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July 26, 2016

Silencing the Past by Speaking in the Present - Part 4

Today, we conclude our series with Jodie Ortega. In this post, she explores some of the key factors that perpetuate a culture of silence when it comes to abuse and rape and the distinct experiences people from different cultures may have when it comes to learning about sex and abuse.

--

I was 30 years old.

I was a young mother having vivid flashbacks of my younger self.

Our body has its own “browser history", keeping a record of all our life experiences, good or bad. In my 30’s, my body was beginning to download all this information that I had suppressed for years. Our bodies remember trauma.

My brother's wedding was one of the loneliest days of my life. Relatives (read: my rapist's children) flew into town to celebrate. I had a grave disconnection to the festivities around me, keeping conversations short and superficial. That extremely stressful day was my first conscious experience with dissociation. The detachment I felt towards family members especially those who attended the "family meeting" was completely severed.

But who handed me the scissors?

They did.

I am my family’s inconvenience; their glitch in their perfectly run cog wheel assembly line of perfection.

In Mayan culture, "In Lak’ech Ala K’in" is a sacred greeting that translates to, “I am another you, you are another me.” It is a statement of unity echoing the same sentiment of greetings around the world such as "Namaste" in East India.

Learning about the following survivor's story was like looking into a mirror.

"114", a 32 year old female entrepreneur of Punjabi ethnicity, persevered through cultural obstacles and family pressure when, in her late twenties, took steps to prosecute her abuser, her first cousin. When 114 disclosed the abuse to her mother, 114 was told to "Forget it like a dream."

I was curious to know if the upbringings of Asian survivors were similar and how different they would be from the childhoods of Caucasian women.

Here are snippet’s from 114’s interview.

Q: As a child, did your parents teach you the anatomically correct names for private parts?
A: I was taught about our private parts however I don't believe it was the correct names.


Q: Did your parents use nicknames for private parts?
A: To some degree, the name for vagina was "PeePee".


Q: Do you feel the love you receive from your parents and family is conditional?
A: Yes, if I do x,y,z I will be loved. Conformity is the key.


Q: Did you grow up in a patriarchal home?
A: Yes.
Q: Have any family members, immediate or extended a) minimized your abuse b) doubted your abuse c) called you a liar d) ceased contact with you e) blamed the abuse on you f) told you to “get over it”?
A: All of the above.


Q: Were you forced to greet people you didn't know by giving them a hug or kiss?
A: Yes.


Q: Were you able to have healthy discussions on sex, dating and relationships with your parents?
A: No.


Do Asian cultural practices perpetuate sexual abuse and rape culture?

As discussed in part 3, Asian children often live in households where typically, emotional issues aren’t brought up casually. As a child, I did not know I was being sexually abused because my parents never taught me about body confidence, consent and boundaries. And because abuse prevention was not taught in my elementary and high school, no one provided me the language so I could process for myself what had happened to me.

Folks, I urge you to talk to your children about sexual abuse before the wrong person teaches them what it is. Your children can handle learning about sexual abuse and its prevention; it's you – the parent – that can't handle it. That's okay, I get that, but consider this: 95% of sexual abuse cases – the rapist and child know each other.

So you know what this means?

Sexual abuse is 95% preventable.

Now let’s match this up with a different personal narrative.

Morgane, a non-survivor, is a 23 year old Italian-French woman, born and raised in France. Her upbringing was strikingly different from mine, 114 and DR.

Q: As a child, did your parents teach you the anatomically correct names for private parts?
A: Yes.


Q: Did your parents use nicknames for private parts?
A: No, they always used the exact anatomical names.


Q: Do you feel the love you receive from your parents and family is conditional?
A: No.


Q: Did you grow up in a patriarchal home?
A: No.


Q: Were you forced to greet people you didn't know by giving them a hug or kiss?
A: No.


Q: Were you able to have healthy discussions on sex, dating and relationships with your parents?
A: Yes, always. Since a young age my parents always valued dialogue and being clear on what sex is, how it works etc.


It’s important to add that Morgane has close relationship with her parents.

