The Masks We Wear

Recently, I read an extraordinary article in The New Yorker by Juno Diaz chronocling the painful ramificaations of sexual trauma. The Pulitzer Prize winning author is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and one of the things he wote about was the need to wear a mask to cover his pain and shame (a need many survivors identify with). This poem was inspired by that article.


The Oxford dictionary defines mask as: 1 A covering for all or part of the face,
worn as a disguise.

Some masks are frivolity and fun ~ think Mardi Gras for one.

But for a universe of other others
masks are worn as prosthetics for survival
not charming ornamentations for celebrations.

Carefully crafted
coverings concealing shame
disguises hiding deep seeded pain
splendid rebuttals to muffled cries
desperate deceits ~ blessed lies.

They serve us well.

And yet ~ since The truth shall make you free,
we who wear them to hide our haunted humanity
are prisoners.

Only by dropping our well worn masks
revealing the degrading darkness of hell
can we hope to finally finally bask
in the life giving light outside our cell.

A Critique of Circumferences

I have to remind myself from time to time that I am part of a much bigger whole than I am able to comprehend and that so much more exists and is possible than I can ever imagine.

Like the whole world in a worldwide whirlwind
the center of my life is circled by a never ending dance
of lost and found blind and sighted lost and found
and I fearful as a child abandoned on a playground
dare to find a way out feeling imprisoned ~ but maybe not.

What if a larger presence than this wee world actually exists
within me no matter what I experience and I unknowingly
am out of the circle at home and free to wander mystery
unencumbered by circumferences?

In this new place where perhaps I **have always been
I shall roam as a deer in high places neither lost nor found
and like a tulip bulb in the dark deep damp earth of winter
be free from fear knowing the springs and summers
that bring my ruby red color to grace the land will follow.
I may drink from the French antique porcelain cup with
its hand painted blue bird unconcerned that it could break
or wake up one morning and put on the pale green silk bra
I have been saving for some other love


Dear Friends,

For 24 years, I lived in Los Angeles and during that time, I really missed the seasons ~ for lots of reasons but one is that the seasons (as is true for many of us) act as a metaphor for me emotionally. And now I am in New York City, longing for a little LA sunshine and wishing for spring. In my spirit too, sometimes it feels that I am in winter and will never feel the warmth of sunny days again. And sometimes it seems that others around me do not struggle. Of course neither is true. So wherever you are, just remember healing is a process and YOU ARE NOT ALONE And Spring may be slow coming, but it's on its way...

I wonder if the bare branched trees of winter

envy the evergreens

if they forget or simply wistfully remember

the verdant summers of the past

viewing them as long gone glory days.

Do they chaff at the unfairness of their unchanged neighbors?

Reaching to heaven with naked branches, no place to hide

while others green and growing seemingly thrive?

They do not know, of course, and none of us do

that another glorious spring is already forming

in the deep dark damp earth that houses their roots.*


It seems to me there is so much to be thankful for and yet our pasts replete with the resulting consequences of shame and pain can easily prevent us from truly experiencing  the joy of gratitude. I believe, however, that with courage and wide open hearts,  we can learn a new perspective...

I want to overflow
with gratitude.
Indeed there is so
So much everything.
Why do I stumble
and not sing?

I think it may be easier
than I know
the path nearer
with Sun filled spaces.
But I go
against my will
it seems
into the low places.
Or they pull me.
Who are they?
I forget that I am free.
May I look high
and with heart wide open see
the sky
the glorious, Sun filled sky.

Now What?

With tho onslaught of news regarding sexual abuse, assault, and harassment, I find myself bouncing between three strong emotions:

(1)  gratitude that victims are speaking out and being believed

(2)  sadness that this acknowledgement does not end the deep pain survivors are left with regardless of media coverage.

(3)  grief that countless  victims of sexual trauma continue to suffer in silence.

