Finding Yourself Dancing into Joy:
Dancing Into Joy
Transcending Sexual Abuse - June 2012
"Emotions, the Media and Life"
by Linde Grace White
It is a good thing that media attention is drawn to issues of sexual abuse. I follow stories like that of Jerry Sandusky with interest, as well as local stories. Are you able to glean some information useful to you in these articles, videos, and talk show presentations? There are four emotions that people feel which vary in intensity: mad, sad, scared, and glad. I feel all of them when I think about sexual abuse.
Sometimes, I just feel very angry about these cases. The descriptions of the crime are horrific, turn my stomach, and leave me in shock. How is it possible for one human being to treat another in these disgusting and frightening ways? It brings my own abuse home to me just when I was successfully recovering and getting beyond it. It’s good for me to “get my mad” on regularly about sexual abuse because unless people are motivated to end abuse, it will not end. Anger, channeled, is a premium motivator. Useful anger isn’t about revenge or getting even, but it is about changing lives and making the world safer for human beings.
There is a lot of sadness, too, as I hear these tales of abuse.I am saddened by the waste of a person whose innocence can never be returned, whose trust is broken, and who will, possibly, never be able to have a satisfying relationship with someone. Abuse is never just physical. People do not “get over it.” The residual effects are there for life. Your body may, more or less, recover, depending upon how sadistic and cruel your abuser was, but you will never again view it as normal. You will have been threatened. You will have been told you are worthless and less than human. You may have seen animals abused as well. Scenes like that never leave you. You will, like me, always turn off the SPCA commercials on TV or leave the room. It brings back too much. Abuse leaves more than mere scars. It leaves gashes that continue to bleed years later.
Fear is the third strong emotion that affects you as you reflect on stories of abuse, both your own and others.All the dread, sheer physical disgust and physical danger come flooding back. You are instantly back in time to when and where you were abused. The smells return, the feelings return, and the panic returns. You can successfully repress fear the majority of the time, yet one word in a story in the paper or on the news can trigger the full experience for you. Abuse is traumatic. Never let anyone minimize its effect on you. Fear drives people to a lot of places they’d rather not go, to choices they would otherwise not make, and even to developing alter personalities. It is all about safety. You learned that safety, even with a parent, perhaps, is no given.
Gladness is, probably, the last emotion that you would associate with abuse. It doesn’t make any sense to be glad about experiences that shatter strong people, yet there are glad notes, particularly when you are learning to be the best you there can be. I’m glad of my abuse because it has forced me to confront who I really am. It has enabled me to help others and to prevent, to some extent, further abuse. It has made me a better parent than I would have been otherwise. Abuse has made me more compassionate. Of course, something in everyone’s life will have allowed that person to learn and grow in these same ways. It’s just that in my case, and yours that spur to growth was abuse. Since I can’t control the behavior of another person, I couldn’t control my abuser or what he did. I was a victim. That is a fact. The difference between me and someone who continues to be victimized is that I have not remained a victim. I have made great efforts with therapy, readings, small groups, writing, and, even, university courses to overcome as much of the negative effects of abuse as I can. I have learned from those effects as well. I made a special effort to include my spirit, too, and my concept of God and religionhelp me because the spirit is a vital part of a person and cannot be ignored or denied.
I have learned what my triggers are and am seldom caught unaware by them. When I encounter them, I am able to tell myself that I am in control, that I know my response is up to me. I am not a victim of some odor, turn of phrase, or look in someone else’s eye.
I have learned that some people and some types of people are toxic to me. That is the key concept: they are toxic to ME. This doesn’t mean that I think God doesn’t love them or that I think they should be punished necessarily. It just means that I know who I am and with whom I can work. God does not need my advice. I pay close attention to the people I meet. If it doesn’t feel right, then I stay as far away as possible. I am cordial, if I can be, and do not obstruct their legal and moral activities nor do I argue with them unless there’s truly no escape. I remain strong and my “no” means no. If I need help sticking to that, I get help.
I have learned to be careful in all my dealings with others and to leave no questions about my thoughts or behavior to their interpretation. I ask before I touch someone. I make certain that the parent of a child I think is cute is aware of what I am doing and doesn’t feel threatened. I do not make assumptions about what other people will like or want. If I am trying to serve or please them, I ask,” What would you like me to do (get for you)?” I treat others as much as possible in the way I want to be treated. (And, yeah, you’ve heard that before!)
