Why Your Focus Should Not Be On Forgiveness After Surviving Sexual Abuse

This post is to speak to survivors who were told or pressured to “forgive.” Everyone is welcome to their own opinions and beliefs, however, I suggest reading until the end, and you’ll see why. This blog post is probably so far one of the most important ones to read if you are on your healing journey as a sexual abuse survivor. It was difficult to write a title that included the two words that make us all cringe if put near each other: forgiveness and abuse. Now, the way I am going to talk about forgiveness isn’t the way your priest or pastor probably did. I’m not saying that they are wrong and I am right. These are just thoughts and realizations that I had about forgiveness a few years ago. Not only did I come to an understanding of what forgiveness really is, but I also came to this conclusion: Yes, it is possible to forgive anything (rape, sexual abuse) HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean we need to or should. IN FACT, I don’t recommend that ever being the focus for a survivor. Instead, I am going to discuss the definition of forgiveness and what would be more beneficial to you when it comes to healing from abuse. 

 I always shuttered at the word and would feel so frustrated by my teachers in catholic school who said “we need to forgive to go to heaven.” I remember thinking, How and why would a God make you forgive something so awful?  I’ve had people tell me “to never forgive my abuser,” and I’ve had people say, “you have to forgive to move on.” As an extremely creative kid, I was always painting, writing poetry, and piano playing as a kid. Most of them were expressions and reflections on the abuse. Even as a 7, 8, and 10 years old, I wrote some dark shit. It was something that was constantly in my thoughts, and the PTSD wasn’t helping. My focus for years was on the limitations and troubles it had caused, sometimes my focus still goes back there from time to time. 

Three summers ago I took a public speaking class at my local community college. Over the semester, we gave multiple speeches. The last and longest speech presentation was the “Persuasive Speech.” Our topic was up to us. That week I began brainstorming ideas such as: Why Fear Is The Root Cause of The Worlds Problems, Why We Should All Learn To Abide By The Ayurvedic Diet, or The Power of Thought and How It Creates Our Reality. They interested me but instead I chose to persuade the class on something I actually disagreed on: “It is possible to forgive the unforgivable.”

By the end of the research and presentation, I realized that forgiveness isn’t really what we understand as forgiveness. Thinking you are a bad person for not being able to forgive or that you won’t be able to heal if you don’t forgive is one of the most significant myths that hurt us. I want you to know that you do not ever need to forgive your abuser and that it should not be your focus at all. There is another way to heal, a much less shameful way, a way that lets your empowerment rise again. This other way incorporates certain aspects of (the true definition which I will state later on in this) forgiveness, but I want you to know that forgiveness right now should not be your focus. Before I go into explaining why and what will be more healing for you, I am going to briefly describe what forgiveness is and what it isn’t:

What is forgiveness? What isn’t forgiveness? (this explanation isn’t pertaining to abuse, I am talking about the overall definition) The definition of it for many of us is very cloudy. We hear often that forgiveness is the act of letting go and how choosing to not forgive is holding onto an attachment to suffering. Many of us (if not all) at one point lived in continual pain because of something that has happened in the past. A major obstacle that inhibits one from forgiving is that our happiness is still dependent on that person’s actions. Many of us refrain from forgiving because we fear a lack of control over the situation. Regardless of who we are forgiving, we all have had the thought “If I forgive, what if they do it again?” Forgiveness is a state of being, it’s not a one-time thing. That doesn’t mean you need to continue relationships with them. It’s a continual internal practice. We must remember that we are forgiving the person and not the action. It is the act that caused the feelings of hurt, anger, resentment, not the human itself. Now here is what I realized what it means to forgive: 

Forgiveness is letting go of the person’s actions in the past, present, future. It is taking our power back and saying “I will not let your actions have a continual effect on my life.” 

Now that I described what forgiveness is and isn’t, I’m going to talk about why that shouldn’t be your focus as a survivor and what would be more healing for you. In fact, this is what lead me to start this blog, and you’ll see why.

Firstly, whoever is telling you to forgive your abuser needs to fuck off. Whether it is a family member, friend, therapist, or religious figure, it doesn’t matter. They have no business in your decisions and personal journey. The reason why some people urge you to forgive is that A.) they cannot emotionally handle accepting or hearing what happened, and this is their way of sweeping it under the rug. B.) they may be relating your situation to their own or someone they know and believe if you do what they did then you’ll be healed. C.) their religious beliefs and inability to accept any other way of living except for their own. D.) either they have done the act or something similar or know someone who has done it and they are trying to obtain relief from their guilt by needing validation from your actions and current experience. Basically, if someone is pressuring you to forgive something like this, it actually has nothing to do with you and your situation. Instead, it has to do with more of their own personal or selfish reasons that have to do with themselves.

Secondly, the focus shouldn’t be on the abuser or even your relationship with them (if there is or was one in the past.) It needs to be on the person you are in this moment, and what limitations are present because of the abuse. What we are going to do is to pull out pieces of the meaning of forgiveness, and apply it to your own life for you to live the life you deserve and return to who you truly are. So, instead of it being about the abuser, focus more on the effects the abuse has left and how it is currently influencing your life in the present.

