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.
This week Together We Heal, as an organization, and myself, David Pittman as an individual, have joined forces with Justice For Anne, For A Time Such As This & several fellow advocates. Together we have issued a statement that was most perfectly articulated by fellow advocate Ryan Ashton:
“If you please, read the joint statement myself and fellow abuse survivors and advocates delivered to the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) yesterday regarding their announcement of a sexual abuse study group:
“We all have a decision—to become more polarized and distrustful of one another, hide, build barriers, and perpetuate numerous injustices. Or we can face this evil together, choosing to create a culture where healing and safety are the norm, where love and compassion dwell, where children and families flourish, and the hope of the gospel maintains its integrity. We sign with that hope, committed to a future where no one in the Church has to say “Me Too” ever again.”
Everything we do at Together We Heal and GRACE is because of the past and current failures of those within the church to better protect children and properly respond to those who’ve been harmed. It is our hope that the SBC will begin to live up to the call of Christ they espouse and not be just another one of those “cast to the bottom of the sea with a millstone around their neck”.
If not now, then when? If not us, then who?
The time is long overdue. The ball is in your court SBC leaders and church members. Do you truly believe the scripture you preach and teach? Then BE THE VOICE OF THE VOICELESS and quit giving lip service and protecting sexual predators.
One of my favorite quotes is by Frederick Douglass who said,
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Please keep these two things in mind when you begin to think, “it’s just too hard to talk with my kids about sexual abuse”.
Here in the USA, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be victims of childhood sexual abuse before they turn 18…don’t let your child be another statistic, don’t let them become another David, or Linda, or or or…
They need your strength and guidance…you CAN talk with them and they will be grateful you did!!
If you’re finding it challenging to talk with your kids, please read this post for some guidance:
“Keep your eyes and ears open because you never know what surprises, good or bad, are around the corner and from where they might come.”
In today’s lesson, I heard something that struck a deep chord and of all things while watching a TV show. Today’s TV is not your mom and dads TV. By that I mean if you’re looking for brilliant insight into humanity you’re probably fishing in the wrong hole. But to my surprise I heard an insightful quote while watching the show, “Criminal Minds”.
This little nugget of introspection came from Norman Cousins, a noted American author, professor and journalist. He says:
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss in life is what dies inside of us while we live.”
Do yourself a favor and re-read it. Then read it again. And really consider what he’s saying.
I have read, re-read, mulled over and marinated in these words. And I have related them to being a victim and then survivor of childhood sexual abuse/molestation/rape. From that very first night of abuse, I died inside. The innocence of childhood, my faith in the goodness of people, my belief that I had self-worth, feeling as though I had a purpose in life, my trust in the clergy and for a long time even my belief in God, much less a God of mercy, justice and love…all of that was gone, it was gone and dead.
I would wonder, what kind of a God would or could allow such atrocities to happen to a child? I now understand, or at least hold the belief, that it isn’t my God that allows this to happen, it’s men and women with a free will who choose to commit these heinous crimes.
Right now my abuser walks free, with not so much as a blemish of a criminal record. All because of laws that protect sexual predators rather than the children’s lives and spirits they destroy. And every day I live with this pain, this loss, and even though I’ve developed tools to help me work through my own trauma, it has still killed a part of me. A part that feels rotten inside. Meanwhile this monster still has easy, open, unlimited access to little boys and at times it feels as though there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. And this boggles my mind. I wonder every day, how many other little “me’s” are being groomed for the same destruction? How many other David’s, Christopher’s and Andy’s is he building up, just to tear them down from the inside out?
And that’s when I gained some understanding of what Mr. Cousins meant when he said, “The greatest loss in life is what dies inside of us while we live.” I know all too well that feeling of being dead inside. The feeling as though my core is more like a zombie; rotting, oozing out a putrid smell of guilt, shame and self-blame that for so long I felt there was no help. I was already dead inside so I might as well do my best to finish the job Frankie started. He killed my inside so I’ll kill the outside. And as many of you know who’ve read or heard my story, I set out on a path of self-destruction via narcotics.
It wasn’t until I realized there was a reason I was being self-destructive, that I also came to understand I could begin to heal that inner side, I could even resurrect it. While it would never be the same, because wounds are wounds and they leave scars in spite of any healing that occurs. I DO have worth, and I could begin to have some semblance of a life once again.
So while I agree with Mr. Cousins, as it pertains to survivors of childhood sexual abuse, our greatest loss is what died in us while we were still alive, I also believe we can heal, there is hope, and even justice for some. But not without work; challenging, wrist-wringing, memory shaking, tear-filled, anger-filled, fist-clenching work.
It’s with these thoughts I began asking myself some questions.
1) What died inside of me?
As I mentioned before, there is a laundry list of things I felt had died: the innocence of my childhood, my faith in the goodness of people, my belief In myself and that I had worth, feeling as though I had a purpose in life, my trust in the clergy and for a long time my belief in God, believing that I was a good person. I felt as if I was dirty, filthy and used.
2) Why did it die?
Betrayal, denials of those in a position to help, lies, being treated as though you are to blame, abandoned, feeling totally and completely alone,
3) What are the consequences of the death?
