Posted by: speakoutservices | November 23, 2011

Gobbling Up Guilt

Heintz will be making my gravy for Thanksgiving this year accompanied by his friend Stove Top who I hear makes a mean and quick stuffing. Ocean Spray is bringing the cranberry salad, and Libby’s Easy Pumpkin Pie will fill the Pillsbury shells quite nicely. This holiday will be a breeze and I am not feeling the least bit guilty for failing to peel potatoes, dry bread crumbs or suffer with making a pie crust by hand.

Like many middle age women, I remember my mother and grandmothers slaving for days to crank out a Thanksgiving meal – which tasted wonderful – but seemed to exact a pretty heavy toll on the chefs. And I also remember some of the men in the family sitting in the other room watching football. It seemed a “good” wife and mother was really not supposed to have fun on Thanksgiving other than making sure the masses were fed. Hence, the birth of guilt for the working women of today who want more than standing in a kitchen all day from their holiday, but deep inside continue to play the comparison game with how a mother/wife “should” perform these traditions.

Now I will acknowledge that many women do enjoy and derive pleasure from cooking for their families.  For some women, cooking is just an extension of love and mothering.  For me, cooking is a hated chore only second in revulsion to cleaning the commode.  I mother by spending lots of time with my kids, but that time is usually not spent next to an oven.  Over the years, this produced quite a reservoir of guilt compounded by the legacy of guilt/shame associated with being a trauma survivor.  I recently became very aware of how I was being swallowed up with guilt and decided it was time to let it go.

With my minister’s help, we spent the day doing a purging of all the events in my life that still contained guilt.  For me, guilt is also heavily connected to self-forgiveness – or the lack thereof.   For many of the events in my life, I felt I had the forgiveness of God, but I never allowed that forgiveness into my heart.  I never drank it in.  Therefore, my minister and I created a ritual where I spoke my guilt aloud and then drank from a chalice of blessed water.  Sometimes it was more of a chug than a sip and I made sure I trucked a half-gallon into the woods where we found a quiet bench to do our work.

I was able to drink from the cup of forgiveness and have found compassion for the woman who looks at me in my reflection.  This Thanksgiving I gobbled up my guilt, and I am most thankful for this freedom and the minister who could hear this raw pain and be with me in its transformation.

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Posted by: speakoutservices | September 5, 2011

My Life in Color: Being Deserving of Home

My refrigerator is sitting in my living room, half of the couch is on the patio, and my cupboard contents are spilled out all over the floor.  It feels like a hurricane has hit my home, but it is really just a process of remodeling.  But the biggest change of all is the color!  After 14 years of staring at white walls, we have gone bold with a “Mid-Summer Twilight” violet, accented by “Leaf Bud” green.  All the door and window frames are a creamy, beige which probably has some cool name if I were not too lazy to get up to look at the can in my garage.  My Hamburger Helper world just got more Rachel Rayish and I never knew I had it in me.  Or perhaps, I never believed I deserved more than ground beef.

I am always taken back when, after twenty plus years of recovery, I am still learning how trauma has effected my life.  Just when I think I have it all nailed down, I get a “wow” moment.  And my most recent awakening came when I looked at my first brightly painted room.  I felt happy and rejuvenated by the thrust of color, and I could not help but wonder just what has taken me so darn long to get here?  Why have I lived with the bland walls, the million-year-old-won’t-come-clean carpet, and the disorganized mayhem I have come home to everyday?

At first, I answered my question with rational reasons – too expensive, no time, kids will just make a mess anyway.  After all, they are little and will spill stuff, right?  Except they are now 14 and 11, and while not exactly mess free, they left sippy-cup land eons ago.  But when I probe deeper, and really think about how I define “home”, my first thought is a place to run as far away from as possible.  The emotional climate of my childhood home was often tense, uncertain, and at times violent.  It was like living with people but being plagued with isolation, and running a white glove over the dust-free house filthy with the secret of incest.  While I believe I have done a good job of being emotionally-present and spending time with my children, I have created a physical space worthy of running from.  It took my daughter to finally point out to me how much she wanted a better living space.

