Together We Heal

Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse. We are here to provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal, give direction to those seeking guidance and to expose sexual predators for what they are and their methods of getting into our lives.


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“Dare To Be Authentic”

“Dare to be Authentic” – Radio Guest appearance

We were honored to be the guest on the radio show, “Dare To Be Authentic”, founded by author and Life Coach, Mari Mitchell-Porter.

This episode is one full of hope and encouragement for those who have suffered the devastation of childhood sexual abuse and has valuable information for parents to keep children safer from sexual predators.

Please take a few minutes to listen and then check out her site below:

http://tinyurl.com/ltn88qn

http://lifecoachmari.com

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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The Invisible Hand On Your Mouth

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 I so often say…together, we can truly heal…

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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He Would Tell Me

Recently I had the pleasure of having breakfast with my friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. I’m so thankful for the friendship he and I have developed and while talking he gave me one more reason to be thankful. He brought to my attention something I had not given enough consideration. It’s from his insight this article originated.

We were discussing the reasons behind why I didn’t say something about my abuse and why other survivors don’t tell or speak up while the abuse is occurring. During the conversation I told him something my mom had said to me. He stopped me and said it was important and to say it again.

He asked if there had been any indications to anyone that the abuse that was happening. I told him about one man in my life who had been a positive, male role-model for me. When I was about 13, he was talking with my mom about my abuser (but at this time no one knew) and said, “there’s something that’s not quite right about that guy spending all this time with those boys. I can’t put my finger on it but I know there’s something that’s just not right.” To which my mom said, “If something were going on with David, he would tell me.”

It’s those last four words that bears repeating…“he would tell me”.

My mom and I have a strong and healthy bond. Because my dad was not in the picture for the first 23 years of my life, it resulted in mom and I having lots of time together and the opportunity to forge an incredible relationship that we still have to this day. I would go so far as to say it’s an uncommonly good relationship as parent/child relationships go. I remember while growing up, most of my friends saying at some point, “I just can’t talk to my mom or dad about…”. I never had that issue with my mom. We were always close and always talked about everything. I remember telling her when I had sex for the first time. I told her about the first time I used drugs. When I got arrested for said drugs, it was my mom I called to bail me out. So it’s clear you can see I’ve felt comfortable enough in telling her about the good, the bad and the ugly.

All except for one thing.

And sadly it’s that “one thing” that has resulted in the majority of the misery, struggles and pitfalls of my life.

The point I’m trying to make, is that if I had such a difficult time telling my mom about the abuse, when we were so close, how much more difficult is it for children who don’t feel as close to their parents or feel the freedom to talk with them about anything and everything? Neither my mom, nor anyone else knew about my abuse until 2006.

It’s a mistaken belief that I think most parents have. They believe, as my mom did, that if there were something wrong, their children would let them know about it. Or as I said earlier, “he would tell me”.

It’s a tragic error of belief and one that I hope to reeducate all parents. No matter how close you are, or how strong your relationship, if your child is being sexually abused, it’s almost impossible for them to tell you. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It doesn’t mean you love them any less than other parents. It’s just beyond description how hard it is for those of us who were abused to tell anyone.

The reasons behind the “why” are as many and varied as there are individuals. We’ve discussed them previously here on the TWH blog and will do so more in the future. But for the discussion today, it’s not about the “why”, it’s about acknowledging a false assumption and correcting it.

As I said, my mom genuinely believed if someone were hurting me, I’d tell her. After all, when a student picked on me, or in one case, when a teacher was being hateful to a friend of mine with a speech impediment, I told her about that. So she had no reason to believe otherwise. Except for one important thing, back in the 70’s and 80’s, nobody talked about Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). Back then, all we were told was, beware of strangers and “stranger danger”. It turns out, “stranger danger” is almost a myth. 90-95% of CSA happens at the hands of someone who is known, trusted and/or loved by the child. And because no one was taking about it, there was no “Oprah’s 200” , or organizations like SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, G.R.A.C.E. – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or Together We Heal.

Due to this lack of information and groups whose entire existence is to help survivors of CSA, parents didn’t know what signs to be looking for or signals that their children might be sexually abused. “Grooming” was a term reserved for haircuts and keeping your appearance neat. Now we know better. But sadly, parents are still waiting until it’s too late to discuss CSA with their kids. This is not a one-time conversation to have when they’re 15 or 16. By that time, it’s more likely any abuse has already occurred or is still ongoing.

