Because everyone should watch this

I watched this Ted Talks just now and I think the speaker makes some wonderful points. I broke into tears in the middle of this video. In order to end gender violence, we need to change our ideas about some things. As bystanders, we need to speak up every moment we see or hear sexist, racist, or bigoted comments. We can’t just stand up for people in the event of abuse, the development of abusers starts long before that. As a culture, we need to change our attitudes. After all,

“In the end what hurts the most is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more true statement. What broke me most throughout my struggles with abuse and violence was not the actual abuse itself. It was watching as so many friends turned their backs on me and walked away. Whether they called me crazy or played my story off as me being overdramatic, I felt shattered by their complete disbelief in me and my experience. After my abusive ex, I lost nearly every “friend” I had. Every male friend anyways. I even felt betrayed by my best friend, who continued to hang out with my abuser afterwards. Even she thought that I exaggerated. That I stretched the truth. I sometimes feel like I will never recover from that.

But I can say this much. I never would have spent so many nights completely alone and without company if my story were not true. I could’ve just denied it. Could’ve just assimilated back into my party crowd of friends like nothing ever happened and pretended like everything was okay. Many people do just that.

But my story is true, and I will never deny that again.

I never would have watched as all my so-called friends walked away from me if my story were not true. I would not have spent four straight months of crying every day if my story were not true. I would not have spent months in counseling, years blogging, undergone treatment through yoga therapy, changed my phone number, moved away, cut off all ties with certain people and traveled for months at a time in pursuit of some shred of hope and happiness if my story were not true.

This is not just a woman’s issue, it’s everybody’s issue. Help break the silence:

http://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue.html

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Healing exercise: Drawing Journal

When I was still attending weekly counseling sessions, my therapist learned of my love of art and encouraged me to use this interest to further my healing process. With her prompting, I started a journal, in which I drew my feelings and stages of the healing process, rather than writing about them.

This proved to be an interesting challenge, as it worked both with overcoming my extreme perfectionism, and with helping me to actually SEE things differently. I found this exercise to be very helpful. As with the poetry exercise earlier, it does not matter if you aren’t a master artist. Just grab a bic pen and a sheet of computer paper. This exercise is not about the resulting masterpiece; but rather, it is about the exercise itself.

This exercise is a way of taking the images that are in your head, that are associated with different ideas, different feelings, etc., and transferring them onto paper. This is also a good way of retraining a brain that has been damaged by trauma.

For example, one day, I was in my apartment, and I was feeling very scared about ever trying to date someone new, after what’s happened in the past. Then I heard the song “Jump In” (see healing playlist), and this image popped into my head of a toe being put in the water. Just a toe testing the water, timid of jumping all the way in. This was how I felt about relationships.

So I sat down, and I drew this toe, dipping into water, with a line from “Jump In” written across the top: “If you never take the first step, you cannot go too far.”

Then I sat with the drawing for a minute. Looking at what was in front of me. And just sitting there, staring at that image brought me a little more peace, a little more courage that healing doesn’t have to be taken in great leaps and bounds. But rather, it can be taken in tiny, minuscule steps. Just like, when you learn to swim, you never dive right in at first. You start by dipping your toe in the water, to test the temperature, to get the feeling. Then you might put both feet in at the top step of the pool, then slowly you slide down further to where you’re in up to your waist. Eventually, you swim out to the deep end.

Just like learning to swim, healing takes time. And this one, poorly sketched drawing of mine, brought me all of these thoughts in a matter of a minute.

I strongly encourage you, if you have any interest in this, to try it out for yourself. Grab a drawing utensil and a piece of paper, and sit in a quiet place by yourself. Find a place in which you are the most comfortable. Perhaps light a scented candle, listen to some soothing music, etc. Then think about the different images that pop into your head when you think of healing, relationships, abuse, phobias, etc. Next, try drawing one of the images that pop into your head. Again, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, just a simple sketch will do.