My kids are my greatest teachers.

She helped me to see a new definition of  “home”.   A place of comfort, stability, safety – and beauty.  A place where you want, and deserve, to stay put.

Posted by: speakoutservices | August 17, 2011

Back to Boring Old School: Remembering When School was Fun

I wish I still had it, but I can see it in my mind’s eye.  It was a special candle that looked like an ice cream float, and I made it myself in the 6th grade.  I poured the colored wax in a glass mug, whipped some white wax for the foam, and rolled a little red ball in my palms for the cherry on top.  It looked really cool, and it was only one of several candles we made during an entire week of candle-making  in art class. 

My elementary days also included many science fairs, flower shows, and week-long trips to a historic farm.  Teachers had the time, energy, and freedom to be creative.  I had one very innovative fourth grade teacher who gave us all pretend checkbooks with a monetary balance.  If we had good behavior, she would fill out a deposit ticket and our coffers would increase, and likewise if we messed up, we had to write checks and lower our balance.  We did this for many months learning an important life skill while collecting a hefty sum for the auction she had at the end of the year.  She brought in a variety of toys, some more valuable than others, and the good stuff went to the highest bidder.

Such were the good old days when school was actually fun.

Substitute teaching and raising two children has confirmed the sad reality of the educational world of today in Ohio (and probably other states too) – school is boring.  When I show up in a classroom of 6-year-olds, I am given stacks and stacks of papers for them to fill out all day long.  Granted, they may be trying to make it “easy” for the sub (since when is asking little kids to sit all day really easier?), but this pattern repeats itself over and over, and I hear it in the words of my own children:

“What did you do in school today?”

“Filled out a bunch of stupid papers.”

So what has happened that has drained the life out of education so much that my kids (who get good grades) are dreading everyday that gets closer to the prison they know as school?  While I think there are many factors, with the poor economy being a big one, I place most of the problem on proficiency testing.  The concept of “no child left behind” is a good one, because we do not want any child going without a solid foundation of education.  But by choosing to implement this by teaching to a test, giving endless rounds of practice tests, and stressing kids and teachers out by pushing for high results, the fun in school has gone down the toilet.

And if school is a drag for kids who have healthy families, can you imagine the negative impact for the children who are suffering from situational stress or trauma?  They are already developmentally and academically behind the other children through no fault of their own, and now they have the added pressure of testing which serves as another reminder that they do not measure up.  This is another blow to their fragile self-worth that they do not need.

So how do we stop this testing which most teachers admit to me that they hate during our lunch room conversations?  Teachers are afraid of losing their jobs, so they won’t speak up.  Administrators are afraid of losing tax levies, so they won’t speak up.  So it appears that change has to come from the bottom up, and that parents must begin to do the speaking on behalf of their children.

I took such action last spring when I was probably the only parent at the middle school who refused to allow my daughter to take the tests due to the extreme stress (crying and sleepless nights) it was causing her.  I did my research and found out that I had every right to refuse this testing.  I was getting calls from the Curriculum Director at 10 pm trying to convince me to test my daughter or else she would get a zero on the test and it might ruin the schools “numbers”.

I told her that, in my opinion, school was already ruined.  I was trying to save it.

Posted by: speakoutservices | July 30, 2011

30 Years and Counting: How Did I Turn Out?

I am painting my nails now in anticipation of my 30th high school reunion taking place in a couple of hours.  This is the third time I have attended the reunion, and I am noticing how different I look each time.  I fear I am going to have to go to the Fire Department and borrow the “Jaws of Life” just to trim this big toe.  The box of Nice and Easy will save my gray temples from detection, and I will have a few hidden contraptions to lift, enhance, and suck in various body parts. 

