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Transcending Sexual Abuse - December/January

"Not News: Change Happens"

I know this might not make it to you until January and that¡¯s because of CHANGE. When we are miserable, suffering through some bad patch in life, there is nothing we covet more than change. When things are going well, when we are relatively happy and healthy, we hope nothing ever changes. That, my friend, is one of the paradoxes of life. Change is both a blessing and a curse and you don¡¯t have to have lived a long time to know that.

We just started my baby grandson on rice cereal. He is four months old and has only had formula from a bottle heretofore. He is definitely of two minds on the subject of eating from a spoon. He has been watching the rest of us eat with rapt attention for the last several weeks and he¡¯s had a little cereal mixed in with his formula for a couple of weeks. The spoon, however, gives him pause. It feels funny. He doesn¡¯t know (but is finding out fast) exactly how to swallow the contents of the spoon. It seems to solve the hungry feeling, but it doesn¡¯t afford the nice, close hug he gets when eating from his bottle. I predict that it won¡¯t be long before he¡¯s up for trying a lot of foods from the spoon. Change is never easy, even when we know the change is for the good.

As survivors of sexual abuse, we may feel a little more tentative about changes than most people. Rest assured, ALL people are flummoxed to some extent by the changes they have to face. Even positive changes such as medical advances are scary. When survivors who have always had trust issues have to place their faith in someone or something out of their direct control, the resulting fear can seem overwhelming. We are creatures of habit and routine largely because habit and routine can be controlled by us. Our past dealings with people who wanted to control us have led to our choices to keep a tight grip on everything we can.

As we live through the holiday season again, and as we face a new year full of uncertainty, I am going to suggest that we work on our mind set about change. Here¡¯s what I am thinking:

1.Think through what you want to get out of the holiday season. I know some of you are saying to yourself ¡°I just want to get out alive.¡± It is unusual for a survivor to want much more than that because our experience is that we will be manipulated, disrespected, and left behind in all the hurly-burly of the holidays. Try this: decide what one or two things mean peace and happiness to you. It might be simply curling up with a good book or a great comedy on DVD under a warm cover. Don¡¯t forget the hot chocolate or the peppermint tea. Perhaps you feel peace in a worship service. Maybe it makes you happy to make someone else happy by visiting with them during this season. Whatever makes you peaceful and happy, make sure that happens at least once before January 6th.

2.Decide that the only New Year¡¯s Resolution you are going to make involves less beating up on yourself about whatever it is that you think you do wrong. Skip the big diet plan. Those things never work. If you want to lose weight, then just start eating better (whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, not too much protein) and find a few minutes a day to exercise. Exercise needn¡¯t be anything elaborate either. Maybe you can park a block away from wherever you¡¯re going and walk that extra little way. Don¡¯t try to correct some major attitude or perceived flaw in yourself all at once. If you don¡¯t like the way you respond to a situation, begin changing yourself slowly. I was able to lose a lot of anger by simply deciding to do one thing at a time to release it. These were things like writing about it in my journal or throwing water balloons at the side of the house, drawing pictures that expressed my anger, hitting couch cushions or pillows or making small play dough models and destroying them. As long as it doesn¡¯t destroy any important property or hurt you or others, most any physical effort helps to get rid of anger.

3.Choose a goal that you really want to achieve and that will please you. I decided to save some money (like a Christmas Club account) this year because I wanted to get gifts for my children and grandchildren. It felt good to decide NOT to spend that money month by month because I had a bigger goal in mind. Your goal may be to improve your education. Do it one course at a time and enjoy learning something new. You don¡¯t have to get a degree in neuroscience to be happy and productive. Maybe your goal is to take a trip. What things do you need to start doing now to make that a reality?

4.Make yourself your priority this year. You have spent too much time trying to please others and you have ignored your own needs. Your family will be happier, more secure, and proud as you become the person you are meant to be. Does this mean you stop making dinner for them? Not really. It means that while you may make dinner most of the time, you will allow them to take responsibility once a week or so. You will consult with them on how the problems that arise will be solved. There are usually a number of ways to solve any problem and you will be pleasantly surprised at the creative solutions your loved ones can come up with. I remember fondly my children¡¯s delight as they gradually took on more responsibility for themselves. The object of parenthood is to work yourself out of a job and I have succeeded amazingly. If you are a parent, help your children to learn that responsibility little by little. First rice cereal from a spoon wielded by a loving mother or grandmother. Eventually, a young man who can make a meal for himself that will satisfy him physically and emotionally. All of my kids are good cooks and housekeepers! If you are not a parent, you will still benefit from using this concept to allow the other adults in your life to take responsibility for themselves. Sometimes we survivors, feeling so needy of love and attention ourselves, hover too much over others and stifle both parties.

