October 31, 2017

How to Overcome (Nearly) Anything

This week, we meet Amy Oestreicher, performer, speaker, advocate, and survivor. She and I connected awhile back and I just knew I had to share her with you all. Her story is an inspiration and I love how she has found her voice and gone on to perform and share her story with others.


I’ve always thought myself capable of overcoming anything.  In high school, my nickname was Audacious Amy, ready to dive head-first into anything as a fearless, invincible-feeling daredevil.  I guess when you come into this world, your health is something you assume will always stay status quo, and your focus is drawn to the "more pressing" matters that come with growing up, like fitting in with your friends or making the dance team.

As a kid, I grew antsy with impatience, waiting until I was "older" to start dating, to go to the mall unsupervised, to learn how to drive. I was counting the days until I turned 18, giddy at the idea of college and independence at last. Two weeks after I turned 18, I was pulled into another realm where "waiting" took on an entirely new meaning.

What happened to me physically had no formal diagnosis. I had ostomy bags and gastrointestinal issues, but I didn’t have Crohn’s disease. Doctors were fighting to keep me alive, but I had no terminal illness. There was so much damage done to my esophagus that it had to be surgically diverted, but I was never bulimic. I didn’t fit into any category. Suddenly, I was just “ill”.

When an unforeseen blood clot caused my body to go into septic shock, my life changed forever. Now, it was my devoted family who waited patiently and lovingly while I recovered from a three-month coma. When I awoke, I waited many more months before I could take a breath of outside air once again. I became extremely well-versed in patience -- little did I know that I've have to wait eight more months before I was discharged from the ICU, six years before I could drink a sip of water or eat a morsel of food again and 27 surgeries before life showed any promise of regaining stability.

In the meantime, I became a surgical guinea pig, subject to medical procedures, tests and interventions, as devoted medical staff put hours into reconstructing and re-reconstructing me, determined to give me a digestive system and a functional life.

As a born go-getter, I've never been great with "patience." So I became extremely frustrated as doctors explained to me how "it would be a long road to recovery, but I'll get there." But healing physically and recovering my "self" emotionally, feeling my aliveness as well as being alive... I learned that this is a daily process, a life-long one. Life will not always be perfect, and there's no reason to wait until things are.

I had this fantasy that the day I was finally discharged from the hospital, everything would be "back to normal." I'd have my old body back -- devoid of any medical scars, tubes, bags or IVs. I'd be eating and drinking again. I'd be able to run, jump and leap like I had in dance class just the week before my coma. These surgeries would just be a "blip" in my life, and now it could proceed as it was meant to.

But I learned something far better. I learned my life as I knew it had shattered, but I could reassemble the pieces differently, but still beautifully -- like a mosaic. These "imperfect" shards of a life I longed to reclaim could create a work of art even greater, using the grout of experience and newfound wisdom.

I waited for the day I could finally eat again, which came after a 19-hour surgery requiring three shifts of nurses and doctors. I’d be happy, normal, and finally feel like me again – eating waffles for breakfast.Eating food made me feel again, but it also made me remember, even the things I didn’t want to remember, things that I thought a coma had permanently repressed.…like the hurt and confusion I had felt burning in my gut, but was too afraid to tell anyone about. Suddenly I was flooded with alarming memories of having been sexually abused by my voice teacher, also my godfather, for months before all this began. This huge role model in my life shattered my trust in an instant, plaguing me with anxiety that grew worse and worse until that stomach ache changed my world forever.

Although these raw, forgotten emotions were so overwhelming; for the first time, I realized I could feel.  I decided that I’d rather feel everything than nothing at all.

I felt myself start to materialize. It was then that I realized I had been waiting for what I had had within me all along – feeling.

Over a decade has passed since my life took an unexpected detour. It was a messy detour that put most of my anticipated life plans on hold, if not changing them completely. But this detour turned into the richest time in my life. To this day, I am still healing physically and emotionally. Every morning I make a new attempt to find who I am and to discover who I am becoming. If I had waited for life to be "perfect," or at least for life to go back to "how it was," I would have missed out on so many things. I would have never mounted my first solo art show after learning to paint in the hospital. I would have never written a one-woman musical about my life that I've performed for five years, written a play about my abuser, or given a TEDx Talk... If I hadn't had the audacity to set up an online dating profile for myself while still in my hospital gown, on IVs and recovering from a disastrous surgery, I would never have married the first love of my life.  And when I was suddenly hit with a divorce less than a year later, I learned that there is never a reason to wait to fully love yourself.