You Are Not Alone (6 weeks of healing conversation) won't end the pain,           but it will help lessen it ~


And though we are all grateful for the Me Too and Times' Up Movements, let's remember in our hearts the many who are still suffering because of the taboo surrounding sexual abuse and assault. And let's work together to break this dangerous taboo.

Me Too Who

How can it be a little lass of nine
Should feel such guilt and fear the threat of hell?
Too young to name his cruelty a crime
Too damaged and coerced to ever tell.

Me too
Time’s up
So what
Shut up

Rosy cheeked girl who works to find a way
For her sweet child to have a better life
Could not afford to lose her job that day
Besides her mother’s cousin is his wife.

Me too
Time’s up
So what
Shut up

The bashful boy with pimples on his face
Could run like lightening so his coach did say
This dear one’s "yes sir" followed every race
With sleepless nights and silent tears by day.

Me too
Time’s up
So what
Shut up

Will justice for the few forever reign
While numberless nameless suffer such pain?




Rumi said "The wound is the place the light enters in." So let's open our hearts and watch the light stream in....

That big hole of emptiness inside
the one we tenaciously try to minimize and hide
Is really not empty at all.
It is overflowing with hopes and dreams
and lingering longings to know God.
It summons us to search and seek for more.
We must not be afraid of its poignancy.
We are lonesome travelers you and I
and while awaiting our final destination
we vainly use an arsenal of fake ammunition
(it is that which causes us to feel empty)
to shoot down our worldly wanton fears,
to silence screams of already silenced tears.
If we but grasped the truth of our journey of grace
We could rest in this blessed place
With its warring phantoms lurking about
And be warmed by the light streaming through it all.

Let us not tire...

Lest anyone be fooled by the recent onslaught of sexual misconduct stories, the taboo ~ the one that silenced the victims who are now coming forward ~ though challenged is unfortunately still very much alive. I wish it were otherwise. However, in the last decade, I have witnessed other unsavory revelations grab the media’s attention and shock the nation. And each time those of us who have been sexually traumatized have breathed a collective sigh of relief hoping that at last the secrecy and shaming that has crippled so many victims’ lives will no longer be tolerated. But sadly such times are short lived and fade as other sensational stories surface. Our attention span is short and we move seamlessly from sexual crimes to the many other injustices that plague our society, often without looking back. Remember Jerry Sandusky, the Catholic Priests whose crimes became public knowledge, the scandals within the military showing widespread assault of both female and male service members, and the recent Bill Cosby fiasco? And did you know the first sexual harassment suit was filed (and won) in 1975?

The election of Donald Trump has exposed many upsetting things about our nation. Certainly, one of the most troubling is the number of our fellow Americans who are obviously okay with having the most important leadership position in our country occupied by a a man whose egregious sexual misconduct and open admission of misogyny is a simple fact. What, in God's name, are we teaching our children?

So let us not tire. Let us continue to stand up for the rights of all people to be treated with dignity and respect. And when our sisters and brothers are not afforded the decency they deserve, let us speak out ~ long after the Harvey Weinsteins of today have become footnotes in the history of human rights violations.

Anna's Story ~ Me too

My friend Anna bravely posted this beautiful and poignant account on face book.  With her permission, I am sharing it today. Together ~ story by story ~ we are healing our lives...

"I lost my virginity to date rape at 15. A few years later memories began resurfacing of being sexually assaulted in daycare by a woman who was in charge of caring for me. I’ve fought off more than one should have to of unwanted encounters and I know way to many other women and men who have experienced similar misfortunes. It’s heartbreaking and upsetting and the repercussions from these experiences run so much deeper than one can imagine.

But moving on to the healing process. A few months back I had a major breakthrough. I thought I had moved on from all the trauma but what I had done was just bury it, avoid it. It was still there though eating away at me from inside. I didn’t even realize how strong of a hold it had on me until I released it, and this release was completely unplanned. I didn’t even realize I needed it until my lovely friend, Rebecca Beers Street wrote a book on the topic called “You Can Help: A Guide for Family and Friends of Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Assault.”

