Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. We provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal. We work to expose sexual predators and their methods of getting into our lives.
Once again, we were given the honor of speaking out on behalf of both drug addicts and survivors of childhood sexual abuse in recovery. We discuss the struggles of both, the ability to find a healing path and what to do in those moments of feeling “stuck“.
When you have a moment, please take some time to listen in on this invaluable information that I know can help begin a transformative time in your life if you have challenges with one or both.
The dialogue between myself and Misa Leonessa Garavaglia brought up some great points toward finding a healing path. Please do listen and let us know if we can help.
Healing Addiction, Part 1- Addiction and Child Sexual Abuse
Trigger Warning due to description of childhood sexual abuse
It’s an indelible memory seared into our minds and branded onto our souls. At least for those of us who were sexually abused as children. It’s a memory we can’t shake. At some point, many of us experienced having our abuser(s) hand(s) over our mouths to keep us quiet during the acts of abuse. They didn’t want anyone to hear our cries of agony. The tragedy is that years, even decades later we feel like it’s still there, like there’s some invisible hand still covering our mouths and cries for help.
Ironically we are often asked, “why didn’t you say something then? Why didn’t you tell someone what was happening?” For anyone who has experienced true fear, and I’m not talking about horror movie scared, I’m talking about terror beyond description. Those who’ve experienced this level of intimidation and panic know exactly what I mean when I say we were going through fear that completely freezes you dead in your tracks. It prevents you from completing even the simplest of tasks. The ones that others take for granted.
Sure our friends could go to mom and dad about a bully down the street, or the weird guy at the end of the block, or the teacher who was mean to them in school. But those seem benign to us in comparison.
For us, we couldn’t do the most mundane of acts – Like driving down a road we grew up on. Or walking in the doors of a church/synagogue/mosque where our abuser held all the cards and wielded total autonomy.
Much has been written in other places, and here, about the plethora of reasons children don’t talk about sexual abuse, so I won’t beat that dead horse. What I will tell you is that it’s real, and all the reasons explained in the various media and online outlets are valid. And it’s the reason why, to us, we felt trapped and incapable of speaking out.
The reason I bring it up now is for my fellow survivors who might not have spoken yet. And to help their loved ones understand a little better.
It’s that damned “hand”. And it’s both literal and metaphorical.
We felt the actual hand covering our mouths, sometimes even our noses, to the point we couldn’t breathe. Grasping for air, grasping for help, wanting to cry out but knowing any such action would be met with harsher penalties by the abuser.
When you are a child, those in authority have all the power. We felt powerless to stop them, or so we thought. When we were children, there were no talk shows discussing childhood sexual abuse. There were no support groups to turn to for guidance or shelter. There was nothing.
We thought to ourselves, even if we speak up, who would believe us? A child making accusations about a so-called “pillar of the community”. Or worse yet, about our parents! No one in their right minds would believe us. Or so we we’re told, and possibly in many cases it might have even been true…no one would’ve believed us.
So we did the only thing we could, just hang on long enough to survive. And most of us did. Sadly a few didn’t. We witnessed some of our closest friends take their own lives, or tumble down the road of alcoholism and addiction to the point it cost them their lives. Everyone else said, “I just don’t understand why Jimmy or Susie did that. They had their whole lives in front of them.”
What they didn’t know, was their lives had been destroyed by the hand of sexual abuse. They had no coping mechanisms or tools to effectively cope with the abuse. And due to the lack of guidance, they self-medicated, and when the pain went beyond what they thought they could bare, they ended what they felt was a meaningless life.
I know these feelings of utter despair. I know them because I also, like a couple of people I lost, felt as though life was no longer worth living. And while my feeble attempts to “accidentally” overdose were unsuccessful, my life went spiraling out of control.
Oddly enough it was what most people would consider a horrible event, my arrests and time incarcerated, that most likely saved my life. Had it not been for being locked-up, I would probably have continued to abuse narcotics until I eventually overdosed with no return.
Thankfully I did get clean, I did learn through counseling how to utilize proper coping skills to work though the pain of the abuse. And now I have a life I never dreamed possible. I have the most amazing and loving wife. And together we work with survivors and their loved ones in ways that make me feel both honored to help and humbled with rewards beyond this life or words. And I’ve been able to actually enjoy my life free of narcotics and can finally “feel” the experiences of my life.
