Truths About Sexual Abuse

Image

There is never a more difficult topic to discuss than the sexual victimization of children. Unfortunately, if we do not discuss this with our families on a regular basis, our children are at risk for becoming victims of sexual abuse.

National statistics of sexual victimization of children are staggering. National organizations providing assistance to sexual abuse victims report that 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males will be a victim of sexual victimization by the age of 18. Nearly 70% of all sexual assaults occur to children under the age of 17.

Although society and media often focuses on the stranger who rides around in a car tempting children with candy, the biggest danger is typically within a child’s own family. Some statistics state the between 30 to 40 percent of victims are molested by a family member while another 50 percent is perpetrated by someone the child knows well within the family.

A perpetrator of sexual abuse (or pedophile) will most often utilize the nearest resources and are much less likely to risk luring young or adolescent children through the Internet or some other outside source. Child molesters are often a trusted adult or older child, either family or a close family friend. They typically use what is termed as “grooming”, spending a great deal of time or even money on a child to prepare for the possibility of being able to take advantage of them. The pedophile will attempt to use extra attention, gifts, lies about the family and most often guilt into both starting and continuing the sexual abuse. A victim often believes that their participation in the sexual act is their fault and is too ashamed to tell someone what is happening to them.

Contrary to some beliefs, pedophiles are often “stand-up” citizens and according to some research will not have ever participated in any other criminal activity.

Given the seriousness of this potential danger to our children, it is imperative that we start as parents to teach our children at an early age. As early as the age of two or three, we can talk to our children about what is a “okay touch” and what constitutes a “not okay touch” specifically labeling each of these as how we feel rather than directly labeling good or bad with certain people. It is in our children’s best interest to teach them that with these concerns, their body belongs only to them and it is their right to communicate when something feels good and when it does not.

We can teach our children proper language related to our body and how important it is to tell someone they trust if anyone makes them feel unsafe. When we open the door to this conversation, children are more likely to immediately come and tell us about someone hurting them.

One area of expertise in my eight years of practice has been to help victims of sexual abuse move towards becoming survivors. It is an all too common scenario to have an adult come for therapy, telling what happened to them as a child for the first time. Statistically, there are about 39 million survivors in the country today.

Although healing is a vital option for all victims of sexual abuse, prevention is necessary. We can teach our children about basic safety skills that will keep our children safe. If we can ensure that our children have an open line of communication with us, we can prevent more children from being abused. Know the facts and reality of childhood sexual abuse and never be afraid of protecting them even at the risk of concerning family. Look for unusual changes in their behavior and question them appropriately to ensure their safety. They will thank you for it and potentially prevent your child from being another victim of sexual abuse.

The Anonymous Comment: A Weapon of Mass Destruction

In the spring 2013, I had the honor of sharing my passion for ethics and my work in private practice during a professional marriage and family therapy conference. I spoke to a group of my colleagues from around the state about what makes me excited about being a therapist. Although one can never really arrive, this felt like a milestone on the journey. I was meticulous. I even attempted to sew lace on my socks because I couldn’t find bobby socks for grown ups with lace to match my silver-sparkly converse sneakers! 

Image

I go all in. I show up. I allow myself to be really seen. This meant talking about my most difficult ethical dilemmas and mistakes I have made. I was willing to allow others to process how they would deal with these same issues, knowing that their choices could be direct criticism of the choices I made! I spoke directly of vulnerability and read a piece from Brene Browns’ book, Daring Greatly. Her work illuminates our internal battle with operating from the belief that being weak meant being vulnerable. I wanted to communicate that behind our ethical process, we become good therapists when we take our own advice. If we learn to see ourselves as enough, not despite our flaws, but because of them, then our ethics will meaningfully follow the guidelines our professional organization expects of us. Reflecting back, I feel confident in many ways that I effectively communicated these hopes and can continue to grow in my ability to hone my craft. Many people came to me and lovingly shared their positive experience. One person even verbally noted how he loved my “Cindy Lauper like style” and I experienced both gratitude and joy.

Image

Interrupted cloud thought: When I decide on a piece to write about, I scribble little notes to myself to remember good thoughts to write about later……so my note to self for what comes next was, ‘then it goes black.’