I suspect I am no different form my other classmates who are doing much the same things to look their best this evening.  We will all surely have pictures of our children (maybe a few grandkids), talk about our careers, and spend the night discovering how we all “turned out.”  As it is, I have yet to write a bestseller, get a doctorate, speak to packed arenas, or take luxurious vacations abroad every year.  Instead, I have a nice little home with really worn out carpet, my own small (and growing) training business, and a mini-trip planned to Cedar Point where I hope not to get sick on the first ride.  Most importantly, I have a great husband (who is still the first one) and two wonderful, thriving kids who are a little less wonderful before noon. 

So how did I “turn out”?

Well, here’s how I could have turned out:

I could have failed school with the constant fighting with and abuse from my father, and had no graduation at all.  And no job prospects.

I could have continued to use drugs to escape the pain and watched my life spiral out-of-control, destroying my realtionships, finances, and health.

I could have created another violent home with messed up kids who could have ended up as confused foster children.

I could be on my second or third marriage – picking another abuser each time.

I could be trapped in a life of depression, anger, and bitterness over what happened to me.

I could have ended it all permanently through accident or design.

Sadly, there are incest survivors living these realities right now as I figure out which cream will fill in my wrinkles.  I look in the mirror with gratitude for the newfound perspective on the amazing life I have and the Grace that brought me to this point.  I pray for the survivors who don’t yet realize they have the power to change.

I think I turned out damn good.

Posted by: speakoutservices | June 30, 2011

Waiting for Justice: The Entitlement Trap

How will he act when he comes home? 

Will he be nice to me today…or not?

How bad will it hurt?  

I must be really bad for him to hate me so much. 

Such were my repetitive worries as a child waiting to be abused – and waiting for the help that never arrived.   Multiply this by minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years of utter helplessness and powerlessness, and what was left?  A human shell who had gone numb.  An enraged soul seeking revenge.  A depressed person dragging through the day.  At times, all of the above. 

Eventually time became my friend and blessed me with adulthood, but how do you conceptualize “choice” when you have never experienced it?  Life carried on in perpetual victimization with the teacher who was unfair, the boss who expected too much, and the friends who were selfish.  The line between who was truly hurtful and my imagined injustices began to blur.  It seemed the world was simply out to get me, and my sense of entitlement grew with every wrong.  I was owed – big time.

It seemed the Universe had played some bad trick on me and reversed the rules of decency and fairness.  When you do bad things, you are supposed to have bad consequences, right?  So why was I watching my perpetrator prosper while I was writing big checks to my therapist?.  When you have needlessly suffered, aren’t you “supposed” to be redeemed in some manner?  I needed my ship to come in soon, and have it not be the Titanic.

I can intimately understand how people who have experienced mounds and mounds of repetitive injustice make the headlines in the newspapers.  They are the ones dragging guns into the schools and workplaces.  I know this pain and how it penetrates every cell in your body calling you to become the Universe and make justice finally attainable – calling you to the entitlement of power.

But to violently act on this calling turns you into the same mold of wrong you wish to destroy. 

It was this single thought alone that stood between me and the front page of the Dayton Daily News.  I knew in my heart that I could never, ever become that which I loathed.  My perpetrator had taken so much, but he could not steal my inherent goodness unless I gave it up myself.  Over a very long time, I worked through the anger and resentment of prolonged injustice.  Age and wisdom has helped me accept that I live in a frequently unpredictable, unfair world where there are no “rules” about how, when, or if justice will be served.

Perhaps this is why I have dedicated my life to advocacy for abused children.  If there is any justice to be found in the world, it will come from those who take action.  A child growing up with fairness is a child who will make headlines for the good of humanity.

I just attended a high school commencement ceremony filled with young faces full of excitement for their future and sentiment surrounding their final moments together.   The valedictory address was delivered beautifully by a young woman who could probably run rings round me on an SAT exam (I can’t recall my noon meal let alone a quadratic equation, whatever that is.)  But throughout her speech, I chuckled several times when she repeatedly referred to her classmates as being “wise” women. 