5.Lastly, carry on bravely with your recovery. Recognize that it takes a very long time to undo the damage that has been done to you. This is not your fault. The only thing that could be your fault is your unwillingness to take on your own healing. In fact, you are the only one who can make that healing happen. There is no magic wand. It is very true that you have been deeply wronged, that people screwed up, that it was unfair, that it never should have happened. These realities can lead us to think that we are inherently bad ourselves. To recover, you have to understand that you are now in charge of yourself. You will be making all the choices. You can have devoted friends, a loving relationship with your Higher Power, a family that tries to understand, a therapist, a small group, a library full of self-help books, money, fame, and fortune, but, at the very point of healing, you have to do all the work yourself. There is no one who can fix your problems but you. People will be glad to help you and support you, but you will have to do the work.

Change is inevitable. It will happen both in and out of your control. This new year, my hope and prayer for you is that you can discern which things are in your control and which things must be dealt with as they happen because they are not in your control. If you can take a calm approach to the situations that present themselves to you (and I am fully aware that that is not necessarily easy), you will benefit in every area of your life. Use the resources available to youþu therapist, friends, Higher Power, books, familyþu to help you choose the behaviors that will lead to peace and happiness.

Transcending Sexual Abuse - November 2009

"Depression and Other Misery" 

My daughter, who has been writing some stuff for a psychology class she¡¯s taking at University of Cincinnati, says the child abuse information she¡¯s researched is very depressing. She couldn¡¯t be more correct! Since she has been using me as a resource person, I am more than usually aware of this, so I will talk a little this month about depression.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, you are depressed. You may have your depression under control. It may not be interfering with your life, but there is an underlying aspect of depression to your personality that will always be with you. Do you need anti-depressant medication? There is no shame in taking it! According to my physician, it is entirely possible that your brain no longer makes the chemicals needed to help you feel un-depressed. Check with your doctor in your own individual case to determine what, if any, drugs are needed to help you. I took a variety of anti-depressants for a period of about fifteen years. At this point in my life, I no longer seem to need them, but I had no problem using them when I did need them.

For maximum benefit of these drugs, however, you really must pair them up with competent, professional counseling. They are not magic. Anti-depressants don¡¯t help if you do not try to solve the major problem: getting recovery on the road and growing into a ¡°new creation.¡± I think that is a valid way of interpreting 2 Corinthians 5:17. Most Christians interpret that passage as meaning that a belief in Jesus Christ will result in a dramatic change in one¡¯s life. I believe that while that may be true, there are any number of ways to become a ¡°new creation.¡± I am certainly not the same person I was in the early 90s when I began my journey to recovery. While for me, being a Christian was somewhat helpful in this undertaking, it was far from the easy solution to a problem. Since people of all religious faiths suffer from abuse, we can¡¯t conclude that being a Christian is sufficient in and of itself for recovery.

Can depression be lifted by some kind of philosophy or religious faith? Probably not. I am suspicious of anyone or anything that promises relief from depression, fear, and anxiety simply by espousing a set of beliefs or following some way of life. To be released from our fears, anxieties, low self-esteem, apathy, or whatever particular complication we experience is, of course, a major goal of life for all people. We survivors start at a disadvantage, so we can¡¯t have the luxury of sampling all the easy solutions. We are not like the patients who come to the doctor with vague complaints. We have a diagnosis. We know what is wrong, and depression is part and parcel of it. The only question is: what is the best treatment for our particular ailment?

I am diabetic. So are several members of my family. There are general guidelines and treatments for diabetes which have been shown to be effective for controlling this disease. I do not take the same medication as others with diabetes. I test my blood sugar on a different schedule. My diet is not exactly the same as others with diabetes require. With survival of child sexual abuse like survival with diabetes, the treatment has to suit the patient¡¯s needs and particular situation.

You know your diagnosis. Do you know how to treat your disease? The name ¡°disease¡± itself is informative: it is ¡°dis,¡± meaning lacking. ¡°ease¡± which, of course, refers to our comfort. Childhood abuse results in dis-ease. In this case, however, the patient has to take a very active role in determining the appropriate way to manage the disease. I will never NOT be diabetic. I will never NOT be a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. These are two facts which I have to take into account on a daily basis. I have learned ways to manage the effects of these facts. What will you do?

