What She Saw by Karen Jefferson

What did she see when she looked in the mirror?

She saw hatred.

Someone hated her enough to hurt her…not once, but for years.

She saw someone that was unlovable, yet very fuckable. Even at 10.

She saw someone that should be far away from people.

She saw someone that had no one to protect her.

She saw anger, pity, sorrow, pain, hopelessness.

She thought others saw those things, too.

“you think i’m a piece of shit…you think i am worthless…you think i am a slut…you think i am a fuck up.”
But that is not what I think. Though you will never accept my truth for your reality. Because you have been through a hell I cannot imagine. Then and now. Though, to you, now is so much better than then was. Yet now can be so much better. Then, you created a reality that kept you as safe as you could…which, frankly, wasn’t very safe. Neither then nor now. But it kept you from the bickering at home. It kept you near the horses you loved. And the terror was the price you paid… couldn’t avoid paying…  though the future value of that cost was inestimable by your ten-year-old self. No one would let a child sign a mortgage on a house, but you were forced to mortgage your life and future relationships. You believed it to be a fair price at the time. You believed what he said to you. He told you that you deserved it. He told you no one would believe if you told. He rolled over and walked away, not noticing the shattered little girl he left behind, time and time again.  Not understanding how his actions would send ripples decades into your future. He could not fathom how your life experiences would send ripples into other people’s lives.

After he did his evil, you would ride away on  the horse with your emotional bruises and bumps. Feeling the wind in your hair and the rhythm of the horse beneath you, your spirit soared. Knowing that you were safe, for now. This feeling would always bring you joy, then and now. The horses love you… always. They respond to your presence. They appreciate you. With horses you can be unguarded and unburdened. If they hurt you, it isn’t on purpose. You can talk to them, though you would never share your secret. It was too heavy even for a  horse to hear. You felt the need to carry it by yourself. Across  your narrow back. Around your skinny hips. In  your heart. Through your soul. Over your lifetime. 

What to say to a child that has a lifelong mortgage? Something that no one can ever repay. The mortgage holder cannot get ahead on those payments  unless they read the fine print…see what was writ across their body, mind, soul. It takes time to untangle the emotions and the damaging clauses and addendum that, unseen, seemed unimportant before. It takes time to blot out the immoral and ugly phrases and rewrite the mortgage and replace it with a promissory note. “Today I will love me. Today I will recognize I am lovable. Today I will start the healing. Tomorrow I will do it all over again. And the day after that, I will do it some more. And sometimes I will go back to the lessons I learned so well, the lessons that kept me safe for so long. When I do this, I will catch myself, and I will use my new skills of  healing to rewrite my future. To repay myself because I am owed a future of happiness…joy…pleasure untainted.”


Anniversaries – Honoring Strength and Courage

Holidays were a crap shoot in my family and the memories of the bad ones make up a number of abuse anniversaries for me which seems to be true for many, many sexual abuse survivors.

The holidays of my early childhood were wonderful. I loved everything about Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both holidays were filled with relatives, games, reminiscing, and the best dinners ever.

Over time though, aunts, uncles, and cousins visited less often and we went to see them less too. Nobody wanted to be around my abusive mother anymore. She had survived abuse herself but never sought help and as an adult had gradually slipped into alternating roles as narcissistic victim and perpetrator of physical and emotional abuse.

As older siblings left the house, my mother’s abuse of my remaining brother and myself became more violent, and it was compounded by the abuse we inflicted on each other as we directed our inner pain and anger outward.

The happiness of any holiday at that point in my life revolved around my mother and the wild card of whether or not she would become emotionally and physically abusive. The excitement and happiness were still there, but the question was, would it last the day? Sometimes it did and that was wonderful, but many times it didn’t.

On one of those bad holidays, my brother was subjected to especially violent abuse. It was Christmas 1988, and it certainly was an awful one. My brother had been having serious behavioral problems and was strange and less himself that fall. He had attempted to sexually assault me but I fought him off and I didn’t say a word out of fear of my mother and what she would do to him, and what he would do to me in return.

On the day after Christmas that year, my life changed forever when my brother sexually terrorized and abused me while he was in the midst of an acute psychotic episode. My mother’s abuse had broken his mind and through that breaking I was set on my own path of self destruction, fragmenting of self, and mental illness.

I used to mark December 26th with tears and anger, or drugs and other self destruction. Then, I started marking it by releasing those feelings in a symbolic way. Now, I notice the day and remember what happened to me and the things that followed, but I also remember the inner strength I developed in order to survive that childhood and come out the other side to a place where I am on a path of healing, surrounded by people who love me and help me on my way.

I have been fortunate to be able to work through a lot of my abuse and make a certain amount of peace with it. Through that work, my holidays have become about new traditions that reflect my true self both past and present, and of honoring the precious, strong and lovable person I have always been. Whether my holidays are good or bad, that truth about myself will always be there.

What Does it Mean to Be An Ally of a Survivor by Karen Jefferson

What does it mean to be a friend, ally or loved one of an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse?