Oh, how I thought I was “wise” 30 years ago when I collected a high school diploma!  But the emerging road map on my once fresh face makes me realize just how little my 18-year-old self really knew about life.  Here is a list of some truths I’ve learned simply by living long enough to enjoy arthritis:

  • The fears of “fitting in”, wearing the “right” clothes, and dating the “right” people completely dissolve in the real world outside of high school.  By middle age, you know who you are, what you want, and you simply don’t care what other people think of you – quite freeing.  Your clothing need not be designer, but does need elastic.
  • You realize the commencement encouragement to “follow your dreams” does not always equate to paying your bills or meeting your expectations.  Be happy just to write the book instead of creating the best seller.  Never give up, but adjust to reality.
  • “Changing the world” really means to do really important small things to change the life of the few people you will cross in your lifetime.   
  • “Planning for your future” is all fine and good, until you get the game changer you never anticipated.  Ask anybody facing cancer, a stock market crash, or a pink slip from GM, if that was in their blueprint.  Make peace (over time) with life’s curve balls and accept a new path.
  • Relationships are not flowers, candy, and hot Vampires you meet in high school.  The romance part quickly fades after roses get replaced with diapers.  Relationships are about honesty, trust, communication, and a ton of negotiation when you have the same argument over 25 years.  You end up with a companion on life’s journey who feeds you chocolate only if you drop huge hints on your anniversary.
  • Life’s stresses are always more manageable if you have a friend, support group, or therapist in your life at the right time.  Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.  It takes more courage to face your pain with assistance than it does to deny it, run from it, or “handle it” alone.

Thirty years from now an accomplished, successful  middle age woman will pull out her commencement speech and grin – knowing she is finally as “wise” as her teenage self thought she was.

Posted by: speakoutservices | June 6, 2011

Medication and Mental Health: The Need for Common Sense

Since when can you accurately diagnose a two-year-old with pediatric bi-polar disorder?

I just read a great article in the APSAC Advisor (Winter/Spring 2011) by Janet Cahill, PhD questioning the legitimacy of this diagnosis, and I could not agree more.  Dr. Cahill examines the history of PBD tracing it back to Dr. Joseph Biederman who had a position at Harvard University.  Dr. Bierderman’s research had a tremendous impact on clinicians who began to treat children as young as two with this “disorder” using adult mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications.  Currently, Dr. Biederman is under investigation for conflicts of interest for accepting 1.6 million dollars in consulting fees from drug companies during the years he advocated for expanded use of this medication for children.

It is a controversy coming too late for Rebecca Riley, a four-year-old who died from an overdose of adult bi-polar medication.  The clinician who prescribed this relied solely on the behavioral assessment of the parents who had a history of involvement in child protective services.  They were later convicted of their daughter’s murder.  The clinician is still practicing and must be proudly displaying her degree obtained from deep within those Cracker Jack’s.

How do people with advanced degrees lack such basic common sense, and why do we accept it as truth?  I am a parent who reared two children through the “terrible twos” and it never occurred to me to rush my kids to a psychiatrist because they ran around uncontrollably, lacked focus, and threw themselves on the floor at K-Mart.  I didn’t need to go to Harvard to figure out this was normal developmental behavior, and my children did not need a pill to correct it.  I was also someone willing to go through the trials associated with parenting without getting a quick fix to make my child’s behavior more comfortable.

My plea is for a return to common sense and caution when giving anyone psychotropic medications, especially children.  Common sense dictates that accurate diagnosis in children needs to wait until they are mature enough to rule out normal developmental temperament, needs to involve a thorough assessment from several sources (not just parents), and needs to leave medication as a last resort until all other methods have been exhausted.  Children are also very accurate barometers of their home life, so the parents likely need more fixing than the kids. 

I personally do not use psychotropic medications because I have learned how to simply work through my emotions through journaling, prayer, discussion, and exercise.  However, I am clearly not on the anti-medication bandwagon.  I have seen many survivors successfully use medications and I have friends who are great parents who have children using ADHD medications with positive outcomes.  I am all for reasonable, cautious use of medications after talk therapies and behavioral interventions have proved unsuccessful or need enhanced.