Just a few weeks ago, I attended a quarterly board meeting as part of my duties as chapter chair for my professional organization. God had apparently already spoken, but I was NOT listening. I received multiple attachments in an email to go along with the meeting and one was supposed to be the reviews of all of the speakers from this last conference. That attachment did not come to me. So, I told everyone in the meeting that I did not see that and without a moments notice, a colleague graciously handed me the pile of reviews from every persons workshop. I went ALL lizard brain. My mind conveniently forgot that other professionals had horrible moments of falling apart over terrible things people said after their talks. Hell, my hero, Brene Brown, told us of some of the awful things people anonymously posted after her TED Talk! I knew better!!
My overall score, 4.29 out of a 5. That should have been good enough. Who could complain about such an overall positive report that every board member read about? Nope. I had to do it. I read every SINGLE anonymous comment left by my colleagues, all three pages of them. Of course, about 95% were wonderful. What do I remember?…and I quote, “It was ALL about Alicia, It was painful to watch.”
All the air was sucked out of the room. For a moment, it did go black and like all good trauma survivors, I disassociated and emotionally hung myself up at the corner of the room. Returning, the next breath was a sucker punch to the gut. I knew I had to take it, I had created this moment, but REALLY, “painful to watch???” I immediately fantasized about moving under a rock somewhere, never to be seen again. I ached with hurt, sadness and bewilderment. I was ashamed of standing in front of so many of my peers and sharing who I am as a human being.
I believe that without a doubt, I dream what most of us dream. I pray that my life means something. I want to believe what I have to say matters and that someone thinks I am wonderful. I just want my life to matter and that when I am rotting in the ground breaking new soil for the weeds, I want my words to have stuck with someone. I think I have something to say and it means something when someone else takes the time to read, respond and offer themselves in the process. An anonymous comment is not a meaningful offering.
I cannot begin the articulate how I can righteously stand on a soap box when considering a person putting an anonymous comment which they have no intention of owning. It’s like a free pass to take a shot at my head without giving me the opportunity to dialogue or even take a shot back! SHOW UP! Allow yourself to be seen!! Be Vulnerable!! I am fucking trying to – every SINGLE DAMN day! Its almost ironic, because what I was trying to communicate is exactly the opposite of what I received by that comment. I made a conscious effort to show up and what I got back from this one person was their troll from within. My best self says that perhaps- just perhaps, I touched something deeply difficult within them and the fear of not being good enough forced out that wall of a comment.
Even now, weeks later, I am sad when I think about this. I am even more afraid of telling anyone outside of my comfort zone, which tells me that I must. You may be wondering what is the best strategy to shake off the perpetual fantasy of rock finding?
To build shame resilience one must have a few people in their life who have truly earned the right to know your story – then you call them and cry and scream it all out. Brene Brown has a list, yes a list of criteria for those who really can make it into that inner circle. I read it sometimes to remind myself to not fall into some of the traps with my friends for whom I have been given the inner circle privilege.
So I called my BFF, Georgia. I screamed profanity like no one’s business and initially called myself stupid repeatedly. She listened for an HOUR AND A HALF. She knew it was bad when I started the conversation, “Please help me climb down off this wall.” See, I love all things about cats and I was so tense I could imagine myself gripping my claws into the ceiling. She was and is there for me. She does not criticize, she does not even stop me from my own name calling because she knows I need to go through the process. Her famous words from this moment were, “There’s always a troll in the room.” She was not intending to name call, just remind me that I cannot and will not EVER make everyone happy. The singer Michael Bolton had to once swallow this from a reporter, ‘5 million fans can be wrong!’ Yet, last I checked, he was living a sweet life even after cutting off his hair.
Know that every time we put ourselves out there, we set ourselves up to get hurt. But I beg you, do it anyway. When I began blogging just a short month ago, I had two thoughts: NO ONE is going to give a damn about what I say- look at all those people doing this. The next was- WOW! Look at all of those people trying to say something that matters to them and being willing to show up and be vulnerable! Ordinary courage, thats all I want. Then a weapon like the anonymous comment just becomes fuel for something else to write about.

 

 

Yoga For the Body Disconnected

Image

When we are body disconnected, we find ourselves thinking to much and possibly being told we are “in our head” most of the time. As Americans, we fall into the category of extreme body-disconnect. Do you feel clumsy in your body and experience yourself in a way that leaves you feeling awkward and well…disconnected? This lack of mind-body connection is a core struggle that leads to many other life problems that we can experience. A simple ache can grow into an injury as well as the common cold become a major illness. If we view our selves as a whole system, it is imperative that we connect with every aspect; from fingers to toes. Our lack of respect for our bodies can leads us to participate in unmanaged damage that could have life altering effects. 

To begin, get out of your head and take a deep breath. Yes, breathe in the deepest breath you have taken today. Some research says that the simple act of holding our breaths, especially during times of stress, deprive our mind and body of the necessary oxygen we need just to slow down, think and be present with ourselves. So, yes, breathe and breathe again…..
Next, Move, but with INTENTION. Sometimes when I am experiencing more body disconnection, I am one bruised up girl. I run into walls and chairs that I swear are jumping out at me, but have not moved from the exact spot I put them in years ago! So moving with intention is key. It is true that you can practice most any kind of movement with intention, being mindful of what and how your body is behaving. For the beginner body connector, or if you are like me and can loose the connection easily, I recommend slow, steady consistent movement that focuses on the breath, such as YOGA.
For many, the idea of trying yoga can be extremely daunting and uncomfortable. The truth is Yoga is for Every-Body. So many myths abound around yoga. Some believe that yoga can only be practiced in the context of a particular religion; while some believe that only the truly fit body can be an avid yogi. The truth about yoga is that it can be practiced by any person regardless of fitness level. Yoga is the type of mind-body practice where you are encouraged to listen carefully to what you need and modify your movements to meet the bodies limits. I have learned this can easily change from day to day. Some days a simple pose like the ‘downward dog’ is easy while other times I can’t wait for the teacher to instruct me to move on to the next pose! Yoga is often seen as a spiritual practice, it is not, however, a practice that purports a particular doctrine or dogma. Instead, yoga suggests that our bodies are sacred and remembering to connect with them in a meaningful way can have so many positive effects.