Instead of “trying to forgive” reflect on these questions:

Are there any “personality traits” I have that I don’t like about myself that were rooted in the trauma?

Are there any things that I want to do but I believe I can’t because of the abuse? (ex: sex or intimate relationships)

Are there any traits I admire in other’s yet don’t believe I can be myself because I was abused?

Are there any mental/physical blocks or limitations that the trauma has caused?

Are there things that I wish I could do but feel like I can’t because of triggers and PTSD?

Are there times when I wish that “I was normal” and not who I am because of the abuse?

Are there places or situations that I wish I could visit or experience but have a difficult time because of the trauma?

Are there relationships I want to have, yet am afraid to pursue because of the trauma?

Do you see? There are so many ways the abuse has confined us into this tiny cage, almost creating an identity of things we considered “personality traits.” Where in fact, they were symptoms of abuse, those things aren’t you. I’ll be honest, for most of my life I didn’t like who I was and that is because I wasn’t being who I was. It was like I had this agreement with life that was “ok this happened, so now I am this person.” I became tired of living my life based on the past. “It is taking our power back and saying “I will not let your actions have a continual effect on my life.”

Trauma impacts so many parts of one’s life so much so, that the trauma can become our identity. What I mean by that is, a lot of us (because of PTSD, our brains protecting us, and human nature) have learned certain behaviors, core beliefs, and ways we perceive the world to protect us and make us feel safe. The problem is that we are living in the present while being in the mindset of protecting ourselves from something that happened in the past. These behaviors and beliefs served a purpose and were there for a good reason: to feel safe, protected, and soothed. Sometimes though, they deter us from living the life we deserve and wish to have.

Forget focusing on forgiving your abuser. Instead, focus on shedding all of the beliefs and behaviors that stemmed from their actions that you feel are limiting your life. It’s not about letting go of the past. It’s about letting go of all the armor and limits we have put up to feel safe in this world that is no longer serving us so that our true inner power can overflow our entire being.

We may have learned that power is a dangerous thing and that it can be used to hurt others. Because survivors (including myself) have seen the ugly side of power, we may tend to shy away from any sort of power, even down to the minuscule things such as decision making, speaking up for ourselves, disagreeing, saying yes when we wanted to say no. What true power is- is what you’re about to do. It’s looking at the abuser/abuse and saying “I will no longer let your actions have a continual effect on my life.”

Were there times after this realization where I had fallen into the cycle of thinking, “the reason I do _ is because of the abuse?” Yes, in fact, that’s a story I told myself pretty often when I was addicted to Xanax. It wasn’t until I got treatment for it was when I realized: I can be the girl who is addicted to Xanax and drinks with it to cope with the pain of abuse and PTSD OR I can be the girl who WAS addicted to the combination of Xanax and alcohol but decided to walk away from it once she realized she was living a constant state of numbness because it was more familiar than allowing herself to feel the pain and enter the new chapter of her life where she sheds those limiting effects and lets her power flow.

The focus is on shedding all those aspects of yourself that were never you. It is about reconciling with the heartbreaking truth of what happened, and knowing that it’s not going to be easy. But it’s going to be worth it. Listen, that abuser and their actions placed so many limitations on your life, don’t give them any more attention by focusing on reconciling and forgiving them. Focus on letting your inner power, which was once blocked, begin to flow. The trauma may have blocked it temporarily, but the biggest gift you can give to yourself is by turning this obstacle into an opportunity to break the agreements that abuse has us agree to.

We all come to rock bottom at some point in our lives, but many of us will climb the ladder up towards where we were once before. Instead of climbing back up out of rock bottom, what if we broke through? If we broke through we’d have a different perspective looking back at our rock bottom.

So basically, forget about forgiving your abuser and letting go of what they did. Focus on letting go of the limits the trauma imposed so that your inner strength can overflow and be a gift to the universe and yourself.

Things To Know Before Putting Your Child (who has a history of trauma) On Medication

I decided to put this weeks post into a video to make sure this information is clearly communicated. In this (40 min, yeah it’s long) video I talk about things that I have learned over the years about trauma + medication and how trauma can make the process more difficult. Here are things to know when deciding to go the route of medication.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. This is knowledge that came from personal experience.

Be

I’m a woman, but I still call myself a girl. In the evenings before bed, I would do headstands after getting stoned. I used to paint acrylics on tall stretched canvases, and one day stopped. My succulents beside my bedroom windowsill are still thriving and alive. I drink straight-up black, iced coffee in the mornings before eating anything. Smoking cigarettes is now a habit that remains way in the past. I love green juice only if it has lemon in it. I became vegetarian when I was seven years old. Today, I don’t label myself as a raw vegan yet the foods I eat are simply just raw fruits, vegetables, and nut butter because I don’t like to cook. When I moved back to PA from California, I didn’t have any furniture and slept on my yoga mat alone for weeks on end, and swear to this day that it healed my back. I don’t like spending the night at men’s homes. I don’t like being held after sex. My parents raised my two brothers and I in an Irish Catholic/Bohemian household and it’s even more confusing than it sounds. I admire Buddhism, yet learning about Hinduism compels me to think beyond learned limits. As a kid, I liked boys, girls, the gym teacher, my brother’s friends, my father’s friends. I quit drinking once because for some reason I thought it was a good idea to combine vodka with Xanax. After a while, I started again, and have been contemplating this past week once again on stopping. I have immense love for Hot Yoga. I was born in the Bay Area and lived in a Youth Hostel that my Dad managed. Sometimes, when I pray, I don’t have a concrete understanding of who I am praying to, yet I feel consoled. Currently, I believe we are all God yet haven’t woken up to realize it yet. I used to take three showers a day after I was sexually abused at six years old. I’ve written a collection of non-fiction pieces about overcoming trauma & I hope one day to heal others with this writing. However, I am still terrified to put the pieces out for people to read. I’ve been reading about quantum physics over the past month. I am terrified to take acid or shrooms because I know someone that never came back. I write songs at 10 pm every night on the guitar so softly, hoping I won’t wake up the neighbors. 