In order to give your child the best chance to remain safer from sexual predators/pedophiles, parents MUST start young. They must start young and have it become a “normal” part of the routine questions asked of the child’s day. How was your day? How was school? Do you like your teachers? Has anyone made you feel uncomfortable? Has anyone touched you in a place they shouldn’t? And educating your child on what is appropriate touching is essential to the conversation.

Obviously, depending on the age of the child, there are age-appropriate terms and verbiage. But the questions need to be asked, the conversations need to take place, and all of this needs to be done EARLY and OFTEN. If not, we leave our children susceptible to the ploys of predators. We now have plenty of books, pamphlets and resources on how to have these talks with children of all ages. So please take advantage of the information my mom didn’t have, of the resources I didn’t have available. Do this so you lessen the chances of your children enduring the torture, abuse, rape, and resulting decades of emotional, mental and physical struggles. Do this so your children don’t become another statistic like I did, another 1 in 6 boys or 1 in 3 girls.

We have the information now. And now children can trust they will be believed. It’s time to back up all this talk with action. It’s time to prevent childhood sexual abuse and catch these sexual predators/pedophiles before they do any more damage. But it begins at home, it must begin early, and don’t think for one second, “he would tell me”…

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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Learning to Heal from Abuse: One man’s mission to help

We are so honored by our friend, Boz Tchividjian, who has posted the interview he did with me about Together We Heal and what we’re doing to help our fellow survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Please take a moment to read, not just our interview, but all of the inspiring articles Boz has on his site. I cannot thank him enough for the issues he’s confronting head-on within the church and it’s neglect of those abused. We look forward to working together with him and his organization, G.R.A.C.E. http://netgrace.org (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment)

http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/07/11/learning-heal-abuse-one-mans-mission-help/


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Growing Pains

As with any organization, the more services and resources we provide, the more room we need to grow. In expanding the “Together We Heal” website to meet the needs of survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), we’ve come across an issue that our previous articles have broken links. The good news is we have a fix for it. And the better news is that all NEW posts won’t require this “fix”.

For folks looking for “The Abused Addict” article, here’s the one I posted last week with the new link.

https://togetherweheal.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/the-abused-addict-the-ultimate-fight-updated-1242013/

The previous link was – https://together-we-heal.org/2013/01/25/the-abused-addict-the-ultimate-fight-updated-1242013/

When looking for any of our previous posts, and if you look at the example above, simply replace together-we-heal.org with togetherweheal.wordpress.com and keep the rest of the link, it will redirect you to the article. If you don’t want to do this, you have 2 options, either go to together-we-heal.org or togetherweheal.wordpress.com and click on the “blog” tab. From there you can find all of our articles still in tact.

We have created a new website to give more info and provide us with the means to add more resources. The only drawback is that the old links no longer work. As I post new articles they will work fine. Thank you for your patience as we are experiencing some growing pains. It just means we are able to help more survivors of childhood sexual abuse. But we’re sorry for any temporary inconvenience locating previously posted links. As I said, this won’t be an issue moving forward.

So please take advantage of the resources on our new site:

http://together-we-heal.org

And know our blog will always have all of the articles available as well:

https://togetherweheal.wordpress.com

We are here to help fellow survivors and their loved ones. We are here to help educate the public on all matters of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and to help effect statute of limitation law reform on sex crimes against children. We are here to help provide counseling for survivors that either can’t afford it or that don’t have access to insurance to cover the costs. The bottom line, we are here for you and you are not alone.

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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7 Ways Churches Should Begin To Welcome Survivors of Abuse

The following article was written by a friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. It has been my honor and privilege to become friends with Boz and to begin working together with his organization, G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) It’s refreshing to hear someone speak up on behalf of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, whose abuse occurred at the hands of the church. Boz does not try to defend the actions of churches who failed to protect victims; to the contrary, he wants to see real change take place within the church. Thank you Boz.

I did take the liberty of redoing his title for the purpose of emphasizing my personal perspective on how churches should begin acting. The original title is shown below.

7 Ways To Welcome Abuse Survivors In Our Churches

Churches should be some of the safest and most welcoming communities for those who have suffered from sexual abuse. Sadly, today these are some of the places survivors feel most vulnerable as they are often shamed, silenced, and judged.