I suggest that you learn all you can about what ails you. Read books and materials that are both memoir and research in the field. Find, no matter how long it takes, professional counselors and doctors who can understand what you¡¯re up against. Look for support groups of people who can help you face the changes you must make in your life. If religious issues present themselves, look for the expression of faith that is most healing for you. You will not want to become involved with any religion or philosophy that calls for judgment of people¡¯s behavior by other people or presents inflexible ¡°rules¡± that must be followed. Remember: you are not the person who did something wrong when it comes to child abuse. You are the victim and you are trying to move from the position of victim to the position of thriving adult human being.

When you use the technique of ¡°self-talk,¡± that is, interpreting yourself to yourself, recognize that you may be depressed. Once you accept the fact that you ARE depressed, you can then analyze what is causing that feeling. When you get to this point, you can usually think of something to do about it. If your problem is fairly simple, such as, I¡¯m depressed because nobody called to talk to me today, then the solution is easy: pick up the phone and call somebody. It isn¡¯t worth the energy to fret and moan because so-and-so did not do what you thought he/she should do. If you want to talk to that person, call. Figure the worst case scenario: in this instance, the worst thing that can happen is the person will tell you he/she can¡¯t talk now. Obviously, you are not going to be wanting to talk to folks you know don¡¯t like you or whom you know are ill themselves or very busy. Remember that other people are a lot like you. They don¡¯t like or enjoy every single person they meet. There¡¯s no future in hanging on to relationships that have run their course.

For more complex situations, your self-talk can be modified. I was fearful about taking a medication that I had never had before. I was unclear about the purpose of the medication and what it was supposed to do. So, instead of whining and groaning and feeling helpless, I got on the Internet and looked up the condition and the medication. I looked at as many sites as it took to convince me that it was safe and likely to be effective. Next, I employed self-talk. I reminded myself that I am an adult and am choosing to follow my doctor¡¯s wishes on this medication. It is in my best interest to take it. The little girl in me was afraid it might taste bad or have some unwanted side effects. When I picked it up at the pharmacy, I asked the pharmacist about side effects. He said there would not be any. At home, I planned what to do if it tasted awful, namely, follow the dose with a small amount of a food I like. I had heard that this medication smelled funny. When I took the first dose, I discovered that the smell was very slight and while I wouldn¡¯t choose it for my signature fragrance, it was tolerable. To my delight, I couldn¡¯t taste the medication at all when I mixed it as directed. Once again, self-talk got me out of an unpleasant set of feelings.

Try, as much as possible, to anticipate circumstances under which you might feel more depressed or sad or angry than usual. When you have those circumstances in mind, plan on how you will handle them. Develop a self-talk strategy and use it (this can all be in your head. You don¡¯t have to say a word out loud). Things will happen that you cannot anticipate, so get the ones you CAN anticipate under your control right away. Know what you will do when a big bill comes in the mail or how you will react if your child discloses abuse to you. Be ahead of the game. Talk over your strategies with your counselor to be sure they are going to work and make sense. Take whatever steps you need to in order to prepare for the ups and downs of life. Many situations are simple, for instance, you know that at some point the roll of toilet paper in your bathroom will run out. The time to plan for that is now. Get an extra roll stored within reach now and replace it as soon as you install it on the holder. Now you don¡¯t even have to think about that again until you need to replace the spare. Sometimes even simple problems can catch us survivors off guard. When these things come up, you will be in the driver¡¯s seat and in control if you have thought about how to solve predictable issues ahead of time. It feels good to be in control of things even if those things are merely toilet paper and tissues!

Use your resources and develop your resources to gain confidence and control over issues such as depression and sadness. You will grow into your full glory as an adult as you master each problem. Remember: the best revenge is living well!

 Transcending Sexual Abuse - October 2009

"Back to Basics" 

Did you see Mackenzie Phillips on Oprah? She's promoting a new book which includes the revelation that she had an incestuous relationship with her father, John Phillips, whose major fame came as a member of The Mamas and the Papas singing group. If you are not of that generation, you probably remember Mackenzie in her role as Julie on the TV series "One Day at a Time."
Mackenzie said the same things every victim says as well as her own unique things in the interview. Her story is just like yours and it is also totally her own. You can relate to that, I"ll bet. I surely could. I watched the interview with my adult daughter and amused her by betting tortilla chips that I could predict what Mackenzie was going to say next. I won all the chips. That's because there are a lot of similarities in the stories of survivors.

We aren't prominent persons in the public eye, so we may feel that people don't understand what we've gone through. Further, we are not sure they'd care if they did understand. It was kind of entertaining to hear Oprah (who, of course, has reported her own abuse) and the audience gasp as Mackenzie revealed the shocking details of her abuse. One thing that seemed to really jar the audience was her admission that, for some years, the sexual relationship with her father was consensual. It wasn't until Mackenzie became pregnant and could not determine who was the father of her child that she realized that this was really wrong.
I wished that she had had time to explore the relationship with her father a little more on the air. We survivors know that there are often many positive aspects to our relationships with our abusers. The younger the child, the more likely the relationship isto be more or less positive. For all I knew as a child, my dad's behavior was just what all the daddies do. Abusers frequently groom their victims with treats and items of value to the child.

