Talking about Sexual Abuse

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I always second guess if I should post these reflections but then I think of the men & women who suffer from trauma and I do it anyway.

So thank you for reading.

Today I shared a really intense and painful memory in therapy.

My heart hurts from it.

I find myself hearing his thoughts in my head as I talk about it out loud.

“You brought it on yourself. You asked for it. This is your fault.”

I felt immediate anger and rage. I wanted to pick up everything in front of me and smash it.

“What a fucking monster. Get out of my head.”

Not talking about these memories makes them feel less real, somewhere far away in time, like it never happened.

But as I practice sharing them out loud I can discern how my brain has used minimizing to cope and how these thoughts are not my own but his.

I feel better after sharing. And closer to the truth of who I am before the trauma. The version of me that thrives today.

so much love.

Braving the Past & Telling Your Story

 

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I have a slight obsession with freedom. My tattoos speak for it. I have five tattoos all of which symbolize freedom.

 

One is a tattoo on my right wrist of the word Moksha in cursive with pink autumn leaves, the moon and stars around it.

 

I got this right before I moved to New York after I got out of the military.

I was a photojournalist for the Navy and while on deployment I took a class on religions.  In Hinduism they have many ideas and one is moksha; freedom from suffering.

 

This reminds me that I am immortal. That I can be free any moment from suffering, from the past and from the cycle of pain.

 

The other tattoo is of a heart with wings and a banner in the middle with the words Set Free.

 

I got this when I was seventeen right before I joined the Navy. I remember sitting on a small stool for hours for this tattoo.

 

It was so important to me to have this tattoo. It symbolized my journey forward from the past.

 

There was a man beside me that I looked up to and saw as a Father.

 

He was a born again Christian. With tattoo sleeves of Jesus Christ on his arms.

 

He was also a former drug addict. And biker gang member.

 

His name was Glenn. Glenn Johnson.

 

He was a father of two that he knew of. I lived with him and his family for two years until I joined the Navy.

 

They adopted me when I was sixteen.

 

I remember sitting at the dinner table doing my homework while he made dinner.

 

He paused from his meal-making and said, “Emily, what if I told you that I wish I had you years ago before my wife?”

 

I laughed.

He couldn’t be serious.

 

Could he?

 

How could this happen to me again?

 

Is there something wrong with me? Did I ask for this?

 

No thought really could make sense of his question. No thought could give me answer that made me feel better.

 

My Set Free tattoo was a symbol of freedom.  

 

A celebration of me finally being free from them.

 

From him. From the past. From memory.

 

The thing about freedom from the past is not that we never remember it.

 

Or that we forget.

 

I tried to forget what happened to me.

 

Even now I am still recollecting fragments of memories.

 

We can never be truly free from the past because it always is a part of us. But we can be free from the power it can carry in the present and in the future.

 

I have a sparrow tattoo on my left wrist. I love birds. They also symbolize freedom.

 

Down my left forearm are the words Fortitude; courage in the midst of adversity.

 

A reminder that even in my darkest moments, in remembering, in sadness I can still be courageous. I can still find the silver linings to every storm.

 

Get the picture?

 

Tattoos tell the story of memory. Of time.

 

Of what I have overcome. And also what I must remember.

 

Remembering gives us information.

 

Here we can go back in time like magicians and manipulate experiences.

 

Say what we always wanted to say. Visualize the conversation we always wanted to have.

 

Overcome the fears, heal the past, write a new story for the future.

 

Remembering also gives us the truth. There are no lies in facts.

 

It gives us grief, joy, happiness, laughter,  anger, rage.

 

It gives us moments of softness. Tenderness.

 

Forgiveness and acceptance.

 

When we remember we have the power to see life from a 360 degree view. That is how powerful the mind can be.

 

Remembering gives us insight into growth. Into who we were.

 

In my journey of healing from trauma there have been many times that I didn’t want to remember. My brain tried to keep my safe from seeing, feeling or experiencing memory again.

 

It is only now in the journey of being brave to face it again in a new light that I can sit with the memories that once were terrifying to feel again.

 

A tool that has been an anchor in my healing and writing process that I would love to share with you is from the book Wild Mind.