Members of Asian communities are in fact aware of child sexual abuse, they are just frequently brainwashed and pressured by the impact of cultural imperatives arising from family honour, loyalty, and shame, which will have an influence on how many will treat survivors. Rape culture thrives in community passivity, legal system inadequacies and in households where parents do not initiate conversations regarding body confidence, sex and abuse prevention.


Honesty has a power very few can handle.

The potential shame of losing face, embarrassing the family name, and disregarding family loyalty should not override the duty of supporting the survivor.

Although my family believed that staying silent about these crimes was more important in the familial and cultural context than prosecuting the rapist, I know better. At 30, I was was fed up being a marginalized marionette. I realized that I was not "broken" but in fact I was an oppressed young woman of colour desperate to break free.

For me, “surviving” was not good enough. I deserve to live a life beyond surviving. So you do.

In Lak’ech Ala K’in.
In solidarity,
Jodie




----


As a product of childhood trauma and intergenerational cultural shame, Jodie Ortega has flipped her narrative of victim hood through her unique brand of storytelling; rap and spoken word. With a

vocation that is rooted in intersectional feminism, Jodie now devotes time championing for survivors of sexual trauma having presented at Victor Walk, TEDx Talks, BIL Talks and PechaKucha as well as various educational and community settings.

Jodie has shared her story of resistance in San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver and has contributed her poetry to Trigger Points Anthology, a collection of writing by parents who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.


Jodie is one of the survivors behind the ongoing social media campaign, "Faces of PTSD", a movement that is committed to altering the landscapes of search engines to include women as well as men.


As a SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) volunteer and a 2016 Courage To Come Back Award Nominee, Jodie is dedicated to her continuous Acts of Resistance against oppression. Take that, PTSD! *karate chop*


Instagram + Twitter - @dontrunbabygirl

Link to Jodie's story in Spanish and French: http://teamguerreras.com/jodieortega/

July 20, 2016

Silencing the Past by Speaking in the Present - Part 3

This week, we continue our series with, Jodie Ortega who highlights how many cultures perpetuate the silence of abuse.

---

Part 3 is in solidarity of July being Minority Mental Health Month.

I was 20 years old.

I was a young adult that could no longer keep a secret.

I was at my then boyfriend's house. Through hysterics and fractured sentences, the truth spilled out like sea shells washed up on the beach, each horrific detail was sharp as a broken sea shell. I cried myself into a black out. I woke up to hear him on the phone with my parents.

"I think Jodie was molested by her grandfather.", he said quietly.

He came to my bedside and asked me, "Were you molested by your grandfather?"

"What's that?" I asked him.

He looked puzzled.

"You know, sexual abuse. Did your grandfather sexually abuse you?"

I was shocked. There was an actual word for it!

I did not know what sexual abuse was until AFTER it happened to me.

That's a little too late, don't you think?

As a child of Asian immigrants, I grew up with messages of conditional love, shame, and the need for secrecy. Like many Asian children, I was raised under a strict disciplinary structure and parental relationships were fear based. High standards and physical discipline were enforced to prevent my siblings and I from tainting the family name. There was no room for failure which meant problems (read: trauma, mental health) were not discussed openly. Academia on the other hand, was valued more than anything, and most of the time, worth more than my essence.

In the 8th grade, I brought home a 98% in my Science test to proudly show my father.

His first reaction?



“Where's the two percent?”


My report cards were faxed to family members far and wide so everyone could join in on witnessing the academic achievements of the eldest child of the eldest son of Adriano (aka my rapist) and Milagros.

"Asian Girl, American Dream."

The ladder of cultural expectations have perpetuated and perfected the image that all Asian youth are high achievers and whiz kids. Society has eaten this up.

I had a classmate in high school who assumed I was on the Honour Roll in 12th grade simply because I was Asian.

We're not all the same. And in believing that we are systematically silences us and further conceals societal issues like sexual abuse within our respective communities.

Underneath the illusion of scholastic perfection, many Asian youth struggle with depression, post traumatic stress, suicidal thoughts, often without their parents knowing. Cultural shame, secrecy, stigma and silence drowns out their silent cries for help. How can we turn ladders into bridges?