I didn’t accept the help easily though. I had no desire of revisiting that pain that I thought I had come to terms with. The unsettling feelings began stirring in me when I was invited to her book release launch. I became “sick” and was unable to attend. The emotional pain that was resurfacing began taking on physical manifestations. She gifted me with a copy of her book and I never found the time to read it.

Finally after an evening out with her when once again I had to admit I hadn’t been able to “find the time” to read her book I decided I couldn’t face her again until I did. That night I went home and began reading, and sobbing, and reading, and sobbing, until I felt the darkness that I had been unintentionally holding on to begin to loosen it’s grasp from my body. I felt as if I was purging from this deep pain. I had read many self help books in the past trying to come to terms with things. I had seen many therapists. I think so often we feel alone with our pain but through reading the stories of others that she shares in this book I began to not feel alone with my pain and the healing began. Hopefully all of our me too’s will help any others who are still suffering from this begin moving forward and healing. My love to you all on this journey."


You Are Not Alone

Dear Fellow Survivors,

As we seek to make sense of our lives in the aftermath of sexual trauma, many of us find ourselves feeling alone. The road to recovery is difficult and it's easy to become discouraged, even hopeless.  And yet, my own experience as an incest survivor and my decade long research on sexual trauma have convinced me that the human spirit is unlimited in its ability to heal itself.  To that end,  I am pleased to introduce YOU ARE NOT ALONE, a six week online program offered freely to survivors.

The thrust of my advocacy work thus far has been to reach out to family and friends of survivors and to encourage them to participate in the healing process.  I have experienced so much support for my book, YOU CAN HELP, and am grateful to all the loved ones who have stepped up to the plate. The response from both family and friends as well as survivors themselves has given my life a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.

Nevertheless, this new endeavor born of a determination to share hope directly with my sisters and brothers who have suffered as I have the shame and pain of sexual traumahas been even more rewarding. 

YOU ARE NOT ALONE: Six Weeks of Healing Conversation with Rebecca Street is dedicated to helping survivors fully embrace life with joy and gratitude by providing concrete tools for recovery. I hope you'll join me.


Dear Friends,                                                                                                    

             In these difficult times for our country, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of compassion.  Now more than ever, it seems to me, we need to extend compassion to one another and let our actions reflect the love we carry in our hearts.  

            While doing research for my book, one of the commonalities I observed among the survivors I interviewed was a great capacity for compassion.  This makes me very proud. I am sorry that this compassion has been born out of deep suffering.  However, given that this is a club none of us would have chosen to be members of, I have to say that the people within it are some of the finest people I have ever known. 

            So, fine people,  let us exercise our capacity for compassion generously, even wildly. 

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.                                                                                             

~ The Dalai Lama


The Way of Grief

Because sexual trauma remains a taboo that silences survivors while protecting perpetrators, most people do not understand the pain and shame this epidemic causes.  How can we come together to bring light to this darkness?  How can we end this taboo?

This is the way of grief

Surrounding and cornering one

Inside a prism of alienation

Changing the color of the sky

Adding weight to a hurting heart,

Constricting breath, weakening resolve.


This is the way of grief.

While others, completely unaware,

Go about life with sameness as a friend

Free to see the world as it actually is

(but is it?) with clear skies and rain

simply being rain and not a metaphor.

Breath unchanged, resolve the same.

Free for now from the way of grief.