Substance abuse/addiction, suicide, loss of jobs due to inability to maintain focus, inability to maintain healthy relationships, never have opportunity to have children/family, no stability, loss of sanity, DID, the list is virtually endless…
Alone, feeling powerless and incapable of moving forward or healing.
6) What does this death feel like? How do we describe it to those that haven’t been through what we have?
I think for most of us, the death is both instant and lengthy. The moment the abuse begins, the death occurs…that’s the instant part. But then comes the pain; the extended, ongoing cruel torture inside us. It’s like a long, drawn out illness, only instead of seeing a gradual decline as in a long term cancer, it’s more like having your head cut off by a guillotine that goes very slowly, making you feel every millimeter. It’s an agonizing pain that continues until the head is finally severed from the body. The only difference is we’re still alive, enduring the pain and with no relief in sight.
7) When this “death” occurs, when do we recover…do we recover? And the million dollar question…When is it “time”? When do we begin to heal?
To answer these questions I must also acknowledge some other questions we as survivors ask ourselves and ask each other. When will I start feeling better? When will I begin this healing process you talk about so much?
And to answer those questions I have to tell you a story about my most beloved dog. A Rottweiler named Chelsea who was the best dog I ever had. She was the most loving, sweetest dog and everyone loved her and she loved everyone. True story, my next door neighbor came over one day while throwing a pool party and asked if Chelsea could come over and play. Honest to God! They said I could come too, but who they really wanted was Chelsea. So I said sure and off they went…8 hours later I go over and Chelsea is still hopping in and out of the pool, playing with everyone and having a great time. So there’s your back story of this amazing dog.
As happens with all our pets, one day we learn they are not going to be with us much longer. In my case, I learned Chelsea had bone cancer. A very painful type of cancer, so I’m told, and so I asked the veterinary oncologist the same question I’m asked about recovery…when will I know “it’s time”?
In the most caring way he could verbalize he said, “because you have been with her for so long, almost her entire life, (which at this point was 10 years), only you will be the one to know when that time comes”.
I didn’t understand so I further questioned him and he said, “let me put it like this, one day you will see, one day you will know it’s time and only you will know when that times comes. I can’t describe what that day will be, but when it occurs, you will know it’s time.”
At this point, it only further frustrated me. So a few months went along and Chelsea was doing ok. She would have a moment of pain where she would yelp, but then hop right back up and all was for the most part ok.
Then came “that” morning. I woke up and noticed she wasn’t in the bed beside me or on the floor next to it. I called out for her but heard no jingle of her collar or clicking of her toenails on the tile floor. So I knew immediately something wasn’t right.
I went into the room, called out her name and as she tried to get up, she wailed in agony and fell back to the ground. She tried this two more times with equally painful cries so I ran to her side and kept her from trying to get up so she wouldn’t continue hurting herself.
There it was…just as the vet described it…the moment I knew Chelsea couldn’t handle any more pain, and to put her through anymore would be inhumane. So I made the call every dog lover hates, the one letting them know that your beloved and most faithful companion must be put to sleep. Fortunately I had an amazing vet who didn’t require me to bring Chelsea to the clinic. She and vet tech drove to my home and they did the procedure in her own home where she would feel as safe as possible.
I laid with her the entire time so she didn’t have to move around. When the vet arrived she gave me all the time I wanted, but it’s never enough. She shaved a spot on her leg, placed the IV in and let me know when I was ready, to say goodbye. And for the first time in Chelsea’s entire life she did something she’d never done…when I said ok to the vet, she let out a quiet growl directed at the Vet. It was as if to say, “dad, if you do this, I can’t protect you anymore.” It broke my heart and I cried like a baby. I gave her a kiss, and she gave me one last, big, wet slobbery one. Then, in a quiet, peaceful moment, she was gone. With no pain and without a noise.
So why did I tell you this story? Because for those of us working through the emotional struggles of CSA, the same is true…only we will know when the time is right. Only we will know when we are ready to move forward, to heal, to grow. And no one can tell you when it will happen. I know that’s not the answer anyone wants to hear, but it’s the truth.
Fortunately I have some good news to end this story. As the doctor told me, only you will know when it’s “time”. And when that “time” comes, hope and healing will follow. I promise.
“There are things in my past that have made me afraid. But I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not sure what will happen, but whatever it is, it’s better than being afraid.”
On Wednesday, December 18th 2013, it was my honor to have facilitated a tele-seminar with my friend, colleague and fellow advocate, Rachel Grant.
In addition to the topics covered below, there was also a Q&A session that had some extremely challenging issues Rachel and I addressed with the callers that I know you will find insightful and helpful.
Do you feel worthless, undeserving, unfixable, or unlovable? Are you ready to let go of the pain of sexual abuse?
If you are beyond sick and tired of feeling broken and burdened by the past, this tele-seminar is for you. You will be taught the three steps you need to take in order to let go of the pain of childhood sexual abuse. Rachel will also share with you her secret to becoming a ‘beyond survivor’.
You will learn:
• Why sexual abuse is akin to an unhealed wound and the steps required to healing that wound.