It's hard to really hate and be disgusted by the person who is responsible for your every need and many of your desires. No matter how horribly you were treated, you were forced to depend on the abuser for your very life. That is the story you hear from every survivor who is interviewed in the press because of the high profile of the persons involved or the unusually harsh treatment. A simple Google search will tell you far more than I can about those. We have learned that mixed feelings and confusion are part and parcel of abuse.

The perpetrator is a person who, because he feels totally out of control personally, aims to completely control the victim. This can range from the very mild to the very severe with all points in between being fair game. What a lot of people in the general public do not grasp is that, when you are fighting to stay alive, you will do whatever you need to do. If sex leads to less punishment or more food, fresh air, etc., then sex it is. When you are in a situation like that, sex is a small price to pay for life. I do NOT intend to imply that this is all right at any level. I merely mean to point out that the victim is not the chooser of activities and will submit to whatever he/she needs to in order to survive. This says volumes about the human will to live.

One major and very difficult attitude for most victims to change is the attitude that they are not worthy persons. If you are struggling with that, you might want to consider the source of that attitude. Who told you by word and deed that you were an object or worthless? You, no doubt, heard this from the perpetrator reinforced by punishment or deprivation of some sort. At its mildest, this punishment takes the form of verbal abuse. At its most severe, we are reading about it in thriller novels and the newspaperþu at least I sincerely hope you are just reading about it.

So, what to do? First, do whatever you have to do to get out of the situation. Get somewhere safe. The perpetrator does NOT care about you, but does care about getting caught, so lose your sense of caring about that person. Some victims are brainwashed to the extent that they can be taken out in public by the perpetrator and kept under control, but many are able to indicate to someone somewhere that there's a problem. Lying and play acting are excellent talents to use in trying to extricate yourself from a life-threatening situation.

Second, keep looking for someone you can trust. Teachers, police, social workers, physicians, nurses and others in similar positions are mandated reporters, that is, they must, by law, report any suspicion of child abuse. As a teacher of severely emotionally disturbed children for over 20 years, I had many occasions where I was required to report abuse. Sometimes it takes more than one report, but don't give up. Your life can change.

Third action: get whatever therapy and mental health treatment that you need. Remember that you are not the person who did something wrong. Stick with the professionals. All states provide free and appropriate treatment if you are unable to pay for what you need. Decide which is more important: sanity and peace of mind or floundering around at risk of repeating the horrible crimes that have been done to you. You have already lost your pride and dignity. Now you need to get them back or you won't be able to carry on, get a job, or have a reasonably normal life.

Be very careful about accepting help from religious organizations. Many of them are absolutely trustworthy and will certainly assist you to become your true and beautiful self. Others, not so much.

As you explore recovery, look at credentials - did these people go to college to learn what they know? Where? Are they other survivors who have learned a lot? Okay, but be sure they do not have some hidden agenda such as getting you to subscribe to some particular religious or philosophical view.

People without the sanction of the state, with degrees and experience, should be vetted carefully by you to be sure they are acting from a really altruistic place. They should be getting, for themselves, no more than the personal satisfaction of helping others to succeed. You have already suffered at the hands of a person or persons who used you as a means to a personal end. This should never happen again.

Really consider the fairness of any monetary costs for any treatment. Some costs are legitimate costs for doing the job: example: I was in a group therapy program and paid $10 a session. The person running the group was paid by our fees, but there were also other expenses. There were books we could borrow, rent had to be paid on the facility we used, newsprint and an easel were needed, the group moderator had special training. Think about what you are getting for whatever fees you pay. As long as your potential helpers are upfront about money and do not make rash promises to you, a reasonable fee is okay. The usual advice applies: if it seems too good to be true, it is. You are the only one who can truly help yourself to recovery. Others can be instrumental in aiding you to achieve that goal, but, ultimately, nobody can fix you but yourself.

The fourth thing: be kind to yourself and use your mind. You can trust your instincts in accepting help from others. You know what feels comfortable to you. Believe that you are worth the trouble because you are. Not everyone thinks that you are a waste of space. If you encounter someone who is not understanding of your situation or has an agenda of his/her own, do not hesitate to leave that person in the dust and move on. You will find the persons who are not judgmental of you. Persist. Do nice things for yourself. If you enjoy a soak in the tub, then make time for that as often as you need to. Spend time relaxing in the ways that work for you (drugs not prescribed by a physician and alcohol tend to make matters worse, so I suggest you avoid them). Find a quiet place where you can think without interruption. This could be at home, at a place like the public library, a church or synagogue, a park, or anyplace where you can be alone with your own thoughts.

