PERSPECTIVE

Those of us whose lives have been marred by sexual trauma face challenges that many in the population simply cannot comprehend ~ the worst in my mind being the corrosive shame we suffer because of the evil actions of our perpetrators.  The words If only are haunting words and can lead to feelings of loss and regret. Nevertheless, if suffering is our best teacher and I maintain that it is, how can we then reframe our pain in such a way that we become more large spitted as a result?  This poem is an effort on my part to avoid self pity ~ an emotion I can easily slip into.  By putting my own experience in a larger context,  I hope to become a greater spiritual force for good in a world torn apart by human suffering..

PERSPECTIVE

When I awoke today
there was a thin pinkish orange strip of magic hovering across the morning sky
and for a moment I was completely lost in the beauty of the world
and the blessed blessedness of my privileged life.
I looked at my pup Fulton and tried to explain how fortunate we are.
You, I said as he wagged his tail in anticipation of a treat,
you could have been a mutt on a street in Calcutta: alone and hungry.
And I ~ well I,  God help me, I could have been a Syrian mother  
reliving the never ending day she knelt in ashes holding her dying baby.
But instead ~ here we are literally living a dream
where nightmares are fewer and fewer between.
But this other world is the larger world we live in
where joy and pain and loss and gain
coincide at every turn.
How to respond to this inexplicable randomness?
Surely, we must fiercely love each other ~ nothing less.

 

LISTEN

While in Italy, I found myself more and more trying to listen, not just hear, but really listen to the sounds of beauty and hope and healing that are everywhere. I wrote this poem as a reminder to rise above the mundane and sometimes destructive chatter that can too easily distract me.

Listen well to the whispers but by all means avoid chatter.

God can be found in the whispers: they are softenings of the Spirit
transported on wings above winding rivers that flow eternal ~
beckoning us to sail waves along the soul’s arduous journey.

Chatter, on the other hand, lives low and is too occupied with trivia to hear,
no less communicate, the goodness of God.
It is trash beside a dirt road
and because it is everywhere, too easily and too often obliterates all else.
So beware and listen, listen well to the outpouring of love in the whispers. *

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 MASKS WE WEAR

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 CRITQUE 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
**

SPRING

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 http://www.youcanhelpsurvivors.com/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.*

GRATITUDE

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 begin to find new ways of looking at our lives.

I want to overflow
with gratitude.
Indeed there is so
Much
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.

ME TOO WHO

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 ~

http://www.youcanhelpsurvivors.com/you-are-not-alone/

_____________________________

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.

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

 

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.