Our brains are built on our experiences and the stress of sexual abuse damaged the basic structures of my developing brain, impairing my ability to manage my emotions and cope with stress. If my sexual abuse started at four, then what state of chaos was my brain in when I started high school? The aftermath of sexual abuse kept my brain and body on a constant high state of alert. Neuroscience tells us that the brains of kids that experience sexual trauma are hardwired for survival.

But I was not interested in surviving anymore.

I wanted to die.

My biggest dilemma was not how I was going to balance homework with my part time job at McDonalds like any “normal” teenager, but instead which method of suicide was going to kill me faster; jumping from the overpass near my house or just slitting my wrists?

Telling my parents I had been sexually abused and exploited was not an option. But jumping from an overpass into oncoming traffic during rush hour definitely was!

Think about that.

If your relationships with your children are rooted in fear, how can you expect your children to willingly come to you when they’re having a problem?


Since publicly breaking my silence in 2012, I've come across people of Asian ethnicity that refuse to engage in a discussion about sexual abuse and mental health illnesses, primarily because of the cultural taboo with admitting a problem in the first place – because that would be at the opposite end of perfection, right?

For example, not only is the Philippines the sexual abuse capital of Asia, it is now the epicenter of the live-stream sexual abuse trade.

And the Philippines biggest export?

Women.

300,000 to 400,000 Filipinas are trafficking victims. 80% of these females are under 18 years old.*

Yet, you bring up any of these facts with Filipinos, most will immediately dissociate themselves from the problem.

“Oh, that doesn’t happen in the city where I'm from."

"That's the culture."

The stigma surrounding sexual violence in Asian communities is thick and decades deep, but to pretend no problem exists does not help. As I mentioned in my TEDx talk - abuse thrives in silence.

For this blog series, I interviewed two survivors from Asian backgrounds. The similar personal narratives were striking.

"DR", a twenty-something sexual assault survivor of Han Chinese ethnicity, shares the following:

"Being Chinese, nobody really speaks straight in general, let alone on issues that are considered taboo. My parents did not teach me about consent. It made it easy for me to internalize that my body wasn't my own (as a result of rape culture/general society, as well as many interactions with boys taking liberties) and to this day I still have to work at not disassociating from my body when being touched. While I'm not certain my parents would blame me for "putting myself in a situation to be assaulted" or not even believing that what happened to me was rape because I didn't kick and scream, I wouldn't be surprised if they did have that reaction. I don't even tell them when I'm sick because they'll tell me it's because I didn't wear a thick enough jacket or I sleep too much/not enough or some other stupid reason. There's no way I'd tell them about my assault.”

A lot of Asian parents don't realize that trust based relationships and open communication is vital to raising well rounded children.

My paternal grandparents raised their children to become a trophy case of University graduates, but their encasing dulls their shine, revealing severe emotional deficiencies. That "family meeting" I talked about in part 2? Even though I was not in attendance for it, I know that it was basically a dysfunctional group of incompetent communicators halfheartedly navigating around a topic they lacked the empathy and patience to understand. Sweeping it under the rug was their pathetic "call to action."

Albert Einstein said it best.

"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

Turning a blind eye to a child being sexually abused is not denial. It's called being an accomplice.

How can we create a cultural shift in Asian communities to prevent serious problems such as sexual violence from going undetected?

Does traditional Asian parenting set children up to be at risk of being sexually violated?


I would love to hear your thoughts and look forward to having you join me next week in part 4 of these series.


In solidarity,
Jodie




*http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/08/world/asia/freedom-fighters-stats/







----

As a product of childhood trauma and intergenerational cultural shame, Jodie Ortega has flipped her narrative of victim hood through her unique brand of storytelling; rap and spoken word. With a
vocation that is rooted in intersectional feminism, Jodie now devotes time championing for survivors of sexual trauma having presented at Victor Walk, TEDx Talks, BIL Talks and PechaKucha as well as various educational and community settings.