Our children deserve more than just being handed a pill to swallow, and it is up to the application of common sense (and good ethics) to assure we dig for the truth.

Posted by: speakoutservices | May 31, 2011

Liberty and Justice for All: Remembering the Fallen

Author’s Note:  These thoughts are excerpts of a keynote I presented at The Dayton, Ohio, 2006 Child Abuse Healing Field where 1400 full-sized flags were placed high on the hill of the Masonic Temple overlooking the city.  The flags represented the number of children who died that year in the United States from child abuse.

“Indivisible with liberty, and justice for all…”

All of us have repeated these words with our hands held across our hearts while we face our nation’s flag.  The Pledge of Allegiance has been memorized and repeated since our earliest school days.  It is a vow of loyalty to these higher principles symbolized in red, white, and blue. 

Nothing tests the principles of unity, liberty, and justice more than war.  It is therefore fitting that all memorials to war veterans are commemorated in the presence of our flag.  This weekend in a powerful display of 1400 flags, you have come to intimately know the war of child abuse.  And you have honored the casualties of that war who died before they ever really lived.  So in a bizarre twist of fate, the flag now flies for those who appear to have had no liberty and no justice.

I come before you today as a veteran of this war.  Like the young we memorialize, I too was only but 4-years-old when the nightmare of incest entered my life.  The father who I loved and adored was the same man who I hated and feared. This is the damaging paradox that most abused children live with everyday.  I believe this betrayal above all else had the most lasting and profound negative effect on the rest of my life.  And I could spend my precious time with you showing you my war wounds and the scars that will always be there.  But instead I want to share my miraculous journey of liberty and justice.

During the worst moments of the war I fought, when the physical and psychological pain was more than I could bear, there was a distinct presence with me.  I can only define it as a great force of pure love; a force that surrounded my soul and bore the brunt of the pain.  Its presence reassured me I was not alone.  Once I became an adult, I began to recognize this force of love ever present in my life.  It showed up as the teacher who encouraged me, the counselor who listened, the friend who was my rock, and the neighbor who offered safe harbor.  This love guided me to just the right support group meetings where by “coincidence” I heard the exact things I needed to hear.  It placed the book in my hand when I was in need of information.  It provided the peace of nature so I could listen inside myself to its calling and guidance.

Throughout my years and years of intense healing work, this force guided me from a place of intense rage and vengefulness, to a place of complete peace and forgiveness – to a place of liberty.  And this love called me to speak out, to train others how to recognize abused children, and to stand before you today with the message that justice can be found in the transformational power of love.  A love so powerful and amazing it can turn a severely broken and deeply wounded child into a strong, loving and confident woman.  A woman who now experiences the ultimate justice by rearing two beautiful children in a home free from violence.  All that I am and all that ever I hope to be is because of the miracle of love.

Yes, liberty and justice are possible, even for the 1400 little souls we have honored this weekend.  I believe that as it was for me, so it was for them – that in their greatest moments of need the force of love liberated them from pain and isolation.  I take comfort in the conviction that they did not die alone.  And if we become unified and indivisible in our allegiance to our living children, their loss, though it will never be okay, will not be in vain.  Good has already evolved from this tragedy because we are all here today to stand together and work together on behalf of the children we can save.

Today my hope is that you can pledge allegiance to the force of love in your life.  It matters not what you call it or the path you take to find it – it is enough just to honor it and allow it to work with you and through you.  Allow the force of love to direct you to one step you can take on behalf of children.  I believe action based in love is the only way out of this war called child abuse.  It is our true key to becoming indivisible and offering liberty and justice for all.

