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My Truth

I was living in “Happy Valley”. A place where College Football ruled the town, we chant “We Are” on command, we know our neighbors and everyone feels safe. Safe from the scary things that happened in the rest of the world. What I didn’t know, was that there was a terrible secret being kept. It would cause a divide: those that believed and those that didn’t. A head coach would lose his job, a university would be tarnished, Victims would come forward, countless allegations and conspiracy  theories would emerge.   A media storm was beginning, and the whole world was watching. Quietly, away from the media noise, I was coming undone.

I knew some of these people. I obsessed about them. I could not get enough information. I laid in bed at night and agonized over the lifelong pain these victims would experience. Thinking about these men, going in to a court room to tell the world their deepest, darkest secrets – their nightmares really, was too much to bare. Listening to people question the validity of their stories, the judgements being passed on the victims, adults not protecting them, imagining how they must feel opening up their most vulnerable selves while the world watched was killing me. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t close my eyes tight enough to make my own abuse go away.

I was 6 when it started. A neighbor boy would babysit my sister and I , so my parents could enjoy a night out. He was 14. I trusted him. When he said it was okay for me to take my clothes off, I did. At first it was an exchange. “Do you want to stay up late?” If so, all I had to do was strip my little body naked, and let him stare at me. Bend over, let him see all the parts of me that my mom said were private. I knew it was wrong, but I kept doing it. Before long, looking at me wasn’t enough. He wanted more. The physical abuse went on for 2 years. During that time, I  learned how to leave my body, and feel nothing. The demands kept growing, substantially.  When I resisted, he would tell me that If my parents knew what I was doing for him, they would be disgusted by me. I was bad. When I would try to fight him, he would say that if I didn’t do what he wanted, he would hurt my little sister, do worse things to her. Most of the time, I gave in. I gave him what he wanted so that he would leave her alone.  My natural instincts to protect her, almost always won out. The times I didn’t protect her, haunt me more than my own abuse does.

My sister was the one to finally break the silence. When my parents found out, they were angry, sad and scared. They confronted him. They told his parents.  They had a counselor come to the house once. She brought dolls and wanted me to show her what happened. I felt embarrassed. I felt bad. I felt small.  My dad left the room. It reinforced to me, what I already knew. I was bad. That somehow, I caused this. We continued to live across the street from our abuser. Nothing much happened after that.

I spent the rest of my life fighting a monster that I carried with me. Mostly, I kept my secret and shame locked away in the part of my heart that had learned how to be void of feelings.  When I had my own daughter, I was  so paranoid that someone would abuse her, that I changed her daycare 5 times. I would think about someone hurting her, and I would feel rage. I never trusted men. I barely trusted myself. I would remember his touch on my skin, his eyes on my body and I would think to myself, I created that monster. I was bad. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t tell. When the thoughts became too much, I would close my eyes as tight as I could, and they would go away. On some level I knew it was effecting my life, but somehow I believed that I controlled it. I could make the thoughts go away. Then the scandal broke and there was nothing I could do to make the visions of my abuse go away. They were taunting me. It was as if what I had spent a lifetime burying was unraveling and I was powerless to stop it. Every time I closed my eyes, my monster was there. Staring at me.

As I listened to news reporters speculate on the victims, what motivated them to come forward, why they kept it in for so long, how a community turned a blind eye to the years of abuse, I kept coming back to one thought; Keeping this secret was breeding shame and guilt.  I finally understood that the only way I would heal was to talk about it. As an adult, fear followed me….. and all I had to do was talk to my family. I didn’t have to sit in a courthouse and tell the world about my abuse. I didn’t have to defend myself as a child that was abused, I didn’t have to deal with the validity of my story being questioned, and yet I was terrified. I needed to apologize to my sister, for not always protecting her. When I told her out loud that I was so sorry, that sometimes I was relieved when he left me alone, I felt a weight lift from me that I never even knew I was carrying. It was an emotional release, and I only wish I hadn’t waited so many years to let it out. The pain still stings at times. I hurt for my 7-year-old self. Not just for the abuse that she suffered, but for the emotional scars she carried around her whole life. I ache for the years I questioned my self-worth, for the years I didn’t see my value, for the years I only saw a broken girl that wasn’t worthy of love. I still have struggles, but I am free of my monster. He tried to destroy me, but I am still standing.

