Compassion

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

 

Hope for the New Year

Dear Friends,

I wrote this poem to remind myself that we never know what the future is going to bring, nor we do know the challenges of others.  Let us face 2017 together with the bravery with which we have faced so many things and God bless you all. 

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.

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.

Thankful

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?

Love

Courage

Conviction

Tenacity

Forgiveness

Discipline

Gentleness to self and others

Faith

Hope

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.

 

 

COURAGE

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

Welcome to my blog. My intent in writing a blog is to inform and inspire my readership to reach out and help a loved one who has suffered from sexual abuse or assault.  Or better yet,  to encourage a survivor as she or he courageously works to create a strong and healthy life in spite of the challenges.   It may be a personal insight, a news article, a poem, a video or TV story; but whatever it is, I offer it with the knowledge that healing is possible and that together, we can make a difference. 

In my first blog, I’d like to talk about misplaced blame.  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.