Jodie has shared her story of resistance in San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver and has contributed her poetry to Trigger Points Anthology, a collection of writing by parents who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Jodie is one of the survivors behind the ongoing social media campaign, "Faces of PTSD", a movement that is committed to altering the landscapes of search engines to include women as well as men.

As a SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) volunteer and a 2016 Courage To Come Back Award Nominee, Jodie is dedicated to her continuous Acts of Resistance against oppression. Take that, PTSD! *karate chop*

Instagram + Twitter - @dontrunbabygirl
Link to Jodie's story in Spanish and French: http://teamguerreras.com/jodieortega/

July 12, 2016

Silencing the Past by Speaking in the Present - Part 2

This week, we continue our series with powerhouse speaker and survivor, Jodie Ortega. This week, she shares about her experience of crying out for help but being left to fend for herself.



---

I was 17 years old.

I was a teenage girl wishing she had teenage-sized problems.

I woke up every morning pissed off that I was still alive. I cursed the sun for shining and for mocking me through the window blinds with no disregard for the sleep paralysis that took over my body the night before. I despised the sun's inability to dim its rays to pay respect to the horrific abuse I had endured in my own home. A morning person, I am not.

At 17, I learnt that the world does not stop for your sorrow. Time marches forward unforgivingly. I wanted these waves from this ceaseless tide of emotions to sweep me out to sea. Shame, silence and cultural pressure was drowning me. My body's thermostat seemed to only have two settings: feeling raw and feeling numb. The emptiness I felt, albeit unshakeable, had become commonplace.

Through therapy, I know that the teenage girl in this photo is me, even though I do not recognize myself and remember my high school graduation day. Sexual abuse is a kleptomaniac. It has stolen and erased most of my life.


If you were to dissect my high school years you would find a girl who showed all the signs of sexual abuse, yet nobody caught it. Not a teacher, coach, friend, my co-workers at McDonalds, and definitely not my parents.

There was the rapid decline of grades. How does a kid go from being an Honour Roll student with a 4.0 grade point average in her first two years of high school and then end up in detention IN summer school in her 11th grade?

My notorious tardiness looked like I was a lazy teenager, but I was not exactly going to tell the school secretary that I was having recurring nightmares of my rapes. No one ever sat me down and questioned my excessive aggression during field hockey games and tae kwon do classes, even when I would get ejected from a game or lost a belt ranking.

I sent out countless distress signals but they either went unnoticed or misdiagnosed as, and I quote my high school counselor when I say this, "...a rebellious teenager crying out for attention. Now get back to class!" I was writing a suicide note during my Law class in my senior year when my teacher, Mr. Bevacqua, starting getting philosophical on us on the fragility of life saying that in ten years one of us students would be dead. I actually wanted to put my hand up, because I was convinced it would most likely be me.

The first thing that was stolen from me when the abuse started at 4 years old was my power to choose.

My choices.

My identity.

My childhood.

My grandfather's decision to start intentionally molesting me overrode my choices.

In May 1984, a month and a half before my fourth birthday, my parents, brother and I were sightseeing in Palm Springs. My paternal grandparents came along. We were visiting one of the many show homes that the city was famous for. I remember finding myself alone in one of the rooms with him when he picked me up and placed me on his lap. What started out as a tickling game quickly turned into, well, something else.

I became an adult that day. A soon to be four year old girl with adult sized emotions. But because of what he was doing to me was too much for my almost four year old brain to process, I forgot the early years of sexual abuse. My method of survival was forgetting.

The sexual abuse continued for 10 years. When I was 14, my grandfather brought me to a house where there were other men there. We would go to this house more than once and every time I went there, I would be drugged, blindfolded, and raped.

When my parents finally found out I had been molested through my then boyfriend in the early 2000's, there was a family meeting. I was not in attendance but my parents, grandparents and father's siblings were there.

I was told that my grandfather sat in silence the entire time and that when he was asked why he molested me his only response was, “We were close.”

He showed no remorse. Child molesters rarely do.

He walked out of the meeting a free man. No one reported him to the police. He continued to be around children.

