Category: Coping & Support

Talking it out

I have been to exactly 6 sessions of therapy now. Three with the initial guy and three with the woman who had been pushing the meds.

I try to rationalize not going every time.

I still think most therapists are self absorbed douche-lords (sorry to my friends and family in this profession) and I sometimes can’t help but think I could do a much better job at it which leads to bitter thoughts on profession choice which leads to even more bitter thoughts on how I didn’t really have a choice to choose a profession.

I’m not sure if it is helpful but I did have a sort of mini revelation the other day when meeting with the woman therapist. The man was always talking about himself, but she is a tiny bit more contemplative and encouraging. I’m not the kind to open up easily.

I Didn’t Care for the Way She Started Our Session

“So, shall we talk about some of your issues?”

Screw you lady. What issues? You are going to have to narrow it down a bit.

I could tell she didn’t remember me at all and had no idea what my issues even were. For a brief second I entertained telling her I had cut back on stealing from department stores and had slowed way down on my illegal drug smuggling activities and midget porn. She might not have realized I was being sarcastic though so I held off.

She wasn’t getting much out of me so she started talking meds.

She said she was going to put me on Zoloft and I got a little pissed. The last time I saw her she told me she would be me on a reaction list so that nobody would prescribe the SSRIs anymore because they have an adverse effect on me. I told her in detail what they do to me and even shared what I wrote on this site with her about my Zoloft/Prozac experience. I almost agreed though just to see if she really had put me on a reaction list and to see if she was honestly going to try to push it on me again. That would have been all the ammunition I needed to never return.

I asked her why they hadn’t found a way to put alcohol into a pill form and prescribe that because if I have a couple of drinks when I am feeling anxious I’m good. I just need to force myself to stop at a couple.

She didn’t think it was funny.

Then we just sat in silence for a bit.

I told her she was making me uncomfortable. She wanted to know why. I told her I actually felt threatened and was getting anxious. She apologized but still didn’t know why. I didn’t know why. I kept thinking of bullshit reasons but knew none of them were accurate. If I’m going to endure this torture I want to actually attempt to figure things out. I’m not in it for the entertainment value.

Then I Kind of Realized What It Was

Usually whenever someone pays undivided attention to me there is malicious intent behind the attention. Certainly more so as a child but even as an adult. There is frequently an agenda whenever anyone is kind or listens or pays too much to me in any way. At least I feel this way because of past experiences. It freaked me out and I told her so. Then she tried filling up the silence like the other guy. It was annoying but at least I didn’t feel like I was about to be attacked or cemented into a wall.

I wish there was a better solution. This is going to be a long, torturous road.

Trust Issues

Something that is difficult to explain to those who have not lived through violation as a child is the monumental effort it requires to try to trust anyone or anything in life.

I’m fairly certain that I have never experienced a “healthy” relationship.

Ever.

I don’t even know what that means.

I wasn’t given the tools to build trust or to engage in productive connection building outside of the hell I was trying to navigate as a young child. That was my normal. My reality. My “healthy”.

I have often heard other survivors express that they feel as if they have a target on their backs. That predators, sexual or otherwise, can sense us from miles away and are able to find and easily exploit our weakness. Hurt us over and over again.

I would love nothing more than to say this isn’t true, but in my experience it is incredibly accurate.

If you are taught from an early age that your own needs don’t matter and that your sole purpose is to gratify the physical needs of others, your sense of security when it comes to anything outside of humiliation makes it challenging to have a healthy relationship.

If you were conditioned to feel guilty beyond measure and manipulated to not think about what your individual needs might be outside of your abusers, chances are you are going to attract further abuse.

Too Many People Pray on This Particular Weakness

Far too many people in life pray on this particular weakness. They thrive on power and control.

Too many times I have experienced re victimization by those I falsely believed were different only to be exploited again. Not just in physical relationships, but in any way possible. Professionally, within “friendships”, from agencies that are meant to help, doctors, therapists, family members. The list goes on and on.

How do you trust when not given the opportunity to do so without being betrayed and how do you heal when either subconsciously or forcefully repeating the same patterns of dysfunction over and over?