Kristen

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When Boundaries Are Hard

Triggers. We all have them.

It could be a pat on the back, a playful tickle, or an innocent violation of personal space that triggers you. And all of a sudden your body reacts and panic overcomes you.

I haven’t quite figured out what it is that panics. My logical, rational brain knows and understands that the person who touches and triggers me is safe. It could be someone I love, someone I trust, but the part of me that was abused jumps out of my skin and makes me feel like I’ve lost control. My heart races and whatever it is in me that demands safety, urges me to confront them.

I’ve had to confront three people that I can recall about the way they touch me. All of them are safe. All of them are trustworthy. All of them meant only good. But my body remembers the abuse and associates a loving touch with pain and a lack of control.

The first one was my dad. I hated telling him, but my body demanded that I set a boundary. I had to ask my father not to initiate hugging me. I told him with my sister who was also abused and needed to set the same boundary. She was overcome with guilt after he walked away. Teary-eyed, I told her that he was more upset with the men who hurt us and made us have to have that conversation than he was with us for having it.

A few months went by and my father can hug me without me panicking. My body finally agreed with my rational brain that he is safe. It took some time but healing takes time. Healing takes boundaries that are hard to set. But healing WILL HAPPEN.

The second two were friends. Their playful touches were affectionate and kind, with every good intention. Again, my brain knew this, but my body refused to accept it. They are safe so I told them both, “I have PTSD and you can’t do that, it freaks me out.” They responded with apologetic hearts full of grace. They respected my boundaries, even though they were hard to set.

Boundaries with friends and loved ones are easier for me than with strangers. I don’t want to tell strangers that “I have PTSD so please stop standing so close to me” or “Please don’t grab my arm, I don’t know you,” I want them just to know better. I work in a retail environment and am constantly surrounded by people. Customers invade my personal space on a daily basis and assume its appropriate to touch me. They mean well and aren’t trying to hurt me, but my body doesn’t care.

When they stand too close, I back up hoping they will receive the non-verbal message I’m sending them. When they touch me, I gage the situation quickly and either speak up or step back. Fight or flight. I usually choose flight, not wanting to be confrontational. But sometimes, I have to choose flight because my body forces me to.

I had a male customer touch my arm one day and before I could stop them, the words, “Please don’t touch me,” escaped my mouth. I shocked myself with this boundary. He was apologetic and crossed his arms for the rest of our interaction. Your body will choose fight or flight without consulting you first sometimes. It will demand fight or flight in seconds and all of a sudden you’re in this out-of-body fighting or fleeing.

I have to believe that it will get better. It did with my dad, so it has to with other people right? But I worry that I’ll never be able to have healthy relationships because of the abuse I’ve suffered. I worry that the walls my fear has built will always be too thick to let anyone in again.  I worry that my anxiety will keep me from enjoying close relationships. And then I remember the healing my Jesus has given me. I remember how far I’ve come. How much braver I am. How much stronger I am. I remember the warrior He’s made me to be.

If I’m honest, I’m afraid for tomorrow. Rationally, I know it will probably be okay, but the PTSD keeps me concerned. I just have to keep walking. Keep trusting my Heavenly Father. Keep practicing healthy coping skills. And keep setting boundaries. I have to walk in confidence and faith even when I don’t feel it.

Keep walking, dear warriors. Set your boundaries. Do your thing. You’ve got this.

skylerfulleredited9 Skyler Fuller

 

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From Victim to Survivor:   Part I

I was four years old, and I dreaded the day because I had to visit my biological mother, Leah. Leah was only allowed legal visitation rights because of her history of violence towards me since birth. She also shared a tiny dilapidated apartment with a creepy, monstrous man named Barry. I was sitting in the kitchen by myself when Leah calmly called me into the other room.