I used to think that all of these actions, beliefs, rules, and perceptions were concrete. I believed they made up who I was: Fiona. Yet there is a higher part that is aware I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. Think about it with yourself. Isn’t there a part of you that knows you are living the life of ___? When you realize you are more than your name, beliefs, and the things you have done/experienced, your mind becomes a blank slate of who you can be. What is that part? God? The Universe? Your Higher Self? All that stuff above could have been completely different. I could’ve written that I loved Math and play soccer.  The Fiona described above would have been completely different, however, I would still have that same higher part of me that is aware that I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. You see, I think that one of the most important things to learn in this life is how to “break agreements.” These agreements are beliefs, experiences, and rules that you have agreed to “be.” Looking above, those are all “agreements.” When you can separate yourself from yourself, you start to realize that you don’t have to be controlled by “external events.”  I would constantly say to myself I do ___ because of ___. Or, I am ____ kind of person because this thing happened to me. 

It’s not about discovering who you are. It’s not even about working on becoming that change you want. If you are always focused on “becoming,”  you’ll always be in that state of trying to change. That’s why some habits are so hard to break, we’re not living in the end. Instead of being the person that is trying to quit smoking cigarettes, be the person that just doesn’t smoke them. Live in that version of yourself. Your higher part of you that is watching you live the life of __, doesn’t have any rules or limitations on who you are based on the past and what people have told you.  You already are the change you desire. It’s about breaking the agreements and shedding all of the things you believed you were so you can just allow yourself to “be” that version of yourself. 

How To Cope With Family and The Holidays (as a Sexual Abuse Survivor)

Although the Holidays are what people say should be a merry time spent with family, there are many children, adolescent, and adult survivors out there right now feeling overwhelmed, broken, lonely, or finding themselves saying “yes” to gatherings they really want to say “no” to. (Many of us would rather feel the resentment after saying yes, than the guilt after saying no, but that is another topic for another day.) There are so many messy family situations and dilemmas that survivors of sexual assault are going through right now. IF this is you, I want you to know, that even though it really may feel like you are alone, you are not. Maybe it’s been difficult for you to put your own needs before others, (been there, sometimes, I’m still there ha), but just this time I want you to go with yourself. Listen to what you want, and then go with that. You’ve been through enough and to go through another emotionally exhausting and possibly even dangerous situation is not worth it. If no one is telling you, I will: You deserve better than that.

Now this year, obviously many of us are not getting together because of Covid. But if there are still ways that family and the holidays are causing problems, here are options about what you can do. Unfortunately, none of them are perfect, and I wish they were, but these are what worked for me.

Strands Beach, it is a beautiful place to cry.

1.Don’t go. Ok, easier said than done. You could have a lot of texts, “Why aren’t you here?” or “That’s so inconsiderate…” Although hearing the sounds of those texts coming through can send your anxiety through the roof, your safety from emotional or physical abuse is worth all those texts. Depending on your situation, maybe send one simple text out, saying that you are not coming, and then leave it at that. Don’t give into the back and forth thing. It sucks being alone if you have nowhere else to go. I remember when my family moved back to California three years ago and my mother’s extended side of the family came over for Thanksgiving, (the side the abuser was on) and I left. I spent Thanksgiving driving up and down PCH until I parked at Strands Beach, called my friend from back in Philly, and then cried for an hour. Not a fun night, but it was better than having to deal with that situation back home, I’ll tell you that. Don’t go, find a safe, sacred, and special place if you have nowhere else to go. You are allowed to protect yourself and say no. **PS: try to come up with a plan if you do decide to stay alone. That Thanksgiving I just basically cried, but there were many other moments later on where I’d stay alone and drink, smoke, or other stuff that caused more anxiety in the long run. This time should be spent on healing, and being gentle with yourself, which is why it’s a good idea to come up with a plan before diving into any self-destructive options.

2. If you decide to go, make sure there is a relative around that knows and that supports you. You could even come up with a code word with them for when things get too intense, or a good exist strategy.

