August 29, 2012

A Beyond Survivor's Story: Spoken Secret - Part 2

Hi all,

Last week, I introduced you to J. Eve, a Beyond Survivor and writer who has recently been published in Speaking Your Truth: Courageous Stories from Inspiring Women. Here is Part 2 of her story. Enjoy!


What happens to a child’s sense of self when they grow up believing they are guilty of acts so terrible they don’t have names? For years I talked to different therapists, searched for books that reflected my experience, and consulted friends to help me make sense of what had happened. In my second to last semester of college, I took a course to become a certified sexual assault counselor. It was during this class that I gained tremendous perspective on my experience.

When I first heard the term “grooming,” I realized I’d been groomed. My abuser created a game conducive to getting what he wanted. He knew he had my complete trust and adoration long before the abuse started. I learned about power differentials and finally came to terms with the fact that the abuse didn’t happen between the two of us. In actuality, my abuser was aware of what he was doing and fully capable of understanding his power over me. Conversely, I didn’t know what was happening and didn’t have the language to stop him or seek help.

Every time the class met I felt a little lighter as I accepted that the abuse had not been my fault. Midway through the course I disclosed. After I spoke, several other classmates did so as well. Later, Hope told me, “I just couldn’t let you feel like you were alone for one second.” It was incredible that many of these women had, just like me, been drawn to this advocacy work after having been violated. I was stunned that it had taken so long for all of us to come forward, but mostly I was horrified by the numbers in the room and utterly moved by the contagiousness of my courage.

I’ve learned that disclosing is a critical piece of recovery from sexual abuse. Yet disclosing to my journal, and eventually to my family (not by choice), was not enough to begin the healing process. For years after the disclosure, I minimized the abuse, because I felt pressured by my family to move past it. They wanted to leave this awful part of our family history behind and not let it change our family dynamics. They feared the consequences of people finding out what had gone on in our house. The judgments about how this would reflect on their parenting were overwhelming, but mostly they worried about what this could mean for my abuser’s future.

As we’d believed ourselves to be prior to the disclosure, we continued to portray the life of a wholesome family unit that vacationed and celebrated holidays together. We gave each other advice and smiled for pictures, continuing to project the image of a loving, connected family. One year we traveled to St. Thomas over Christmas. The photos from this trip of my mom and abuser wearing matching pink shirts, their tanned skin causing their teeth to look especially white and perfect, does not reflect the underlying, unspoken tension bubbling beneath the surface during that week. For a brief moment, in the midst of a peaceful and “ordinary” trip, my mom shattered the culture of denial and minimization, saying, “The two of them cannot sleep in the same room!” I was annoyed at how insensitively she expressed her concern, and I felt extremely uncomfortable—it seemed her emotion was misdirected because we all knew I was no longer at risk around him.


Check in next week for Part 2 of J. Eve's story. 

In 2010, Lisa Shultz and Andrea Costantine published the anthology, Speaking Your Truth: Courageous Stories from Inspiring Women. Their goal with this book and its subsequent volumes and spin offs is to provide a beacon of light, hope, and connection for women as they navigate their lives while overcoming challenges and difficulties along the way. They had 49 contributing authors in Volume One who shared their stories of family matters, love and abuse, faith and spirituality, health and healing, and finding their path."

August 22, 2012

A Beyond Survivor's Story: Spoken Secret - Part 1

Hi all,

I recently had the opportunity to work with J. Eve through my Beyond Surviving program. As we got to know each other, I learned that she was a writer and was beginning to piece together some of her work for various publications and projects. Her story has recently been published in Speaking Your Truth: Courageous Stories from Inspiring Women, and she has agreed to let me share her story with you here as well. 

J. Eve is a powerhouse young woman who has dealt with the struggle so many of us face: How do we tell our story, how do we deal with the outcomes of breaking the silence, and who do we become after telling our story. For the next four weeks, she will be sharing her journey of speaking her story with us.*


I wonder where and who I’d be today had I never disclosed. For seven years, I didn’t have the ability to express anything about what I had suffered. From the time I was eight until fifteen, “remembering” the abuse I’d endured at about eight years old felt more like a figment of my imagination than a secret I kept hidden. Sometimes, this fragment felt like a vivid nightmare, at other times like a lie I was itching to tell. But the possibility that it was a real experience simply didn’t make sense. Why would my family member, someone I idolized and deeply trusted, expose me to such horrifying sexual acts? The protective mechanisms of my mind repressed the images, scents, and emotions for a long time, but gradually, slowly, they rose up and entered my awareness.  

