Bursting the Bubble

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything new here, and I apologize for that. Everything’s been crazy, including therapy.

Just when it feels like I’m getting closer to being done (is it really ever “done”? I kind of doubt it), something else comes to the surface.

I’ve been working through a few things that don’t directly involve sexual abuse, but more of the aftermath, which led to some introspection on why my anxiety amps up and my frustrations are high around (or even thinking about) certain individuals not involved with the actual abuse, but more the lack of doing anything to protect or help me afterward. Is this person/people a real threat? Or is it more of a perceived danger?

The fact is, I can’t remember much about my childhood or teenage years while living at home. I have vivid memories while at school or other activities, but remembering anything from home is more difficult. I couldn’t recall anything that was “that bad” yet, talking about it, made my energy and inner feelings run wild.

Recently, I reached out to a former teacher/friend who knew me in high school and she filled in some of the gaps, noting that she always sensed that things were “off” and that there were things I wasn’t saying back then, but I had said enough for her to perceive things weren’t exactly good. Bubble.png

But I had created this perfect bubble of a life, one I could control and navigate separate from the life I had at home. I had a job, I was on the speech team, joined some clubs, got really involved with theater–as a cast member on working on multiple crews. I worked hard to have a 4.0 and even played badminton (I wasn’t very athletic, but I made some leaps in this sport. It’s not like what you see in the animated Robin Hood movie. Youtube it. 🙂 ). From the outside, I was a good student, behaved well, and was involved in many positive activities–striving to prove to everyone (and myself) that I had something going for me, that I had worth, and that I was “normal.”

But now, it’s like that perfect bubble is beginning to burst. As little bits of memory push through, the bubble shield that I have controlled, is beginning to get little holes in it and I fear what might be waiting on the other side. As my therapist suggested (and I totally agreed–everything clicked when she said it), it’s like in the last Harry Potter book/movie when they’ve created this magical barrier–a huge bubble–around Hogwarts and as the death eaters cast spells against it, that shield eventually can’t hold them off anymore and all the evil breaks through–all “heck” breaks loose. *cue panic inside my bubble of control*tenor.gif

In some ways, it feels like what I’ve created is all fake, a facade to show everyone just how fine I was, a way I could even control how I saw myself in some ways. What of my life is real? And do I want to remember it? Do I need to know so I can continue to heal? What if I remember it all? Will everything come crashing through, shattering me from the inside out? Will that change who I am or who I think I am?

Sexual abuse has altered so much about me, but the aftermath, the lack of protection and absence of gentle care afterward has also done its damage. I think that’s one major thing people don’t get who haven’t experienced it: just because the abuse is over or was a long time ago, doesn’t mean the effects of it aren’t still heavily present. 

Like so many of you, I continue to fight and find more healing and peace. It’s so hard to be patient sometimes, but I keep recommitting myself to having faith and hope in the process. I know that with God’s help, I can make it through.

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When the Holidays Bring Triggers

I’m always excited as the Christmas season approaches. I think of decorating the tree, putting up decorations–particularly Nativities, and focusing on the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. I have high hopes for the season to go a certain way, but…When the

…then, something inside me goes off like an annual alarm (right before Thanksgiving usually). I don’t feel good inside my head. Darkness closes in around me, and instead of enjoying the season, I find myself fighting to pull myself out of the depths of unresolved emotions.

It’s odd to be fine one day, and the next suddenly feel upset, hopeless, agitated, and overcome with sorrow and not have any idea why.

For survivors of sexual abuse, this may be the norm. With 90% of childhood sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is a family member. Holidays often include family, which can cause anxiety in survivors because of the potential to have to see their abusers or be around those who did not protect them or help them when they could/should have. They may have to be in a place or around people that compromises their feeling of safety.

Another aspect that may cause is to struggle during the holidays is that our brain, mind, and body remember stuff that we may not consciously remember. Our body and mind can recall what happened during certain times of year, especially traumatic events like sexual abuse. (Side note, I read a brilliant book on how trauma affects the brain. It was both fascinating and horrible because of how much it explained the aftermath I–and too many others–have been experiencing. It’s called “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.) This subconscious remembering may trigger our fight, flight, or freeze response, or bring up emotions from the past, which can be really disconcerting when you’re not sure why you’re feeling or behaving a certain way.

So, what can you do to get through the holidays?