3. Grieve. “Yep, be alone and grieve, great advice Fiona.” It’s depressing, and not how you probably want to spend your holiday. But the thing is if you had to deal with having to see the abuser at family reunions as a kid, you know how much of a toll it takes on your body and mind. For years, you were not given an option to not go and out of self-protection, you’d avoid the feelings of grief and brokenness for years. Because, in a sense, you were still in the midst of it. You are finally free. This also means, it may be the calm after the storm, but you’re realizing the grief didn’t go away. Many of us haven’t grieved the loss of our childhood and innocence. If this is the case, I strongly suggest you read my post Grief and Loss. Once you grieve, it clears the way for new memories. This leads me to the last point…

4. Create new memories with new people. I started this blog, Breaking Agreements, to help aid survivors break free from fears, dynamics, beliefs, and other limitations that the abuse may have caused. When you learn and practice breaking free from those beliefs and cycles, it’s like you’re living in a new world. This is the time to create new memories. These new holidays can be 100% yours! If you decided to not go to your family gathering and don’t want to be alone, you’d be surprised at how many people would be more than happy to have you come to their family gathering (ok, maybe not this year, but you get the point). I’ve spent multiple holidays with my roommate’s parents who were very generous to have me over. It may take a few years, but I promise, you will find your tribe.

Guys, I know how hard it is. It’s scary. You don’t deserve, nor ever deserved, to have to see your abuser or even have to hear about them or their whereabouts. You deserve to be and feel respected. Your own company alone is more healing than being around someone that hurt you. I’m sending you so much love guys. Here is a short IGTV video I made where I talk about coping with anxiety, PTSD, and resorting back to your angsty 13 year old self during family gatherings. ha

-Fiona

Why You Should Break Away From Extremes

How you do one thing, is how you do everything.

-Iyanla Vanzant

Yeah, I’m a Gemini, but in no way will I ever use that as the reason as to why I’ve always struggled to find “The Middle Path.” Just over year ago, you’d most likely find me at the local yoga studio downtown, sipping on cranberry kombucha, slathering coconut and eucalyptus oil on my body every night before bed, taking long hot baths with Epsom salts, and living off of sweet potatoes, green juice, and quinoa. Then, the next week I’d be at least three shots in of Smirnoff (of my 100 lb frame at the time) during my evening biology class that usually followed up with smoking cigarettes in my car until I was sober enough to drive. I’d swing from the chandelier, (almost literally) from one side of the spectrum to the other. There were moments of putting lavender and eucalyptus essential oils on my wrists, keeping citrine crystals in my bra or pockets wherever I went, and juice cleansing for a week. Then there were also the moments of landing at midnight in San Diego, still drunk and letting my cousin give me acupuncture while she was high. Which then led to continual drinking the rest of the time I visited family, ruining my mothers “girls wine tasting trip” to the Funk-zone in Santa Barbara when she turned around to find me lying down on the sidewalk, under a tunnel, and had to peel me off the dirty pavement. We have never gone on one since, and I can understand why.

The Funk Zone
Hangover Acupuncture from my Californian cousin.

Once my therapist quoted to me, “How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” At first, I really didn’t get it. I mean, I got it, but I didn’t really take a deep look into applying that to my life. A common theme has been extremes. If I felt like I relapsed a little bit, I’d run with it. If I felt like I was finally getting my act together, I’d run with it. What was the precursor to either extreme was by all or nothing thinking, and disregarding listening to my body. 

How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” If you’ve been the person who always said, “tomorrow I’ll start,” and then ended up drinking 10x more than you would, smoked your entire “last” pack of cigarettes, started a 10-day water fast or some weird shit like the 70’s Vogue Diet only to resort back to your “higher calorie” trail mix and kale chips…this post is for you.

A food journal entry from a few years ago… yikes is right

There are three categories of tools to use in times of stress, overstimulation, or just feeling overwhelmed. Category 1, 2, and 3. Category 1 sums up the habits you probably are trying to break. Category 2 consists of the things we do but prefer not to talk about, and Category 3 is mostly what we understand as “positive” coping tools. The idea is for you to categorize your own tools, coping habits, and incorporate new ones as well. Once you see them written down on a piece of paper, you’ll be able to understand the dynamics of your cycles and patterns, see how often and why you use negative coping tools, to navigate a starting point of recovery when you aren’t sure if you really want to recover yet, or just feel like you need to find awareness of what you have been doing. By writing it all down on one piece of paper, it also takes away the shame and all or nothing thinking-because, in the end, they are all coping behaviors.

Category 1: Wine, cigarettes, weed, starving, counting calories, water fasts, Xanax, Tito’s in your GT’s Synergy Kombucha, keeping airplane bottles in your car..basically any form of using booze to escape, throwing up, sleeping pills, casual sex with randos, laxatives, Tinder Men (especially Tinder Sams and a few of the women on there), Men who keep asking for pics, credit cards you shouldn’t be using, running so often that you get stress fractures in both legs, or bleaching your hair after drinking a bottle of wine.

My “Tinder Sam” Saga Back In March
Archived from my Instagram story
Meanwhile, I should’ve been doing homework.

Category 2: Hours of reading the elephant journal or about astrology, spending almost all of the money you saved for groceries on new journals or mediums, three cups of black coffee, taking too much b12, dark chocolate, Instagram, running out at 10 pm before CVS closes to buy a vibrator because you threw your old one out for using it too much, spending an unnecessary amount of money on crystals, sage, maca powder, and goji berries.