 

The author shares a writing prompt: “I remember. I don’t remember”.

 

I practiced writing my story using this writing prompt and uncovered so much more.

 

My invitation to you is to brave your story. To go where your mind may fear to go.

 

To ask for support in the process of remembering and to gather all the tools you need for this quest.

From the Abused Daughter: Father’s Day Reflections

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Photo by Sheryl Nields. 

Today I asked Father’s day what I could learn from it.

For years we haven’t had the best relationship.

I dreaded the day it came and wished I could ignore the loud messages of happy moments of little girls with their fathers.

If only I could know what that feels like.

Father’s day responded and said self-love.

Celebrate the men who are good fathers.

The great men who love their children with pure love unconditionally, who show up consistently and relentlessly for their children no matter their life circumstances.

My wounded self wanted to come out and play the same story of hatred towards my father but that story just doesn’t sit well inside of me anymore.

I have grown past the wound like an overgrown toenail ready to fall off.

I can’t celebrate him but I can celebrate my growth, my resiliency and my strength after.

I grieve the opportunity to have a father to call to say I love you and feel safe in saying it.

I see today as a gift to myself and to the great men in my life who show up for their families, children and loved ones and me.

You will be the heroes for the women who have lost faith in men.

Happy Father’s day.

When Your Grief Takes Over

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Grief is such a personal process.

For me I know that I can take my grief out on others.

I retreat, isolate, get irritable and want to be alone.

I lose interest in the things that once made me happy and start to see life as the glass is half-empty rather than half-full.

We all have different coping strategies for grieving.

In my work as a spiritual teacher and medium working with people who have lost their loved ones grief comes up a lot. They all have different ways to cope.

And the one thing that stays the same is that is is hard.

If you are grieving or know someone who is grieving sometimes the best thing you can offer yourself or another is time.

What do you need? What does this person need?

I am learning in moments of grief to ask for support and to not go about it alone.

To be visible and transparent. To let others in and to also get support and resources from expert when I am struggling.

When your grief takes over, pause.

Breathe.

Ask yourself what do you need right now?

The goal isn’t to avoid the pain but to find ways to cope in a healthy way.

To feel better than 5 seconds ago. 5 minutes ago.

Gentle acts of self-love can be big stepping stones for yourself and others.

The road to recovery in grief is your journey.

Look within for the right tools to get you there in a healthy way.

You are not alone.

Creating Healthy Boundaries

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Creating healthy boundaries has been a struggle of mine for many years.

I have fallen into the rescuer, the people pleaser, the need for approval, seeking belonging, seeking validation roles too often.

As I have become more in touch with these parts of me I am taking time to check in with myself so that I do create a healthy boundary for myself in interpersonal relationships.

I am learning what works and doesn’t work for me in my romantic relationship, friendships and family relationships.

I have a tendency to sound mean when I assert myself so I am learning how to assert myself from a firm and honest place.

I think I have anger over the years of times that I didn’t get to voice my boundaries and they were disrespected such as in the case with the sexual abuse from my father.

Creating healthy boundaries is a process of trusting one’s self. Trusting to say no when something truly doesn’t work for you.

As I continue to grow and heal I am learning who I want in my life, how close and what boundaries I need to put up around those people who are unhealthy, energy suckers and or toxic.

It is so important to take a step back and see what you really need in any situation.

What I have learned about boundaries:

  1. Listen to your body. If you are getting a gut response in your body of resistance or NO, LISTEN. Your mind may trick you for different reasons but the body knows. Go with what your body is telling you.
  2. Give it time. Some boundaries are set up over time. You have a boundary with a family member and then it gets broken the first time. Depending on the nature of the boundary the relationship may be immediately done or you may give it time to see if any healing can take place.
  3. Take space. Some situations require space. You may choose to have certain relationships but put those relationships in a place that doesn’t require your time and effort. You may see these people occasionally on your time in a certain fashion that feels healthy to you.
  4. Write about it. When in doubt about a boundary, write about it. Notice what you feel most drawn to after. What is the boundary and what do you need? Honor where your intuition and body are taking you.

At the end of the day if it isn’t working for you then you know the answer. This goes along with anything. From our diets to our thinking to our relationships.