How do you articulate that you just don’t have the energy to be manipulated or hurt anymore? That you walk with your shoulders down staring at the ground because it is easier than making eye contact with anyone that is bound to try to destroy what little of yourself might be left? That you feel like a walking chalk outline, just waiting for the next person to come along and breathe in your direction, blowing away any false hope that might be holding you together?

Rebuilding My Relationship with Myself

How do you explain this to others without possibly sounding a bit insane?

No. I don’t know how to have a healthy relationship. I have absolutely no idea what that even means.

But I’m working on it.

I’m going to start by attempting to rebuild the one I never had with myself. Hopefully if I go back that far and learn to trust and listen to that little girl first, I will find that not everyone in the world is out to re victimize the broken.

At the very least, I will be confident enough to look up from the ground long enough to see them coming.

Living as an Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Navigating through life’s adult challenges can be difficult enough, let alone if you are the survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). The effects of CSA can be long-term, and can be physicalemotional, and mental in nature.1 Many of these effects can impact the way a survivor creates and maintains relationships, how they are able to parent their own children, and how they navigate their own personal health care needs.

Childhood sexual abuse can impact many aspects of life

Survivors of CSA may also be less likely to attain higher levels of education, higher salaries, and better, more fulfilling jobs when compared to their non-abused peers.2,3 This may be due to feelings of low self-worth or self-confidence, physical health issues, such as chronic fatigue or chronic pain, or issues regarding mental health, including severe anxiety or depression. Triggersmay be everywhere for adult survivors, and may be present in common experiences including routine examinations at the doctor’s office, being intimate with another individual, or even in regular parenting or childcare experiences, such as changing diapers, breastfeeding, or showing children positive affection.

Every experience is unique, and there are resources that can help

It’s important to remember that there is no specific way a survivor of CSA should be expected to navigate their adult life. Everyone’s triggers, experiences, and personal narratives will be incredibly different, and can lead to different life paths and events. However, something that is common to all adult survivors of CSA is that no matter how long ago the abuse was, the characteristics of the abuse, or where you’re at in life now, there is always time and resources available to help. Whether it’s in finding a job, learning how to navigate higher education options, exploring a healthy, intimate relationship, and more, there are organizations and allies out there to assist you in whatever you may need. Although it may be the hardest step, disclosing your history, in as much or as little detail as you need, may be a great place to start in order to access help in navigating whatever you’re struggling with.

As always, life will present its challenges to everyone, regardless of their past abuse history. However, it is important to watch for signs (in yourself or in a loved one) of unhealthy coping behaviors. In some cases, professional support may be needed, and can take the form of medication, therapy, counseling, support groups and more.Sign up to receive updates from Gravity Network!

References

  1. Hall M, Hall J. The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse: Counseling implications. American Counseling Association. https://www.counseling.org/docs/disaster-and-trauma_sexual-abuse/long-term-effects-of-childhood-sexual-abuse.pdf?sfvrsn=2. Published 2011. Accessed January 5, 2018.
  2. Zielinski DS. Long-term socioeconomic impact of child abuse and neglect: Implications for Policy. Purdue University, College of Health and Human Sciences. https://www.purdue.edu/hhs/hdfs/fii/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/s_nmfis02c03.pdf. Accessed January 5, 2018.
  3. Hardner K, Wolf MR, Rinfrette ES. Examining the relationship between higher educational attainment, trauma symptoms, and internalizing behaviors in child sexual abuse survivors. Child Abuse Negl. 23 Oct 2017. Abstract available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29074261 Accessed January 5, 2018.
Self-Care and Healing after Abuse

No matter where an individual is at in their healing process, self-care can help manage the effects of living as an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Self-care involves putting your own needs first and participating in activities that make you happy. It also involves practicing healthy behaviors and surrounding yourself with individuals that support you and contribute to your positivity. Self-care can be physical or emotional in nature, and every individual’s self-care practices will be different.1

Physical self-care involves keeping your body in the best condition you can, in order to be ready for whatever comes next. Strong physical health can help you recover from being emotionally drained and may lead to a variety of other health benefits.