Alarmed, I noticed that the room was staged; three chairs were perfectly arranged in the middle. It had never looked like that before and I felt confused. Leah told me to take off all of my clothes. I remember that I was wearing my favorite pair of denim overalls. I did what I was told, but I felt so exposed, especially in front of Bruce. As I sat in the third chair, I felt perplexed and nervous.

As Leah started to speak in a normal tone, I figured everything out. She told me to stand up in front of them. I so desperately wanted to cover up my body. Then, she asked the question that will haunt me forever. Leah casually asked Barry for his belt, and he took it off and handed it to her. I knew the torment was about to begin. Leah calmly looked at me and asked, “Who do you love?” I instinctively knew that she wanted me to say that I loved her. I also knew that I was never going to deny my own truth to fulfill her sick and demented reality. I calmly said, “I love Dad, Grandpa, and Grandma.” So, she started wailing me with the belt everywhere, repeating the question over and over.

I didn’t waver as I answered the question the same way. Each time I spoke the truth she hit me harder and harder, all over my body. As physically painful as it was, I kept telling myself, “Don’t give her the satisfaction of winning.” I also told myself that I was strong and I would never give in to her deranged game, no matter what she did to me. I noticed Barry watching and smiling in a disturbing and satisfying way. I felt exposed as he watched me being beaten. Finally, I broke down and started crying because the pain was unbearable. I kept telling myself that she could beat me down as much as she wanted, but she would never make me give in to her sick and demented game. As it progressed, I just could not take it anymore.

From the beginning, I knew it would only take three words to make her stop, although I wasn’t going to give her what she wanted without putting up a fight. And when my body was in too much pain and I was black and blue and bleeding everywhere, I knew I had to do it. I had to put an end to the torture. I reminded myself that I was just lying to her and the truth would always remain with me. So, I said the three words that she so desperately wanted to hear, “I love you!” She stopped hitting me immediately. I’m still not sure if I felt more ashamed of being naked in front of Bruce or guilty for abandoning myself. I remember thinking: She can break my body, but never my spirit.

When my father came to pick me up, he could see I was severely hurt and rushed me to the hospital. Pictures were taken and everything was documented. I vaguely remember talking to a professional, but I do remember trying to protect my mother because as much as I hated her I didn’t want her to get in trouble. Then began my lifetime of protecting my abusers and everybody else but myself. I kept convincing my dad that I was fine. He didn’t mind; he wanted peace at all costs and turned a blind eye to the abuse. The courts took away Leah’s parental rights and she was never allowed to see me again. However, none of that stopped her.

To be continued…

Liz2.png Liz Hope

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Self-Care Is Critical for Thriving

Self-care. Self-love. Selfishness.

 

I used to believe that these three words were related because I didn’t understand why caring for yourself and loving yourself were important. I spent many years neglecting and harming my body, hating myself, and being miserable as a result. However, through my journey of healing I have found self-care and self-love to be vital not only for existing, but for thriving.

 

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety about five years ago. My psychiatrist worked with me to find the right medication to treat them both. Since then, I have been in and out of counseling and this year, I was diagnosed with PTSD due to the abuse and rape I suffered from my ex-fiancé. PTSD has come with its own new challenges apart from my anxiety and depression. It has taken all I am to fight against its persistent symptoms every day. Self-love and self-care have played a huge part in my healing process.

 

For me, self-care has been a trial and error process. I am still learning the best ways to care for myself with grace and love. People don’t come with “How To” manuals like toys do. Everyone was created in a specific way with different personality types, different trauma, and different experiences. Self-care isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of thing. It takes time and patience.