It means that we see the person they might not be able to see. We respect them. Admire them. Love them because they are inherently lovable. And respectable. And admirable.

Sometimes it means that we are a safe place for them to unload their emotions. Sometimes being this person is good…sometimes it is not. If the survivor has begun the therapeutic healing process, they have a better chance at being aware of their triggers and subsequent behavior. If they have not, then they may not see any connection between bad behavior towards their allies and their long past abuse.

The affects of childhood sexual abuse are sneaky. The experiences of long ago influence today’s attitudes, behaviors and thoughts without the survivor or their allies knowing. Trust is broken long before it is understood, which makes relationships hard to sustain in adulthood. Self-esteem can be used as a weapon by the abuser and turned against the one being abused. This weapon is loaded for an unsuspecting lifetime. To be used in a self-inflicted game of one-person-emotional-russian-roulette for decades to come  “I’m no good” “I’m not lovable” “I’m a piece of $^!@” “No one will ever believe me” “I don’t deserve anything good”.
These same loaded weapons can be used on allies, too “If you like me, you must be suspect” “You’re just going to hurt me” “I’m going to keep people away from me so I am safe” “I’m angry (but can’t say why).”

Being an educated ally means understanding the far reaching affects of abuse and coaxing, cajoling. supporting, them throughout the healing process and validating the emotions, thoughts and feelings that arise. Sometimes it means forgetting, too.

Sometimes as an ally we forget that our friend/sibling/lover was abused. We forget that they have survival skills that helped them live through the abuse and those now defunct behaviors sometimes appear unbidden in today’s world. We forget that when they lash out they might not be lashing out at us…rather they are lashing out at a behavior/gesture/ phrase/smell that reminds them of those unsafe times. We forget that their trust in us…in everyone…is fragile. And while we know our own intentions, they may be given an unflattering, shadowy  interpretation based on the survivor’s history. A gentle reminder of earlier situations and the abuser’s intentions might give us context for the survivor’s behavior.

Ever had the experience of having a lovely day with a partner when all of a sudden you two are having a knock-down-drag-out fight and you are not sure why? Sometimes the emotional dam bursts and the survivor has to let the anger out. And you are the unlucky recipient. If they are not involved in a healing process, their self awareness in this respect is limited. They are acutely aware of the pain, but not necessarily aware of its source, much less the fact  that they are lashing out at the nearest person, not the person responsible for causing the pain.To be an ally of a survivor means understanding with a caveat. As an ally, you  will cope with outbursts, tantrums and irrational behavior because you care for this person. Yet you are not to let yourself be abused…neither  physically, emotionally nor verbally. You must talk to your loved one/friend/sibling and explain how their actions are affecting you. If there is a dotted line to be drawn to the abuse, perhaps the survivor can see it and is willing to seek support. Once disclosed, the abuse and all its dotted lines appear in sharp relief to allies, though we do sometimes forget the reasons for errant behavior.

To be an ally may also mean to be frustrated, though hopeful. You SEE the good person. You care for them. You want them to succeed…in life…in healing…in everything. And yet, if psychological healing has not begun they may feel that the whole world is against them, including YOU. They may say that you think they are a liar, cheater, whore, or worse. Or they may call you, their ally, all these horrible names.  And no matter how much you protest they hear the loop of negative thoughts  that has run in their head for years. The message is deeply ingrained and it is deeply negative and troubling…nothing you say can change it. Only the survivor has the power to heal their wounds.

To be an ally of a survivor is to support them in healing. I am an advocate of WINGS Foundation support groups because, though it is frightening to say it out loud (much less in front of others), there is validation when a survivor learns they are not the only one.
I liken it to the Lamaze class reunion when we all had our newborn babies…no one questioned why you were gazing intently at the miracle in your arms instead of talking to them. My classmates GOT IT. They UNDERSTOOD my emotions…or at least the gist of them. And then we would all try to talk at once about our latest revelation or experience. We were having similar experiences. We were growing together.

When a survivor joins a support group, they have found people with wounds much the same as their own. They may have similar stories,  feelings, frustrations. Group members may be able to put words to something that, until now, was just a nebulous feeling floating at the edge of consciousness. Being in a support group gives survivors the chance to breathe. Exhale a giant breath of relief. Bring in the fresh air of validation.  Relief at being heard, seen and understood. Relief at not feeling so alone anymore. Relief when they realize they do not have to be in pain anymore. Relief at knowing healing is, indeed, possible.

To be an ally of an adult survivor means to be hopeful and committed. Being an ally means walking on eggshells sometimes, while at other times walking into the emotional china shop like a bull, unafraid to break a few precious misconceptions in order to salvage the gorgeous, fragile sparkling vessel that is our friend, lover, sibling.

I am profoundly grateful that WINGS Foundation. Grateful that 1 out of 3 of my friends has a place for healing. WINGS provides a safe environment for healing. WINGS provides resources for survivors, their allies and their loved ones. WINGS exists so that all may soar past the pain and into their clear, blue future.