There are many examples of self-care

  • Good sleep: Getting adequate amounts of sleep can help your body recharge and be strong for the next hurdle that you may need to face. Getting to bed early and following a routine may help lead to better overall sleep patterns and quality.
  • Eating well: The food we eat provides us with our fuel. Eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables as opposed to lots of processed foods and sugars will help keep our energy levels up and our bodies in good condition.
  • Exercise: Exercise makes our body physically strong. Exercise also produces endorphins and can lead to improvements in mood. Finding exercise activities that you enjoy or engaging in your exercise routine with a friend may be an added boost.
  • Finding activities that you love: Finding hobbies, activities, or routines that provide you with stability, fun, or peace may help you feel refreshed and rejuvenated whenever you participate in them.

Emotional self-care efforts focus on your mind and mental health

Emotional self-care involves keeping your mind and mental health in the best condition you can. Examples of emotional self-care include, but are not limited to:

  • Finding activities that you love: Just like when practicing physical self-care, finding and regularly participating in activities that make you happy may improve your mindset.
  • Journaling: Keeping a journal, whether it be daily, weekly, monthly, or whatever schedule you can keep up, can help you track your emotions. It can also help you find patterns in the way you’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing the world. Keeping a journal is also an excellent way to release any frustrating, confusing, or debilitating emotions.
  • Meditating: Practicing meditation or mindfulness may help quiet your mind and allow you to gain a strong perception on what you need. Practicing meditation or mindfulness can be based on whatever schedule you feel comfortable with and can help you identify and combat mental and emotional health issues you may be struggling with.
  • Surrounding yourself with positive people: The people we keep around us have an impact on the way we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Keeping positive family, friends, or other supportive individuals around you may have a direct impact on your mental wellbeing.1
Coping

Coping

Some of you may be wondering why I have shared this picture of frogs. Others, who are disnerds like me, may be wondering why the photo of Tiana and Naveen. They are not my favorites, it’s not a covert message that I thought I would share. Instead, last night, they were a coping mechanism.

Will I be ok this time, or will I have a meltdown

I was triggered last night at the Magic Kingdom, the one place in the world that my problems don’t tend to affect me. Part of it was because I have discovered one of my triggers in the last year. That nursery rhyme that starts, “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight.” It was part of our nightly prayers with my abuser, and the day I heard his voice in my ear is the day I realized why I hated that rhyme. I hear it and immediately want to be sick. It makes me angry, and afraid, and my reaction tends to be out of control. Part of me thinks that being consciously aware of it should help, but I fear the anxiety that grips me every time I hear it, wondering whether I’ll be okay this time or if I’ll have a meltdown.

Last night, I had a meltdown. I called my Mom in hysterics, unsure of what to do with myself as I waited for my bus home. Now, I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again now. My Mother is the best. She talked me down, reminded me of my strength, and made me tell her all the wonderful things I had done with the rest of my day, even though I’m sure it wasn’t easy to listen to me like that. And when I got home, she told me to get some sleep, and reassured me that she loved me.

I didn’t sleep though. Instead, I grabbed the coloring book I have of Disney animals, and colored a page, blasting Carrie Underwood’s So Small in my ears until my roommates got home. I talked with them, and continued my coloring after they went to bed. I colored and listened to that song until all traces of him were scrubbed from my conscious thought.

Healing is a process

Now you may be wondering why I am telling you all this. I tell you this because I worry that I am falling into a trap that I don’t like. When I created my blog, I did it because I always wanted people to know that someone out there gets it. Because we don’t always see how this may affect our favorite celebrities who have been through the same thing on a day to day basis. And I worry that by being an activist, people may not think that I struggle with the healing process. How outspoken you are or aren’t doesn’t show all the work that you’ve done. Having a bad day doesn’t mean that all the work you have done is invalid. Healing is a process. It’s never the same for any one person, and I never want anyone to discount their healing because they think that someone else is doing better.

