Drowning in Denial

I stood on top of a tall lumpy rock overlooking the Benicia Bay while my baby sister climbed down and went for the sand. She was barely seven while I had already left childhood long ago. Reaching into adolescence and ready to die.

The ocean is majestic. Drinking in the salty waves and noticing the sweet breeze run along your cheeks takes most of us to smiling places. But perhaps its enormous mystery felt equivalent to my damaged heart while my mind regularly wandered away for its own safety. I would often burn things including myself. I was finding tiny ways to inflict pain; attempting to bring my body forward to finally greet my mind. I desired to be home, but it was a deep hole with an endless sea of shame so only visiting on special holidays was allowed.

On that day, at the precipice of adolescence, I was done. My second family had fallen apart and my first stepfather was greeted by another man in my so called home soon after. My stepfather had retreated to his family and we were left with mounds of spoiling leftovers to stare at. My sister began her career at eating the pain while I dug in, literally, until I could take no more.

So, THERE. There I was swallowed up, desperately wanting it to all be taken back, swish over this broken and damaged body. Let someone or something else be accountable to this life as I just could not do it any more.

It’s cold since the Pacific Ocean is rarely for lounging in the sun and the lumpy rock looked like a good place to lay this tired body to rest. I watch my sister edge to the water, feet wet, staring back at me, making sure someone was not far away. Yet…..I had been a million miles from a grounded place since she was born. Do I leave her? Would it matter? I just don’t know. I am not even able to touch my own emotions to understand what hers must have been like. She separates farther from me, like one of those wobbly watery force fields and to see her clearly I have to poke at the space between her and I.

I was ALONE. Not a soul had gotten close to this dangerous and treacherous heart. Not even myself. I wanted desperately to belong, but to what? I did not have a family. What once was family now brought trauma and shame into my life. I was so frightened of what may come next. What if this was not the end of the horror? How much more could I take?

I stood a little longer on that lumpy brown rock and edged just a little closer to the end. My heart did not race. I felt at ease and perhaps was breathing normally for once. I could end this madness and stop flirting with pain like it really offered me more than a mere 50 cents of release. I had become someone’s play toy so why not throw the used up rag doll down this rock and into the ocean?

The sea spray picked up and my sweet sister laughed and ran away from the waves playing tag with the bubbly water. She took her tiny fingers and dug them in the wet sand drawing her name…..and then mine. I don’t even know her. My baby sister was trying to craft a life in this moment out of the brokenness that she must have felt. This was her father and her family. I was just along for the bodily ride.

Then, my body must have startled in the wind. Did I hear my name and the warbled water divide and disappear in the sea?

I don’t know. But I took a broken-winded breath from my chest and sat down on that lumpy rock. For today dying was over. Perhaps I would be brave enough to take my own life and spare myself the lifetime of agony that I foresaw ahead. Today, I felt like a coward. I couldn’t speak my pain and I couldn’t stop it. I would continue to be forced to swallow it for many years to come.

Inside that deep darkness, suicide seems logical and brave. It appears to the mind as the one way to have some control over what has puked havoc over your life. The chaos of trauma is like carrying a soaked wool blanket over your entire body. One might think this was a cute trick or a funny attempt to play Halloween ghosts; instead it makes your body and mind unrelated, unknown and separated from yourself. And despite the confabulation of bravery in suicide, it was not a story I took off the table until adulthood.

I had to learn how to die internally so that I may rise again and fly.

This way is not easy or simple like a crash onto lumpy rocks in the Benicia Bay. I was so long away from understanding how courage worked, but as I reflect back, I thank my sister for remembering how to live in the moment. All the while I am attempting to die, she played, calling the waves to dance with her, scribbling her name in the sand with those stubby cute fingers. She carried such loss in that moment too, but perhaps had not yet lost the ability to remember to RISE.

 

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Why The Phoenix Rises

Five years ago, in 2013, the staff of The Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia took a chance on this survivor/therapist in the hopes of perhaps a little fundraising and likely a whole lot of chaos. To date, we have raised close to 70,000.00 dollars and it goes without saying there has definitely been some chaos. I have this terrible problem of being the kind of ‘Go Big or Go Home’ type of woman and tend to manage to swirl in a little crazy with my philanthropy projects. Still, none of our very committed staff and volunteers cannot say there is no fun going around! Phoenix Rising 5k has become something I believe many in my community take great pride in being a part of.

2013 was also the year I began this Blog, leading down a path of being public about my position as a survivor. I hoped my own coming out and sharing my rising would create a depth of love and support for others in my community. I still continue to feel afraid sometimes when I hit that ‘publish’ button, but I certainly have heard the reverberation from my fellow survivors over these last five years. Phoenix Rising has not only allowed me to continue in my healing process, but has also provided a safe place for other survivors to give back. This was an unexpected gift and one I gather up in my heart every year as I watch so many volunteer, sponsor and pound the pavement asking for donations, silent auction items and support.

