not forget thee...-.png in cars, and how indeed, sometimes mothers/parents do forget their children because of one thing or another. (I am in no way judging these parents; I can only imagine the heartache and regret of such a tragedy.) Most often, however, a mother–especially one who is nursing a child–could never forget her child.

But the scripture says, “Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” It is more likely that a mother would forget about her new infant than the Lord would forget about us.

I don’t get emotional often (because of abuse or personality, I don’t know which at this point), but this hit me hard.

In general, people often feel forgotten by our Heavenly Parents and Savior Jesus Christ. For survivors of sexual abuse, that feeling can be intensified, sometimes because we’ve shut off feeling anything as defense mechanism. The reality is that we are never forgotten by Them, even when it feels like we are.

And His love is boundless. No matter what we have done, mistakes we have made, or our lack of faith or hope, He still loves us. He still wants us. He still remembers us. The next verse says, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands…” He won’t forget us, he can’t. It’s permanent. We are permanent. His love for us is permanent.

We are in the process of stretching and growing, and that is painful. We get hurt by others and sometimes do the hurting. We may feel abandoned, alone, broken, like a lost cause, worthless, and forgotten, yet we are not.  We are in the constant thoughts and care of our Creator.

“…yet will I not forget thee…”

 

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Survivors’ Retreat

I recently learned of a retreat for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It’s put on by The Younique Foundation (and, no, you don’t have to sell the stuff to go. But it’s also open to those who do). At first I though, “yeah, probably not something I could actually go to. Besides, I’m mostly OK and I’m still in therapy, but functioning.” But then, I started looking into it more seriously.

Here’s the lowdown:

  • It’s FREE. Lodging, food, classes…everything. Free. You just have to get yourself there, either to the meeting spot or to the SLC airport (they’ll even pick you up!).
  • The only requirement is that you were a victim of childhood sexual abuse between 0-18 years old and that you are now at least 18 years old and female.
  • The retreat takes place in a canyon in Utah, nestled in the mountains where participants can feel safe.
  • Several classes are offered–yoga, nature walk, cooking classes, journaling, group therapy, and some other cool sounding stuff.

Most of this info, I got from a video about The Haven Retreat. <—–You have to watch this! And then this is the Younique Retreat Walkthrough.

I sent in the application to attend. Then they follow up with a second form to gather a little more information. Next, you’ll receive an email with possible sessions to attend. It appears that they do these retreats 3 weeks out of each month, starting on a Monday and ending on a Thursday.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. Survivors' Retreat.png

Even though I’m a bit scared/nervous, I’m also really excited to experience this and push myself forward into further healing.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in therapy or have yet to take that step, this retreat is for you. It doesn’t matter if your abuse happened one time or repeatedly over years, this retreat is for you.

I’m going in about a month and half from now. I can’t wait. I’ll do another post after I’ve attended to let you know how it goes. 🙂 And if you go (or have gone already), I’d love to hear your experience.

Here’s where you go to get started: The Haven Retreat application and additional information.

I think this is a beautiful thing to offer victims of childhood sexual abuse. It seems unbelievable, but it’s real.

Go. Sign up and take advantage of this resource.

Do it for yourself.

’13 Reasons Why’ I Choose Life

A few months ago, I read the book “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher and I thought it was well done while it dealt with some pretty heavy topics–obviously suicide, but also bullying, sexual assault, rape, etc. It’s not one of those happy, feel-good reads, which I knew going into it.

Then the Netflix series came out under the same title, and really, I’m not sure I liked it or would even recommend it. I have a lot of mixed feelings. There are really good talking points for parents and children, but I don’t know that it’s something everyone should watch. Recent news articles such as this one on CNN and this one on ABC detail some of the concerns parents and others should have about their children or others who are vulnerable watching the series.

The whole thing was dark, with very little light to glean from it, if any. The rape and sexual abuse scenes were really triggering (my heart raced and my tension and anxiety amped way up–I had to re-ground myself in reality). It put suicide in an interesting light of someone perhaps choosing suicide as a way to get revenge on those who hurt her. And maybe that does happen sometimes, too, but in my experience, of those times I’ve been in a really dark place and contemplating my life, my thoughts of others are close to nonexistent. It’s all internal and my thoughts are all about how much everyone’s life would be better without me–that sort of unhealthy thinking. Depression and poor mental/emotional health are the main contributing factors to suicide and suicidal thoughts.

Suicide isn’t something anyone should consider and it needs to 13 reasons why (1).pngbe addressed from a perspective of hope, that things will get better, people do love and care about you, and that there are many other options. Suicide should never be an option. Getting healthy by seeking professional help is what really needs to happen. Please, if you are having suicidal thoughts and/or actions, seek help from a professional, or a friend or family member who will take you seriously and assist you in finding the professional help you need (National Suicide Prevention hotline: Call 1-800-273-8255). Healing our inner scars will alleviate those thoughts, feelings, and tendencies. There is always hope.

Life really does suck sometimes, and other people’s behaviors and choices can and do affect us. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I can see the ripples in my life from being violated and hurt as a child. Sometimes we think the only way to stop hurting, to stop feeling the weight and pain left in the wake of abuse, is to leave this life behind. But it’s not true–that’s a lie Satan wants us to believe.