Today is a better day. I made food for the week, I’m going to work, I got to know one of my roommates a little better, and I’m still in a better spot than I was a few years ago. And I want to thank every single one of you for listening to my ramblings about a subject people don’t want to talk about. I’m thankful for you, I’m thankful for life, and I’m thankful that I’m in the spot I’m in today.

For anyone having a bad day today, you’re so much stronger than the shit that life is throwing at you. I believe in you.

This post was originally published on June 26, 2016

A Place to Scream

Originally published April 30, 2018

Finally realizing I needed to be accountable to myself and release some of my childhood pain led me to writing about my past experiences.

Sharing my worst secrets and thoughts publicly was not something I ever envisioned doing. I never in my wildest imaginings thought that maybe someday anything I had to say would matter.

I’m not even a writer. I needed an outlet to try to prevent my very real and incredibly fast fall from grace from accelerating. Instead of numbing those thoughts or pretending they didn’t exist I forced myself to explore them. I wrote them down. I got them out.

One day I felt like writing for myself wasn’t good enough. I needed to share it.

I have things to say.

My voice and the right to use it was taken from me before I even knew I could make my own choices. I have been holding this crap inside for far too long. Creating a world of isolation and blame for things I never set in to motion.Things that should never happen to anyone yet continue to happen on a daily basis to children everywhere.

I was conditioned to feel that I needed to keep carrying the baggage silently.

Made to feel that I somehow earned and deserved it. Most victims of childhood sexual abuse are made to feel that way. It ensures our compliance, further enabling the abuser to continue hurting the victim.

Through sharing my thoughts, fears and memories I have found that there is a need for survivors to feel that they are not alone. So many have reached out to say thank you and ask me to write more. I am trying to find a way to reach those that need it most. Many of my readers and friends have suggested more social networking kind of thing. It scares the hell out of me because I don’t really know what I am doing. I also have that irrational fear that by starting a blog or creating a page or writing a book I will be seen as whiny or dramatic or trying to clamor for attention.

I am by nature the exact opposite of anyone that enjoys and/or seeks attention.

I’m doing it anyways.

I would rather “like” a page that brings awareness to a topic that is important than to some insignificant bullsh*t that steals our time and dulls our thoughts and prevents us from fighting for or thinking about things that matter.

I hope that my rage doesn’t diminish anybodies interest in what I have to say. It is a powerful message. My delivery at times is not tactful. My thoughts at times are erratic and may seem childlike in their delivery.

That is because they are.

I’m just now learning how to voice the injustice of what unfolded when I was young.

I’m just now trying to being heard.

I’m throwing an adult temper tantrum and people are responding and relating to my screams.

Far more than I ever expected.

Too many.

The more support we have in being able to speak the unspeakable or feel safe enough to scream instead of remaining silent the better our chances are of saving a child from what we had to endure.

To me, that makes it all worth it.

Healing from Trauma with Self-Compassion

The knife in her desk drawer was there as long as she could remember. She has no memory of when she pilfered it from the kitchen, but there it lay, next to the Bic pens and the lined looseleaf paper. But she does remember clearly why she took it and why it remained there all these years later … it made her feel safe, in an environment and a home where she felt very much in danger. This way, she knew that if he came after her again, she’d be able to defend herself.

The need to feel safe is perhaps our most basic human need.

If we feel threatened, if we feel in danger either physically or psychologically, our biology demands that we protect ourselves. Survival always comes first. So our physiology dictates that we defend ourselves either by fighting back, or the alternative – doing whatever we can to escape the danger. This might mean physically leaving the situation, if we can, or if not, leaving psychologically – finding some place to escape in our minds so that we are emotionally removed from the terror.

This is our physiological stress response, better known as the fight and flight response. Our level of stress hormones increase, so that blood flows to our extremities and we are physically able to run from the danger. If we remain in a state of stress or fear, or if we are continually provoked, our stress hormones stay elevated. Elevated stress hormones over time can wreak havoc on our bodies, and is often associated with depression, anxiety, and physical ailments such as heart disease, chronic pain and autoimmune disorders. Those of us who experienced trauma as children often remain on high alert for the rest of our lives, ready to escape should the danger – or anything we perceive might be danger – appear again.