I may not know where my detour is headed, and the road may be terrifying at times, but that’s OK.

Not “waiting” for life to happen can mean simply showing up and staying open to where the path may lead.  Even with wounds that still haven’t healed – and that’s not a metaphor – I’m on the road.  If I’m willing to feel, I’ll always have my heart to guide me. Apparently you don't need a stomach to survive, but, a heart is indispensable!

They say that all good things come to those who wait. But what for? Every day is an opportunity to learn, to grow and better myself. I love the imperfect twists and turns my life has taken, simply because they have made me who I am. It has been a mess, having life as I knew it shattered to pieces. But bit by bit it's reassembling -- different, imperfect, but beautiful all the same.

Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright.   As creator of her one-woman musical Gutless & Grateful , the #LoveMyDetour Campaign, which was the subject of her TEDx Talk, she's currently touring theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. She currently offers private coaching and consults for creativity, "detour navigation", public speaking, and social media marketing.

Subscribe to her newsletter for updates and free excerpts from her upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017.  Get your free creativity e-book at amyoes.com/create and a free guide to getting a TEDx Talk at amyoes.com/discover.

October 24, 2017

From Incest to Joy - Part 4

This week, we conclude our series with Donna Jenson, who shares with us about three powerful survivors who are "out" and making a difference from the world - who have transformed their pain to joy!


We are swimming against the tide of taboo. All we brave and battling souls deciding it is time to stop abuse from happening to the children. I’m watching so, so many hearty hearts step up to microphones, web sites, and audiences filled with curious faces, open faces, even welcoming faces. I remember a day in 1998 – I had been invited by someone in Boston to lead a workshop for survivors. I had a most simple agenda – form a circle, say our names, tell each other why we’re here, look at a statue of a wise old woman who’s survived incest and tell us what you see. That was it. That was all. That was everything.

And no one came. Nada. No one felt safe enough or ready enough or curious enough to step into the light generated by a circle of people looking across at each other with open eyes, open ears and just maybe open hearts.

But the times they are a-changin’.

I went to Albany last month (Sept. 2017) for the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault Conference – to run a workshop for survivors working in the sexual abuse response world. That can be a mighty big step for a survivor – going from planery to lunches to rooms with power points and tables full of all the things dealing with the issue. See, not every survivor of sexual abuse is “out”, not even in organizations dealing with it. Some might be surprised about this – but we’re not.

But I don’t want to write about what I did over there in Albany. I want to write about what I experienced. It was one great big infusion of hope and inspiration. See, the place was teaming with activists. Activists who are doing remarkable things and who also happen to be survivors, like me.

Later I’ll tell you what some are specifically doing but first I want to explain how three in particular touched me – Mia Mingus, Aishah Shahidah Simmons and Erin Esposito – three Amazonian, childhood sexual abuse dropkicking individuals.

Erin, a deaf woman leading an organization serving deaf and hearing-impaired women, delivered her message so powerfully. Yes, she had an American Sign Language interpreter perched below her speaking into a microphone in front of Erin on the dais and, yes, the words being said were important – the details of her message.  But it was watching Erin, watching Erin swinging and throwing her arms out wide, her hands flashing back and forth in front of her face. You could see heat emanating off of her as she so clearly explained the struggles to identify and illuminate sexual abuse in families and institutions holding and serving deaf women and girls. Her excitement to make change was palpable and contagious.

And there’s Mia – a five-foot tall dynamo from San Francisco, driving her scooter around at top speed, sparkling up every room with her laughter.  Yes, she’s a survivor of incest, too, and polio and racism – lots of ands. The biggest AND was her larger than life belief that all this oppressive crap is changeable. In her workshop she told us we have to, "... respond to the real and messy realities of child sexual abuse when it happens in our families and communities."

The third is Aishah. We met earlier this year making the 3 Women Rising video. This rock steady woman has been working non-stop for 20 years to get this world on track. She walked into the banquet room, sat down, stared at what was going on and her aura reached out to Mia at the podium communicating – “Keep on sister, just keep on doing what you’re doing, doing what you do so well.” Oh, and yes, she’s a survivor, too.