Category 3: Hot lemon water, epsom salt baths, Peppermint or Kava Tea, Essential Oils, Hot Yoga, Yoga, singing at the top of your lungs, L-Glutamine/Amino Acid therapy (highly recommend if you are quitting drinking), long walks, short walks, binaural beats, affirmations, meditations such as “Fuck That Meditation” and “Aaron Doughty’s Meditations,” headstands, green juice (for minerals and electrolytes), coconut oil, crystals, Yin Yoga, FaceTime your friends, journal with spelling and grammar errors in a stream of consciousness style of writing, walk in the forest or on the beach, turn off your phone, sparkling water, Tito’s-free kombucha, Self-Defense Class, Acupuncture, Reiki, reading life changing books such as Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself, The Body Keeps The Score, Quit Like A Woman, The Fuck It Diet (by my cousin Caroline…where you’ll also probably learn a lot about my family’s past weird diets, and the not so normal moments that I thought were normal, for example: when my mom poured a bowl of “frozen blueberries” for my neighborhood friends, called it dessert, and none of the kids on our street ate at our house ever again.)

Anyway, you can tell Category 1 coping tools aren’t anywhere near the “goal” and that Category 2 isn’t preferable, but it doesn’t have as many repercussions as Category 1. Category 3 is what we may have learned about in self-help books, rehab, or therapy-it’s what we “should” be doing.

Now, I want you to try to categorize your own tools you use. Once you do that, I want you to realize and accept that it’s actually better to end up in mostly Category 2, while integrating parts of Category 3. I know it doesn’t sound ideal, or like your perfect version of “Recovery,” but I promise it’s a lot better than going all in for 3, and end up burning out and then resorting back to all of the coping mechanisms in Category 1.

If you feel impatient with your progress and want to resort to an extreme method or if you’ve relapsed, I suggest learning about The Middle Way. For example: If you started smoking again after you quit, instead of hyper-focusing on not smoking, start incorporating behaviors from Category 3. It’s extremely difficult to quit cold turkey when you don’t have any coping mechanisms you’ve practiced and have evidence that they’ve worked. It’ll be smoother (as much as it can be) when you decide to quit again.

**Another Tool I learned today in group therapy (after discussing my recent impulsive decisions) is to set a fifteen-minute timer every time you feel an urge. Once it ends and if the urge is still there, try it again. However, if you feel like you CANNOT possibly set that timer again or that you don’t know if you want to quit whatever it is, then let yourself do engage in the habit-after the 15 minutes. This actually helps your brain over time, rewire itself to pause before taking action instead of going straight into engaging in the habit. This technique is definitely a form of practicing moderation. However, I go back and forth with this idea because there are some habits and urges that you can’t fuck with, like oxy or mixing liquor with Xanax or perhaps just drinking in general. I think in therapy she was referring more to the most recent event of deciding to bleach my hair while drunk. (I did pause, for what I recall being ten minutes, with a bowl of bleach in my hand.)

What Does It Mean To Be A Sexually Empowered Woman?

I didn’t go on my first date until I was nineteen. Nineteen. Between fears from the trauma and the dogma preached to us in Catholic school, sex was something I avoided like the plague. Talking about it, thinking about it, hearing anything related to it just freaked me out. I’d shut down, dissociate, and cry a lot during health class as a kid. omg

I don’t know what caused me to jump towards the opposite end of the spectrum after that. Maybe it was angst at the church after all the years or watching too much Sex And The City. There were many parallels between the show and the way I was living. Except, replace cosmopolitan men (although that has happened) with mostly tan, skateboarding, guitar playing, flannel-wearing men who’ll throw a Shaka in every picture opportunity there is.

I’m lucky to have girlfriends who are open and confidently are able to speak about their sex lives. I think that’s important because if you’re surrounded by people that associate sex with shame, it’s going to be difficult to venture out of that perspective. Nowadays, no one looks twice at a woman who goes on tinder for hookups. Personally, I think it’s great we’ve gotten to that point now. We’ve been working on deconstructing the ties between women, sex, and shame for decades. If you go way back (and still, some hold these beliefs) women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex, sex was for marriage and only to have children, etc. So to say that society has finally been starting to celebrate women and their sexuality is incredible. I’m all for it.

HOWEVER, there was one thing I mixed up. For the longest time (and honestly, not until very recently) I didn’t understand what really makes a woman sexually empowered. To start, the most important thing I want to get across is that there is a major difference between a sexually empowered woman and a woman having sex to feel sexually empowered. The essence of a sexually empowered woman is something internal, whereas the second of the latter is more of this chasing, “never going to be enough” experience.

I used to think that being casual about sex and avoiding emotional intimacy with sexual partners made me feel like an “empowered woman who doesn’t need a man.” I felt “empowered” for keeping a laced bra from Free People, along with miniature airplane bottles of Smirnoff in my glove compartment, because, hey ya never know, right? If you are familiar with Attachment Styles, you’d understand what I mean by when I say that I was the poster child for “Avoidant Attachment.” A lot of this was intertwined with trauma-related wounds, such as chasing after more risky situations to reclaim a sense of control I lost from the abuse.