If all this seems bizarre to you, then I will guess that you are blessed not to have suffered any serious abuse in your lifetime. I am glad for you. I would caution you, please, not to dismiss people who are struggling with recovery which is a life- long endeavor. Do not base your judgments on your own opinions or experiences without considering the things you don’t and can’t know. You read about, say, Jerry Sandusky, in the paper or see him on TV. Try not to take a side until you hear all the evidence, but be aware of the nature of an abuser: there is always some reasonable explanation for his behavior IN HIS OPINION. Abusers are always self-centered, unconcerned with the effects of their behavior on others, and believe that they are entitled to treat others in any way that suits them, up to and including torture and murder. You are, without doubt, a fine, decent, and moral person who loves others and wouldn’t hurt a fly. Just remember, not everybody who walks among us is like you.
Since 1 in 4 girls and about 1 in 6 boys in the U. S. are molested or otherwise sexually abused before their 18th birthday, you can rest assured that you know quite a few survivors of abuse.* As you deal with yourself and others and, especially, as you hear the news, keep that fact in mind and treat others as you would want to be treated. If you need some authority for that stance, remember that this is the advice of Jesus.
*Statistics come from Darkness to Light based on adult retrospective studies conducted by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006. About 42 million U.S. adults are survivors.500,000 babies born this year will be sexually abused before age 18.
Transcending Sexual Abuse - January 2012
"How I Learned I was a Pit Bull"
by Linde Grace White
copyright 2007 Linde Grace White, reprinted from "Spotlight on Recovery"
When I realized that childhood sexual abuse, incest, caused my depression and other symptoms, I also discovered my pit bull genes.No DNA tests proved that I am related to that particular canine, but I have the pit bull's tenacity, aggression, and focus when it comes to problem-solving.Believing that knowledge is power, I set about learning everything I possibly could about domestic violence and sexual abuse. Consulting therapists (both the usual kind and the spiritual kind), reading extensively, joining a self-help group, and exploring statistics were just the beginning.I reviewed college courses in psychology I'd taken to earn my teaching certification.I paid attention at in-service meetings and continuing education.I was teaching survivors of various forms of abuse, abuse so serious that five and six-year-olds showed sufficient symptoms to put them in my draws-from-four-counties special education class in a public school for severely emotionally disturbed and behavior disordered students.For a while there, it was the blind leading the blind.I was just as disturbed as the kids in my class.That's where the pit bull genes showed up. Those genes got me through a very rough period in my life, and I think I am now as recovered as I can get.
Like most survivors, I thought my family was the most dysfunctional on the block. I could match just about anyone blow for blow with how bad it was.That was a good thing.As I listened and talked and compared my experience with that of others, I began to notice the common themes.Abusers are ego-centric people who only feel in control when they are controlling someone else.Abusers believe they've been dealt a bad hand in the card game of life.They know they deserve better and it is somehow your fault that things didn't work out for them.They think that because you are related to them, you are an object, like their car or their golf clubs; therefore, you can be treated in any way they choose to treat you.In fact, if it weren't for you, life would be a better experience for them.Clearly, as survivors, you and I didn't accept that philosophy at all.We have found a way to become strong, productive people capable of genuine love for others.We have learned to treat others as human beings and to treat ourselves with love and care.
My pit bull approach to survival and recovery stands in stark contrast to my brother's approach.He prefered not to think about the abuse at all, if possible.In my opinion, this did not work well for him. He got all the physical abuse our dad liked to dish out.I remember shivering in my bed, listening to my dad beat the holy you-know-what out of my brother, and hoping he'd forget he had a little girl. I felt so helpless because I didn't think my brother deserved that treatment, but there was nothing I could do.My brother was well aware of dad's sexual abuse of me, but, what could he do about it?Our mother did little to protect us.She didn't call the cops, she didn't talk to anyone in her family, or the community about it.Our teachers didn't seem to know that we weren't just a lovely family: after all, dad taught Sunday school and mom was president of the PTA. So, my brother continued to believe that if you ignore abuse and its effects, it will go away.He asked his wife why she thought I wanted"to go through all that."He thought I was nuts.I think he was crazy to let this misery control his life.
My brother died this week of more medical problems than you shake the proverbial stick at.He did not feel worthy of treatment for his conditions.He didn't value himself enough to take care of himself.I have the same chronic disease, but am in far better health.I do not mean to say that disease process is caused by abuse, but the course of a disease is affected by our evaluation ofourworth and value.My brother had no religious faith as far as I know. My whole support group is made up of people I know through my religious faith. Did my brother go to Hell?I have no idea.Will I go to heaven?Don't know.What I do know is that my support group allows me to function and enjoy my life. My brother chose to avoid the pain of facing the truth and making changes in his life only to suffer even more. During my journey through the pain, headmitted to some of the abuse he endured, but he did not made any effort that I can see to change himself. And that is the critical piece of recovery: the only person you can change is yourself, so you have to learn to see yourself as a worthwhile human being and treat yourself and others accordingly. No, it isn’t easy and can take years.