The beginning of “remembering” took place while I was journaling on an ordinary spring day, sitting on the porch steps of the house I’d lived in my entire life. My abuser walked to his car and made a goofy face at me that sparked a thought—a memory—which translated into a written disclosure to my journal that I believed nobody would ever read. Within hours, my mother discovered my journal and saw my secret. No investigating, no prying, no discovering the crime in action, she simply stumbled upon my journal as so many snooping mothers do, only to discover a sentence that would change our futures indefinitely: “I wonder if anyone will ever find out about what happened between Sean and me.”

Though we were all devastated, each member of my family adopted a different mentality to make sense of what had happened. My father minimized the abuse, categorized it as sibling bullying, and said I needed to let the past be the past because “shit happens.” My brother didn’t allow himself to process any of it because he simply didn’t know how or what his place was in this drama.

My mother asked me questions to which I had no answers; it was as if I’d known for years, yet I quite literally couldn’t remember enough to respond. Her tone was urgent; she was furious. I stood before her emotionless. Despite remembering the abuse enough to write that one sentence, I remembered nothing more.

Instead of teaming up with my distraught, protective mother, I warned Sean that my parents knew. Years later, I would miss this brief moment of feeling I had an advocate. Yet at the time, I wanted to protect him and me—this was our secret. Maybe he could think up a lie or find some way out of trouble. I never told on him; I thought we were in this together.

Within hours—or days—my abuser was confronted. The intensity of these events caused my memory to fail me. It felt like everything happened so fast and then, just like that, was over. He admitted to it right away and that night he wrote me an apology. Wanting her family to put all of this behind us, my mother encouraged me to forgive and reconcile with my abuser. I forgave him, or at least that’s what I told him. I had no idea what it meant to forgive someone who says they love you but is responsible for much of your own needless suffering. 

*Names have been changed

Check in next week for Part 2 of J. Eve's story. 

In 2010, Lisa Shultz and Andrea Costantine published the anthology, Speaking Your Truth: Courageous Stories from Inspiring Women. Their goal with this book and its subsequent volumes and spin offs is to provide a beacon of light, hope, and connection for women as they navigate their lives while overcoming challenges and difficulties along the way. They had 49 contributing authors in Volume One who shared their stories of family matters, love and abuse, faith and spirituality, health and healing, and finding their path."

August 15, 2012

Freak - Part 3: Manure Makes Good Compost

Hi all,

Here's the conclusion to Rebecca's amazing story!


So we know what a mean scumball I was to myself.  We know I was raped and beaten as a kid, that I have scars from cigarette burns, that my tiny uterus was ruptured and the cause of decades of pain.  Yes, I was suicidal.  Sure, I hated my own guts.  Yeah, I followed the rape and incest textbook on screwed up behavior.  To the letter.

Now I don't.  Love came in and saved me.  Love for myself and that shattered little girl inside.

It's not like I'm all better.  I will always have shadows.  It's kind of naive to think that even love could wipe out the kind of things we've endured.  But love can keep that barking dog at bay.  Oh, it most certainly can.  I can live with a rabid hound snarling at the door from time to time, but I won't endure its bite anymore.  Such memories have teeth; a raging manure pile of thought and fangs, agony and terror, shame and degradation.   

When I used to teach art therapy at an abused children's home, I told the kids that they had a manure pile of memories.  There was nothing they could do about it.  They could never be rid of it.  But they still had choices as to what they did with that steaming pile.  They could drown in the stink of it, or turn it into compost and grow a garden.  The best way to do that is with love.  Love themselves, protect their wounded innocence, and if possible, help others.  That's what I try to do now.  

Like a cancer patient listening to a cancer survivor, there's something enormously comforting about seeing somebody who went through what you did, endured the unspeakable as you have, who helps you through it all.  You will listen and react to them far better than some well-meaning but obviously innocent-of-horror friend.  So I share my crazy memories.  I tell about my abusers, my parents and siblings, family and friends, lovers and husbands.  But most of all, I tell them about the biggest monster of all: my own insecurity.  It invaded my mind and heart as my body was brutalized and, like the parasite it is, it stayed behind long after my monsters were gone.  I became a host to it, a fertile breeding ground where it could grow and devour me at will.   

Rapists and pedophiles are not unlike tarantula wasps.  They grab us, invade us, and leave behind something that slowly eats us alive.  Insecurity.  And, like a patient with some unknown disease sucking the life out of us, it's hard to combat a foe when you have no diagnosis.  Know thy enemy.  Once you recognize the problem, isolate the invader, you can come up with a defense.  Soon after that, an offense.   