Posted by: speakoutservices | May 16, 2011

It’s Not Fair: Dealing with Disappointment

What could be more disappointing than having the people who were supposed to love and protect you decide to do just the opposite?  I am not talking about a minor mistake.  I’m referring to repeated, intentional decisions to either harm you or leave you vulnerable to attack.  I often imagine my 4-year-old self living through such insane entrapment.  My abusive world was out of my control, utterly dominated, and seemingly unending.  All the reason in the world to scream:

IT’S NOT FAIR!!!!!!

Flash forward 44 years to my middle age self.  Completely in control now, right?  Except for the check book that needs an infusion, the gas that needs pumped, the kids who need reminded of chores, the meals that need cooked, the socks that need folded, the Facebook page that needs updated, the business letter that needs mailed,  and on, and on, and on…

IT’S NOT FAIR!!!!!

I think it will be a challenge for the rest of my life to keep the intense disappointment of the 4-year-old separate from my setbacks of today.  There are still moments when I find that minor disappointments feel like the sky is falling.  The truth is that at one point in my life, the sky WAS falling.  But today, it is just a disappointment – not the end of the world.   Here are some things I do to try to get through disappointments:

  • Whine!  I can’t deny the feelings, so I have to let it rip.  I do this by journaling, writing a “what’s the matter with you for making this so hard” letter to God, or calling a friend.  But it is important that I do not wear my friends out with excessive whining – I share the good stuff too.
  • Find perspective – After a good whine, I try to think if the situation is really as bad as it seems.  Sometimes I just go back to the bare basics – I am healthy, my family is healthy, we have a roof over our heads, look at how far I have come, etc. 
  • Faith – Life experience has shown me that what at first seemed like complete crap was, in the long haul, in my best interests or provided a valuable lesson.  I have to remind myself that I can only do so much, and there is a greater force in charge of the big plan. 

Life will always leave me screaming, “IT’S NOT FAIR”, but ironically, it will also be exactly what I need.

Posted by: speakoutservices | May 4, 2011

Would You Fix the Time Line of Your Life?

If Star Trek met the real world, and a slingshot around the sun could propel you back into the time line of your life, what would you change? 

In the deep healing years of my life, I craved the chance to set things straight so the pain of incest would go away.  Oh, the things I would correct!  I would give the school psychologist a wake-up call to the real reasons why I was crying everyday in the second grade.  Children’s Services would have rushed in to swoop me and my siblings out of that mess.  I would have landed in counseling early enough to avoid the drugs, promiscuity and recklessness of teenage years.  In essence, I would have had some help for the helpless girl.

Yesterday, my journey back in time really happened. 

God gave me the chance I have dreamed of forever, but manifested in a way I could never have imagined.  I had an awe-inspiring, move-me-to-tears, opportunity to see my offender father as a young man with a fresh face, hopeful eyes, and dreams of a better future.  My teenage dad had a good heart which was badly injured.  He sat in a seat intensely listening – hanging on my every word – while I shared my story of incest.  I told him how much I was injured.  I shared the long and painful journey of working my way back to sanity.  I let him how much it hurt to be disbelieved and how much I wished I had received a sincere apology.  But most importantly, I told him to forgive himself of his mistakes and to press forward with his own healing.  He might just have a daughter someday, and he would not want her to be in this family cycle of pain.  I shook his hand and wished him good luck as he walked out of the room.  I prayed with all that was in me that my words would make a difference.

I just saved myself from a lifetime of abuse – and I needed all that I had ever experienced to reach this moment.

When I got in my car, the sun broke through the clouds of endless spring rains, a sure sign that my deceased father was really listening while I spoke to a group of juvenile sex offenders.  I had fixed the time line.  For me, it was symbolic. But for another, I hope it was very, very real.

Author’s Note:  I have a strong calling to do this important work.  If you have connections to juvenile sex offender groups, and would like a professional speaker and incest survivor who can approach them in love and “compassionate accountability”  please contact me at bonnie@speakoutservices.com   

I also have a manual for survivors and supporters, “The Power of New Shoes: Stepping Into Life After Sexual Trauma” with 37 short stories of my healing journey available for sale on my website at www.speakoutservices.com

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