Because of our Savior Jesus Christ and His atonement, we can heal, we can stop feeling the pains of abuse. We have hope. We have options. We are not what happened to us, we are loved by God who knows who we are and what we need. We can use His atonement and all other resources available to find peace and heal. You’re never alone.

While the main character of “13 Reasons Why” provided 13 reasons, or people, that led to her decision to commit suicide, I decided we should all have “13 Reasons Why I Choose Life.” You can put these reasons some place prominent and refer to it when you’re struggling and add to the list. There are always reasons to keep living. And if you can’t find one, ask someone close to you to help you see all the reasons why you are needed.

Here are just 13 reasons I choose life over suicide:

  1. My six children (who could really count as individual reasons), who are not perfect, but are incredible little humans.
  2. My patient husband, who is also not perfect, but tries hard and loves me despite myself.
  3. My faith in God.
  4. I have goals I want to complete before my life is complete.
  5. I’m stronger than I think I am.
  6. My close friends who enrich my life and encourage me to keep going.
  7. I have overcome a lot to get where I am now.
  8. I refuse to let the actions of others control my life.
  9. Without pain, I couldn’t experience joy. If I’m in pain, I know joy is around the corner.
  10. I want to help others know they’re not alone.
  11. Chocolate and Dr Pepper — you can’t have those without a body.
  12. I like progressing and improving and I can’t do that without being alive.
  13. Suicide would be letting a lot of people down–my family, my friends, and myself. And, of course, God who doesn’t want any of us to give up.

What are your 13 (or more) reasons to keep on living? Write them down! Share them with a friend! Remind yourself frequently of every reason you have to stay alive.

Don’t give up, my friends. Suicide is not the answer. It will get better, you will overcome, you will heal. You are stronger than you know and you have so many people on earth and in Heaven rooting for you, cheering you on. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to cry out in prayer. You are loved. Don’t give up. You have many other, much better options. Reach out and seek help.

Therapy is Good, but so Hard

 

We’re all a work in progress, right? And unfortunately, healing doesn’t usually come at the pace we’d like it to.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to be done with this whole mess, which basically just leaves me frustrated and mad. And then when I think I’m making pretty good progress, something new comes up.

Something new came up a few weeks ago after an EMDR appointment. I was given a little homework, which isn’t the norm, Therapy is Good, but so Hard.jpgbut I was struggling to break through some pretty big barriers (like, I started laughing uncontrollably and couldn’t stop. Laughing is my defense mechanism, and the level of my laughing was up there, so we figured I was covering for something pretty big). She wanted me to write down what happened during a specific instance of abuse. The problem? I was 3 years old at the time, so it’s not like I have a ton of memory to go off. But, I was still willing to give it a try.

***WARNING*** Some of the following content may trigger some readers. Please be mindful to your personal well-being.***

The next morning, while I was alone, I sat down and just let myself go into that place, the place of abuse that I’ve fought hard to avoid. I made progress, for sure. But I was a little shocked at everything that came up during this exercise.

Hate.

Fear.

Physical pain.

Raped (twice).

Pornography.

Gross.

Dead inside.

Wanting to die.

Disgusting.

No one cares.

Diseased.

Can’t trust.

Not lovable.

Broken.

Confused.

Alone.

There’s something wrong with me.

Fear of people knowing I’m not normal.

These were the intense emotions my 3-year-old self had to deal with, yet couldn’t and shouldn’t have had to. Some of this I’ve known, but didn’t want to believe it. With the intensity of what I was feeling, it became undeniable.

I moved in a daze the rest of that day, crying easily. It was if I was a thin sheet of glass with cracks all throughout it, and one small thing was going to shatter me to pieces and I wouldn’t be able to get myself back together. The next two days were filled with more of the same. Like everything was happening around me, and I was watching it all from a distance, trying to not fall apart. And then I went to therapy again and was able to work through some of it.

Knowing more fully what happened doesn’t change who I am, I know that. But…it really just felt like the whole foundation of who I thought I was shaken, like my whole life has been a big lie. As if that fear of people knowing something is wrong with me ballooned into something bigger, where even I questioned who I am. Luckily, I have a great husband and some friends who told me I’m still me. This knowledge doesn’t change who I am or make them think of me any differently.

Things are a bit better at the moment, however I keep hitting a barrier with my therapy because some part of me is unwilling to just let go. I think after the abuse happened, that toddler part of me checked out and another part came forward to protect, take over, and has worked hard to keep all the awfulness at bay. But now I’m an adult and I’m working to heal from those decades old wounds and it’s not easy to get that part to relinquish its control.

I don’t mean for this to sound like a downer, but it’s a good reminder that therapy and healing take time. It doesn’t come all at once, and it’s definitely not easy. I so much so wish it were easier and faster! Sometimes it even feels like you’re not progressing at all, but you are. Give yourself permission to take the time your soul needs to heal. Sexual abuse is no small thing to recover from.

Don’t give up. It’s worth it and it will get better.

 

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

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: 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”