Solidarity not solitariness

8 Jul

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I don’t know who created this image but, it’s always resonated with me because it illustrates the profound loneliness I used to feel while surrounded by my family members.

With so many other victims out there, it really pains me to think how much I was in complete agony all by myself – for decades. I kept myself alone while trying to grapple with the gut-wrenching realities of my father’s abuse. I was honest about the fact that it happened once I reached adulthood but, I kept secret just how badly the trauma shook up every part of me. I felt embarrassed about the depth of my pain. I felt shameful of my overwhelming anger. I thought my struggle would be too scary for others to hear about it so, I hid it to protect them. (My biological family has always insisted that they couldn’t handle hearing the truth about my horrors so, I assumed the rest of the world saw themselves as psychologically fragile too). It’s been a simple but, big lesson for me (and continues to be): plenty of people on this planet aren’t afraid of the dark. People who read my blog are proof of that.

The other simple yet, profoundly hard-won lesson for me has been that if I’m not ashamed, those who want to listen don’t experience any survivor shame about sexual abuse either. All the painful walls of separation that I experienced disappeared once I stopped taking responsibility for the sins and reactions of others. I wish I could go back in time and tell my former self that navigating mind-blowing trauma alone is unnecessary. Thankfully, addressing my own shame about being a sexual abuse survivor continues to close that gap. It’s easier said than done when I’m in the grips of a flashback but, as soon as I’m able, I push myself to tell a loved one all about it. So far, every time, the more courageous I am about being frank and honest about what I lived through and how it affects me now, the more deeply connected I feel to everything.

Stay strong and shameless fellow survivors.

29 Feb
Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga, center, performs “Til It Happens To You” that is nominated for best original song from “The Hunting Ground” on stage with survivors of abuse at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

I never imagined the day would come when, on such a public forum as the Oscars, sexual assault survivors would be acknowledged and supported. This gives me such a profound sense of hope for the future because the Oscars has such international reach. I’m also haunted by the large portion of my life that I suffered in silence, assuming all the guilt and shame, reeling from my trauma alone. I feel a sea-change in the smaller, older part of me that is so used to absorbing all the guilt. “It’s ok to live fully out in the open now!” that part of me is screaming. As much vapidness the Oscars typically represents in its’content, I have to give them credit for reaching the part of me that was still living in the dark past. Hooray for all of us who witnessed such a large scale proclamation in support of those who have suffered from what no person should ever have to live through.

Non-stop

20 Feb

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My body has already endured so much abuse. The last thing I want to do is to continue to cause it anymore harm. And the time has come for me to admit how much negative self-talk I give my physical appearance. I feel really proud about who I am on the inside but, all that disappears when I notice the ways I physically differ on the outside. All the relentless body shaming I do is so hypocritical because I would never even come up with such thoughts if I was talking about another human being! I could sincerely care less about how much someone else weighs so, why am I constantly telling myself that I should be ashamed of how much I weigh? I can genuinely say I’ve never thought of someone else looking their age as a negative thing so, why am I beating myself up for my own aging skin?! It’s particularly fucked up and ridiculous that I do this because I don’t even subscribe to my culture’s ideas of physical beauty. And like I said before, I definitely don’t deserve such torment. My body already knows shame, rejection, and pain so, I  really don’t want to contribute any more to that suffering. To love, appreciate, and adore my body on a daily basis for the rest of my life – it’s the least I can do after all it’s been through – and it’s the truth. How can I condemn my abuser’s behavior when I’m psychologically being cruel to myself by only paying attention to perceived physical flaws throughout the day?

For a long time I’ve been working on treating myself with the same deep acceptance and compassion that I give others – but, this year I would really like to focus on fully embracing my physical self as well. It’s not easy being a woman when so often it feels like we get judged solely based on our looks. I’m going to stop contributing to that bullshit and start doing some non-stop recognizing all the ways I am a beauty.

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I don’t care about how much you weigh. I only care about your happiness.

19 Feb

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My shame or their shame?