I chased my self-hatred like a farmer chases a greased pig; cursing, falling, grabbing hold again and again, only to have the sloppy thing slip through my fingers, scampering away with a gleeful  squeal.  But I never quit.  And all that exercise gave me strength and made it shrink.  Once fat and terrifying, more a wild boar than a pig, it grew smaller and smaller as I chased it, until I finally dove and held on.    Muddy, scraped up and cursing a blue streak, I held on. 

My insecurity is a chattering annoyance now.  Every once in a while, I have an acid flashback of angst, but my daily doses of self-love exercises keep the monster at bay.  And that's not bad at all.  Given my past and how much it sucked, this is truly a wonderful life.  I'm creating again.  I'm helping people.  I'm in a good relationship with a man who neither wants to control me or break my spirit.   

When we first began living together, he was baffled by my twitchy behavior.  I did things even I didn't realize; rushed to get him things but never asked for reciprocation, turned on him like a pit bull when he said anything that triggered the past, however innocuous.  Finally, one day, he said, "Why do you give me that deer-in-headlight stare every time I ask if you want something?  You look almost scared.  I just asked if you wanted some tea."  Before I had my insecurity on a leash, those few sentences would have sent me into a panic.  Now, they simply stunned me.  I wasn't used to kindness.  Had never had much experience with thoughtfulness in a lover.  I was actually frightened by it.  He was right.  My deer-in-headlights stare was exactly that: a frightened, dumb animal about to be hit by a truck.  But it wasn't a truck.  It was human behavior.  Not monster, not deviant, no hidden cruelty lurking behind the bait of a gentle gesture.  Just kindness; an alien concept in someone I'd been intimate with.  I'd gotten so used to being nothing more than something to screw, I didn't know how to react.

It's a strange thing to be born again.  Not in any religious way, but in a physical, emotional and spiritual emergence, a shedding of thick layers of pain and hatred, insecurity and unfulfilled rage.  That crap is heavy.  Once you're not dragging it around anymore, you look back and can't believe the black hole drag it had always been.  How exhausting it was.  We are Atlas, my brothers and sisters of circumstance.  We carry the weight of the world's sins on our shoulders.  But we don't have to do it.  We can lay that mountain of manure down, spread it across a field and sow some seeds in it.  Green, nourishing plants, glorious flowers, soft and tender shoots.  Great beauty can come from such filth if we choose to use it for good.  Take it from me, a flop-sweated, thick crusted basketcase of a former victim/abuser.  I am an insecurity addict and I treat it as such.  Day by day by wonderful day. 

Take care.  R
Watch this interview with Rebecca!

Connect with Rebecca on Twitter or Facebook and find her book on Amazon.

Rebecca O'Donnell is an artist/writer.  She has taught art therapy at an abused children's home, given lectures concerning parenting a drug addict, and written for various historical journals, mainly focusing on World War II. She's illustrated a coloring book for Paul Newman's Double "H" Hole in the Woods camp, created confectionery displays for the Long Island Shakespeare Society, Oheka Castle and the Alice Tully estate, and donated huge gingerbread houses to the cancer ward of Schneider's Children's Hospital, some of which the kids broke apart and ate on Christmas Day.  She has two grown children and a beloved artist/writer boyfriend, with whom she's collaborating on a graphic novel for next year.  Rebecca currently lives in New York. 

August 8, 2012

Freak - Part 2: The Knight in Shining Armor

Hi all,

Last week I introduced you to Rebecca O'Donnell, author of Freak: The True Story of an Insecurity Addict and a Beyond Survivor. Here is Part 2 of her story. Enjoy!


Insecurity addicts develop strange phobias.
  After years of my husband making jokes about my fat ass and dumpy body, I developed real image issues.  They were already tentatively in place; my father used to make fun of my appearance as well.  But it was the fourteen years of being married to a man who'd been raised in a family of size zeroes that solidified the damage.  At first, I lost an enormous amount of weight to please him, but after he still complained about my fat when I weighed 113 pounds at almost six feet in height, I just gave up and slid into the world of liquid diets and heart wrenching angst, cramming down a secret candy bar or two when he wasn't looking.  I grew to hate my body so desperately, especially as it began to get sick after my second child was born (after a series of miscarriages before and after), that I started covering portions of my face when I put on makeup  or brushed my teeth.  I couldn't bear the full brunt of that despised countenance.

Fast forward a couple of years.  I was divorced, still screwed up, with patches of re-emerging traumatic memory from my childhood that were ghastly to absorb...on top of everything else that was going on in my life.  "Trauma unlocks trauma," my therapist had warned, and since my teenage son was in rehab and his gang was angry with me for taking their pet white boy away, I was definitely in trauma.  But I'd begun a series of self-love exercises to combat my own insecurity addiction, and here I was, completely forgetting about my childhood gang rape and cigarettes being put out against my skull, because something miraculous and totally unexpected had happened.