  • Talk to someone close to you (or your therapist) and explain that you have a really hard time around holidays and/or family gatherings. Use this safe person to call or text when you need support, especially during the holidays.
  • You’re the boss of yourself. You don’t have to put yourself in situations where it’s going to compromise your well-being. If you don’t want to go to a holiday event, don’t go. If you feel comfortable saying why you won’t attend, do. But you’re entitled to take care of yourself ahead of someone else’s feelings. (I’m not just saying this while not following my own advice. I didn’t go to my grandpa’s funeral for these reasons.)
  • Make a plan. When triggers happen, you need a plan to keep yourself grounded in the present. Realize you’re in the here and now, not in the past when the abuse was happening (if you are still being sexually abused, please seek help to get out of that situation). Taking deep breaths, focusing on sights and smells around you, and noticing what you can feel with your feet and fingers can help.
  • Take care of yourself. Do things that make you feel good. Exercise, going out with friends, or doing something creative like art or writing is good for your well-being. You may need to allow yourself some extra TLC during the holidays if you’re struggling.
  • Be kind to yourself. Since the emotions stirred because of sexual abuse are not only powerful, but also very negative like feelings of worthlessness or self-hate. Combat these with positive affirmations. Focus on the good about yourself and have others help you see those things if you have a hard time doing it on your own. You are strong, worthy of love, and a resilient fighter.

Ultimately, you don’t have to do something you don’t feel comfortable doing just to appease someone else. You’re in charge of yourself. Don’t sacrifice your feelings for someone who hurts you physically and/or emotionally.

I hope that you might be able to focus on the important aspect of your holidays, rather than suffering alone and hurting because of people and events you have no control over. Take care of yourself and be kind to yourself this holiday season.

Then I Fell Apart

The past week or so has been one huge emotional roller coaster.

It started off fantastic with a writing conference I worked on the committee for and taught a couple of classes at. Then I had a bit of a setback on a project, which was upsetting, but I made a plan. I also got to see a couple of good friends from high school and got to catch up a little.

The evening I arrived home, I found out my grandpa had died that morning.

I don’t really care that he has passed on. I feel calloused saying that, but it’s really kind of a relief. But then I realized there’d be a funeral. And all my abusers would be there, contact and non-contact sexual abusers, including my dead grandpa. Just the thought of attending sent me spiraling emotionally. I had an emotional breakdown that night in front of my husband (thankfully, he is really understanding and supports me).

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I’ve decided not to go (my husband agrees). I know it’s not something I can handle right now, nor should I have to. Maybe some family will be offended or hurt, but I just can’t. On some level, I feel bad about this choice because we’re taught to “mourn with those who mourn,” and put aside differences, and be kind, and make amends, etc. It feels like my whole life I’m battling what I “should” do with what I need to do.

As a result of the turmoil, and his death dredging up some more stuff, my EMDR/therapy appointment was extra difficult. I finally reached the point that I have been fearing all along: I completely fell apart and I didn’t know how I could get myself back together, how I could get back in control and be okay. I was panicky, full of anxiety, and fragile. Those feelings I experienced and buried from my childhood were spinning out of control. I wasn’t sure if I could get back to “okay” again. The rest of the day I was in a funk–my oldest daughter told me I was “ten miles away.” Yeah, or a few decades away.

That messy episode earned me a bonus therapy session the next afternoon. I realized a lot of new things (EMDR seems to be one constant stream of realizations from the past), many of which were new awful pieces of my life, like how I’ve tried to paint my life a whole lot better than it was, lying to myself all these years so I could survive. Trying to minimize all the things that happened so they didn’t seem so bad. It’s a lot to take in, and to notice how much I’ve blocked out from my life.

I remember fearing that I wasn’t good enough for Heaven and thinking how I could leave the Church and come back and get re-baptized. How maybe if I did everything right, maybe it’d make up for all the wrongs. My therapist asked what those things said about me, the fact that I knew things weren’t right. I struggled to think up an answer, and when I did–that of being strong and resilient–it didn’t resonate with me. I still struggle to feel that truth no matter how often I or others say it.

After talking and doing more EMDR work, I settled in on one thing pertaining to being sexually abused: That wasn’t my agency. Those acts against me had nothing to do with my actions or what I did or even wanted. Someone did that to me, against my will. That was their agency, not mine. That was not my agency.

So much of my life has been a normal response to an abnormal situation–trying to normalize the abuse, trying to minimize all the things in my life that were so wrong. From the time I was so tiny, I was doing what I could to survive. I thought of the little ones I see in the Sunbeam class (3-year-olds) in Primary at church. What if someone hurt them the way I was hurt before I was even that old? The thought sickens me and breaks my heart. The innocence, how they could not defend themselves against an adult.

Being sexually abused is not your agency; it’s someone else using their agency in a very hurtful and damaging way. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and God does not condone it. He will help us overcome, He will heal us, but it will take time. Keep working, keep praying, keep believing.

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I believe, eventually, we’ll take the broken pieces of ourselves, and be even more spectacualr than we are now. Like the art of kintsugi that I shared about here, with patience, care, and work, we can be whole and stronger than we once were. And our value is so much more than we know.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.