 

I have found several ways to care for myself so that I feel safe, recharged, and ready to face a new day or situation. Some of them include:

 

  1. Taking a nap
  2. Reading my Bible
  3. Praying
  4. Coloring in my coloring book with brightly colored markers
  5. Listening to music
  6. Taking time on my makeup in the morning
  7. Painting my nails
  8. Taking a relaxing bath
  9. Buying ice cream when I get a craving for it
  10. Calling my mom and telling her about my day

 

These are just a few of my favorite ways to care for myself. I am very self-aware and usually know what I need, when I need it. If I have a panic attack or can’t seem to calm down, I try these things until one works. Sometimes it takes time and that can be frustrating, which is why self-care requires so much patience and grace. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to hurt and okay to feel my feelings. I remind myself that my feelings are valid and I am allowed to feel them. I am allowed to be angry with the man who abused and raped me. Sometimes self-care is just letting myself cry about what happened, and sometimes it’s reminding myself that I am worthy of love.

 

The best advice I can give anyone trying to learn how to love and care for themselves is this: be patient and celebrate little victories. Healing takes time. Reprogramming your brain to think loving thoughts about yourself takes time. So be patient. When you start to put self-care into practice- even in little ways- celebrate that! Do not sell yourself short! You are taking steps and moving forward and doing your best to win over your past. You are a survivor. You are a warrior. You are brave. You survived one of the most painful and damaging things, so cut yourself some slack, you’re doing just fine.

blogger   Skyler Fuller

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The Alana James Story

Written by Alana James.

I was exposed to sex at a young age, and I’ve gone through a lot of different forms of abuse my entire life. But, I believe that it’s not what you go through that defines you, it’s who you choose to become as result of the pain!

When I was young my father was abusive sexually, physically, and emotionally. My mother protected me when she could but she was an alcoholic and could also be abusive at times, especially when I became a teenager. At times, it was as if she became jealous of me and stopped caring. The physical abuse got so bad I would run away into unsafe environments. Finally, I told on my father for the sexual abuse because I did not want my younger siblings to go through what I went through. Really, I just wanted my father to get help, not receive punishment. As a result, I was put in the system and became a child of the state. I’ve been on my own since the age of 14, and now I’m in my twenties.

Sexual trauma has threatened to run my life. I can only think of sex, even when I am trying to do and think of non-sexual things. Growing up, I was so promiscuous that I would use sex to survive and eventually became an escort. The escorting world is a different kind of hell not a lot of woman will ever know, fortunately. I tried modeling and acting but got scammed a lot by sleaze balls. I am tired of manipulative people and can see right through them. Every day I work as an escort I am in danger but I don’t want to struggle or go back to my abusive ex-boyfriend who was my only family for so long.

I have had three boyfriends and they have all been severely abusive. Moving around so much all my life has caused me to cross paths with bad people as well. I got caught up in the drug scene, attacked by men, robbed four times (including two times at gun point), witnessed a shooting, and was raped multiple times. I suppose having a boyfriend makes me feel safe, but it’s not a good reason to have one. My last relationship lasted for nine years, and I still visit him because we went through so much history even though he is abusive. I hope one day my past will not alter how people – especially men – treat me in the future, but for now I am surviving. I am working so I can have a better life. I am not proud of what I am doing, but I need and deserve a better life. I have been through too much to stop now.

Sometimes I do wonder if sexual trauma will haunt me forever, but then I remember that I just have to learn to make a lot of good, new memories to overpower the nightmares. I do believe that from the ugliness and darkness, beauty can overpower all of that and shine bright. I hope to one day let my past go; the memories may always be there, but there are more positive opportunities and adventures waiting in the future. Everything I’ve been through has made me who I am today. I have a big heart, I’m strong, and I have a magical spirit that refuses to break regardless of the many who have tried to break it.

 

I look forward, not in my past, and I’m excited for what’s to come: The unknown.