I was looking at my own face in the mirror.  Mouth full of tooth paste,  deer-in-headlights stare, arm frozen in mid air.  A plop of minty foam fell into the sink and I jerked, blinking my eyes.  I couldn't stop staring at that face.  Ugly, yes, but an entire face.  Not unbearable any longer.  After six months of telling myself "I love you," knowing it was a big lie, something had finally changed.  The disgusting had become simply ugly.  Progress.  Impossible, fantastic, incredible progress.

I love romance.  Movies, books, stories, anything at all to do with true love.  As a teenager, I dreamed of a hero, a knight in shining armor who'd swoop down and rescue me from hell.  He would be strong, brave, kind and nurturing.  He'd love me despite my many faults and under that love, I would bloom.  Become the creature I was always meant to be.  That's what was missing.  A hero to save me.
Those past years went by.  Adolescence melted into young adulthood.  Because of my lousy sense of worth, I chose loved ones poorly.  First a brute as my first husband, then a cold, vicious sadist as my second.  I thought if I showered enough love and patience on them, they'd reciprocate.  Both my husbands had been abused as kids; my second one severely.  If I could endure his cruelty, I would get through to him.  I would heal him and he'd find his own kindness and through it, his love for me.  Then we could at last be soulmates and it would be my turn to heal; my turn to be helped.

One of the problems with cruelty is the fact that it, too, is addictive.  My mates loved to harm me.  They got off on it; it filled a need for them.  My pain gave them a fix.  I knew this.  I was stupid, yes, broken and bleeding, sure, but I still knew the truth.  But instead of turning away, instead of leaving, that made me cling even tighter to my monster.  I left the first one.  It would be ridiculous to not try really, really hard with this second husband.  Friends and family were already teasing me for being divorced once.  I didn't want to be a quitter on something as important as love and marriage.  Pride, fear and insecurity kept me in my place: a miserable whipped dog in a Mobius loop, rising and falling forever.  Self hatred held me down, disgusted by my own indecisions and cowardice.

And then, tooth paste fell into the sink and my life changed forever.  I started to notice a difference in myself, a confidence I'd never had before.  I began to like Rebecca O'Donnell.  Who'd have thought it?  Who could possibly have imagined that this thing, this person I am now, was ever the suicidal, self-mutilating train wreck of the past.   

After years of reading self-help books, listening to good advice, outwardly following it to the letter but inwardly ignoring it all, I'd bumbled and stumbled my way into a happy life.  And all with a few flowery words that nothing, not even my own contemptuous voice, could silence.  Tiny words.  Monumental phrases.  A life changed without even knowing it was happening.  We're very good at fooling ourselves.  We're very good at hiding our wounds from the world.  They see sadness, perhaps, and a victim, but we don't allow them to see us as the abuser.  Friends grind their teeth in frustration, baffled as to why we do this to ourselves, why we stay with our monsters and vicious mates.  We hide it because the truth is too terrible to share.  If they knew what we really were, they'd leave us.  So we joke and quibble and dribble our pain in sympathy-inducing measurements, terrified that they'll see us the way we see ourselves.  And then they'd leave.  After that, only our abusers would be left: us and whatever rotten relationship we were in.  But love truly is the answer.  I've become my own soulmate, my own knight in shining armor.  And I will always have my sword at the ready, and my arms for embracing that poor, slowly healing, screwed up kid inside of me.

Check in next week for the conclusion to Rebecca's story!!

Connect with Rebecca on Twitter or Facebook and find her book on Amazon.

August 1, 2012

Freak - Part 1: The Insecurity Addict

Hi all,

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Rebecca O'Donnell, author of Freak: The True Story of an Insecurity Addict and a Beyond Survivor. I was immediately captured by Rebecca's story and courage and just knew I had to share her with you all! So, for the next three weeks, she will be telling us a little bit about her journey and how she healed.

For decades, all her decisions were colored by insecurity; she had put herself into a pit and had to discover a way to crawl out of it. With laughter, self-recognition, and a drop of shaky courage, Rebecca shares exactly how she did that, discovering in the process a gift that she never expected—the ability to help others build their own ladder out of hell. She offers hope to anyone who has ever heard that voice of self-hatredthe gremlin of insecurity whispering that we can't, we shouldn't, and we don't deserve.