15 Jan

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The shame and responsibility of being abused by my father lies 100% with my father. This probably sounds like extremely simple math to you but, for me it has been the biggest mental exercise I’ve ever wrangled with. Blaming myself was only reinforced by the fact that my father did not hold himself accountable for his actions nor did anyone else in my family after I told them what he had done. For so so so long I believed in my bones that I am responsible for the hurtful behavior committed by other people. I felt their shame for them. I felt and processed all the guilt for their actions. I used to be an expert at not knowing where I end and other people begin. I literally didn’t know what holding people accountable for their actions looked like, sounded like, or felt like. For most of my life that was just a vague concept I read about – and one that only applied to other (more deserving) people. Undoing this life long habit of disrespecting myself has taken monumental, diligent self-awareness. Discovering how to set boundaries in a way that feels authentic to me has taken a lot of trial and error and awkward moments. If the way I described how I used to be in the past resonates with you at all, please know that I am living proof that a person can overcome deeply ingrained, self-destructive habits. I have to mention here that the process of breaking through to the other side can be a life-long journey for some issues. Some of my worst thought patterns could have been handed down generation after generation so, I stay busy being compassionate and gentle with myself as I try to turn those tides. Intense anger has also really helped me out with seeing how unjustified most of my self-blame has been – and how much of a toll it has taken on my already wounded life. So many of us have carried around back breaking self-hate that belonged solely to someone else – to our abusers. If parts of your path have been anything like mine, I hope you start experiencing what feels true and loving to you alone, right now. We have suffered enough already.

My Gift of Fear

7 Jan

This is a video clip of me, in a self-defense class, practicing how to fend off an attacker. The male instructors in this class wear heavily padded suits so, that we can hit specific target areas as hard as we can. This intro class taught me how to defend myself not just physically in an actual assault but, also verbally so, I could practice over and over again how to keep myself feeling safe and comfortable in a variety of life situations (at work, with people I know, with people who set off my internal “red flag”, and strangers I’d just rather not associate with). As you can see in the video, I might not be executing smooth looking attack moves like we’re used to seeing in movies and on TV but, even as a total novice, I am hitting all the essential targets that would incapacitate someone who was assaulting me.

Taking these classes was very powerful for someone like me who was abused as a child and walked around for the rest of my life half terrified of being victimized again one day and doing all that I could to ease that intense fear. I’d thought about taking a self-defense class to put some peace into my traumatized body but, was scared of what flash backs (emotional, visual, sensory) it might bring up. I read Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear (which I highly recommend to everybody – particularly women) and he recommends IMPACT Personal Safety in his book. I won’t lie, taking these classes is scary – probably even for those who have never been victimized (you will learn how fight off someone who is trying to rape you). It does put you face to face with some of your worst fears but, the training methods IMPACT Personal Safety uses establishes muscle memory in your body so, that in a threatening situation (whether you want to say no to someone or no to an actual attack), you can quickly overcome the “freeze” response and establish your boundaries with that person(s) and take them down. I seriously can’t say enough positive things about the male and female instructors who couldn’t have provided a better environment to learn such vulnerable lessons in. Feel free to message me if you want to ask me any questions about my experience, there’s so much more I could say about it – and of course, there’s detailed information about the classes they offer for women and men on their website: http://www.impactpersonalsafety.com. They also offer safety classes for kids. I assisted in teaching one of the children’s classes – and I can’t recommend them enough to my friends who are parents.

For me, taking these classes has been the literal antidote to some of my childhood trauma and the fear of being re-traumatized in the future. Now I’m truly comfortable being present and grounded, whether I feel like someone is trying to behave like a predator around me or not. And I feel really confident. And I feel very powerful. And now I can say I know what I’d do if someone violently verbally or physically attacked me. And the experience of taking these classes has profoundly bettered every part of my life in ways I never would have expected so, I just had to share it in case it helps any of you to feel safer in the world too.

 

All Of The Time

12 Sep

Sometimes I just need reassurance that it’s OK to feel how I feel and be who I am in the moment. And, all of the time, I want that validation to come from me, instead of waiting for someone else to do it.

Stay strong fellow survivors – we have nothing to feel ashamed about.

28 Jul
Stay Strong Survivors
I just read the article in New York Magazine “I’m No Longer Afraid: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen” by Noreen Malone. As a survivor of sexual assault during my childhood, I understand all too well the monumental task of healing from this kind of trauma. Shame and silence have only ever exacerbated my wounds. For me, it’s antidote has always come in the form of proudly sharing the truth about what I’ve experienced and the road I’ve taken to heal from it.
Here is the link to the article if you are interested in seeing the article and the powerful photos of 35 of his victims:
 http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/07/bill-cosbys-accusers-speak-out.html?mid=fb-share-thecut

It’s ok to let them see you sweat.

8 Jul

It's ok to let them see you sweat.

It’s ok babe! Let them see you sweat!

Let them see your hands trembling.