It’s a big thing – these three particular and remarkable women being OUT; out in PUBLIC – proclaiming not just what was done to them but also what needs to happen; what to stop and what to start. It’s a big thing for me to be able to walk among them, hear their wisdom, learn their ways. The biggest thing is the hope thing. Hope that the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse can be stopped; turned around and stopped.

I have this great big hope for multiplication of more survivors coming out. Heck, there were at the very least 20 people out of 100 attending this conference who were “out” as survivors. That’s 20%. Excuse me but 35 years ago, when I was just whispering my survivor-ship to one sweet friend, there was nowhere I could have gone in 1982 where 20% of any group would have been “out” survivors. While I’m on this 20 kick – what’s 20 of something I’d like to see coming down the pike? Oh, how about 20 million bucks for a band of survivors to join Erin and Mia and Aishah to get all that they’re working on funded and finished.

Would 20 million do it? My guess is the three of them would say, “Bring it on – we’ll use it well and make it work.” Without even asking them, I’ll bet they’ve all been making miracles on shoestring budgets for years. So, just imagine what this threesome and a band of merry persons could make happen together.

So let me tell you just a tiny bit about what they’re into and give you some links for some more.

Erin, and her organization Ignite, are working with schools for the deaf where abuse has been happening. And, guess what? Unlike schools for hearing students, when a scandal hits the news the sponsors and the government say, “Change your ways or we’ll shut this place down.” Which turns out to be a double whammy since these places are also oases for deaf children in a hearing dominant world. So they get screwed twice.

And Mia – out there in San Francisco – she’s working within communities for something wonderful called Transformative Justice through the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective. Now, there’s a mouthful. She’s working on how to basically stop childhood sexual abuse AND make perpetrators accountable AND not use the criminal justice system, which breaks more than mends families. Mia tells us, “We cannot only resist the world we do not want; we must also build the world we long for.”

Then there’s Aishah and her remarkable #LOVEwithAccountabilityProject. Get this – she’s going all around the country promoting something that, unlike the common belief that to “tell” on an abuser in the family is to harm the family, so keep quiet – she’s got one hell of a radical idea. Aishah is teaching us the opposite – that it’s an act of love to hold the family accountable: the harm doers and the bystanders. To love the family is to stop the perpetuation of the harm and the silencing.

Thank you Erin and Aishah and Mia for your work, your perseverance and for modeling so graciously how to be an “out” survivor swimming against the tide.

Thanks for reading,

In 2009 Donna founded Time To Tell with a mission to spark stories from lives affected by incest and sexual abuse to be told and heard. She wrote and performs her one-woman play, What She Knows: One Woman’s Way Through Incest to Joy, which is based on her own experience of surviving incest and what she did to make her life worth living. 

Her book, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy, a narrative of the choices she made and experiences she had that helped her heal from her childhood trauma, will be released by Levellers Press in Fall of 2017. For more information go to www.timetotell.org

Donna's book, Healing my life from Incest to Joy, has been released. In chronicling the physical, emotional and spiritual steps she took to reclaim her life and peel away the layers of damage done by incest, Donna has written a powerful narrative of one person’s journey of healing. And though the subject matter is deeply serious, she writes with her sense of humor firmly intact, reminding us that joy is possible in the face of great pain. Poignant and brave, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy offers a much-needed testimony for anyone affected by or concerned about childhood sexual abuse.

This is a book, “ …that is unique and personal in its detail, yet also universal and human in its impact,” says Gloria Steinem.

October 17, 2017

From Incest to Joy - Part 3

This week, we continue our series with the Donna Jenson, who explores the healing power of breath.


Sometimes there’s a beckoning voice inside that can pull my mind away from worry, croon my fear out of its cage, or coax my ego off her pedestal and, instead, get me to pay attention to my breathing. Oh if I could only hear that calming hum every day, 24/7, asleep or awake. God, could I even stand it, that much peace? The breath can be like a well-varnished cherry wood canoe carrying me back to my very own best self. All it takes is attention – some days that’s the same as saying all it takes is a million dollars.