And I tell you all of this to let my fellow survivors and their loved ones know this is all possible for them too. If I can survive what I did, and now have a life not of just surviving, but thriving, they can too! All that is required is to reach out and receive the help that’s available.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), and having heard the stories of so many others, common questions I hear are – Why does it feel like no one hears me? Or, Why does it seem like no one understands what I’m saying or cares to get it?
I recently spoke with a survivor whose abuse, just as mine, had occurred at the hands of a minister. He said to me in no uncertain terms, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to enter a church ever again because of what they have done to me. They denied it happened, they wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say. They stole so much from me and when I cried out for help, I feel like no one hears me.”
It was a rare opportunity when one person can say to another, “I know how you feel”, and genuinely mean it. And I did know EXACTLY how he was feeling. For more than 25 years, unless someone died or got married, I didn’t darken the doors of a church. Like him, I felt betrayed, belittled, ignored, and no matter what I told the church leaders, not once did I feel like anyone was listening or cared.
That is until one day, when one brave minister had the courage of his conviction to stand up and defend me. But just as important, he took the time to listen and was patient with me.
And that’s what I have tried to relay to my friend and to so many other survivors. It only takes one person taking the time to stop for a moment and pay attention. To actually listen to what the survivor is telling you. You have no idea the IMPACT it has on our lives when someone finally says the three words we need so desperately…
“I hear you.”
Even if you don’t know or understand what we’ve been through, the fact that you’re taking time to listen makes all the difference in the world. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology or a license from the state to simply listen to a person in need. It does take some things more valuable though, time and patience.
Trust me when I say this, as a survivor of CSA, we don’t want pity or a pathetic look. All we want, all we need…is time and patience. Time; to hear what we need to share. Patience; to fully grasp what we’ve been through.
When those two precious commodities are given to us, it allows us to finally open up about what has snared our lives in turmoil and torture. It gives us the freedom to finally speak out about the atrocities committed against us. When given that chance, we finally have the one thing we lost as a child, Hope. And once there is hope, we now have within our reach the one thing we thought was incapable of attaining, Healing.
I wrote this article with two groups of people in mind. The first being those that know or will meet someone affected by the trauma of CSA. The second being my fellow survivors. If you are in the first group, PLEASE take a moment and give those invaluable gifts of time and patience. If you are my fellow survivor, WHEN someone affords you the opportunity to share, as challenging as I know it may seem, PLEASE be receptive to those gifts. We don’t often feel worthy of it, but believe me, you are.
When time and patience are combined, many beautiful and valuable assets are formed. As humans we look at items like diamonds and oil that require both and are valued in trillions of dollars. How much more so then, is the life of your fellow human when you give them the same care, and the same value. Time and patience, what’s it worth to you?
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), I have been searching for sometime to figure out a way to summarize the challenges survivors face. But due to the levels of pain and varieties of struggles each individual confronts, it seemed like this wasn’t possible. That is until I was watching, of all things a tv show, when I had a moment of clarity. A young lady had been kidnapped and was all alone. While listening to the dialogue of the actors and imagining how a real kidnap victim must feel it hit me like a ton of bricks…
The loneliest feeling in the world…is waiting to be found.
And there it was. My own personal struggle was wrapped up in that one, simple but excruciatingly painful statement. Survivors of CSA know this feeling. We live in constant fear of people learning what we are currently going through or have been through. We live in perpetual terror that our deepest, darkest secret will be exposed. Our fear, shame and guilt is compounded daily in our hearts, it weakens our spirits and like a weight, its sits on and sinks into our thoughts – emotionally, mentally and at times even physically. It feels like an wrecking ball holding us down, preventing us from moving, from doing anything or going anywhere.
The tv show I was watching showed the kidnap victim left to die, held down by spikes in the desert, hands and feet bound to those spikes. She was all alone, in the middle of nowhere, with no help in sight. And during this time, she had no idea if she would ever be found, or if she would die alone, with this horrific secret.
And in that story is the analogous representation of the degree of despair felt by survivors of CSA. We have that same sense of abandonment, of being all alone, all the while, we need and we want more than ANYTHING, for someone, ANYONE, to FIND OUT and to FIND US!