Let them hear your voice cracking when you tell them what you need.

Let them see you be unable to keep direct eye contact with them the entire time you’re speaking to them.

I can assure you that these are the phrases that I have had to repeat to myself ad nauseum throughout my life when I knew I wanted to say no to someone. I visually might look like the world’s biggest wimp stumbling over my words and giant pit stains forming under my arms while I confront someone but, I just keep feeling the fear and asserting myself anyway.  Because in my life, this has what worked for me to get to a place where I’m more comfortable stating what’s ok with me: allowing it to be obvious to all involved just how scared I am to be putting my foot down. Not to mention repeatedly reminding myself that it’s ok for other people to see me do something imperfectly. It’s REALLY hard for me to let others see me taking baby steps (or giant adult steps) towards setting my boundaries in my professional and personal lives. But, weirdly enough, I’ve gotten used to the extreme awkwardness of attempting to tell someone that what they’re doing doesn’t feel right to me. Many people have witnessed my grossly imperfect attempts throughout my life and I’m still here! I survived! And because I continue to throw myself into the fire each time it truly has gotten easier. I always dread doing it. And I hate it every time. But my confidence has grown with each and every situation. Sometimes a certain predicament triggers me so badly that I feel like I’m back to square one but, more often than not these days, saying no to someone else flows out of me pretty fluidly, calmly, and confidently. Taking the sweaty route of self-care has, and definitely continues to be, what propels me into feeling more powerful, peaceful, and a greater sense of living as a whole person. I’m a brave person who is proud to show the lucky few her shaking hands attempting to keep her heart beating out of her chest.

Actively Parenting My Inner Child – Part 1

4 Apr

Parenting my inner child

 

I live in the United States and this past week I got called to serve jury duty.  While this is a totally benign process, I found myself growing increasingly terrified in the days prior to showing up on my first day at the Superior Court House.  I suspected that my anxiety probably revolved around the reality that you are asked to answer very personal questions when being considered as a prospective juror.  Every time I thought about responding to the question “Have you ever been a victim of a violent crime?” my heart would race and my mind would go blank.  On the morning of my first day serving jury duty, I could feel all my muscles tensing up as I walked into the lobby of the courthouse.  I found myself looking around for signs from those around me who might appear to be relaxed and not at all triggered by being inside the Superior Court but, instead what I saw were a mother and her three young children sobbing in the corner while their lawyer stared at them looking annoyed, frustrated police officers, and nervous looking witnesses pacing back and forth.  In hindsight, this scene I just painted for you should have tipped me off that this was no place to bring a small child – a small child who at one time would have been scared of naming her abuser in the criminal justice system because it might lead to her father seeking revenge for being outed as a pedophile, and being separated from her mom and brother by Child Protective Services.  But, I didn’t think of myself as a mother of an abused little girl (my inner child) that morning, and I didn’t think to metaphorically leave her at home where she would feel safe and being doing child appropriate things.  Instead, I spent the rest of the following days freaking the fuck out as I went through the process of jury selection because I unwittingly was letting my inner child run the show.  Has this ever happened to you?   Were you ever in a situation where you found yourself completely mentally wound up, with the emotions of a cranky child with no understanding of why you wanted to scream, cry, or throw yourself on the ground?  When this happens to me I realize I’ve got an inner child whose been triggered by my present adult circumstances – and she definitely isn’t having any of it!  And what’s worse is that while serving jury duty I exposed her to upsetting adult situations that felt threatening to her but, I didn’t take the time to explain any of it in a way that would soothe a terrified 5-year-old.  Look, I know when I tell you that I wish I had imagined leaving my inner child at home instead of bringing her to court, this is all just taking place in my imagination but, it FEELS so real.  And the  results and repercussion of this metal exercise also feel totally real.  Which is why I now opt to take being a loving, responsible parent to my metaphorical inner children very, very seriously.  When I know in advance that I’ll be in a situation that only my adult self should be present for, I now imagine having my inner daughter stay and be “babysat” by my husband or one of my phenomenal friends.  This allows me to be, think, and feel with my whole adult self during conversations with a difficult co-worker without my 11-year-old self offering up 11 year solutions to an adult argument.  This allows me to show up as a prospective juror for a trial and answer difficult questions in an intimidating environment with my 39-year-old analytical skills rather than the rational of a 7-year-old.  When I let one of my inner children take the wheel I – and the situation I’m in – get completely sidetracked by a child capable of making sense of the situation only from their state in arrested development.

 

Deborah Munies

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