This is most tragically illustrated by the case of a young girl who was sexually abused by a missionary doctor on the mission field. When she finally stepped forward and reported the abuse, the missionary leaders made this little 13-year-old girl sign a “confession” letter in which she had to acknowledge having “participated in a physical relationship” with the offender and end the letter with “…I know what I did was very wrong, and I am very sorry for it.” Years later this survivor told me that this damning letter is what shamed her into decades of feeling worthless and being silent. It doesn’t take a demand to sign a confession for a church to become an unsafe and unwelcoming place for survivors. Hurtful comments, the embracing of alleged perpetrators, the failure to offer assistance, and the pretending that this offense doesn’t exist in the Christian community are just a handful of ways that further wound survivors and drive them out of the very places that should be their refuge.

I want to share seven ways that I believe will help transform our churches into some of the safest and most welcoming communities for survivors of abuse.

Be a friend and listen: One of the best ways to serve survivors is to simply be their friend and listen. This does NOT mean we pity them and turn them into our special project. It means that we spend time with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and support them. It means that we validate them as human beings made in the image of God. It means that we don’t have all the answers, and it’s ok. Too many survivors have been traumatized by churches that fail to protect them, and then turn around and ignore them or tell them what to do. Perhaps we can help these amazing survivors shed the shame by being a safe person in a safe place.

Know the available resources: Survivors often need professional assistance to help shed the shame fueled by abuse. Becoming familiar with local resources such as qualified therapists, victims’ advocates, attorneys, and support groups will enable us to introduce them to our church communities and to any survivor who may need their services.

Acknowledge & address spiritual struggles: Those who have been sexually abused often struggle with many spiritual doubts, concerns, and questions. Criticizing or judging these struggles will only fuel more shame as survivors are pushed away from yet another unsafe place. On the other hand, offering no response or simply providing oversimplified answers can minimize the importance of these struggles in the lives of these individuals. Sometimes we answer best by simply connecting individuals with sound spiritual resources that may provide them a starting point to address their particular spiritual struggles. This can be anything from recommending a book, blog, or podcast to encouraging them to become part of an abuse-survivor support group at the church. It could also mean connecting them with a clergy member or other professional who has worked through many of these spiritual issues. Before recommending any particular spiritual resource, it is critical that we seek the counsel of Christian child-protection experts and other Christians who have the training for and experience with serving survivors. Organizations such as GRACE and Together-We-Heal are equipped to provide such assistance.

Connect with local law enforcement: Developing a relationship between our faith communities and local law enforcement is invaluable. Believe it or not, most law enforcement officers are thrilled when people in the community seek them out for advice and help. Our churches would greatly benefit from the guidance provided by law enforcement on issues such as child protection, dealing with known sex offenders, status of pending cases, and available community resources for survivors. In most cases, this as easy as calling the local law enforcement office and scheduling an appointment with the officer who supervises the investigation of abuse cases. Simply let him/her know that your church is seeking guidance on issues related to abuse. I highly recommend having a member of the church leadership be a part of this meeting. Connecting with law enforcement will communicate a strong message to the survivors in our churches that we take this issue seriously as we seek to love and protect them with excellence.

Start an abuse-survivor support group: Support groups often create safe places within our churches for survivors to be honest and vulnerable as they continue to walk the long and difficult road of healing. Giving survivors a safe place to speak freely about their abuse and struggles can offer real healing from the isolation they have experienced. When survivors know they are not alone, they can encourage one another by walking through the often difficult journey together. Though one doesn’t have to be a survivor to start such a group, I highly recommended that we seek out the invaluable input and assistance of survivors when putting together such a group. Developing and supporting this group is a powerful way a church can communicate that it values, protects, and cares for those suffering in its midst.

Develop response protocols: Work with the church leadership and outside child-advocate experts to develop a protocol for responding to abuse disclosures. How we respond to abuse disclosures is perhaps the single most important way we demonstrate value to those who have been abused. A protocol that follows the law and places the needs of the survivor first is needed in every church. I will be writing more about this in future posts.

Speak Up: We serve survivors best when we are their biggest advocates. Those who have been abused should find their greatest and most vocal supporters inside the church. Shaming, silencing, and judging have no home in a community that loves and advocates on behalf of abuse victims. Unfortunately, there are still many within the walls of the church that don’t see it that way. That is where we step in and speak up. We speak up for these amazing survivors, constantly encouraging them with our words and actions to hold their heads up high and walk away from shame and silence. We speak up because it is these unsung heroes who so often teach us, inspire us, and reflect Jesus. We speak up because Jesus speaks up for all of us. We speak up because it is our privilege.