• How your brain processes experiences and how this affects your thinking, feelings, and behavior.
• To challenge the false beliefs that keep you disconnected from your genuine self.
• To develop new ways of thinking in order to shift your focus, listen to yourself, and to use affirmations that really work.
• 3 steps, rooted in science, which will lead you out of the pain of abuse.
This show is perfect for you if:
You are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and are frustrated because it seems nothing you do is helping.
You desire to reconnect to your genuine self in order to move on with your life and be the person you were meant to be.
It is my hope and desire for you to be able to make radical and amazing changes as you take back your life and realize your ability to make powerful choices about who you are and how you live.
Please don’t miss the opportunity to listen and gain this invaluable information. As I mentioned, Rachel is not only a colleague, she is also my friend. I know how much she has helped me and I know she can help you too.
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…
This will be a little different than previous articles, in that, this is not so much solution based, as it is issue based. I want to bring to light an issue that many survivors of abuse have to deal with on a daily basis—Addiction—whether it is to alcohol, drugs or something else.
As an addict, you must first recognize that you are not “in control” and you are powerless to the addiction. And it is acknowledging that this “giving up control” enables the addict to begin their healing.
Meanwhile, as a survivor of abuse, while we are being abused we are also helpless and powerless and taking charge is empowering. Claiming power is a significant experience of healing. It enables us to reclaim what was taken from us when we were abused.
So, survivors who are also addicts have a razor thin line to walk (and just as sharp), of giving up control of addiction while regaining control from abuse.
Is it any wonder why so many fall back off the wagon, are never able to maintain a healthy mental/emotional/physical life, or even commit suicide?
We have these solutions that run simultaneous and contradictory to each other—the Ultimate Battle. This is why it’s so important to get professional help and seek the support from others such as AA/NA/SNAP and other support groups.
The statistics are remarkable. In a study of male survivors sexually abused as children, over 80% had a history of substance abuse. 75% of women in treatment programs for drug and alcohol abuse report having been sexually abused. Another 10-study program found there was a direct correlation to CSA and substance abuse.
Now full disclosure, in all of the research I read, I was able to find one psychiatrist who did not believe there was a correlation, but he did not produce any statistics or empirical data to support his argument. So it is my conclusion, both from my personal life experience and studies from all over the globe, this is something we cannot ignore.
I read in another article, instead of looking down at addicts and asking them, “What is wrong with you?” wouldn’t it be a more productive question to ask, “What happened to you?”
Very few services exist to help with both issues: addictions and abuse. It needs to be understood that the two go hand in hand. The services which do exist are often inadequate, requiring the individual to heal only on the therapist’s terms, or to “get clean first, then we’ll talk.” Often, if you make one mistake, you’re out of the addiction program. This isn’t fair. Only one out of every 100 people make it, perhaps because of the programs themselves.
And this is what happened to me, I had to address my addiction first before I was able to even acknowledge my abuse and face it. As they say in NA, “face life on life’s terms.” Once I got clean from narcotics, I was finally able to reach out to Dr. Light and confront my abuser, Frankie Wiley.
Now in reclaiming my power over my abuser, the addiction is not the issue it once was, and that is because my primary reason for using drugs was to numb myself from the pain of the abuse.
Now that I have had my abuser removed from three jobs where he had power over kids, I have regained my power, but I KNOW that I will NEVER have power over the narcotics—they control me in such a negative way that I can never do them without extreme, awful consequences.
Just because this is what worked for me, does not mean it will be the direction a fellow survivor will have to take as a path to healing. Seek the professional help that is available to you—we have therapists here and there are many others out there with other groups—if not here, just get help somewhere.
As I said, this is not a solution article. I just wanted folks to know what many survivors have to deal with and if someone in your life is going through this, maybe it will help you better understand what they are going through. Remember, love is patient and kind, and that is ultimately what we need in the battle we face—patience and kindness … and true love.
Michael and Cheryl Irving, two psychotherapists said in an article what I have been saying and feeling for years so I thought it best just to quote them:
“Survivors need to value themselves, to be true to themselves. Survivors often find it hard to say no to anything, and survivors need to fit in, so they often say yes…We need to understand that treatment for addictions is slow and progressive. You cannot help addicts quickly or with some other drug…Healing from addictions and abuse is possible and they often go hand in hand. It takes time, it takes trust.”
Dr. Michael Irving
Mrs. Cheryl Irving
New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Mental Health Association in New York State
The Relationship Between Sexual Abuse and Addiction By Andrea Presnall, Argosy University
Dr. Stanton Peele
David Pittman Bio:
David spent years on a healing journey that continues to this very day. This led him to seek out groups specifically for men as well as those who had been through a similar trauma and ultimately inspired the foundation of Together We Heal, an organization focused on providing counseling and guidance for those who have suffered the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
As the Executive Director of TWH, David works to educate the public through speaking and collaborating with other groups to raise awareness and expose the sexual predator’s methods. TWH now works with therapists, counselors and groups aiding both men and women in their efforts to heal, grow and thrive. He is also the South Florida Area Support Group Leader for SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
TWH follows the saying, “you may be just one person to the world, but to one person you could be the world.”