Lastly, after you have finished your drawing, be sure to take the time to sit with it and really look at it. Ask yourself the following questions: Why did I choose this image? What feelings do I get just by looking at it? Does it make me feel sad, angry, hurt, trapped, panicked, scared, confused, etc? Next, think about WHY you feel that way? Then, most importantly, if the image is a negative one, or brings up negative feelings, think about how you could change that image so that you feel safer, more comfortable, happier, soothed, etc. Then draw the image again, this time with the soothing elements added. Look it over once more, and feel the peace that can wash over you now that you’ve adjusted the image in your brain. See how you can take a negative image, and turn it into something less frightening, something more positive.

Just like with finding the calm in your happy place, drawing images and then redrawing them into more positive scenarios helps you retrain a brain damaged by trauma. It helps you problem-solve what could make things better, and demonstrate in a tangible way the differences in your body between when you feel hurt/angry, and when you feel happy.

That’s the importance of the drawing journal. It’s a helpful tool to clarify specific physical and emotional reactions to different situations. Then to sit with those emotions, and figure out how to make the situation better; how to change the image to a more peaceful and soothing scenario. With practice, this ability can become more ingrained, and taken out into everyday life.

It’s an exercise in retraining the brain so that it can return to normal and healthy responses to different situations. So even if you only have 5 minutes, grab a pen and try it out. It doesn’t have to be perfect. After all, it’s just a step.

The effect of abuse on my self-esteem

It is hard enough to recognize and accept the signs of being abused as physical or verbal actions taken by the abuser. However, I think it is even harder to recognize the effects that a person, as a victim, suffers internally.

The way my abusers made me feel was awful, to put it simply. They were both guys and were controlling, overbearing, perfectionistic, manipulative and lying. They both became violent, often physically, when they didn’t get their way. And when I was out-of-line with their wishes, my personal safety would sometimes be threatened.

I didn’t realize any of this until I had my aha! moment and even for sometime afterwards.

Aside from the obvious, what these people did, and the way they treated me, made me feel worthless. They were overly critical, and constantly accused me of not being good enough, not being pretty enough. I didn’t do my hair correctly, dress the right way. And ultimately, they brought me down in any way possible, to a level where they could be in control. If I didn’t feel good about myself, then obviously I didn’t know how to live my life. This made me believe I needed someone to direct me, because I wasn’t good enough to direct myself.

As for my younger years, once the sexual abuse ended, the physical and verbal continued. And I feel like the verbal abuse was the most difficult of all to cope with, and is the most lingering in my healing process.

For me, the hardest part of suffering from abuse is the way it makes you feel about yourself. It made ME feel bad. And for a long time, I never thought that the blame did not lay with me, but with him.

In my mind, that had been warped by the way I was conditioned to view myself, I was not good enough. I couldn’t do anything right. I was a ridiculous, over-exaggerating, clumsy Klutz who was flaky and couldn’t be trusted. I was incapable of taking care of myself. I never felt pretty, or loved, or respected. And what’s worse, I never felt like I SHOULD be any of those things.

This is my battle. This is the hardest part in dealing with what happened. How do I change my mind and see myself as beautiful and wonderful? How do I learn to trust myself and believe that I am worth it?

This is my current struggle, and I open this post to comments, feedback, and advice from any users. What has helped you the most to regain what your abuser took from you? How do you build your self-esteem again once it has been so demolished?

Building a Support Group 2: Telling your family

Having the support of your parents.

This can mean everything. I mentioned before the need to have someone in your life who will support you unconditionally. Telling my closest girlfriend was one thing. But telling my family was an entirely different experience. In a previous blog (click here for link), I mentioned that I even lied to my family at first.

I didn’t want to worry them or upset them. I was scared they wouldn’t care. Scared they wouldn’t believe me. And part of me still wonders whether or not, if my sister had not opened up, they ever would have listened. Getting up the courage to talk to you family is no laughing matter. But, at least for me, this was an essential part of the healing process.

A week after I lied to my mom, I called her back on the phone. She answered. “Mom,” I said. “It did happen to me also.” My mom broke. She and I have not always had the best relationship, I’ll admit it. And about a decade ago, it’s doubtful that she ever would’ve listened to what I had to say regarding this. But times change, people soften, and my mother (through much hardship, tears and apologies) has transformed into a rock for me. An anchor that holds me fast. Opening up to her about everything has brought to light how she experienced the same thing when she was younger. My mom, my sister, and I have formed our own support group, one of mutual experience and understanding, that has been invaluable to my healing process.