In January of 2013, I sent out my first call for support and the responses of love and generosity were tremendous and many continue each year. You will find below that first email I sent and many of the kind responses I received. Today, I do not share these for pats on my back (although I do keep copies of them in treasure box for rough times) but to show you- my fellow trauma survivors- that shame dies when we speak it. We can die to our old selves and rise up again out of the ashes, beautiful and reborn like the phoenix.

January 2013

Dearest Friends and Family,

There was a time in my life when I felt fairly certain that I would not live to be 37 years old. Not because of some melodramatic twenty something drama, but genuinely, that my soul had been taken and would never return. I was sexually abused from the age of 6 to 11 and until college carried the grief and self hatred that not even my enemies would have for me.

In my office bathroom, you will find a movie quote, maybe just a cliche’, but the start of a real life for me. One of my best friends in college was close to his own feelings of suicide and once he returned after a break from the stress of what to make of himself, he said, “You better get busy living or get busy dying.” That is what I have been doing ever since. I am a therapist today as a part of the giving back that I was given. If it weren’t for him and the therapists that walked with me along my journey, I am certain that this path would have been cut short.

So today, I stand at the precipice of one of my life dreams. I have wanted to publicly give back to my community in a way that would model for other survivors as well as create a legacy that we as a community could support. What has been most overwhelming, is that the moment I verbalized to my loved ones that this race was something I wanted to do, NO ONE and I mean, no one, once, questioned me or suggested that I could not.

So here we are….this race is real and I am sending you this email to ask that you consider being a part of my history…..and then, make it your own. One in Four women over the course of their life time will be sexually assaulted and One in Eight boys by the time they reach the age of 18.

All of the proceeds go to support our only Rape Crisis Center in Middle Georgia. I will be happy to send you the shirt from across the miles. If you cannot register, sponsor. If you cannot do either, get the word out. If you cannot run, walk. If you cannot walk, come and be together on what will be one of the most special occasions in my life. If none are possible, be with me in spirit and know that you are with me. I may have known you all of my life, or for just a small amount of time, but we all know that sexual abuse affects us all. I will not remain silent and I will no longer carry the shame of a victim. I am a survivor and this is my chance to create a community of survivors. Please consider taking part now and every year to come……

And The Loving Notes that followed:

I am so incredibly honored to know you.

Words cannot express the depth of gratitude or the love my heart and soul hold for you, Allie. I am not sure you will ever fully understand the critical role you have played and continue to play in my life,not only to help me overcome my own crises and hurts to regain the sense of self I had lost, but also to help and guide me as I strive to serve the young people in our community.

Your email subject, The Phoenix Rises, struck a chord with me which prompted me to want to make sure you know how much you mean to me……..My last tattoo, designed and applied during the time in my life when I was your client, is a Phoenix 🙂 How fitting to me that you, the person who taught me how to rise from the ashes, also chose that same symbol to describe your own journey.

You are so precious to share this. I would NEVER have known that was in your past. I have actually marveled at how humble and down to earth and transparent you are (rare in a person so evidently intelligent and gifted). I recall when you were doing our ethics

workshop last year, I had a quick image of an adorable, precocious little red headed girl with her Converse sneakers. You are a walking miracle, Alicia. I opened the registration to fill it out and it is the same w/end we have reservations, but I will surely plan to be there next year! I also was molested as a child during an intensive (seemed to me) 6 month period when I was 4 yo. You are a radiant gift from God and I pray the run will be all you have dreamed and that it will grow exponentially over the next years.

The day I meant you I know where was something special and powerful in you. I am soooo proud of you. I would miss it this year but u would be in my thoughts.

Alicia…I have not previously been aware of your survivor status, but am, of course, not surprised given the statistics you mention in your message and given my work of now 40 years as a therapist. Not surprised, but deeply saddened and sorry that you have experienced such trauma, pain and grief. I am very grateful for the work you are doing and for the very public attention you are bringing for the need to continue to bring abuse out of the shadows. I think I am committed to an out of town trip for that weekend. If I can change those plans I will.

Thank you for sharing with me; I had no idea that you went thru that!!  But as you said, you are a SURVIVOR. And that is wonderful!!!!! I have found over the years that so many people do not want to share their“true” life stories. I guess my life has always been an open book because growing up in a small town, everyone knew my family business. I am a HUGE believer in sharing….and I always encourage others to do the same. Hiding behind something does not make it go away. But not everyone is me….LOL!!! You have taken a tragedy and turned it into triumph!!! That is the kind of happy ending I love to hear!!

Alicia thanks so much for your transparency and your vulnerability….it is refreshing and so inspiring. I am so happy for you and that your journey to this moment has brought you full circle to a place of peace and giving. I hope that you will have the time to not only give, but to receive the fruits of your accomplishments! You really deserve it.

See You on Saturday April 1st

Phoenix Rising 5k

Event at 3:00pm, Race @ 6:00pm

Live Music, Silent Auction, Bounce House

Find more information on FaceBook:transformativetrauma

LIVE.OUT.LOUD.