You ask my mother today, tomorrow or ten years from now as to why no one in that room reported my grandfather's crimes to the police the answer will still be the same.

“We just do not do that in our culture.”

Let's read that again.

“We just do not do that in our CULTURE.”

I look back now and realize that that family meeting was not about how these adults in my life were going to support me in recovery and assist me in seeking justice, it was more about how they were going to keep “this” a secret in order to protect the family name.

The potential shame of losing “face” and embarrassing the family name was more important than supporting me.

The most disappointing thing about betrayal?

It rarely comes from your enemies.

Physical discipline lies in the root of Asian culture. “Time out”, “naughty step” or “child abuse” is a foreign concept. For example in Vietnam, physical discipline is the traditional method of raising children and is an integral part of Vietnamese culture.

Could it be that the reason why sexual abuse in Asian communities is swept under the rug and heavily undereported is because many Asians believe that this type of behaviour ties along with physical discipline?

The crime of sexual abuse thrives in secrecy and silence. Wrap that with shame and add another layer of stigma, and there you go – the perfect recipe of survivors being forced into a lifetime of suffering in silence.

A third of people who know that a child has been sexually abused do nothing. Please don't be one of them.

How do we break down these cultural walls and replace it with bridges? I look forward to continuing next week with the important conversation of cultural shame. Til then, I'd love to hear from you. Please comment below, share, or email me dontrunbabygirl@gmail.com.

In solidarity,

Jodie



Read Part 3 of Jodie's series!

----

As a product of childhood trauma and intergenerational cultural shame, Jodie Ortega has flipped her narrative of victim hood through her unique brand of storytelling; rap and spoken word. With a
vocation that is rooted in intersectional feminism, Jodie now devotes time championing for survivors of sexual trauma having presented at Victor Walk, TEDx Talks, BIL Talks and PechaKucha as well as various educational and community settings.

Jodie has shared her story of resistance in San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver and has contributed her poetry to Trigger Points Anthology, a collection of writing by parents who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Jodie is one of the survivors behind the ongoing social media campaign, "Faces of PTSD", a movement that is committed to altering the landscapes of search engines to include women as well as men.

As a SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) volunteer and a 2016 Courage To Come Back Award Nominee, Jodie is dedicated to her continuous Acts of Resistance against oppression. Take that, PTSD! *karate chop*

Instagram + Twitter - @dontrunbabygirl
Link to Jodie's story in Spanish and French: http://teamguerreras.com/jodieortega/

July 5, 2016

Silencing the Past by Speaking in the Present - Part 1



Folks -- we are in for a real treat this month! I first heard our guest blogger this month, Jodie Ortega, spit rhymes at a fundraiser here in San Francisco. I was immediately taken by her grit, humor, and absolute unwillingness to be anything but herself. This month, she will be sharing her story and perspective on healing from trauma. In particular, we'll be exploring the importance of finding our voice as survivors. I can't wait!

---

I was four years old.


I was a little girl overwhelmed with adult sized emotions.

I did not have a word for it. I was not equipped with the language to tell somebody what was happening to me. Heck, I did not even know this was something you talked about since I never heard anyone talk about it.

All I had were my grandfather's words.

“Do you remember when you were little I used to do this to you?”

"Don't tell anybody about this, do you want to ruin your family?"

"I have a problem and you're the only one that can help me."

"Jesus is watching you when you don't obey."

"Do you want me to just go to your sister?"

"Have you had your first kiss yet?"

"If only you weren't so pretty."

Well, technically I had my grandmother's words too, but I did not realize she was complicit in the sexual abuse until shortly after she died.

"Stop that, that's enough now."

"Come upstairs."

That was all she said to him.

In the movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly had a modified DeLorean car to travel back in time.

My time machine? PTSD.

Hey, McFly! Wanna trade?

PTSD keeps odd hours.

They are like unwelcomed house guests. They arrive unannounced and we sometimes have no idea how long they are planning to visit.

I was supervising my son on the playground the other day. As I pulled my light jacket in closer I noticed the breeze sweeping gently over the tops of the trees. I was enjoying the light summer evening, watching my son and his friends.