Abusers think only about themselves.One of the most difficult aspects of being a survivor is to accept the fact that someone who is supposed to love and care for you actually does not.This is also one of the most difficult concepts to explain to "normal" people.These people (and there are fewer of them than you think) cannot conceive of a spouse, parent, or sibling who just does not love you. The betrayal of that person who is expected to love you makes it nearly impossible to learn to trust anyone. We of the world of the recovered have learned to watch for the behaviors, words, and attitudes that say here is a trustworthy person.It takes years to learn something that "normal" people learn from their families.
Abusers do not think they are having any long-lasting effect on their victims. They think we will forget or "get over it," or it doesn't occur to them to think about this at all. No matter what they may say, abusers do not care about you.They care about themselves.Anything positive or "nice" that they say or do is designed to keep you around as a victim. When I grew out of my dad's preferred age range, he simply moved on to younger kids, and wanted me out of the house. For him, the purpose of my going to college was to get me gone. He thought to the end of his days that my brother and I were in cahoots to do him in.It's true we wanted nothing to do with him, but we collaborated to insure him an income for life.He lived where he wanted to.We saw to it that he had medical care when he needed it. He still sued us for the money we had placed in trust for him. Abusers do not change except in rare circumstances.
Incest and domestic violence are what taught me about my pit bull roots. I recommend that other survivors look for their pit bull roots, too, because there is no magic to make you a whole, loving, and content human being. You have to hang in there, change yourself, and studiously judge other people’s motives in regard to you. It took me about ten years of concerted effort, but I’m so glad I turned out to be a pit bull!
Transcending Sexual Abuse - December 2011
"People are Not Objects"
by Linde Grace White
My friend started a 9 year prison term last Friday. He actually got a break and a reasonable sentence because he admitted doing the crime, made every effort to make amends, lived an exemplary life on house arrest, and turned up in court with plenty of support, including mine.
Another friend of mine is serving a life sentence for murder. She admits that she killed the man, has done absolutely everything possible to qualify for parole, has had no behavior problems in the last 22 years, and, yet, she is now trying to get a new trial since there were significant problems with evidence in the first trial. In my opinion, the least the state could do would be release her on time served. There is a chance of that in 3 years.
Well, you say, don¡¯t do the crime if you can¡¯t do the time. That certainly makes sense. In the case of my male friend, he definitely chose to do the wrong thing, but nobody¡¯s life or property was lost due directly to his crime. His crime was viewing and collecting child pornography. If you were wondering, that is a felony in every state. He was living a comfortable middle class lifestyle, has a family, colleagues and friends, and access to psychiatric help. He, apparently, didn¡¯t think he was hurting anybody.
My female friend, on the other hand, killed her stepfather because he sexually and physically abused both her and her mother. When he told her, believably, that he would kill her mother if she did not have sex with him, she killed him. That was wrong, of course, and it can be argued that she could have chosen a different way of dealing with the problem, but that argument does not take into account many other factors including time, psychological affect of abuse, limited means, limited human resources (She couldn¡¯t wait months to get an appointment with a social worker and police do not usually respond unless there is a demonstrable emergency. A threat is not enough to involve police.)
