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"Tips for Surviving Winter"

by Linde Grace White

Had enough of winter by now? I certainly have! I am thanking God profusely that spring officially arrives in a couple of weeks because we have been somewhat snowbound.  Here in the Midwest, gray skies are the usual condition from November to April.  The only downside to the snow melting is the flooding we expect next.  Weather like this tends to drag us down, deepen depression and anxiety.  Even if you¡¯ve lived through a lot of winters, it is still hard to keep hope and cheer alive.

As survivors of sexual abuse, we sometimes think that it is constantly winter even when the sun is shining and the air is warm.  Singing birds and blooming flowers are easily ignored when we are focused on the wrongs that have been done us.  Some folks want to tell us, ¡°Get over it already!It¡¯s in the past!Forget about it!¡±  This often means that these folks are 1) well-meaning, but ignorant of the problem;  2) really afraid of what we might tell them or remind them of; 3) truly not interested in the problems of others; 4) do not understand the level of trauma sexual abuse creates; 5) are in denial.

This month, I want to help you get through the winter of the soul as you struggle to continue your progress in recovery.  Better days are coming even though they seem very far off now.  This is a good time to count your blessings, try just a little bit harder, and keep your hopes up.

¡°Well, Miss Linde Grace,¡± you say, ¡°what Smarty-Pants tips do you have for me?¡±

I reply, ¡°Here they are.Smarty-Pants or no, they will help you.¡±

Tip # 1:Rejoice that you have remembered your abuse because this gives you the power to change your personal outcomes.

Tip # 2:Remember that you are no longer in the abusive situation and if an abusive relationship lingers on, take steps to resolve it.

Tip #3:Enjoy the progress you have made.You have earned every success, and though you still have a way to go, you¡¯ve come this far and are better for it. Give yourself whatever counts as a ¡°gold star¡± to you for the work you¡¯ve already done.

Tip #4: Go to work on your recovery with new vigor.  The weather may keep you indoors, but it also gives you fewer distractions when you are journaling, quietly talking with friends, enjoying the comfort of a hot chocolate or tea, a warm fire, or a good book.

Tip #5:Review your present course of action.Are you advancing on your goals, treading water, or slipping on the ice?  Check in with your therapist, counselor, or trusted confidante.  Are your actions matching your words?Make course adjustmentsşu in this case, recovery is like driving a car.You are always making small adjustments according to road conditions and various other factors.

Tip #6:Try something new.Some people give up something for Lent.  I usually take something on.  If you are spiritual, you may choose to do something that will deepen your religious feelings.You may, finally, go ahead and try to learn to play a musical instrument, learn Italian, cook something exotic, take charge of your time, your diet, or whatever feels out of control to you.

Tip #7: Since neither you nor life is perfect, accept that fact.  Understand that it takes a long time, people are not always cooperative, most people have very little interest in you unless you are currently in their face and having to be dealt with.  You are a wonderful, unique, and valuable humanşu just like most people.  You, however, have the skinny on yourself and can learn to love yourself just the way you always wanted somebody to love you.  Once you love yourself, you can begin to share that love with others.  Problems do resolve.  Life and you, if not perfect, can be positive, fun, and meaningful.

Tip #8:Find something to laugh about every day and I do not mean a sarcastic, aint-that-always-the-way kind of laugh that diminishes you or others.  Today, we had some chuckles in our family as the six-month-old explored using a sippy cup full of about three tablespoons of water.

Tip #9:Manage to move around every day.  Learn some yoga poses, take a walk, go to the gym, practice your dancing, skip to the mailbox, enjoy walking the dog.  Even things as simple as getting off the bus one stop early or parking in a far spot and walking the rest of the way will help get your blood moving and your muscles awake.

Tip #10:Tell yourself how proud you are of yourself.It is not sinful to notice the things you do well, have improved on, or are passionate about.  God (or whatever you consider your Higher Power) has gifted you abundantly.H  ow can you be thankful if you don¡¯t recognize the gifts you have?  You are here for a purposeşu find out what it is.

I hope these ten tips spark you to spend the rest of the winter positively.  You will, no doubt, have other tips that are valuable to you in your recovery.Need to quit smoking?Now is a good time.  Need to lose a few pounds?  Today is a good day to say no to a sugary soda or the last cupcake. Feel distanced from someone you love?  Call.As the song says, ¡°Make someone happy, just one someone happy, and you will be happy, too.¡±

Here¡¯s to a beautiful spring!  We will certainly survive and we will be able to point with pride to our accomplishments of the winter.

 Transcending Sexual Abuse - February 2010

"Understanding Yourself"

by Linde Grace White

Okay, so I"m weird.  Get over it.  As a result of being a survivor, I know I have a lot of feelings, opinions, and information that do not fit the stereotype the current media likes to think is universal.  Besides, any kind of severe abuse scares the starch out of most people and they don't want to hear about it.  They like problems that can be handily solved in the 21 minutes or so of the average sit com.  Someone close to me recently requested that I not use a certain term (perfectly acceptable and common) in reference to a member of his family because it made that someone uncomfortable.  Well, all right.I love that person very much, so I agreed.  No real problem, but it points out the social stigma we survivors are apt to experience despite all our therapy no matter how fully recovered we are.