Time went on, along with a lot of breakdowns. I was in pain. I caused a lot of emotional pain for others. I said yes when my inner child was screaming no. I followed that script we all learned as young girls. Moaning at all the right times. There was no pleasure at all. I believed that having casual sex and seeming “chill” made me sexually empowered. I didn’t want to go back to avoiding it completely out of fear like how I was in the beginning. Even in relationships, I’d tell myself to “get it over with” and put their desires before mine.

What made me realize something had to change was when I cried during sex. Yeah, that was…awful, awkward, I don’t even have the words to describe it. I remember texting my roommate after, in tears, asking if that’s happened to her. She said no. I experienced probably what was one of the worst flashbacks in my life. This is just my own observation, but I feel like that happened because I wasn’t listening to myself for a while. I kept saying “yes” or thinking “ah whatever, It’ll be over.” for way too long. It was as if my body had to step in and say, “it’s time to listen to yourself, it’s time to change.”

That’s when I decided to redefine in my mind, what makes a woman sexually empowered.

It has nothing to do with how often or who you have sex with. It’s an inner sense of self, a set of guidelines, the openness to learn about all of your desires, fears, and what you like and don’t like. It’s a promise to never abandon yourself and to follow what makes you happy. It means to continually practice listening to how your body responds to certain things. It means to become familiar with your menstrual cycle, make your own choices when it comes to birth control and self-grooming. It means to learn how to say what you like. It means to understand that sounds are an energy being released through your body and not something that is “thought about or timed”. To have sex as often or little as you want. It means to learn about your anatomy and what your vagina looks like. To be able to say the word vagina, without embarrassment or shame. To know that pleasure doesn’t only come from sex but also candles, salt baths, dancing, fuzzy blankets, facials, long talks with friends, or going to sleep in clean sheets and a t-shirt.

You already are a sexually empowered woman, it’s just that we have to clear the fog of all the “should’s” we have learned in society in order to tap into it.

The Irish Goodbye

I’ve done it mannyyy times. I know, it’s bad and definitely not an emotionally intelligent move. For those of you who don’t know what an “Irish goodbye” is, it’s when you quietly slip out the door at a party without telling anyone. I vividly remember my grandmother from Ireland putting her cold hands on my cheeks and kissing me on the forehead while whispering, “I’ll see you again,” in her Irish brogue right before she’d sneak out the backdoor. My grandfather on the other hand, who’d leave with her (and was the life of the party), usually blew her cover on the way to the exit. They were fun people. I use to wonder what it would be like to party with them if we were the same age.

I feel like what I’ve done here has been along the lines of an Irish Goodbye. Maybe you follow my Instagram, maybe you don’t, but over the past few weeks, I had been announcing upcoming posts. They haven’t been posted. I started a daily “yoga card/pose of the day” on my Instagram. They stopped. I started this blog back in August with all of this passion. It hasn’t gone away, nor do I think it will ever go away. Regardless of what career or life path I end up doing, this blog is something I will never release. If I could devote my life to one thing: it would be to help other sexual abuse survivors feel free and to create the life they’ve always wanted. That they deserve. After you are sexually abused, there’s a roadblock in your life path. Usually, your time afterward is either spent working through the problem such as therapy, group meetings, yoga, etc. Or it is spent numbing the emotions through substances, eating disorders, and even certain OCD compulsions that guarantee “you’re safe if you do _.” Either way, your day to day life becomes somehow impacted by the trauma.

Anyway, the roadblock currently is not the trauma, it’s constantly being sick. It’s not even the sickness that is the frustrating part, but it’s not knowing what it is. Since the last week of August, I’ve been getting a fever, chills, aches, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes….la de da da da… every week or every other week. Let’s just say, I’ve gotten a LOT of covid tests over the past few months from different care centers and hospitals in the area. Thankfully, they’ve all come back negative. They thought it was strep, it was not. They are running blood tests this week, which probably should have happened wayyyy earlier. I won’t go into the details because it’s boring. I recovered from last weeks fever a few days ago until last night I saw that there were bumps all over my face, and then woke up again with chills and a fever.

That’s when I decided: “Je vais prendre une pause.”

I will be taking a break until I sort out what is going on. I want these blog posts to actually help people, and I feel that if I tried to crank out a post and Instagram updates throughout the week and every Friday, they would be shit. To quote the very first boy that unhooked my bra, (as I told him “sorry, there’s not much there, just fyi,”: “I believe it’s about the quality, not the quantity.”

….yeah, I KNOW, SO many things WRONG that scenario there but I’ll discuss that another day.

All in all, To be able to post content that heals, helps, and inspires survivors, I need to be thinking somewhat clearly. All my clothes are in plastic bins because I am currently in the midst of a move, yet don’t know where I am moving to. I’ll be staying at my Aunt’s. So between figuring that out, my health, and how to make money with frequent fevers, I will be taking a (hopefully) short break. Maybe I’ll start healing affirmations, cry in child’s pose, or continue to make the decoctions that my acupuncturist cousin has been sending me.

I love you all, and this is not an Irish Goodbye.

Because I will be back.

TRAUMA AND THE BODY

Let me first start by saying Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a brilliant, brilliant man. He’s an author who has dedicated tons of his research towards PTSD. You may have heard of his book, The Body Keeps The Score. After reading this book a while back and listening to many interviews with him, I was not surprised when I found out his approach to treating trauma is done through bodywork, such as yoga. In fact, yoga addressed many trauma wounds that talk therapy was not able to reach or heal.