And then. Poof.

“Thwack, thwack, thwack.”

Mindfulness off. Survivor mode, on.

“I’m safe.” I remind myself.

“Thwack, thwack, thwack.”

“He’s dead. He can’t harm me anymore.” I remind myself sternly.

“Thwack, thwack, thwack.”

My annoyance at how the sound was bothering me increased.

But so did my guilt. And shame. Shame that I have for the past three years worked my ass off to get rid of, to shed, to purge, to return to the abuser. But, when a trigger arrives, it often times reminds me of just how much shame is still lurking inside me.

“Thwack, thwack, thwack.”

A little girl was practicing on her jump rope, and asking her Mom to participate.

With her little hands gripping the pink handle tightly, she giggled in delight as she jumped with her Mom.

"Thwack, thwack, thwack.”

The sound of the rope as it skimmed the asphalt concrete pavement and then swished through the air combined with youthful laughter is pretty much part of the soundtrack to idyllic childhood summers. Magical. Carefree.

Except my summer of 1994 was far from that.

What did my summer of 1994 look like? Well, if it became a movie, it would be categorized in the horror section and rated M for mature. And if I had to pick a movie title, I would copy the 1997 slasher film, "I Know What You Did Last Summer."

The thing is, the two people that I wished knew what happened that summer were my parents. They missed all the signs. I know what happened that summer. My grandfather knew what happened and so did my grandmother. The people that were in the house that my grandfather took me to – they knew. Everyone else? Not a clue.

"Thwack, thwack, thwack. This is so fun, Mommy!"

I looked intently at the little girl.

"Do not transfer to her his shame.", I told myself.

I stared at her. I started to cry. I smiled and then I prayed the same little prayer I recite whenever I see a child playing; "I wish you a future free from harm."

Accepting myself the way I am has also led me to learn more about myself.

Who am I? No seriously, WHO am I?

As I delve into more therapy and artistic expression, will I morph into a new person that I cannot recognize?

I meet myself every day, right where I left off the night before.

Through therapy and my art, I look forward to getting to know my true self and to saying goodbye to the victim that I was for the abusive people in my life.

I had continuously adjusted my behaviour in order to survive my environment to the point that I eventually lost my grip on who I really was.

In order to survive, I learned to be quiet and small. Tip toe. Don't react. Be numb. Get out of the way. Be compliant. Don't get involved. Sit down. Shut up. Don't attract attention when you enter a room. Let's face it, I learned to be invisible.

You see, trauma teaches us to not risk. It resets our body to a setting that tells us that the world is dangerous and it’s to our benefit to stay on the safe side of the road.

Trauma plays a tape on repeat in our heads filled with messages such as:
  • Don't trust people.
  • You CAN’T trust people.
Because
  • People are going to always hurt you.
  • People are out to get you.
  • You are unworthy.
  • You are unlovable.
These post trauma messages are the breeding ground for the real killer – shame.

Talking about sexual abuse is unfortunately quite taboo in our culture, especially in Asian communities. I hope to change that, one conversation at a time. Most of these conversations are uncomfortable, but I have grown to stop caring. Words like sexual abuse, incest, molestation, rape...these words are not meant to sound pretty.

Like many sexual abuse survivors, my childhood was cut irreversibly short, stunting my growth and forcing me to view the world through distorted lenses.

I had no choice to adapt to a normalcy filled to the brim with shame, secrecy, stigma and silence.

Over the course of this month, I will be sharing just how I got from there to here, exploring shame, secrecy, stigma and silence through my new sharpened lenses, and through the personal narratives of survivors from Asian backgrounds.

In the meantime, I will leave you with my TEDx talk, titled “Breaking My Silence: Healing Thrives in Conversation.”





Till next post, be kind to yourself. You are worthy. You are lovable.


In solidarity,
Jodie



Read Part 2 of Jodie's series.