I suspect most people experience a sense of loss and gain in varying, coinciding degrees. But for many, the loss can sometimes feel much bigger than the gain. This is often true of sexual trauma survivors who have felt the loss of childhood, the loss of innocence, the loss of dignity, and most crushingly the loss of the self. And yet, if we are on this planet to grow and to learn about love, there seems to unfortunately be no better teacher than suffering to educate us. And with such education, there is enormous gain. Indeed, it is no coincidence that so many of our greatest heroes have suffered immeasurable setbacks. I am reminded of course of the 11 women and 8 men who courageously and generously shared stories of recovery in my book, You Can Help.  How thankful I am on this Thanksgiving Day for each one. Indeed, when we are reminded of the possibility of healing and redemption, we are all better for it.  It is for this reason that we love stories where the underdog triumphs or the loser becomes the winner. We are those people. Today I was reading more stories of hope and healing compiled by Stacy Morrison for the Joyful Heart Foundation.  I am thankful for these accounts too and the inspiration they bring. I am thankful to remember that large spiritedness, extraordinary sensitivity,  and compassionate generosity frequently are born of horrendous pain.  Loss and gain.

Overcomerers Already

What a week!  Like so many Americans, I am bereft.  And as I reflect on what to share with those of us who, as a result of sexual trauma,  often more easily feel triggered and thus respond with anxiety and hyper-vigilance, I remember that all the great religions have taught us that suffering makes us stronger.  The many survivors I interviewed for my book were evidence of that.  So, what are the qualities that have enabled us to recover from the crimes committed against us?







Gentleness to self and others



And the possession of a large spirit.

Indeed, these are the same qualities needed for us to move forward now.  This is not the first time in our history that we as a nation have been divided, that darkness has seemed to obfuscate light, that fear has caused our shadow side to prevail.  We survivors, who have much practice in overcoming , have a great deal to contribute in the struggles that lie ahead. 



Wounds Reopened

The remarks by our Republican presidential candidate have caused a wave of nausea among most of us, but particularly among survivors of sexual trauma. I personally have felt myself more frightened than I have been for a long time.  Mr. Trump's remarks threaten, debase, and humiliate women and as a result, many of us feel less safe.

However, as disturbing as the current climate is, there is a positive side to all of this. Sexual trauma is being discussed and the ramifications of abuse and assault are beginning to be recognized in ways greater than the secrets of the past permitted. Let us seize this moment and we shall all be better for it.  You can help.




It took me over a decade to write You Can Help. Much of that time was spent researching and interviewing a wide range of survivors who had experienced either sexual abuse or assault or both. It was often very difficult to read these personal stories as each one, regardless of circumstances, is horrendous in its own way.

Despite of all they had lost, these brave women and men were willing to disclose the most hurtful, private part of their lives with a stranger in the service of helping others.  The motivation for their generosity is that they all wished to share how they were helped in recovery so that loved ones would be empowered to help other victims ~ profound examples of the second commandment:  love your neighbor as yourself.

Quite unexpectedly, it was through their courageous stories that I came to a certain pride in being part of a club we would all give almost anything not to be a part of. Accounts of lives riddled with pain and despair gradually being transformed through hard work and the help of loved ones filled my in inbox.  And though for most, the symptoms of the trauma continue at times to disrupt, the scales are clearly weighted on the side of wholeness rather than brokenness.

This is good news for victims of sexual crimes.  It is clear evidence that none of us has to be defined by our losses, no matter how grievous they are.  It is also good news for all those on the sidelines who have witnessed the ramifications of these crimes on the lives of their loved ones. Because the bottom line is that healing is indeed possible and that the more social support the victims receive the better their chances are to join the ranks of overcomers. 

There are so many inspiring survivor stories about COURAGE and I welcome yours.


Trash to Triumph

In the landfill town of Cateura, Paraguay, there is garbage everywhere and in fact that is the main source of income for its residents: recycling trash.  Until recently, this poverty stricken community was unknown to the world. However, in 2006 something amazing happened.  A children’s orchestra, with instruments made exclusively out of trash, was formed.

In time, the choir has become an example of triumph over adversity, performing all over the world, resulting in scholarships, reducing addictions, and inspiring other impoverished areas to follow suit.