 Dr. Bessel van der Kolk talked about the two most common therapies that are used in a New York Times Magazine post: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. He stated that the purpose of this therapy is to “desensitize” the patient to the fear, which isn’t effective therapy for trauma because desensitization is not the same thing as healing. The other therapy commonly used, CBT,  is where the patient will look at their thoughts and see the illusions with a rational perspective. However, again, he pointed out that this is another ineffective therapy for trauma because “Trauma has nothing to do with cognition, it has to do with your body being reset to not interpret the world as a dangerous place.” Trauma needs to be reset in the primitive parts of the brain, which talk therapy, or CBT, cannot reach.

Most therapy uses the “top-down” approach, which addresses the “evolved” part of the brain, otherwise known as the neocortex. This is where you’ll talk and learn to observe your emotions and thoughts. Now, of course, this is helpful, but trauma is stored in the body through sensory. You cannot rationalize with that part of you that goes into “fight or flight”. This is why therapies such as EDMR, brain spotting, somatic therapy, yoga, and hypnosis really help propel one’s recovery from sexual abuse.

This is also why addiction is hard to break when it is just approached by addressing emotions. We must understand that aside from emotions and genetic factors, the limbic system in the body is highly activated. You cannot rationalize with surfacing addiction urges, just like you cannot rationalize with PTSD triggers. This is why this “bottom-up” therapy approach can help with addiction, especially if trauma related. I talked in my podcast (Episode 2) this past week about how to deal with this part of the brain, which is the limbic system.

I thought that by avoiding certain people, places, sounds, or experiences would prevent me from being triggered. Yet, after trauma your entire nervous system is still on high alert, meaning your body is still acting as if you are still in the trauma. If you are someone, or know someone that experiences frequent flashbacks, nightmares, or can’t seem to be brought down to earth, then here are some suggestions that have helped me, and still to this day continue to. The “bottom-up” approach to healing trauma is essential. It really gave me a glimmer of hope when I felt like I was failing talk therapy that I had been going to for years.

Types of Therapies That Address The Body:

-Trauma Sensitive Yoga

-EDMR

-Somatic Therapy

-Brain Spotting

-Neurotherapy

-Hypnosis

-EFT (tapping)

-Accupressure

-Massage

-Acupuncture

Books, Videos, and Resources:

The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté

Episode 2: Breaking Away From Old Thought Patterns, Behaviors, and Addiction.

Gentle & Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Sequence for Grounding and Upper Body Release (Video)

What Once Served A Purpose

It was at a hot yoga class a week ago when the instructor had us go into frog pose. My body tensed up at just hearing the words “frog pose” and even more so as I sank deeply into it. Even though I’d focus on loosening up my shoulders, jaw, and hips one at a time, my muscles still tightened up seconds after I went focused on the next part of my body. I was ready to sprint the hell out of that 90 degrees heated room.

Like life, nothing is permanent, not even frog pose. Eventually, the instructor-led us into a restoring savasana and said, “This savasana would feel very different if we didn’t go through all of the poses before. It wouldn’t have felt as rejuvenating.”

That got me thinking.

Trauma is experiencing extreme discomfort that isn’t controllable. To self protect, survivors have learned to dissociate and find other coping mechanisms such as addictive behaviors to escape that discomfort. The behaviors had served the purpose of protecting us from feelings, memories, and experiences that we felt unable to handle. However, if we’re constantly numbing ourselves from the discomfort, we won’t be present to feel the pleasure in life either.

Numbing yourself with drugs or alcohol before sex can be a way to protect you from those flashbacks, but that also comes with never being able to truly connect with someone through sex. That trust and safety that you really desire within, will never come from numbness. In fact, it distances you not only from your partner but your body and spirit as well. The same goes for eating disorders, those behaviors give you that illusion of control but you are actually destroying your body as well as many other areas of life such as relationships, work, school, or inspiration for the future. Addictions such as these becoming replacements of where the trauma is in your mind but takes away your attention from everything else too.

Ah, just one of the 4am walks across town that I barely remember.

One of the greatest milestones in healing from sexual trauma is learning to remain still and present during the discomfort. If we learn to be present in those moments, we also will start to notice other ways to respond to it rather than numbing out. Not being stoned, high, or drunk during sex gave me the awareness to know what exactly causes anxiety as well as the opportunity to speak up about it. It gave me back my own power in what I experience, rather than hoping for the best while numbing out from it. Making the promise to stop abandoning oneself while passing through the obstacles of discomfort will illuminate the opportunities of solutions to it.

Doing your best to remain grounded during these moments is key. Try scanning your body to locate where the anxiety is manifesting and then breathe into it. If you feel like you’re pulled up into a tornado of thoughts, focus on bringing attention to your lower body like your legs or feet.

If you are alone and are experiencing panic, one of the best tools I have learned was EFT, also known as tapping. Now, at first, I thought it was stupid and tedious. Yet over time, it has become one of the most helpful coping mechanisms that bring me out of that whirlwind of panic after experiencing anxiety. A great resource is Brad Yate’s YouTube channel. Try his “Trauma and Abuse” and “Sex Issues” EFT videos.

