September 3, 2017

How I Overcame Abuse: Dispelling the Victim

This week, I'm so pleased to introduce you to Greg Reese, survivor, overcomer, and so much more. In part one of his series this month, he explores the impact that denial and secrecy have on the healing process. He also shares some tips on how to quiet the mind so we can release the victim mentality.


I went through most of my life unaware of the abuse I suffered as a child. Having no idea why I was so disturbed and angry at the world, I resigned myself to thinking that I was crazy, which slowly sank my heart into years of cyclic depression and angst. At the age of thirty-three, I began practicing meditation. 
And five years later, I remembered what happened to me when I was a child.

The experience of recovering those memories felt strange and exotic. As if I had always remembered, but subconsciously chose a deep state of denial. For the following eight years I worked towards finding peace and absolving myself of the past, and I can say most gratefully that I succeeded.

After writing about all of this in the book, Sex Drugs and Om, I realized that what caused the most damage to my being was the denial. Far more destructive than the initial abuse, the years of denial manifested a deeply seated self-loathing that lured me into abusive relationships and destructive dramas. So miserable was it, that when I finally remembered the cruel event, all other emotions came far second to the exuberant joy of knowing that I was not crazy.

A wound must be addressed for it to heal, and we cannot tend to what we are in denial of. There are taboos in our society. Unspeakable crimes that we collectively agree to keep hidden away where they are doomed to fester and spoil the spirit from within.

In the book, Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Lewis Herman, the author writes that:

“The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.”

The author claims that:

“The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.

If we break a bone or get sick, then society shows compassion and wishes us well. Recovery can be strong and swift. But if we are raped or molested, then society will not hear of it. It’s unspeakable, and society has no patience for such things. We are left to suffer alone and ashamed with our unspeakable ills.

When society renders our injury unspeakable, our role as victim is evermore naturalized. First victimized by the initial perpetrator, and then repeatedly victimized by our own family and community as they silence us from uttering the unspeakable crimes committed against us.

I have always had a habit of speaking very openly about my personal life, and I have shared in many personal conversations that I was abused as a child. More than half the people I share this with tell me that they were also abused as children. More than half.

It seems to be a highly relatable experience, and yet, it is rarely ever talked about. This is what allows the cycle of abuse to thrive. If we could shed light upon it and dispel it from the darkness, then things might look quite differently. But wishing that things were different will not bring results. Wishing that the external world will change is the futile fantasy that keeps us firmly planted in the victim state of mind.

As Above, So Below. Perhaps the most informative four words ever written. 

Everything is made of the same polarized stuff. Equal parts light and dark. Good and evil swirling together in their infinite dance of life. We all have the capacity to be the victim, or the villain. It is in all of us.

For millennia, we have all collectively created the rules of our society. And upon close examination we come to realize that the concepts of right and wrong, for the most part, are not universal. The community sets the ethical standards based on the collective aversions and desires of the people. Different cultures have different ethics.

Everyone has an opinion, and these opinions have nothing to do with being right, or being wrong. They are simply opinions. It would be foolish to think that our opinions are right when practically everyone else’s are uniquely different.

We live in such a convenient and comfortable society that we can easily forget the fact that we are part of the animal kingdom. The world is a jungle, and the impressive amount of order that we have instilled upon it is impermanent and precarious. The victim cries out for justice, but there is no external justice other than that which the majority decides.

I have come to believe that identifying as a victim is a trap. When we identify as a victim, then we renounce all power to recover. The victim is helpless.

As a victim, we expect the world to adapt itself to our suffering. And this is an impossible dream. We become so consumed with anger, self-righteousness, and self-pity that we lose sight of the courage and humility needed to look within our own hearts and learn from our own plight. We are all given obstacles to ignore or overcome. If we ignore them, we fail to evolve. And if we go within, we can overcome them and find true justice.

So how do we go within?

Seeing our self as the victim is a symptom of ego identity. The great Yoga master, Sri Swami Sivananda, taught:

“I’m not the body, I’m not the mind. Immortal self am I.”

This is the root of our liberation. When we identify our self as the spirit which animates the body and mind, then we stop taking things so personally and begin looking after our self as we would a loved one. When we identify ourselves as something higher, then we realize the responsibility we have to our physical, mental, and emotional selves.

This is a personal journey, one that we must take alone. We naturally find friends with similar paths, but never with quite the same as our own. We must cultivate the ability to follow the guidance from our own heart.

In my own experience, it was meditation that allowed me to see things differently:

I was becoming aware of a connection that I had within me, a line of communication between myself, and something greater. You could call it intuition, a soul, or a spirit. But I will call it my; Higher-self.

I used to think that I was my mind, but this was changing. I was now beginning to think that my mind was merely a component of my true self, just as my body is. I’m not exactly sure what this mental component is, but I will call it my Ego. I no longer knew who or what I was, but I knew that I wanted to follow the guidance of my higher-self.

The higher-self was quiet, and the ego was loud, so the trick was learning how to hear the higher-self through all the mental noise of the ego. And this required quieting the mind.

I knew in my heart that my own personal journey as an aspirant was ultimately about learning how to do this. And I knew that the reason for this was because my higher-self had a plan for me. It had truth. But in order for me to see that truth, I would need to silence my ego. My ego had been in control for most of my life, and it wasn’t letting go without a fight.”  

This is where the journey begins, learning to quiet the mind’s noise so that we can go within. Perhaps the easiest way to begin, is by concentrating on our breath.

Sitting comfortably, we can focus our full attention on our breath. This is not easy, and we soon realize the great challenge before us as our mind desperately attempts to distract us. It whispers to us, screams at us, and adapts to our every defense. Fighting it only makes it stronger. Our best strategy is surrender. When we realize that the mind has quietly dragged us away with a thought, we can gently smile, let go of the thought, and bring our awareness back to the breath. There is no reason to get frustrated. Each time we catch ourselves drifting away, we have yet again awoken ourselves from the sleepy spells of the mind. And the more we practice, the easier it gets to stay present and awake.

The more we sit and focus on our breath, the more skilled we become at quieting our thoughts. And as we quiet our thoughts, we begin to find our path.

If you desire peace and health, then please try this practice over the next few days. 

Next week we will delve into the mental aspect known to many as The Witness.

Greg Reese was born in Vallejo, California, raised in Cleveland, Ohio and now lives in a yoga ashram in Virginia. Since leaving High School, Greg has been a carpenter, musician, filmmaker and writer, as well as a saw-gunner in the US Marines. At the present time, he works in the audio-video department of the yoga ashram.

Having been a writer of poems and essays all his life, and having had such a uniquely unusual life so far, Greg decided to write a book about his experiences. Sex Drugs and OM: An Autobiography of an American Yogi, is an enlightening, entertaining account of how he elevated himself beyond suffering with yoga and meditation, and found sustainable happiness.

Greg is busy writing his first novel, plans on moving to Hawaii, and writing several more to come.

His favorite quote comes from Robert Anton Wilson, and sums up his feeling about belief - “Only the madman is absolutely sure.”

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