I suggest keeping a journal so that you can keep track of your progress. This can be any old notebook and there are no rules for what you write. You will be the only one reading it unless you choose to share it with a therapist. Spelling and neatness do NOT count!

You may not be a famous person like Mackenzie Phillips, but like her, you may have multiple battles to fight. Be strong. You can overcome your problems. You will have to stay with it, though. This is not a fight you can afford to lose. I'll be on your team, rooting for you, and supporting you in prayer.

 Transcending Sexual Abuse - September 2009

"The Best Laid Schemes or

When Life Gives You Lemons" 

How do you react when life doesn¡¯t go the way you planned? Survivors often feel rained on in the game of life because it seems that nothing we have ever planned has actually gone the way we wanted it to go. When we have our eyes open and our brains running, we, of course, realize that nobody¡¯s life is apt to be going the way they planned. You may have heard the old joke ¡¡ãWe plan, God laughs.¡¡À Robert Burns, the poet, wrote: ¡¡ãThe best laid schemes o¡¯ mice an¡¯ men gang aft agley an¡¯ lea¡¯e us nought but grief and pain.¡¡À This was written in 1785 and has become an adage or proverb over the near 225 years since. That¡¯s because it¡¯s true!

Does that mean we shouldn¡¯t make plans? No. It means there should always be a Plan B, and possibly, a Plan C, or however many plans there need to be. There is always going to be uncertainty. If you are a mother or know someone who is, you will likely remember those last few weeks before the baby actually arrived.

We have had this experience recently in our family. We made a dozen plans trying to make sure everything would be in place before baby Jackson got here. His mother read books, went on line, consulted her friends, and her doctors. Not one person could tell her exactly what to expect. Like all births, Jackson¡¯s birth was a bit of a surprise to everyone involved. Nothing really went ¡¡ãby the book.¡¡À On the other hand, the birth was normal in general. There were aspects, however, that could not really be anticipated and were unique to this pregnancy and birth.

Your experience as a survivor of sexual abuse is in general a good deal like the experience of others. Yet, your experience is unique. Your reaction to your abuse determines how that abuse is going to affect you in the future. Here¡¯s where the planning comes in: now that you know what happened to you, you can now tailor your reaction based on that knowledge. Situations are going to come up that create flashbacks for you. That is a fact. So, what to do? First, accept that flashbacks are going to occur. Second, decide (in a non-stress moment) what you need to say to yourself or do to defuse that flashback and ground you in reality. Third, if possible, practice your reaction. This is especially well done if you can role play a flashback situation with someone you can trust.

You will, for your own sanity and safety, avoid obvious flashback-inducing circumstances as much as possible. For instance, I and at least one other survivor I know are likely to panic in small enclosed places. An MRI normally takes place in a small enclosed place. I opt for the open MRI if that is necessary. I am not completely comfortable even then, but I can, with a lot of self-talk, tolerate the procedure. It is not physically painful at all, but the psychological pain is something to be reckoned with. My friend was able to manage because her husband could be there to hold on to her toe. She felt that he could pull her out immediately if she got too scared. I have been known to take the stairs rather than small elevators. I did not go up in the arch when we visited St. Louis. You do not have to do anything you don¡¯t want to do. It might be in your best interest to do something you don¡¯t want to do, but you can opt out of almost anything.

Other medical procedures are sometimes a problem for survivors. I have been careful to inform my dentist and my doctor about some of my needs in this area. They have been quite accommodating and frank about what is absolutely necessary and what mitigating measures can be taken to allay my fears. If your dentist or doctor chooses not to honor your experience, get a new practitioner. You do not have to passively accept whatever your physician says. Be honest and see what can be done. Your health is important and you are important, don¡¯t let old messages from your perpetrator interfere with the best life you can live.