When we learn to observe the discomfort and remain present, we can ask ourselves what we need to feel safe. Maybe you have been in survival mode for most of your life, but now, I want you to know that you deserve to thrive and live a life of adventure and freedom while also feeling at peace. I promise, with time, you’ll learn how to move through your own versions of frog pose in life.

Turning The Page

“After, I drove home. Springtime flowers were once again in bloom. I pulled the car up to the same gray house, buried by violet hydrangeas and mossy green grass. I stepped across the stepping stones and damp soil that led into the home that used to keep secrets for me. I sat at the piano, as the peach sun sank into the weeping willow tree. Out loud, again, I began to sing, about it, about him. The echoing keys and distant melodies of my voice drowned out those floorboard creaks I used to shudder from, that rose from beneath.”

-excerpt from “Bloom”  by Fiona McHugh

It was the summer I turned nineteen when I recognized what was happening. For the past year, I had been in a treatment facility for anorexia. My life was made up of group and individual therapy, EDMR (a trauma therapy), terrifying PTSD episodes, being dishonest on my daily check-in chart, escaping the treatment center, going back to the treatment center, putting ankle weights in my pocket during weigh-ins, and digging deeper into the trauma and the pain from other’s reactions. I saw myself nothing other than a victim of trauma and following mental issues that stemmed from it. That year I became VERY aware of how most of the depression and anxiety linked back to the abuse.(For some reason when I was younger I never put the two together entirely.)

Awareness is the first step, grief is usually its friend that follows. Although grief is one of the worst feelings, it’s a sign that you are aware and are in the process of accepting what has happened. (Just FYI- acceptance doesn’t mean it’s ok what happened.) Now, after the immense tidal wave of grief washes ashore (and it will sometimes come again and then go) we begin to see the roots and reasons of our present actions.

Although I became aware of trauma based actions and triggers, I began to solidify them as beliefs of who I was, creating an identity. These beliefs limited me in so many areas of life. For example, some things I believed were, “I can’t heal from anorexia because a lot of it stems from the trauma; I need to drink tonight because I can’t handle being with guys; I will never have sex without crying after; sex is always painful because my body tenses up; I can’t relate to anyone; the OCD impulses are too strong today and so I can’t eat; I can’t go to college because I’m sick; I no longer surf or do yoga because I’m to frail and weak; I can never trust men.”

Do you see how limiting these beliefs are? Now, I’m not saying they weren’t real symptoms I was suffering from. But I was labeling them as who I was as a person. I had accepted that life will always be a battle and I could never feel normal because of what happened. Relating to other nineteen-year-olds was incredibly difficult when your entire life and identity was built around trauma and anorexia. Seeing the problems and the symptoms is important, but believing that they are YOU can create a major pause in your life.

It was an evening during Mid-August when my therapist called me on this. Man, at first, I was offended, like REALLY offended. I was relapsing once again and she had the intake papers for me to sign on the glass table. (There were always glass tables so that no one could hide their food under it.) I refused to sign them, which is when she brought up her observations. She brought to attention that I was letting myself be a victim to my present circumstances instead of taking control. Sure, I was a victim during that moment of the abuse, and life at home wasn’t the most steady environment, but she said that it didn’t mean I couldn’t change that. She told me I had to step into my power, to recognize that I can make decisions and handle the outcome of them. There were solutions, but I wasn’t taking any of them. Instead I just told myself “I am this way because of the trauma.”

I remember leaving the facility and crying in my car for a long time. It felt like a personal attack (although it wasn’t) because I was so bound to these actions, they were who I was. Yet a week later, I began to understand what she was saying. The real recovery isn’t in the therapist’s office or center, it’s by what you do in the real world. That place was there just to keep me alive, it wasn’t meant to be the foundation of my life. That week, I signed up for my first college courses at a local community college. A lot of the grief was expressed through my paintings and writing, and so I decided my focus was in Studio Art. I began to practice affirmations every morning when I woke up. I’d go on long walks listening to affirmation mediations as well. On a piece of paper, I wrote down twelve intentions of what I desired to experience in life that wasn’t mental health-related. They all came true.

Now, have I had to go to individual therapy for trauma and anorexia since? Yes, I still do. Do I like eating? No. Are there moments where I catch myself identifying as a victim? Yep. BUT, Did I take an honest look at my thoughts and actions during those times and decided to not let it become who I am? Hell yeahh! There were many highs and lows since that summer, but never once did I question the decision I made to break the old agreements.

Ask Yourself: What beliefs do I have about myself that are limiting? Who do I want to be? Who are the people I feel comfortable around, and what qualities in myself arise when I’m with them? Chances are the qualities you like about yourself when you’re with these particular people are actually traits of who you already are. This also goes for qualities you admire in others. Go write a list of ten beautiful things you desire to experience in this lifetime or ten new agreements about yourself. If you continually remind yourself that you are not going to let yourself be that trauma identity, I promise, those ten things you wrote down will come true.

If you have any questions about breaking the trauma agreements or where to begin, feel free to email me at breakingagreements@gmail.com.