Knowing that these traumatic events are a part of our past, and therefore an integral part of the fabric of who we are, we cannot pretend that we can live our lives hiding from them. As much as we would love to bury these memories, we cannot escape them – we cannot escape our past. So, the only way that we can ever hope to heal then is by allowing the feelings in, bit by bit, as much as we are able. And at each step, at each tiny increment of the door opening to allow in a pebble that has broken free from the mountain of anger, we flood ourselves with love and compassion. For the hurt that we felt. For the desperate sobs into the pillow, for the loss of innocence too young, for the relentless shame held in our hearts for far too long. But we are human, and as human beings, we deserve self-compassion. And we can give this to ourselves.

How do we define self-compassion?


Kristin Neff, PhD, informally defined self-compassion as “treating ourselves the way we would treat a good friend who was suffering”, knowing that almost 80% of us treat our good friends better than we treat ourselves1. Research has shown that people who are more self-compassionate have less depression, anxiety, and less stress than those who are less self-compassionate2.

How do we become more self-compassionate – how do we start treating ourselves kindly when we’ve spent a lifetime treating ourselves like dirt?

It’s a process, and a practice. It may not happen overnight. But it can be done. Research has demonstrated this fact3, and anecdotally, I’ve heard from many of the students in my self-compassion class that it has transformed their lives. When this transformation takes place, your whole outlook on life changes – mood, sense of self, the way you relate to others. The “dark place” built from past memories is always there, but it becomes softer, grayer, and so much less significant, fading into the background of our hearts. Barely alive, like remnants from another lifetime.

How do you get started?

Information on self-compassion can be found on Kristin Neff’s website: www.self-compassion.org . Kristin Neff and Chris Germer, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Harvard (www.chrisgermer.org) , created an 8-week course called Mindful Self-Compassion specifically to cultivate self-compassion. This is the course that I teach, and that we have heard from so many that it is life-changing. Information about the course can be found at www.centerformsc.org.

And what about that knife in the desk drawer? An old friend from the past, a fond but no longer needed memory. And the person terrorizing her? Long gone, a horribly confused, emotionally tortured person, who had also been terrorized by ghosts from his own youth.

Survival comes first in our physiology, but compassion must come first in our relationships, and most of all, in our relationship with ourselves.

References

Neff, K. D., & Knox, M. (2017). Self-Compassion. In V. Zeigler-Hill & T. Shackelford
(Ed.), Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. New York: Springer.
MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical psychology review, 32(6), 545-552.
Neff, K. D., & Germer, C. K. (2013). A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self‐compassion program. Journal of clinical psychology, 69(1), 28-44.

My Toolbox

By Anthony Carrone

In my last article, I mentioned the tools I try to use every day to continue coping with my memories of sexual abuse. For me, coping is a never-ending process. Unfortunately, my tools don’t make the memories go away, but I can’t think of a healthy alternative that does. Like many tool boxes, the tools in my box were acquired over time. I don’t use all of my tools every day, and sometimes I need WD-40 to get them working correctly, but knowing I have a set to use is helpful in its own way.

My toolbox:

  • Staying active
  • To-do list
  • Charity
  • Mindfulness meditations
  • Journaling/Storytelling

Staying active

Finding ways to stay active has played a major role in coping with my troubling memories. In addition to all of the known benefits of staying active, for me, it brings back favorable memories and feelings from my childhood. Some of my favorite memories were made playing baseball and camping with my friends. Staying physically active has allowed me to reminisce about those times while creating new memories with my new friends. Completing a game or a difficult hike also provides me with a sense of accomplishment that feels really good!  