Obviously, I am inclined to think that my male friend needs to man up, do his time, and completely reorganize his thinking while I think my female friend should be set free. My thinking is further complicated by the fact that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse whose perpetrator may be suffering in Hell at this moment, but I can take no satisfaction in that. First, whatever someone suffers after his/her death is unknown to me and out of the realm of possible knowledge or control. In short, forget about it. Second, although many people knew of my abuse, nobody felt it imperative to do anything about it, including my mother. There are more ways now than there were then to intervene, but an alarming number of people think ¡°it¡¯s none of my business.¡± Third, nobody could make any money off my abuse. One reason I was a victim is that I was, more or less, free of charge. Fourth, people are selfish and egocentric. They often view others as objects as if ¡°If it¡¯s not MY little girl in those dirty pictures, then it¡¯s all right that she was posed, threatened, bribed, or whatever it took to enrich a third party.¡±
Many American people were righteously indignant when Casey Anthony was acquitted of the murder of her daughter early this summer. Our justice system is flawed, but it is the justice system we have to work with and, in many ways, it serves us well by preventing emotions to override facts. We have had several trials in recent history where the accused was acquitted when the overwhelming sense of justice said the person was guilty. The majority sense of justice has generally gotten its due in terms of how the acquitted person fares in society after release. This is not a happy outcome. Mistakes both in acquittal and conviction have been made and continue to be made. Some people do, indeed, get away with murder. Should we just hang them straight away? What if, as in the case of the 3 men in Arkansas, it can be demonstrated even many years later that they could not have done the crimes they were accused of? In this country, we feel much better if we think the wrong-doer (or somebody) is undergoing some level of misery in some proportion to the misery that person created. Bernie Madoff will never get out of jail, but the money he stole will also never make it back to the pockets of those who trusted him with it in the first place. It doesn¡¯t seem fair. O. J. Simpson didn¡¯t really enjoy freedom and is now back in jail for other crimes not related to the murder charge he was not convicted of.
We tend to think that if a person will commit a crime, then he or she will commit others. There is a certain amount of truth in that because we fail to make crime less necessary or appealing as a solution to problems in our society. Back in the day when cities and towns were smaller, there was more opportunity to nip social issues before they led to crime, not that we actually had the foresight to take action on those issues so as to reduce potential crime. As we have grown, we have not adjusted ourselves to new realities. We have set the standard of living bar so high that only a few people can live the way they want to. This is nothing new at all, of course, but now, instead of imagining how the rich live, we see it on TV 24 hours a day. Meanwhile, we are told by people trying to sell things, that we are missing out, that we deserve something better, that whatever we desire should, by rights (whatever we say they are), be ours. There is no need to wait, to plan, to work or figure out a legitimate way to acquire what we want. Other people are images on the screen. They are not our neighbors, fellow travelers on the journey of life, or members of our family. They are objects and obstacles to our getting what we want or think we want.
My male friend did not have a jury trial. He agreed to have his case heard by a judge only. My female friend believed that a jury trial would be the most fair. Who was right? What should be done with felons? Why don¡¯t we try harder to get at the roots of crime?
The root of crime is, usually, poverty whether real or perceived or revenge. People continue to think that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is fine. Those who are Christian, have to take into account that Jesus (who really didn¡¯t pronounce on laws current in his day all that often) said, ¡°You have heard that it was said, ¡®An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.¡¯ But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you.¡± (Matt. 5:38-39) One has to wonder how such equivalent justice does much goodþu now you have two blind people or toothless people instead of one. Insurance companies try to put a value on various body parts, but that, of course, is only approximate and doesn¡¯t begin to recompense for the real losses.
When we consider sex crimes of any sort, we run onto horrible problems. It was fairly easy in Jesus¡¯ day: you simply stoned the offender. The offender died and everybody else was supposed to learn from that. It didn¡¯t work. Today, we occasionally execute someone, but, usually, they serve a long prison term and then have to be placed on the Sex Offender List so that the public knows whom to watch out for. It is, perhaps, a step in the right direction, but, there again, it doesn¡¯t go to the root of the crime. Today¡¯s laws attempt to address such issues as what constitutes private, consensual behavior, how is the public affected, is the behavior likely to cause physical, psychological, or emotional damage and, if it does, how do we quantify that damage and how can it be remedied. The possibility for problems goes on and on. We throw our effort into fixing and pay relatively little attention to prevention.
Everyone deserves a safe and happy childhood. All people should be born into loving families who can feed, clothe, and shelter them adequately. All people should have some older children and adults who mentor them and teach them right from wrong, steer them in a good direction, support their talents and skills, talk to them and love them. This, of course, is not happening nearly enough. When we get ourselves hung up on issues such as homosexuality, abortion, or, even, who gets the good jobs, we sell ourselves short. We show our selfishness all day every day and do nothing to promote the law of love that should govern our every action. You will find this law to be a tenet of practically every religion and generally acknowledged by persons of no faith whatsoever. It is this: treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Would you enjoy being threatened with losing your life or the life of a loved one? Would you like to lose your virginity by force? If you have anything at all, would you like it to be stolen? Is it your goal in life to be lied to, taken advantage of, or treated as less than human? If your answer is no, then I have one more question: what are you doing to others and how can you help others to follow the law of love?
Transcending Sexual Abuse - November 2011
"They're Back . . . and so are We""
by Linde Grace White
They're ba-ack! The holidays, that is. No matter what has happened since
last year, this year is different. What has changed for you? Do you think
you are in better or worse shape? What are you going to continue to work on
or what changes need to be made?