Getting clear on our boundaries and what kind of lives we want to live with the people will impact our growth ten-fold. Surround yourself with a community and people who value what you value.

Telling Your Deepest Dark Secret

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Secrets in the Night (shh, don’t tell anyone)

I have a strange relationship to the night.

If I were to personify it, I imagine the night would be a man.

The night was a man.

An older man with a bald head and black mustache shaped like Hitler’s.

A man old enough to be my father.

Hint: What if he was my father? 

The night had no respect for me.

He would come to me half-naked waking me.

In thirst. Wanting me.

Desiring to put his dick inside of my thirteen year old vagina.

At 2 a.m. relentlessly he came to lie next to me.

[Are you awake?

I want to talk.]

Poking me with his long finger shaped like a penis.

The night would be a fear that would haunt me for years.

I would wake up in the midnight hour kicking and screaming like clockwork.

“GET AWAY FROM ME!”

This time the night wasn’t there by my bedside.

Sleeping next to me. Whispering in my ear how he wanted to fuck me.

This time the night was my partner.

A friend. A stranger.

And sometimes…

No one.

But the shadows.

I hated the night for years.

I had dreams of killing the night.

Murdering him slowly. Torturing him until he was sorry.

[It was your fault.

You wanted it.]

The night never lies.

It shows us the truth of who we are of the darkness that lives inside all of us.

He lived like a disease inside of me until I too was slowly dying.

From the memory of his hands on me. Of his words that haunted me.

That’s why I tell this story.

The night comes to show us the secrets that we are hiding from.

Something I have learned about the secrets we keep is that some of them do slowly kill us.

Which is why I tell this story.

Sharing a secret is like giving away an all-access pass to a room in your house.

It gives us a moment to remember what happened.

It gives us the truth.

And the truth shall set you free, right?

The Tale & Healing from Sexual Abuse

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Last night I watched The Tale, a new movie on HBO based on true events of the director Jennifer Fox’s life. She was sexually abused by her running coach at thirteen.

Usually I opt out of watching these movies because they do trigger me. For anyone reading if you watch the movie, know that you might be triggered.

There are some graphic scenes that made me sick to my stomach.

I saw myself in the main character. She resonated with me in her journey of discovering that she was sexually abused and accepting it.

I don’t know about every woman but I do know that for years I couldn’t accept the truth. It was a slow agonizing process to realize that my father wanted to have sex with me.

Even as I type these words I feel sick to my stomach.

Watching The Tale last night only magnified my feelings around sexual trauma.

I was very promiscuous in my twenties. I experimented with women. I experimented with polyamory relationships. I have wondered if my experimenting had anything to do with the trauma around intimacy.

In the film, the perpetrator tells the victim it was her. He was in his forties and she was a thirteen year old girl. It was her fault that it happened.

I remember many times my father saying the exact same words.

It was my fault. I wanted it. 

The journey of sharing my story has been a slow process.

I have held shame around it as if I was the cause of all the abuse.

I know now that it isn’t the case.

I felt an obligation to protect my parents. I shouldn’t talk badly about them. 

Or talk about what happened.

If you ever find yourself saying shouldn’t remove it from the sentence immediately.

It only brings guilt.

I lived with another family at sixteen.

In the film the main character idolizes two adults who become like her family.

I remember idolizing this family as well.

They adopted me and I moved in with them.

As the adopted father and I grew closer I remember several conversations of him sharing that if he had met me years before his wife we would be together.

I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework.

I remember thinking, “Oh no. This can’t be happening again.”.

It was a scary life for me as a budding teenager.

I know that many times I thought I should try dating women because then I’d be safe.

I wasn’t particularly sexually attracted to them as I was emotionally.

I wanted to feel safe.

They made me feel safe.

The Tale shows that a young girl wants to feel special especially by her family.

To feel safe. And loved.

We all do.

The main character freed herself in her own way by speaking her truth.

But remember this is based on the director’s life.

I admire Jennifer Fox for taking her pain and creating a powerful message with it.

I am just starting to really talk about the years of trauma I experienced.

Thank you Jennifer for being a voice for us. For giving us perspective into your journey.

I look forward to taking my story and impacting millions of women with it.