If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, please visit Peaceful Hearts Foundation.
For help regarding domestic violence, please visit The Hotline
For help regarding how to get out of escorting, please visit Women’s Law

If you or someone you know has been a victim of rape, please visit RAINN

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Sitting with my fear and anxiety

For the past two and a half years I have dedicated my life to being a voice for the voiceless and fighting for justice for those who have been hurt. All the while I have been on my own personal healing path. My path, like most healing paths, has been filled with pain but I have also found a lot of love.

Tonight I will give a presentation here in Pennsylvania. I have given 30-40 presentations just like it over the past 2 years, except tonight is different. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and other disorders as a result of having been sexually abused as a child. Through therapy I have learned coping skills and relaxation techniques to alleviate the symptoms when they arise. Today I will call upon all the knowledge I have gained to get me through the event. Why is this event so different from the dozens of others? Why have I not felt this much anxiety since I first decided to disclose my abuse?

Tonight is different because the people who I once loved and who I thought loved me have decided they will attend the event. The same people who attack me and other victims nonstop. The person I called “Mom” for so many years. The same people who write letters to event organizers, when I am to speak, asking them to rescind their offers because I am a liar and a phony. The people who will do anything to silence others and myself when it comes to speaking about child sexual abuse.

Please let me be clear. I do not fear these people nor will they stop me from my mission. The mission of protecting children and creating a society that is accepting and loving of survivors of CSA. The anxiety that I am feeling comes from the revictimization these people are hell bent on delivering. You see their mission is not unique or unexpected in any way. They are not special. This was something I knew would happen at some point. The denial and self-preservation is too strong a force in their lives to see the truth.  They have been groomed, just as we all have been,  by a master perpetrator and cannot break free.

Healing comes through embracing the truth.

So for today I will sit with my anxiety. I will embrace the unknown and tonight I will take the stage.  I made the decision long ago that something else is more important to me than fear. No child should ever have to hurt the way I and the millions like myself have. Survivors deserve to have a society that treats us with love, respect, and compassion. Fear and anxiety are the fuels I use to push me forward as I speak.

So while I may have been triggered by this experience I can get peace knowing that it has offered me growth. The opportunity I have tonight is a blessing. In recovering from child sex abuse I made a promise to myself to always feel, no matter the emotion that came, and to be honest with myself. Tonight I will look fear and anxiety in the face and I will overcome. My message will be heard, I will help save others, and I will overcome every obstacle put in my path.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “you gain strength and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

By: Matthew Sandusky

Shame: A Personal Reflection

 

For the last 29 years I’ve felt ashamed. Ashamed of my body. Ashamed of my appearance. Ashamed of my actions. Ashamed of my choices. Most of all, I have been ashamed of something that I have held so close to my heart but never really attempted to talk about. The abuse my body endured at the hands of someone else has locked me into a closet that I have been unable to let anyone else into.

The shame. The guilt. The mental torment. The secrets. The lies. The weight sometimes feels unbearable. It’s like you want to explode. Instead, you just smile and keep going. I’m pretty sure that explosive, bubbling feeling that is centered right in my gut will always nag at me until I can heal the wounds of my past. It will fester and ooze until I can work through the years of self-blame and shame and doubt. But one day…the wound will heal.

I think the shame feels the heaviest. It’s like toting a weight around with me everywhere I go. It’s like walking around and wondering if I am transparent because it feels as if everyone I pass by can see right through me. They can see my “junk.” They can see my past, my flaws, my brokenness. It’s like they can see that I’m not like them. It’s like they can see all of the blood gushing from the wounds that I keep putting band aids on in hopes that they will just go away. I wonder if they really can see?

In the stillness of the night is when it hurts the most. My mind won’t ever let me completely rest. I always seem to play the woulda, shoulda, coulda game. At 34 years old I still can’t stand the thought of another human being sleeping in my bed. I need my space. I need to know that I am okay on my own. When I can fall asleep I drift off to the lull of the television and the snuggles of my fur babies. The silence is too much for my already racing mind. The silence allows too much grief to creep in. The silence allows it all to come rushing back.

But for today, I will rest knowing I am doing the best I can.

By:  Alison Morrett