The ¡¡ãexperts¡¡À in any field do not necessarily have your interest in mind. The ¡¡ãexperts¡¡À also think in global terms while you must deal with your own case and every case is individual. For many years, I taught children who were survivors of abuse. The ¡¡ãexperts¡¡À based reading programs, for example, on general ¡¡ãnorms¡¡À created by working with nice, white, middle-class suburban children. These reading programs pre-supposed some experiences for the children that my students had never, ever had. Even the vocabulary was unfamiliar to my students: one of my students, aged 8, could not locate his own body parts beyond arm, leg, eye, and ear. He did not know what a pocket was. Some students had never been to a retail store or a store of any kind. A couple of them did not know their own names, but thought of themselves as ¡¡ãBaby,¡¡À ¡¡ãPeanut,¡¡À or ¡¡ãJunior.¡¡À

The pre-conditions for learning to read, which include being spoken to and listened to, did not take place for these students. They were lost when exposed to basic reading skills. Some had to learn the alphabet, then learn that letters have sounds, and then learn that these sounds and letters make words, and on from there. The experts may have general knowledge about your case, but do not swallow anything they tell you whole. Make sure their advice works in your case. Check them out, check out whatever they tell you with reliable sources. Unless the decision is whether to have the chocolate or the strawberry ice cream, research your choice.

Being an adult in charge of your own life is usually the goal for most people. Many times, survivors have been taught that they are not capable of running their own lives. Sometimes, they have not acquired all the tools necessary to do this. If you think that, perhaps, you are ill-equipped, for whatever reason, to make your own decisions, then it is high time you fixed that! You will need your therapist or some trusted successful friends to help you.

You will need to learn how to evaluate information. My children were taught to evaluate weather conditions, for instance, relative to themselves and their comfort. My son wanted to play in the snow when he was about five years old, but he did not want to wear his coat outside. I let him go right out without his coat. He was back inside in about 45 seconds looking for the coat, a hat, a muffler, and mittens. I didn¡¯t tell him anything. In later years, he would ask my opinion frequently about situations he faced. Now my children are adults who sometimes ¡¡ãrun things by me,¡¡À but they are capable of making all their own decisions. I have worked myself out of the job of parenting!

If you were told what to think, say, and do by someone ¡¡ãwiser¡¡À than you, now is the time to step out in faith that you know what is best for yourself. Trust yourself because you are definitely the only person in the universe who will NOT under any circumstances fail you. Others may love you and want only the best for you, but they will not be able (they¡¯re human) to meet every need. In the end, you have to rely on yourself, but who on earth could possibly be more trustworthy or care more than you yourself? I submit that there is nobody like you!

 Transcending Sexual Abuse - August 2009

"Decisions, Decisions"

You make decisions every day, a lot of them. You decide what to have for breakfast or even whether you have breakfast at all. You choose what to wear, where you¡¯ll go, how you¡¯ll get there¡­the list is endless. And no decision is without some reason behind it and some ramification as well. You decide to wear the white shirt because the red one is dirty, but wearing the white shirt means you need a jacket because of the short sleeves. You choose not to pack a lunch today which means that you will be choosing a restaurant, skipping lunch, or bumming food from someone else.

Most of us, when we think about decisions think about the big decisions. Should you take this job? Taking it means you¡¯ll need to live in a certain area. That limits the kind of place you can live in. There may not be single family homes in that area or none may be available. Apartment? Condo? Commute? One thing leads to another whether the decision is big or small. Where you live determines what kinds of people you live with. Do you live in California? You will not find there many people who live in the Manhattan life style. In today¡¯s world, people get to choose where they live. It may take courage and determination to move out of your comfort zone, but it can be done.

This leads me to the major point of this article: everything you do, including recovery, is the result of choices you make whether consciously or unconsciously. Alcoholics who choose to be sober decide every day that they are not going to drink. One of their famous lines is ¡¡ãOne day at a time.¡¡À By this they mean that they can¡¯t really think about being sober for years at a time (i.e. I won¡¯t drink again until 2015), but they choose not to drink today. Tomorrow, they may make that same decision again. The former alcoholics I know are very aware that they are making that decision each and every day. They may not think about not drinking 24/7, but it is never far from their consciousness. They observe how their daily decision improves life and relationships for them, personally, and they do what is necessary to keep the improvement going. Few of them will tell you that they wish they still drank to excess. Every case is different, an occasional person can, perhaps, have a drink now and then, but the former alcoholics I know do not drink at all. One friend has been sober for over 30 years. When almost everybody else at a party in a restaurant ordered alcohol, she had coffee. You make decisions all the time.

There are particular decisions that you, as a survivor of sexual abuse, will make every day. These decisions relate mainly to how you continue to survive and thrive. One decisions concerns simple safety. I usually have to remind myself, daily, that I am as safe as can reasonably be expected. He has been dead for 25 years, but on a psychological level my essence is still afraid of my father. When I go to bed at night, I usually have to remind myself that 1) I am alone in my home; 2) I have taken every safety precaution possible; 3) I am an adult and I will have to consent to any course of action. I still, after all these years, choose to sleep facing the door. I do not like enclosed places and prefer aisle seating wherever I go.