In its simplest terms, what we need is much like the moment a child has a parent rip off a bandage from a banged up knee or elbow. When a band-aid is pulled off it hurts like hell, but then when done, there is this immense sense of relief. And the growing sense of relief is so much more powerful than the instant moment of pain. Thats not to say we don’t get that band-aid ripped off over and over again when we relive the experience by telling our story, or testifying in court or being deposed, but by engaging on a healing path, we can find a way to move froward productively. Just as a survivor feels extreme emotional trauma in the moments/hours/days surrounding the time people learn the truth about their abuse, once the initial pain subsides, the healing can begin.
I know I have said this before, and I’ll continue to say it until there’s no breath left in my lungs. If you are or have been a victim of CSA, reach out now. You are not alone. You may have been left in the desert, but you now have people looking for you and available to help you. If not with TWH, find someone, some group, somewhere. They are all around and willing to help you. And may we all find the peace we deserve.
I witnessed something this morning that at first made me immensely sad. Initially I thought someone had thrown something at my sliding glass door. When I rose to see who had done it, instead I discovered a tiny blue bird lying on the ground at my feet. Its’ fragile body was twisted sideways and I could see its’ heart pounding from beneath its tattered feathers. As I got closer, it lowered its’ head, its’ heart began to beat slower and I almost started to tear up as I thought I was witnessing the end of this little creature’s life.
My dog was inside going nuts wanting to get to the bird, so I led her away, and truthfully, I really didn’t want to see it die. Strange thing, death. I did my internship at the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s office in the summer of 1996. I witnessed all manner of death that year. Every conceivable way a person could naturally or horrifically come to their end. The extreme ways in which one or more persons would look into the face of the evil inside to take another’s life. And yet, with the exception of the children’s deaths I saw, I accepted it as the natural occurrence of events, handled myself in a professional manner, and gained knowledge, insight and compassion in what turned out to be a transformative time of my life.
But for some odd reason, I don’t do well with the death of an animal. Especially if it’s been a pet of mine. Knowing this about me, understand why I just couldn’t watch this bird die. So I went back to the couch knowing it wouldn’t be long. I settled my dog down, gave it a few minutes and returned to what I knew was going to be a sad moment.
What I saw before me was remarkable. This brittle-boned fowl had managed to somehow shake the cobwebs out of its little bird-brain, straightened out its feathers, and was teetering back and forth like a heavyweight boxer would had just been given an almost knockout blow! Oh he was wavering back and forth, but he wasn’t down for the count just yet!
I sat down in awe as he fought with every instinct in his body and spirit to regain his composure and his life! As the minutes went on, the rocking back and forth stopped, his heart rate normalized, and eventually he even started to look around as if to say, “What the heck just happened to me?!”
At this point I opened the door, used my cane to scoop him up and onto the shrubs outside my patio so he would be free from ground predators like snakes, rats, etc. You know we have a few of those down here in south Florida.
As I placed him on the shrub, he even started to get his wings flapping. He wasn’t ready to take off yet, but you could tell it was only a matter of time and he was going to be just fine! I was so relieved! I lay back on the couch, watched him for the next 20 minutes and then, BAM, off like a rocket he shot! Flew away as if nothing happened!
This got me reflecting on the “sliding glass doors” that I’ve flown into! After all I have been through; after having been sexually abused as a child, addicted to narcotics in an attempt to numb my emotional pain, arrested, imprisoned, divorced, fired, kicked out, knocked down, and as we say in the south…”felt like I’d been rode hard and put up wet!” How on earth did I manage to do like that little bird? How did I shake off those cobwebs, dust myself off and get back on my feet again? One word – RESILIENT. The human spirit is amazing that way. Like those little birds’ instincts, so ours is to survive at all costs, no matter what’s happened to us.
For that little bird, he was born to fly and that’s what he knew he had to do again. I had to figure out my reason to “fly again”. All of our drive and reasons to push on, to fly again, have as many variables and possibilities as we are individuals. For me, mine is to keep other children from going through what I did and to help my fellow survivors begin to heal. I gain a little more altitude each time a person comes to me and says, “What can I do to better protect my child?” Or when a survivor says, “Thank you for telling your story. When I heard what you said, I knew I could move forward too.” Let me tell you something folks, I’ve done a lot of drugs, I’ve been as high as any addict out there. But for me now, there is no better “high”, no greater lift, then when you know you have helped someone struggling with what you’ve also been through.