What in the world, you may ask, does this have to do with sexual trauma?  The answer is simple: countless survivors of sexual abuse and assault will tell you (if asked) that the crimes committed against them left them feeling like garbage.  Survivors often and sometimes for long periods of time feel profound shame, suffering from a sense of being dirty and used up. It is no wonder then that The Council for Prostitution Alternatives, Portland, Oregon stated in its annual report that: 85% of prostitutes reported history of sexual abuse in childhood; 70% reported incest. Furthermore, compared to non-victims of crimes, rape victims are 13.4 times more likely to have major alcohol problems and twenty-six times more likely to have drug abuse problems.

Arguably these behaviors are a logical response to feeling like garbage.

 So the challenge then is how to help a human being who was robbed of worth believe in the inherent possibilities of transformation. If actual trash can be recycled to make beautiful music, surely the soul can find its true home in the knowledge of its essential purity.  Many survivors are heroically engaged in this pursuit.  We must not give up. YOU CAN HELP.

Misplaced Blame

’d like to talk about misplaced blame today.  When it comes to sexual abuse and assault, it seems to me the most obvious and yet apparently difficult lesson for us as a society to learn is that we must blame the perpetrators of these crimes and not the victims.  In theory we all agree with that premise, but in reality, a very different and destructive truth emerges.

Unfortunately, it is often a knee jerk reaction to question the victim's veracity and/or participation, especially when - which is very often the case - the perpetrator defies our expectations of what a sexual criminal looks like.

Even though I intellectually understand the existence of this problem, I was still shocked and deeply saddened when doing research for my book by the number of brave women and men who were called liars or whose timeline was questioned or in the cases of assault were asked questions like, "What were you wearing?"  or “Were you drinking?"  We don't make accusations or ask questions like that of victims of robbery.  And yet in terms of long-term ramifications, being robbed (unless it is accompanied by physical assault) cannot compare with the destruction wrought by sexual violence.

Everyone realizes, including those who have dedicated their lives to helping victims of sexual abuse and assault, that there are rare instances when people have claimed to be victims of sexual crimes and then were found to be either deliberately lying or manipulated into believing something that wasn't true.  So what?

Just as there are men and women in the military who have committed atrocities or doctors who have behaved unconscionably with patients or - well name the group - we know that human beings are capable of doing terrible things.  And we know that desperate people often behave in desperate ways.  However, those people do not represent the whole.  And just as we do not hold up to scrutiny all our military or the entire medical community etc., it is egregious to scrutinize victims of sex crimes because of the deception of a very few.

The recentallegations of 22 women who have spoken out against Bill Cosby and the subsequent skepticism surrounding their allegations is a case in point.  As Jay Leno asked, "Why don't we believe women?" And lest anyone think it is only women who are unfairly challenged, it is worth revisiting the Jerry Sandusky case. If you have not done so, I encourage you to read the heartbreaking story of Aaron Fisher (one of many such heartbreaking stories) whose young life was devastated not only by his “mentor’s” sexual abuse, but also by the shameful and shaming way he was treated after he bravely came forward and broke the silence.  Sandusky, highly respected and seemingly very respectable, was subsequently charged with 45 – yes 45 – counts of child molestation.

Will we ever get to a place where our first response is to champion rather than censure the victim who has the courage to speak out? Aaron Fisher represents thousands upon thousands of victims of sexual abuse and assaults who suffer not only the pain of sexual trauma but are also humiliated and castigated simply for telling the truth.

I am wondering if there is anything that we as people who care about the victims of these crimes can do together to change this sick and hurtful dynamic.  Maybe a "Don't Blame The Victim Day"? I'm not an organizer, but I know that in Steve Jobs’ biography when he wanted to do something and was told there was no way, he refused to accept that answer and directed his employees to go back and find a way.  Visionaries have always started from scratch and reimagined the world.  The #YesAllWomen Twitter phenomena, boasting well over a million tweets, suggested the possibility that change may finally, finally be on the way.  I hope so.