These are questions we ask ourselves whether consciously or sub-consciously.
There is, I think, with survivors of abuse, a permanent undercurrent of
dread when significant and traditional family occasions occur. Probably the
most significant holidays are Thanksgiving and Christmas, coming as they do,
near the end of the calendar year. These are intense times. The media won't
let you forget a single second of whatever they consider to be the normal
celebration. You should be working now to make the holidays more of what you
want and less of what means nothing to you or causes you pain.
If the holidays tend to cause you more pain than pleasure, here are some
tips to make them more tolerable.
1. It's really only 24 hours, no matter what. On December 26, it
is business as usual in just about every area. You can do almost anything
for a few hours. Make yourself as comfortable physically as you can. Don't
drink too much. You need your wits about you. Limit your visits and
visitors. Do not do anything you don't want to do. It will happen again next
year, so start making new traditions to suit you now.
2. Shopping is big for a lot of folks around the holidays (or taking back
stuff you didn't want in the first place). I don't like to shop at all, so I
make sure I have some plan that entertains me. If you like to shop and don't
mind the crowds, go for it! Plan your strategy and have a blast. I will be
warm and cozy at home reading a good book.
3. Analyze everything you plan to do over the holidays. Just don't do
anything you don't want to do. Don't want to take down the Christmas tree?
Maybe this is the year to set up a small artificial tree. I have a ceramic
one that lights up, made for me by a loved cousin. It comes out of the box
when I get around to it and goes back in the box when I'm ready. That takes
about 10 minutes tops, and no mess. My 2- year- old grandson has entered his
rebellious stage. When confronted with a situation he doesn't want to be a
part of, he says, "I NOT!" I have learned from him. If I don't want to do it
and it is not essential, then I say, "I NOT!!"If you absolutely have to do
something you don't want to do, then do as much on your own terms as
possible. Control as much as you can, and remind yourself that you are
strong and can do what you need to do. You are not a victim any more. You
are an adult in charge of yourself. It is perfectly all right to have other
plans, including plans to put on your p.j.'s and watch TV.
4. Don't go to places that bring back unwanted memories. If we're talking
about the family home, meet those people somewhere else if at all possible.
Public places exist so we can meet people outside of our homes. If you don't
want to see those people, they probably don't want to see you. Spare
everybody the misery. Don't want to bake a ton of cookies or other treats
that folks keep telling you they can't eat or that you don't want to eat?
When pressed, bakeries always need your support. Buy 3 dozen cookies, take
them to the place where they go, drop them off, say how lovely the place
looks, etc. and then, excuse yourself.
5. Don't feel obliged to buy lots of presents for people. If there is an
office or workplace "Santa Claus Project," either opt out or stick strictly
to the rules and don't worry about it. As for people you want to give gifts
to, one thoughtful gift from the heart beats the most expensive big box
store gift. Despite what the Kay's Jewelry Store ads say, spending more does
not indicate the depth of your love.
In short, think about what you really want to do and then do that. God so
loved the world that God didn't send a committee. God gave a part of God's
own self. If you feel grateful for that gift, then respond in the way you
believe and feel is most significant. Your Higher Power, whatever form that
takes, wants the best for you. You are not required to sacrifice, but you
are required to be the best you there is in this world. Nobody is going to
read your mind and do things geared strictly to make you happy. Not that
many folks actually care that much about you, so you have to take yourself
in hand. You have to have self-esteem and a sense of what ultimately
convinces you that you are a worthwhile person who belongs here in the
world. There is nothing outside of you that will do it. If you are person of
prayer, pray for the insight into yourself that you need, recognize the love
that surrounds you, and do only those things that are positive for your
Unless you love yourself in the most genuine way, you cannot love others
because you will not know what will be perceived as loving by them. Have you
ever done something that you thought was kind, loving, and unselfish only to
be rebuffed by the recipient? We all have. That is because we are all adept
at seeing others through our own eyes and filters. If we truly love
ourselves, we can find ways to do significant service to others and
ourselves because we will be able to look beyond our hurts and angers to see
how others see things. Once we know that, we will know what to do.
Linde's other columns:
2009 - July through December
2009 - January through June
2008 - July through December
2008 - January through June
2007 through December
2007 - Summer through September
2007 - April through June
2007 - January through March
Linde Grace White, author of Dollbaby: Triumph Over Childhood Sexual Abuse, Cedar House, 2005
To learn more about Linde, click here.