Sound familiar? My psychological needs remain a force to be reckoned with. A lot of my decisions are based on these needs. My decision to remain single relates directly to my need to feel sovereign over my own body and my own actions. It is not merely that I choose not to adapt to someone else¡¯s needs or wants. In fact, I adapt almost daily and very happily to needs or wants of my children and grandchildren. I would not choose to interact with anyone else on an intimate or daily basis. I would not want to live with that other person. My children are happily married and, because they did not suffer abuse, enjoy the company and support of their spouses. I am the weird one and I know it. I look at friends who have been married for 40 years or more to the same person and wonder how they stand it. Most of these marriages are, as far as I can tell, mutually satisfying to the partners. I choose not to take that risk. Usually, I make jokes about my single status, and, since it is my choice, I seldom wish it were otherwise.

You have probably found, over time, that there are things you do and do not choose to do for psychological reasons. This is true for all people, but we are concentrating here on survivors of sexual abuse. I challenge you to think about the choices you have made for psychological comfort. Is that comfort sufficient for you? Do you need to consider making changes?

I live in a city with an astounding crime rate. The rate is going up in my neighborhood. Even though the locks on my doors give me psychological comfort, common sense demands that I keep every lock in place. I may be open and loving toward people. I may believe I don¡¯t have anything anyone would want to steal. I may think that my neighbors are not likely to do me any harm, but reality suggests that keeping my locks in place is a good idea. Most people in highly populated areas, I think, do reassure themselves that the doors are locked, etc. whenever they go out or go to bed. A little TV viewing will convince you if nothing else. I won¡¯t change my mind about locking the door, but I probably should reconsider my choice to sleep facing the door.

Periodically, it is good to review decisions. If your choice is working the way you want it to, then there¡¯s no reason to change it. If your choice is not satisfying, then it needs rethinking. Sometimes, it is not simple. For instance, you may be dissatisfied with the house, apartment, condo or whatever you live in. One extreme example is a friend of mine who is in prison. She definitely doesn¡¯t want to be there. She is working to influence the justice system that put her there by seeking a new trial (she has grounds for that) and by making maximum use of her time while she¡¯s there. She is going to college through a program available to her. She can¡¯t change her address right now, but she can make it as palatable as possible. Would she have chosen this life style for herself? No. Does she feel that she has served enough time for her crime? Yes. She has many friends who are trying to help her. Progress is being made.

You can take discouraging situations, unjust circumstances, and, simply wrong choices and make them right again. You will be changed by your choices and circumstances, and you can have control over many of them. You can use the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer for situations other than the choice to drink or not. The prayer goes like this: ¡¡ãGod grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.¡¡À

You are the final arbiter of your own attitude. The Bible says that as a person thinks in his/her heart so is he or she. This comes from Proverbs and even all those years ago, people knew some basic truth: you are what you think you are because action flows from attitude. Psychiatrists and counselors have pushed ¡¡ãreframing¡¡À for years. Reframing is looking at a problem from another angle. It is, at bottom, whether you see the glass half full or half empty. It is conscious attitude adjustment. I am still trying to adjust my attitude about my personal safety in my own home. I can point to many years of being safe there, and that keeps me from giving way to all the terrible memories and thoughts that I can have. I get to decide how long I want to think about the fear. I¡¯ve got it down to less than 30 seconds so far.

 Transcending Sexual Abuse - July 2009

"Price Tags"

Every miracle has a price tag. I got one of those miracle prayers on email. You¡¯ve, no doubt, seen them: pray this prayer which is usually innocuous and then send it out to some unreasonable number of people. Within 24 hours, you are promised, wonderful things will happen. These wonders range from a pleasant phone call to thousands of dollars falling by magic into your hands. The price tag on this particular miracle involves the time it takes and the fact that you are willing to send on advertising to your friends and family. There are normally dire threats involved if you choose not to send the email on. The threats are mostly social: you won¡¯t have any friends or will be officially unpopular. The implied threat is that God is not going to want to bless you, or, in fact, care a whoop about you in the future. This is all total nonsense, of course.

Do I ever send these on? Yes, after stringent editing, I will send some of these on. Here¡¯s how I de-fuse them: I remove all the email addresses listed on the email. This is easy to do. Just highlight them and click on the little scissors on the toolbar. Using the same method, I remove all promises and threats from the email. This leaves the prayer itself. I wouldn¡¯t go to the trouble unless I thought the prayer was worthwhile to some extent. Is it ever NOT worthwhile to pray? Volumes are written on this debate, but I will say that if the prayer is short and basic, there is no harm in it and it might be helpful.