It seems to me my breathing was shallow in childhood. I don’t remember thinking about breathing back then. I did think about running away or at least hiding. I didn’t learn to breathe for health and well being until I was in my fifties. Breathing used to be the last thing on my mind, which is, come to think of it, lucky for me since my breathing didn’t need me to keep going.

It seems to me, back then, I held my breath more than let it out; each breath never went deeper than the top of my lungs before it turned around and left.

What changed my breathing? Dad dying, for starters. And writing. When I write about my childhood – the trauma years, the traumatic era, the fear infested decades – the deeper my breath travels into me. Writing has a pulse and it seems to me my lungs get exercised by the push and pull of the pen. Is that why I seem to write more about feelings when I write longhand? Tap, tap, tapping on a keyboard does nothing for my lungs.

It seems to me my fear of breathing is connected to all the times I had pleurisy – from age 10 to 17. I never had pleurisy after I left home.

Yoga changed my breathing. Every teacher has been hell bent on the breath. Last week Lisa told the class, “Send the breath to a tight place in your body.” I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that 60 years ago. Thinking my breath was a thing to be directed somewhere. Lisa acts like the breath is some kind of miracle medicine. Maybe I do too, now.

I just stopped writing, closed my eyes and let my mind ride down with my breath, curving up my nostrils, twisting down the back of my skull, down the back of my neck, take a left turn at the top of the spine over to that sore muscle under my left shoulder blade. And the breath circles round and round the muscle like a stream of water shooting out of a faucet turned on full, I hold it there a little while then have the breath trace its tracks back out again.

It seems to me it would have been a comfort, maybe even a healing, if I had known how to do that when I was eight years old and nine and ten and, and, and...

I didn’t know then but I know now. Lucky me.

Thanks for reading,

Read Part 4!

In 2009 Donna founded Time To Tell with a mission to spark stories from lives affected by incest and sexual abuse to be told and heard. She wrote and performs her one-woman play, What She Knows: One Woman’s Way Through Incest to Joy, which is based on her own experience of surviving incest and what she did to make her life worth living. 

Her book, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy, a narrative of the choices she made and experiences she had that helped her heal from her childhood trauma, will be released by Levellers Press in Fall of 2017. For more information go to www.timetotell.org

Get your copy of Healing My Life: From Incest to Joy today!

October 11, 2017

From Incest to Joy - Part 2

This week, we continue our series with the amazing Donna Jenson, who delves into the very real experiences of isolation and feeling like we just do belong and offers some ideas on how to reconnecting with our "belonging" in this world.


Here’s a subject to tiptoe into: Being isolated. Feeling isolated. Isolation is a mighty big topic for this survivor. When I was a child, he needed to isolate me to have his way with me. What an old expression, having his way with me, so genteel yet plenty descriptive.

What do I mean by isolation? For the incest to happen there needed to be no one else in the room. Not Grandma Mable or cousin Jan. Each of them slept over every once in a while and always stayed in my room, on my single bed with me curled up in a nest of blankets on the floor next to them. Those were my most favorite nights in the apartment.

By isolation, I mean he made sure I would never let anyone else know it was happening by saying, “You tell anyone and I’ll kill you.”

It was like what the cheetah does to the youngest member of the heard – that wobbly legged antelope. Pick her out, scare all the other antelopes away and go
in for the kill. Now imagine this isolating goes on for five years, longer than it takes to earn a Master's degree in Social Work. Over and over you get isolated while the worst thing ever in your life is happening to you. What I carried with me into my teen years, my twenties – all the way to forty – was a deeply ingrained belief that when bad things happen I am alone, on my own.

God I want to go grab a big old handkerchief and have me a spell of tears just remembering that aloneness. 

What do I mean by aloneness? The absolute certainty that there was no one who could help me, no one who could be there for me, next to me. And I’m talking about all the years – not just in childhood but a lot of grownup years, too.

I knew I was healing when I could actually sense this retreat into isolating myself. I named it “going down the rabbit hole” – like Alice in Wonderland.

I had to just stop and take a breath. Maybe after I’m done writing this out and read it back to myself I’ll understand why a stream of tears is racing around my collarbone and shoulder blades as I write. Talking about isolation makes me remember and feel it. What I want to get to, the point I’m reaching to grab hold of is the enormous importance of gaining a sense of belonging, to feel I belong. Belong to a community, belong to a family of choice, belong in this world. It’s the absolute opposite of isolation.