To-do lists

Some mornings, I wake up feeling anxious or depressed and feel like there is nothing that will get me out of bed. It would be so easy to turn over and go back to sleep. What I have found is that making a to-do list helps me get past that initial morning depression and jumpstart my day in a much more positive way. I actually use a cheat code for this – Let me explain. On those difficult mornings, after I realize I am dangerously close to falling into a non-productive day, I get up and make my bed (I know this is not always easy – but it got easier with repetition) After I make my bed, I create a checklist of things I need to get done. My trick is adding “MAKE YOUR BED” as the first task on my list and immediately checking it off. Oh, it is so satisfying! It may seem silly, but sometimes that small sense of accomplishment is what I need to change the trajectory of my day.

Charity

Practicing random acts of kindness and charity every day is, I think, one of the most effective ways to cope and also make a real difference in someone else’s day. Charity does not have to be monetary or even publicized to make a difference or be an effective tool in your kit. Unselfishly giving your time, love and attention creates a positive energy that you and people around you will benefit from.

Mindfulness meditation

Meditation has been the most useful tool in my toolbox. Actually, it may be the material many of my tools are crafted from.  Or maybe it’s what my toolbox is made of?  Anyway, before I lose you… Practicing mindfulness meditation has changed my life. Most of us are mindful at some point during the day, but it’s really difficult to stay in that zone.  Sometimes we are distracted by a thought from our past that brings up uncomfortable memories. For me, if I let it, those thoughts have the potential to bring me to a dark place, usually filled with anger and a case of the f*ck its. A place where my mind is racing all over the place, but my body is paralyzed – a feeling of defeat. Practicing mindfulness through meditation has helped me recognizing when these intrusive thoughts arise, accept them, and get my mind back to the current moment – Like when I am having trouble getting up in the morning, recognize my negative emotions and decide to make a to-do list to help get me started.  There are many different styles of meditation, so if mindfulness is not the way for you, check out some other forms of meditation that seem like a better fit!

Journaling and storytelling

Getting my thoughts out, one way or another, has always helped me cope with what I am feeling inside. What I like about journaling is the ability to go back and actually read my own words about what I was thinking or feeling during that moment – it’s right there in front of me. It also helps me see my own potential behavioral patterns. If I notice I am feeling a certain way, I’ll often go back to my journal to see when I’ve felt that way before. If I have, I’ll recall how I reacted and review how that worked out for me. Finding a group of friends or an outlet like Gravity Network to share your thoughts with can be super helpful.

As I said earlier, these tools have not deleted my memories of sexual abuse, but they have taught me skills to live a happy life without blaming myself for other’s actions. I plan to stay physically active and remain healthy to help find the joy in things I used to love. I will do my best to make to-do lists to help me stay on top of my daily tasks when my emotions want to distract me. I will give my time and attention to other who need it, because others have been there for me when I needed to be lifted up. I will practice mindfulness to remain aware of my true self and chart the path to my brightest future. And I will continue to tell my story through personal journaling and this blog, not only for myself, but for others who read and are going through their own struggles.

Talking it out

I have been to exactly 6 sessions of therapy now. Three with the initial guy and three with the woman who had been pushing the meds.

I try to rationalize not going every time.

I still think most therapists are self absorbed douche-lords (sorry to my friends and family in this profession) and I sometimes can’t help but think I could do a much better job at it which leads to bitter thoughts on profession choice which leads to even more bitter thoughts on how I didn’t really have a choice to choose a profession.

I’m not sure if it is helpful but I did have a sort of mini revelation the other day when meeting with the woman therapist. The man was always talking about himself, but she is a tiny bit more contemplative and encouraging. I’m not the kind to open up easily.

Continue reading “Talking it out”

Trust Issues

Something that is difficult to explain to those who have not lived through violation as a child is the monumental effort it requires to try to trust anyone or anything in life.

I’m fairly certain that I have never experienced a “healthy” relationship.

Ever.

I don’t even know what that means.

I wasn’t given the tools to build trust or to engage in productive connection building outside of the hell I was trying to navigate as a young child. That was my normal. My reality. My “healthy”.

I have often heard other survivors express that they feel as if they have a target on their backs. That predators, sexual or otherwise, can sense us from miles away and are able to find and easily exploit our weakness. Hurt us over and over again.

Continue reading “Trust Issues”