Category Archives: Empowerment

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.

Learning the Ropes

By Kathleen Ferrick

As the most recent addition to the WINGS blogger team, I figure it would be good form to introduce myself a bit before launching into this week’s post. Some background information regarding the path that has led me to this work with WINGS is also relevant to the gist of the reflections to follow, that’s my hope anyway. In writing this week, I am seeking to voice some of the feelings I have been having lately, so I truly appreciate anyone who takes the time to consider them.

The first time I walked into the WINGS office was sometime this past August to interview for the internship position available to a Masters in Social Work student. My volunteer experience working with survivors of domestic violence allowed me to develop basic crisis management skills, so I thought interning with WINGS would be an ideal opportunity to enhance them. In addition to this desire to work in a therapeutic/counseling type setting, I was drawn to the “survivor-led” approach that WINGS groups promote. I am a firm believer in the idea that people most impacted by a particular issue (childhood sexual abuse in this case), should have the power to decide the best ways in which to address it. When I was notified that I had been selected for the position, I felt a genuine sense of gratitude to have found an internship that resonated so strongly with my core values.

It is hard to believe that I have now been interning at WINGS for nearly 2 months and am almost done with my first quarter of graduate school. At this point I have been co-facilitating a support group as well as beginning to conduct outreach. I am definitely still ‘learning the ropes’ and working to overcome some of my uncertainties regarding my abilities to adequately support survivors. I am naturally more on the introverted side, especially at first, so putting myself ‘out there’ has been somewhat of a challenge, both in the support group setting and out in the community. However, I am recognizing that my innate capacity to listen, combined with deep sense of respect for survivor agency comprise significant assets to this work. When in doubt, I have found comfort in reflecting upon the fact that WINGS exists primarily as a space for survivors to come together and support one another.

It is this awareness that I want to continue to develop, not only during my time at WINGS but throughout my social work career. Instead of feeling this overwhelming need to be doing something more, acknowledging the degree of strength survivors possess is a humbling reminder that it’s not about me. The insight I have already developed thus far in my internship makes me incredibly excited to continue to grow over the next seven months.

The Incredible Disappearing Lady

By Kris

When I was a kid, one of my favorite Halloween costumes was a homemade jack-o-lantern pumpkin head costume. I got dressed up in my dad’s orange, hunting sweatshirt. Then we zipped it up all the way and placed a plastic jack-o-lantern on top of my head and tightened the hood to hold it in place. I could see through the gap between the zipper and the drawstring, and not a single neighbor in the homes we stopped by knew it was me under that get up. I was a tall, pumpkin headed mystery. It made me invisible and I fooled everyone.

I spent a lot of time trying to be invisible while growing up. I got really good at it too. It wasn’t hard to understand that if I stayed out of the way and didn’t get noticed, I didn’t get hurt as much. I didn’t even realize the real me was fading away in the process.

I trained myself to believe I didn’t matter by doing my best to not have any needs. I diverted attention away from me by becoming a people pleasing chameleon. I hid away inside my body, using food to numb myself and using my size as a buffer between me, the world, and all the people in it. I dissociated and escaped into books to hide from my thoughts. These coping skills worked really well, but in a really damaging way. I avoided some of the abuse, but didn’t get to establish a true sense of self in the process.

As an adult, I continued with the same coping skills, but they didn’t do me much good anymore. I became extremely independent as a way to control my environment. I really did have needs, but I behaved as though I didn’t matter. In my need to feel safe, I had built up a great big wall to protect myself. As a result, I felt more and more alone. I wasn’t vulnerable or visible enough to let people into my life, and I ended up with huge needs that had never been fully met. I truly felt invisible at times and believed that no one cared about me, but that wasn’t the truth at all. What was true was that I had hung on to my old coping skills for too long and, by my behavior, I was constantly communicating to the world the idea that I was invisible and didn’t matter.

It has taken a conscious, painful effort to become more visible. For me its about being physically, emotionally and spiritually present in the world. I am visible when I take up space or ask for what I need and want in an assertive way. Visibility is about facing my fear of people by getting out of my apartment and taking a walk, even though I may feel panicky or anxious about being seen. Being seen also means showing the world I matter by not letting everyone walk all over me. Visibility is me being brave enough to write a public blog about my abuse and healing experiences. Being visible means that I’m vulnerable to being hurt by the world and the people in it, but it also means that I’m vulnerable enough to connect in a meaningful way. For me, visibility means that I’m showing the world who I really am for the first time, regardless of what anyone may think.