I was lucky to have such supportive parents in this. It made my healing process much easier. However, I also know that several victims, especially those whose parents were the perpetrators, never know that peace. It can be hard when that is the case. I have a friend who found herself in that exact situation and it has certainly affected her life. But in general, I view her as a very happy and fulfilled woman. One of those I look up to as my healing progresses. However, that is not my story to share, and not the path that this blog will take. Though there are many people, blogs, sites, etc., that you may visit if that is your particular situation. And I strongly encourage you to do so if that fits you.

That is why it is important to seek support outside of the family as well. Because, even if they don’t support you. Someone will. Someone will believe you, and sympathize, and understand. Someone will love you, and take your cares to heart, and make your worries their own.

My parents severed all contact between me and the perpetrator, someone who was very close to us. It was my move, my choice, my decision about everything. That is something I am very grateful for. And also, that is the way I think it should be. It is all right to take some space, to remove yourself from a dangerous situation. You don’t have to pretend like everything is okay when it’s not. Telling the family is just another way of building your support system. They can be an invaluable resource, and a rock. Even if they cannot DO anything to “fix” the problem. They can listen and care for you while you find your own path to healing.

It can be terrifying to open up, to share a secret that makes you feel so ashamed, so dirty, so guilty. But, and I have to remind myself of this all the time, it’s not your guilt, it’s not my guilt, it’s someone’s who was supposed to know better and chose not to act decently.

Ultimately, I believe the path to healing lies on the road to being honest with yourself, being honest with others, accepting what happened, and then learning to move beyond it. In my experience, without one of those steps, the process can never truly be complete. And it is better to just know. To truly know how people will react, how your family will take things, if they will support you or not. It is better to know for sure, one way or the other, rather than spend your entire life wondering, worrying, having it hang in the background of your mind. The lingering “what-if.”

Defining Abuse: Recognizing the signs

Before anyone can have that “aha!” moment, that realization of what happened and what it means, the justification of understanding it’s not your fault, it is necessary to first go through the doubting phase.  Before even believing myself, I asked some of the following questions:

Did it really happen?  Or am I just making it all up?

Is that really abuse?  I thought it was just normal.

Will people still love me if I tell the truth?  Will anyone believe me?

And many, many more.

You are not alone.  I was not alone.  That is why I am writing this blog.  To remind myself and others that there is hope.

The first and most important step to healing from abuse is to recognize the signs.  According to safeplace.org, an organization that helps men and women seek shelter/healing from abuse and violence, the definition of Sexual Abuse/Assault is:

“any unwanted sexual act a person is forced to perform or receive that includes touching of the genitals or breasts. This includes rape, sodomy, touching or oral sex where the victim is unwilling or unable to give verbal consent — including being under 16 years old, intoxicated, drugged or unconscious.”

Whether it is childhood sexual abuse, rape, etc., it is abuse.  Men can experience it too, it is not a phenomena that happens only to women.

Domestic Violence is defined as:

“a pattern of behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, education, religion, disability status, or sexual orientation. It can happen to couples who are married, living together or in a dating relationship.”

Some signs for domestic violence include: your partner forcing you to engage in sex, blaming you for his/her behavior, humiliating/criticizing you, constantly checking up on you and more.  For a complete list of Domestic Violence Red Flags, or to seek professional help from Safeplace, see their website: http://www.safeplace.org/page.aspx?pid=183

If any of these signs sound familiar, you are in the right place.  Sometimes, and I know my case was one of them, it took looking at those checklists and definitions, for me to fully understand and accept what happened to me.  There it was, cold hard words, staring me right in the face, refusing to let me hide from myself any longer.

Still not enough for you?  Try talking to a counselor and hear a professional opinion.  Safeplace has 24-hour phone counseling available for anyone who needs it: 512.267.SAFE