As a survivor, you need to be aware at all times that your view of the world around you is different from that of "normals." People who are sympathetic to your situation don't want to know.  This is where your self-help group comes in.  Anonymous groups where the members do not socialize outside the group are the best in my point of view.  In these groups, you can say whatever you need to say without the judgment of others.  In the group I participated in, the group came to a consensus about the topic of the evening so that more fragile members could be helped to face frightening topics slowly in an atmosphere of acceptance.  This is a different approach from the usual self-help group.

In a typical self-help group, the members join right in with advice, favors, rescues, and so on.  If your problem is that you are shy, this is fine.  If your problem is sexual trauma, it is not so fine.  There is really nothing at all that anyone can do to "fix" your problem.  You have to come to some kind of acceptance and mastery over it yourselfşu something like overcoming alcohol abuse.  Nobody can make you stop drinking to excess unless you are locked up somewhere.  If you want to recover from alcoholism, the only method that has worked at all is the Alcoholics Anonymous model.  In this model, you decide that you are going to change your ways and you have to carry out those changes.  The group will give you support, encouragement, and other options as necessary.

Just as there is a "dry drunk,"  that is, an alcoholic who does not drink, but who also doesn't address the issues that allow him to be alcoholic, there is the "silent survivor." A "silent survivor"  may get along all right at work or among members of various groups, but this person is constantly on pins and needles lest her fears, social lacks, and distrust betray her.  A group where other survivors simply listen and indicate understanding can pave the way for silent survivors to learn to accept themselves.  We survivors do have issues, like it or not, and those issues are generally very basic issues that are at the survival level.

We didn't know whether or not we would survive.  We decided to survive, but, of course, that was costly.  Some things had to give.  We had to develop alter personalities, we had to step away from reality and observe ourselves from afar.  We had to constantly deny that anything as wrong.  There was no one we could really trust.  We probably felt that there were others we had to protect such as siblings or parents.  We may have accepted the role of scapegoat.  Somehow, we may have thought we deserved the treatment we were getting.

Our job as survivors is to become a new creation.  We have to reinvent ourselves using whatever raw material is there  .Despite your abuse, there is a whole, real, and wonderful person in you.  You need to take whatever steps are required to redeem and liberate that person.  This most likely means therapy and small group support.  It means reading about the experience of others to compare and contrast.  It means working to change your own ingrained prejudices and attitudes.

You might think that you don't have a prejudiced bone in your body.  You love everybody else, right?  You think all people should be free to pursue their dreams.This doesn't quite work out.  What about the prejudice you have toward yourself?  You think less of yourself than you ought to think.  This is one concept that organized religion usually overlooks:some people feel guilty even though they have done nothing wrong.  They were just there in their own homes or involved in relationships with family members.  What do you think when you hear a sermon on sin?  Do you think: I'd better repent of being a victim?   Or do you think: who is that preacher talking to?  You are not perfect although you may have tried your whole life to be.

You have to come to an acceptance of who you are: a beautiful child of God (or the Universe or whatever your benevolent force is).  You have to let go of the prejudice that there is something depraved about you as a victim.  Just as you work to understand and live along with others who are very different from you in culture, race, or outlook, you must extend that courtesy to yourself.  You must try to see yourself not as your abuser saw you, but as people who love you see you.  If you think no one loves you, then you have not met your Benevolent Force yet.  Get acquainted.

The world, with all its miseries, is here for you.  You need to find your place in it.  It will be a small place, normally, because most of us are not philanthropists or charismatic leaders.  That doesn't mean we are less valuable.  An aphorism comes to mind here: No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

One something for you is to let yourself off the hook.  You are not the perpetrator.  The next thing is to love the person you are.  This is not selfish because if you do not love yourself, you cannot love others.

The third thing is to accept yourself, warts and all as they used to say, and concentrate on being the best person you can be. The last thing is to do whatever it takes to make yourself a whole, loving person.  Go to therapy.  Face the ugly facts.  Search for those parts of you that you want to develop.  You will find others who will love and support you in this.  Call on whatever Higher Power you can conceive of.Give it to the Universe.Turn it over to God.  Accept the help other humans give you.

You will need to tread cautiously as you deal with other people.  You  will have to learn who can and cannot be trusted.  With any person, start with small things and work up.  See how they do with your goldfish before you let them care for your dog.  Check them out.  Where is your therapist registered?  Does he/she have the appropriate license for your state?  How do you feel when you are around that person?  If you pay attention to your feelings, you will either be comfortable though nervous or uncomfortable and nervous.  If it's uncomfortable, try again.

I went through about four therapists before I found one who could help me.  I still had to supplement that therapy with my pastor and with a small group, not to mention a few trusted friends.  When I got too uncomfortable with my therapist (one who really helped me a lot despite it all), I went elsewhere.  Remember, you are dealing with YOUR life.  You are not a textbook case because no one is.  There are similarities between you and other victims, but you are still unique.

So carry on in this new year!  Make this the year that you begin to shine in the full glory that you were made for.  You are a shining star, a beloved child, a valuable person.  Your perpetrator lied.

 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 ¡¡ãI just want to get out alive.¡¡À 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 youşu therapist, friends, Higher Power, books, familyşu to help you choose the behaviors that will lead to peace and happiness.

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