So let’s all learn a little lesson from that tiny blue bird. Figure out your reason to fight like hell to survive, and no matter what happens…
Another child has committed suicide after being sexually assaulted and humiliated. How many more lives must be lost before we as a society decide to take a stand and say, ENOUGH! Please don’t wait any longer. Join us, join another group that works to end childhood sexual abuse. But for God’s sake, join something and take action! Don’t wait until it happens to your child or a child you know before that occurs. Step up to the plate now. Let’s work together and save the lives of our children!
This week we conclude our 3-part series with Rachel Grant as she provides insight on the topic of abandonment. Whether you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse or not, this is a subject that many folks experience at some point in their lives. If you have or know someone who has, you will benefit from her wisdom. Thank you so much Rachel for blessing us with your words and your spirit.
Abandon: to leave completely and finally, forsake utterly, desert, to give up, discontinue, withdraw from, withdraw protection or support
When it comes to abandonment, we are very much driven by a fear of the unknown. We do not know if the people we are connecting to may one day withdraw their protection or support. They may “forsake” us, and not just a little, but utterly. The greater the connection, the greater the risk, because we have more at stake should the person choose to walk away.
In an effort to alleviate this terrible sense of “not knowing,” we will often do a variety of things. We will over-control, seek constant reassurance, or be on high alert for anything that looks like withdrawal. Worst-case scenario, as soon as we start to feel close, we will push away and sabotage the relationship.
The fear of abandonment is extremely common in those of us who have been abused. We have experienced very real and tangible abandonment, the loss of protection by those who were supposed to care for us. Unfortunately, we then begin living as if this is going to be the case with everyone we come across.
For quite a long time, I had the false belief that “people always leave.” As a result, guess what, people around me often didn’t stick around for long, because I would pretty much act in a way that ensured they would not want to! It is hard to acknowledge, but we have to be straight about the role we play that leads us to re-create the experience of being abandoned over and over again.
Earlier, I gave you just the first part of the definition of abandonment. Here is the rest:
To give up the control of, to yield (oneself) without restraint or moderation
When I read this, I thought, “Hmm, maybe I need to abandon myself to abandonment!” Our relationships can thrive if we are willing to shift our focus and energy away from trying to prevent the withdrawal of others and enter into an open, free space, where we are present to the fact that they are here with us right now, in this moment. Instead of maneuvering to try to get some guarantee that they will always be here no matter what, we can appreciate the person for being here right now.
The point is, that fear of abandonment keeps us so focused on the future “what ifs” that we miss out on what is happening right now. Another, and more tragic, outcome is that we behave so poorly as a result of our fear, that we pretty much guarantee that things will fall apart.
There is no getting away from taking risks in relationships. We can, however, learn to take calculated risks. This means we have to get out of the nasty habit of connecting to others who are so high risk that we are pretty much setting ourselves up for failure.
One client, intent on maneuvering to get some guarantee that his girlfriend would never leave, would text her every couple of hours to keep tabs on her. If he did not get an immediate response, his meaning making machine would immediately kick into gear, leading him to thoughts such as “She must be with someone else.” As we worked together to challenge his false beliefs, he first had to acknowledge that, while it was possible that she was with someone else, it was unlikely given all of the experiences they had shared. Furthermore, her actions time and again indicated she was committed. The risk he was taking in trusting her therefore seemed well calculated. We then decided that he must hit the pause button (no meaning making) for four hours after sending a text and would limit his texting to three times a day. Over time, his fear and anxiety gradually abated and he was able to form a deeper bond based on trust and respect rather than fear and anxiety.
We need to practice giving up trying to control the future and remain in the present moment. We also need to give some thought to the types of risks we are taking—are they measured (even if still daring) or just playing with fire?
1. Who abandoned you and how did they abandon you?
2. What have you come to believe about people and relationships as a result?
3. What do you do to protect yourself from being abandoned?
4. How can you shift your focus from trying to control future outcomes to what is happening right now?
5. How do you know if you are taking a calculated risk or not?
Rachel Grant is the owner and founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a Trauma Recovery & Relationship Coach. She is also the author of BeyondSurviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse. With her support, clients learn to identify and break patterns of thought and behavior that keep them from recovering from past sexual abuse or making changes in their relationships.
Rachel holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. With this training in human behavior and cognitive development, she provides a compassionate and challenging approach for her clients while using coaching as opposed to therapeutic models. Rachel is a member of the International Coach Federation & San Francisco Coaches.