The more I believe I belong here, that I belong to ME, to the world, that I’m a part of the world, the less I go down the rabbit hole. Or, if I do slip, then the less time I spend down there in that cold dark tunnel of despair once I remember I belong.

Why am I writing about this – this isolation vs. belonging? First, to get a better handle on it myself; a grip, a hold, a concrete understanding of what it is for me because I’m on a quest to keep my ass out of that rabbit hole more and more and more. I so want to be wide-eyed and open-hearted as many minutes of every day as possible. 

I’m trying to think of what helps me feel like I belong. The first thing that comes to mind is when I’m putting all my attention – eyes, ears, heart and mind – on someone or something I like or love, for instance, my grandson or the moon or Pachelbel Canon. Turn it upside down – when my attention is pulled to something or someone I fear – oops, gotta head for the rabbit hole, it’s the best place to ruminate on a teeth-grinding subject.

Hey sister and brother survivors – anybody out there ever feel isolated, like you don’t belong? Well, you do. 

You belong to this great sizzling world of ours – no matter how long they worked at making you believe you only belonged to them, to do whatever they wanted to do to you. They were wrong as 2+3=17. So I have a question: What would happen if you always, every minute of every day, believed you belonged in the world?

Thanks for reading,

Read Part 3!

In 2009 Donna founded Time To Tell with a mission to spark stories from lives affected by incest and sexual abuse to be told and heard. She wrote and performs her one-woman play, What She Knows: One Woman’s Way Through Incest to Joy, which is based on her own experience of surviving incest and what she did to make her life worth living. 

Her book, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy, a narrative of the choices she made and experiences she had that helped her heal from her childhood trauma, will be released by Levellers Press in Fall of 2017. For more information go to www.timetotell.org

Get your copy of Healing My Life: From Incest to Joy today!

October 3, 2017

From Incest to Joy - Part 1

This week, we begin our series with the amazing Donna Jenson, who is a powerhouse of a woman, activist, and beyond survivor. I can't wait for you all to soak in all of the wisdom she has to offer!


THREE WOMEN RISING on their journey to end childhood sexual abuse – that’s what you’ll see in this video https://youtu.be/b2BUCIAt5DI

Rythea Lee, Producer/Director/Writer, brought me and Filmmaker/Writer/Activist Aishah Shahidah Simmons into THREE WOMEN RISING, her 19th Episode of Advice from a Loving Bitch. What a privilege and delight to be included in Rythea’s groundbreaking work. We all survived childhood sexual abuse and we all spoke to the same questions about healing and activism.

Here are the questions we spoke to:
  • What is a glimpse into your story that you feel is worth sharing? 
  • What is your activism around the subject? 
  • What can you say about joy? 
  • Please talk about why engaging in a conscious healing process is worth it.
  • What do you think about self-love and healing from sexual abuse?

I encourage all the survivors reading this posting to ask your own self these questions, maybe not all of them, maybe only one or two – the ones that jump off the page to you. 

Go one step further – write out the answers and then read them back to yourself out loud. Hearing our own voices saying what is true for us is incredibly empowering.

I am deeply grateful to be connected to these two women. What a jungle of feelings I’ve macheted through to get to this clearing – this place of feeling my wholeness, my not-so-aloneness in a circle of survivor sisters. Hearing each other’s experience helps shed the shame. Witnessing each other breaking the silence adds up to a collective shattering.

The experience of making Episode #19 was a great one for me – to join with two sister survivors in breaking the silence. The months long process of making the video was a lesson in collaborative power – each one supporting and getting supported, all three becoming a chorus for justice. I hope you are as touched by viewing it as I was in the making of it.

Thank you for reading and watching,
Donna Jenson

In 2009 Donna founded Time To Tell with a mission to spark stories from lives affected by incest and sexual abuse to be told and heard. She wrote and performs her one-woman play, What She Knows: One Woman’s Way Through Incest to Joy, which is based on her own experience of surviving incest and what she did to make her life worth living. 

Her book, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy, a narrative of the choices she made and experiences she had that helped her heal from her childhood trauma, will be released by Levellers Press in Fall of 2017. For more information go to www.timetotell.org

Get your copy of Healing My Life: From Incest to Joy today!

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