Sometimes I change the subject line to something less ¡¡ãshrieky.¡¡À For example: ¡¡ãYou MUST read this!¡¡À or ¡¡ãThis Will Change Your Life!¡¡À become ¡¡ãA Reminder¡¡À or ¡¡ãA Thought.¡¡À I totally ignore any cautions such as ¡¡ãDo Not Delete.¡¡À But, every miracle has its price tag.

So what, you may be wondering, do annoying emails and prayer have to do with recovery from sexual abuse? It is simple. The circumstances under which we lived for so long have informed us about life and what to expect from others. We are questioners, uneasy with decisions, nervous about taking any step that might be permanent. We have been assailed by advertising just like everybody else, and we are subject to persuasive tactics, too. We may be a little more dubious than some, but we are probably more conflicted than average. Who can you believe? I certainly could not believe my parents when I was a child. Their behavior and their words did not match. I am a skeptic from the get-go and I wouldn¡¯t be surprised to learn that you are, too. I am skeptical about labels on food packages even though they are required by law to be accurate. I am diabetic and what it says on the label is of extreme importance to me as I manage this chronic disease. Even such an activity of prayer requires a level of trust many of us do not have.

If you are troubled by whom to believe and what to believe, if you doubt your ability to make the right decisions, I would suggest this plan of action for you. I did this myself for many years until I felt competent to make my own personal decisions. I developed a ¡¡ãboard of directors¡¡À for myself. They acted as a sounding board for me and as advice-givers. My board consisted of people I knew I could rely on and who had nothing to gain from any decision I made. I did not include anyone who was trying to sell or promote anything. It is hard for these people to view things objectively since they are usually convinced that their product or service is the answer to whatever question you asked. I include with those who promote their own positions clergy of the less open-minded variety, especially those who have a difficult time with people of other philosophies than the one they espouse. These are the type of people who say Jesus is the answer even if the question is ¡¡ãWhat is 25 times 15?¡¡À

Many survivors are completely turned off the church and they have excellent reasons for this. Some clergy understand your situation. Others have no clue. Be very careful and do your homework before asking clergy to be on your board. Does this person have training as a pastoral counselor? What is this person¡¯s background? What does this person want from you, if anything? Is this person a creative enough thinker to suggest other methods for healing besides study or ritual? Be careful. I repeat that because you can¡¯t be too careful, especially with people in circumstances where they are willing to help, but within certain parameters which are limited by a belief system.

Your friends must be vetted, too. Is your friend successful, for the most part, in making personal decisions? Is your friend willing to talk with you about the many factors that impinge on a personal decision more complex than whether we¡¯ll be having strawberry ice cream or rocky road? Does your friend seem to be happy with his or her own decisions and does he or she have any stake besides seeing you happy in your situation? ¡¡ãNo¡¡À answers to these questions certainly do not rule out the person as a friend, but might rule him or her out as a ¡¡ãdirector.¡¡À If I¡¯m lost, don¡¯t ask me for directions, but I might be a fun companion nonetheless.

If you have a therapist with whom you are comfortable and who you think is giving you good advice and help, then include your therapist on your board. If you aren¡¯t comfortable and you question the advice, you may need another therapist. You are in a battle to preserve and strengthen your own life. Nobody is as concerned or involved as you, and you are the ¡¡ãsupreme commander,¡¡À but your therapist is your field commander as you fight. Your therapist listens, gathers information, and makes suggestions for strategy based on experience, actual academic learning, and knowledge of you. One day, you will not need a therapist every week.

Brothers and sisters may be members of your board depending on their experience. Were they involved somehow in your abuse as fellow victims or as perpetrators? Just because you have the same mother and father you are not the same people, nor do you have the same experiences. One of you will be the oldest child who came into the family the earliest. Subsequent children have a different experience, at least in part, because their mothers are more experienced. So will your sibling be a member of the board? Check them out like you would an unrelated friend.

Having a board of directors can be a significant factor in recovery. The price tag of choosing your board is really not too much considering the value. You no longer have to agonize over situations. You do not have to tell your story over and over to whoever is stuck listening to you. You have people who are willing and glad to listen, people who are just motivated by the pleasure of helping you. You get the benefit of your board¡¯s experience in handling life. You develop confidence and you learn a great deal about dealing both with circumstances and with people. You are not alone.

Now we return to the concept of prayers and miracle prayers. This is a resource available to all of us whether we call it meditation, or simple ¡¡ãthinking,¡¡À or something more formal. I believe that prayer is useful and good for you. I think prayer does produce miracles. I call these miracles my friends.

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