Transforming our churches and faith communities into places of refuge for those who have been violated, judged, and marginalized is what the Gospel is all about. If God is our refuge, then our churches must be the places where these precious souls find safety and rest.

Let’s begin this transformation today…

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This article was published with permission from Boz Tchividjian.

It’s original publication can be found here – http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/05/16/7-ways-welcome-abuse-survivors-churches/


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One Thing Leads to Another

Today I was making my “rounds”. No I’m not a physician, I don’t even play one on T.V. But I was reading through the regular authors, bloggers, fellow survivors and colleagues with whom I follow their writings. As I was reading Joelle Casteix’s latest piece entitled, “It All Started with a Support Group”, her words made me realize something I’d not considered prior;

If it weren’t for SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), our organization, “Together We Heal”, would not exist.

I know the genesis of most non-profits comes from a place of loss, grief, illness, tragedy or any number of other reasons we choose to take up a cause. And they are almost always good and noble reasons that provide for a need or service that others desperately require but have no access.

That being said, Joelle made me realize the reason(s) behind the formation of organizations like SNAP, The Joyful Heart Foundation and Together We Heal, that often go unspoken or taken for granted.

So as I turned my thoughts inward and asked myself, “why did we start Together We Heal”? I realized it was for the same reason as she titled her article…

…it all started with a support group.

Flash back 3 years. I had come forward about the sexual abuse I had endured as a child, and after 3 years of counseling I was looking for a support group. As I scoured the internet and government agencies looking for something, anything to further assist me in my recovery, It seemed as though I wouldn’t find anyone who could help. It was truly like looking for a drop of water in a desert.

Then, as I was about to give up, I came across a post referencing a group called SNAP. At first I thought I was mistaken, because the only SNAP I had ever heard of had to do with food stamps, or something like that. But when I found their office number and contact email, I got through, spoke to a volunteer and realized, they were exactly what I was looking for and needed.

At first I didn’t think I would be accepted because they specified “priest” in their organization’s name. And since my abuser was a Protestant, I thought here we go again, another false alarm. Boy was I wrong. Not only were they accepting of me, and all other victims of CSA, no matter the circumstance or religion, they eventually showed me I could both receive help from and become a help for my fellow survivors.

All of this was great for my own personal recovery. I was getting the help I needed from fellow survivors who understood what I’d been though. And my one-on-one counseling was still a tremendous help. But during several of our group sessions at our local SNAP meeting, I kept hearing others say, “boy I wish I had a therapist like yours Dave”, or, “if only I had insurance I could get some counseling too.” This was painful to hear. I almost felt guilty for having the privilege of personalized counseling. You see, what the others didn’t know, was that my therapy had been donated by an amazingly generous person. Someone who knew I had a need and they were willing to give of their time to help me since I didn’t have the funds or insurance to cover their standard $100/hour rate.

This got me to thinking, why can’t I recruit some therapists to do what mine is doing, donate their time to survivors in need? And the answer was simple, I CAN. And I did, and we still do! We currently have about 30 counselors/therapists who work directly with TWH, another 30-40 who work for government agencies we’ve partnered with and they too give of their time.

So why have I given you a history lesson about Together We Heal? It’s quite simple, and also profound. You just never know when one thing will lead to another. If you’re finding it difficult to get the help you need, don’t give up. I promise help is just around the corner. If you feel like you’re all alone, keep searching. I guarantee there are many out there just like you and will stand with you. And if it appears to you that there’s no purpose to your life, take another look. I too, once thought all of those things and had all of those feelings but because I refused to give up, I not only found the help needed, but now I’m able to help others who’ve been through what I went through and my life has a purpose I never knew possible.

Something Joelle mentioned in her article that I want to bring to your attention. She said, “People are talking and walking into our cycle of healing whether that be in our meetings or the meetings of other wonderful organizations. The Catholic Church and other institutions did not start or continue the cycle of healing. Victims did. Without support groups, none of this would have been possible.”

And just like it happened for her, it happened for me, and guess what?

This can happen for you too.

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.

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References:

Joelle Casteix

theworthyadversary.com