----

As a product of childhood trauma and intergenerational cultural shame, Jodie Ortega has flipped her narrative of victim hood through her unique brand of storytelling; rap and spoken word. With a
vocation that is rooted in intersectional feminism, Jodie now devotes time championing for survivors of sexual trauma having presented at Victor Walk, TEDx Talks, BIL Talks and PechaKucha as well as various educational and community settings.

Jodie has shared her story of resistance in San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver and has contributed her poetry to Trigger Points Anthology, a collection of writing by parents who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Jodie is one of the survivors behind the ongoing social media campaign, "Faces of PTSD", a movement that is committed to altering the landscapes of search engines to include women as well as men.

As a SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) volunteer and a 2016 Courage To Come Back Award Nominee, Jodie is dedicated to her continuous Acts of Resistance against oppression. Take that, PTSD! *karate chop*

Instagram + Twitter - @dontrunbabygirl
Link to Jodie's story in Spanish and French: http://teamguerreras.com/jodieortega/

June 21, 2016

Coming Home, Part 4: Reconnecting with My Little Self

This week, we conclude our series with Elloa Atkinson. She shares beautifully about her journey home to self (and how playfulness and inner child work played a huge part in that)!

---

I called this series ‘Coming Home.’ In some ways, this is what my entire 14 year recovery journey has been: a long, predictable, unending journey of coming home to myself.

To come home, you have to have left it in the first place — and I did. The abandonment towards myself that started in childhood and peaked in adolescence has had rippling aftershocks which have reverberated throughout my twenties, echoing into my thirties. For years I had thought that the abandonment had been by others to me (mum/dad/God/you name it), so really acknowledging that I had done this to myself was pretty momentous.

I have come to believe that ‘leaving home,’ or separating from our true selves and from Source/God/Life, is as inevitable for human beings as full moons or rising tides. 

I believe that this is all part of the soul’s journey. We come here “trailing clouds of glory” (Wordsworth’s phrase, not mine) and spend our days on this planet having a (very) human experience, desperately trying to remember our wholeness.

The separation from self and the subsequent adoption of masks, survival strategies and coping mechanisms is universal. Eventually, the survival strategies that save us in childhood threaten to suffocate us in adulthood. This suffocation is a call from the Self to come back home.

The sense of separation I sometimes feel is so much deeper for me than simply being disconnected or feeling separate from my blood family, although it often manifests in this thought-form. It feels like it cuts to the core of my soul. I am a prodigal daughter and I have wandered far from home.

For those of us who have experienced abuse or neglect, the severance or dissociation from the self is all the more violent, the journey back home all the more visceral and relieving. Some of us will never have had an experience of being at home in our own bodies; for some of us, it is less like ‘coming’ home and more like finding it for the first time.

There are a lot of pieces to this coming home puzzle. They overlap and are part of an intricate, complex system.

For me, studying and learning about my ancestry two years ago was a huge piece of my coming home puzzle. Transforming my relationship with my body is another. Coming to terms with and accepting my never-ending humanness has also been enormously important.

But for me, some of the most powerful and meaningful work I have done is inner child work.

Inner child work can get a bad rap and seem sickly and slightly repugnant. More than one client has referred to Saturday Night Live’s Stuart Smalley in our work together: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” In my experience this work is anything but sickly. Every moment of connection with my little self has mattered.

Working to connect to and build a relationship with Little Elloa (or rather little Elloas, because in truth there is a relationship to rebuild with all the young versions of me), has been heart-breaking, soul-shaking and ultimately, deeply healing.

When I was about twenty-one years old and three years into recovery, I was just getting to grips with doing this tender soul work. For about six months I was dating a guy who was quite a bit older than me, a cheeky, romantic man with a huge heart. I showed him a photo of three-day-old me and he giggled and said I looked like an alien. 

I was incredibly upset, and instantly got angry. He had touched on a shame spot, unintentionally pouring salt into my self-hatred wound. I was glad that my reaction was defensive; it told me that I was learning how important it was to protect myself. 

Today, around 11 years later, I feel a lot more tenderness and love for that tiny, innocent baby and I can even look back at that day and my self-protective tantrum with a warm nostalgia.