There is no one meaner, nastier, or more heartless than an insecurity addict. We're easy to spot because we're everywhere: self-effacing jokesters, sad and silent shufflers, angry and aggressive bullies.  We're often seen as kind and generous people, willing to help others, always lending a hand to those in need. Sometimes we're seen as tough and brilliant leaders.  And all that is true. We do help others. We often are impressive leaders.  We are generous to a fault.

But there's a terrible secret behind our benevolent masks, an abusive raging monster who keeps a child chained up in darkness...a child they've been abusing for the greater part of their lives.  A child they blame for all of their own misery and stupid decisions as an adult. 

Nobody was a bigger abuser than myself.  I kept that kid locked up, shivering and bloody, raging at her every chance I got.  Every time I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw, I attacked her.  Every time I kept my mouth shut while allowing others to hurt me, I called her a coward.  Whenever I wanted to die, or scream, or escape whatever hell I was in, she felt my razor wire words and poisonous ridicule.  I had no pity, no remorse in my abuse.  There wasn't one shred of humanity in my treatment of this wounded kid.  I hated her.

I loved hating her.

Why shouldn't I?  This kid, this angel-faced little eight-year-old, was the reason my entire life had been garbage.  She's the one who invited it.  She's the one who got Daddy's "juices flowing," the one who was sexually appealing to her brother and his hoodlum friends.  She's the one who couldn't stop it, the weakling who wasn't strong enough against full grown men.  She's the one her mother called "an incestuous slut."  And she's all mine.  This kid can never, ever escape me.  She IS me, inside of me forever, like a whining little cancer, rotting me from the inside.  I will call her names, abuse her, hit her in the face, claw her skin and burn her legs.  I'll choose relationships that will help me hurt her even more.  I'll keep the cycle going that my pedophile rapist relatives began.  I'll add to it.  I'll surpass their evil.  They did it for years.  I'll do it for decades.  That little bitch will pay for my misery.  I'll make sure of it.

This, if I'm honest with myself, is the way I used to think.  Sure, on the outside, I was all "nurture the inner child" and "forgive yourself," but inside, my addiction just grinned a jagged smile at such nonsense.  Insecurity is an addiction, every bit as strong as heroin.  It won't go quietly with soft words and self-help books.  It allows you to read those but slams the gate every time you try to put any of it into practice. 

When my adolescent son was in rehab for his horrific drug addiction problem, I reluctantly decided to follow the family association program myself.  I was in a deep depression; an addict son, a lost job, in the middle of a terrible divorce, losing friends and my art business in the 911 attacks.  This on top of a past full of a tiny ruptured uterus, sexual deviancy and drunken cruelty, and I was at an all-time low.  I was the most talented person I'd ever met.  That was gone too, thrown away by my own stupidity.  Self pity was a deep ocean of thick slime, and I was drowning in it.

But as I studied the Daytop Village rehab booklets, listened at the group meetings, learned the ins and outs of addiction and mindset of the addict, it began to dawn on me that I might be an addict too.  I'd always prided myself on having never turned to drugs or alcohol.  I'd seen my entire family wallow in such horrors and had a certain smugness that I'd never gone that route.  But I had been fooling myself.  I WAS an addict.  I was addicted to insecurity.  I wasn't just addicted.  I was a hardcore, lifetime user.

So how to even begin combating such an addiction?  I'd read a lot of fluffy books; well-meaning silly sentences that were soothing but insubstantial.  I read them, loved them, but they did nothing to change my own thinking.  I'd been hard-wired since infancy to see myself as garbage, first by my parents, then friends and lovers, and most of all, myself.  I could tell my reflection that I was a good person, worth saving, but I'd never believe it.  I never had before.

But now, with my son's life at stake, I knew I had to be strong.  I had to live for him.  I had to drag him, kicking and screaming, back to life, and myself right along with him.  So I decided to fight insecurity with love.  Every day, I said, "I love you" to myself.  At first in the dark, then to a photo of me as a kid, because it was too hard to say it to a mirror.  Every night, I said, "Good night beautiful body, good night beautiful mind, good night beautiful spirit."

I didn't believe a word of it.  Sneered at myself for saying such lies.  But I kept at it.  A stone mason can hammer away at a great boulder a hundred times without a mark, but on the 101st blow, the entire stone will crack in two.  I kept that in my mind and kept hammering away with my silly, embarrassing love-talk.

Then something miraculous happened.  Six months after I began my monologue of love, I was brushing my teeth in the mirror, and froze.  Without covering any part of it, I was looking at my entire face in the mirror, something I hadn't been able to do for years.  It was a nonchalant kind of epiphany, but mighty nonetheless. 

Check in next week for Part 2!!
Connect with Rebecca on Twitter or Facebook and find her book on Amazon.

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