Through inner child work, I’ve had to relive the ‘scene of the crime’ many times for many different memories, feeling the sheer terror, panic and distraught upset that I felt in my young little body but could not fully express or work through to the point of completion.

I’ve learned through experience that when emotion is fully felt and released, it does dissipate. If we study nature, we’ll see that many animals, from dogs to ducks, literally shake off anxiety and trauma. Unlike them, we humans tend to hold onto ours, internalising it, repressing it, avoiding it and sometimes even identifying with it. 

As I processed the pain from my childhood — the traumatic memories of mum throwing up in the middle of the night; the guilt about my childhood rage towards my little sister; the shame over my body and its many messy functions; the pain of my dads’ absence (yes, the apostrophe is in the right place. I have two dads); most of all, the self-hatred and shame — I started to remember things I had completely forgotten about.

I remembered films I loved watching, and watched them again (Babes in Toyland, Grease, Oliver and Dirty Dancing, to name a few).


I remembered activities I loved doing, and did them again, going on the swings, cartwheeling, cycling with no hands, ice skating. 

Memories that were buried have come back to me as I have opened up more and more doors within the basement of my psyche. I’ve learned powerful lessons. I’ve learned that the more I delve into the dark, the more light is revealed.

I have consciously and deliberately given myself the gift of play, tentatively learning how to play alone and with other people. Daring to trust, daring to make mistakes, daring to be laughed at or risk rejection. It has been hard and vulnerable and liberating and joyful.

Recently, it was a pure joy to go to a soft play centre with my then two-year-old nephew and remember the magic and euphoria I felt as a kid running around adventure playgrounds, ball ponds and zip lines. This week, even as this post is published, I am spending three days with him while my sister and brand new brother-in-law celebrate their honeymoon. Perhaps that is partly why parenting is so powerful for so many people; it creates a circle of completion.

Reconnecting with the memories — of doing monkey bars, gymnastic classes, making my own books and starting my own library and teaching my little sister’s 30+ teddies in our originally named “Teddy School” — has sincerely been worth every moment of pain that I’ve gone through in therapy and this deep personal work.

I’m so grateful today that I can now fully remember previously excruciating childhood scenes today with little to no emotional charge accompanying the memory. That doesn’t mean it’s all gone or that there’s nothing left to process. I have found it an interesting tightrope to dance on, the further I’ve got into my recovery: nowadays I need to be wary that I don’t over-process and over-analyse, and that I don’t under-do it either.

I don’t know if the near-constant hum of disconnection that lurks on the edges of my consciousness and daily experience will ever fully go away. I wonder if my life is going to involve endless cycles of ebbing and flowing into and away from myself, salty tears of relief falling each time I surrender back into authentic connection with myself and others.

The way I make sense of coming home and being in relationship with the little one(s) within me today is to think of it as a relationship.

Relationships are not static entities. They are actually living entities. Like any other living organism, every relationship needs continual care to survive and thrive.

Coming home is a lifelong journey. For me it is intimate, spiritual in nature, and it requires deep reverence for my own and others’ wounds. I have come to appreciate that no matter what the external circumstances were, no one gets out of childhood scot free, but if you get out alive, you’ve got a chance to turn things around.

In closing, when it comes to living this path, what I know for sure today is this: the further I go, the deeper I go. And there is always more.



I wish you well on your journey. May it be full of depth and lightness, joy and healing, release from fear and of course, a deep coming home to yourself. 





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Elloa Atkinson is a life-changing coach, an inspiring speaker, and a writer whose work has been featured on the home pages of the Huffington Post and the Good Men Project.

A certified life coach, Elloa also has over ten years experience of assisting, supporting and leading emotionally intense personal development work. She is a long-term student and teacher of A Course In Miracles and believes that we are all inherently whole, innocent and worthy of love and that our core problem is that we have forgotten that. 

Connect with her at elloaatkinson.com and via Facebook: http://facebook.com/elloa.atkinson.miracles





Resources, personal stories, communication techniques, and strategies for survivors of sexual abuse who are ready to break free from the past and return to their genuine self.



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