Image
If we return to our four pillars of health: emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual, we are reminded that without these four pillars, we become a lopsided, three legged table. Without finding a meaningful way to connect these four aspects of our health, we are not whole. Yoga can be the glue that allows us to connect to our Whole Selves and offer everyone regardless of our fitness level, spiritual background or fitness history an opportunity to remember the awesome connection we have within ourselves when we simply carve out time to breathe and move with intention.
So, Yes- Take another deep breath. Feel your chest expand as your lungs fill with the happy gladness that only oxygen can provide. Find a Yoga practice that is right for your body and eliminate the disconnect.
Recently, my eight year old daughter went to her very first yoga class after she was told by our pediatrician that she needed to increase her flexibility. Afterwards, I asked her how the experience was for her. She said she really enjoyed it and when asked why, she replied, “I liked that it reminded me that (looking down her toes) my feet are on the ground and I will get better at touching them with my hands.” With that, she wriggled her toes, looked at me and smiled.

Be Well and LiVe OuT LoUd.

Image

All Things Brene’ Brown

ImageThe Trickery of Perfectionism

 I recently attended an event where I was faced with questions about my own worthiness. Could I walk into the room and remain present, be who I really am? Or would I slather on the paint of perfection? It can be seductive to make your life ‘look good’ to the rest of the world. Hiding mistakes and getting mired into the need to appear like you have it ‘all together, all the time’ is flat out trickery, both for you as well as others. The very idea that a road to perfection exists sounds more like hell than anything I have ever considered. Yet daily, I hear people fearing they did not do something perfectly, that they are not the perfect person and must continue to trudge away until they finally check off the box; Perfection.

When we attempt to follow the path to perfection, a core truth emerges. We see ourselves as not worthy of love and belonging. We fear so intensely that if anyone, even those closest to us, knew who we really were, everyone would believe that we are not worth being loved. So we hide behind pretty cars, perfectly manicured houses, sweet smiles and starched dresses at church on Sunday morning. We paint the perfect picture to everyone around us, even to ourselves, in an attempt to hide the fact that we are flawed, imperfect and maybe even worse, that we struggle.

It can be rather annoying as a therapist when others expect me to have the answers to every relationship question. I must have the “perfect family, perfect child and the perfect life.” Whenever I hear that, I stick out my tongue and feel like I must be swallowing vinegar. Perfectionism is an unattainable, magical place much like fairies and superheroes. Frankly, I want nothing to do with unattainable. Instead, it is healthy for us to find our way towards good enough. This does not mean relinquishing ourselves from goal setting or making plans about our future. But, if we do it with the expectation that perfection is necessary; we will inevitably be left feeling alone, unworthy and unsatisfied with our results.

You might be wondering what I did when faced with the question of fitting in? As adults, we are challenged to not shrink and become small, or race in and try to gobble up all the feelings of not fitting in, thereby forcing ourselves to become someone we are not, trying to be perfect. Well, the truth is, I struggled. I allowed myself to become small and wanted to just disappear. I did not remain present as my truest self. Although I actively work on seeing myself as good enough, that moment got away from me and I shrank. I allowed myself to operate from a place of unworthiness and my best self did not show up. I am imperfect and I struggle. When we see ourselves as good enough, a mistake does not lead us to place that puts our worth on the line. Instead, when I left, I emotionally chewed threw it with the people I love and reminded myself of these words I created that are now an art piece in my home:

In Our Home………

We Honor Vulnerability

Teach and Practice Compassion

We Cry, We Give BIG HUGS…….

We invite Beauty in being Ourselves

We are Imperfect

We are Good Enough……….

All Who enter……shall receive our GIFTS

May we each strive towards our best selves; flawed, sometimes troubled and full of struggle. You are good enough, just the way you are. You are imperfect and therefore beautiful, because you struggle, just like me. 

Here Comes DragonCon 2013

I am late to the party, no doubt. I have been participating in the glory of DragonCon for just a few years and just this year, I learned there was an underlying stink around the entire event. Many more than I, have been aware of the sex abuse allegations that have been haunting the DragonCon leadership. Not to mention many people have boycotted in an effort to make their voice of dissent known. Just a few weeks before the leadership was able to successfully disentangle themselves from all things Edward Kramer and his ongoing sex abuse trial, I wrote this piece in an effort to give voice to sexual assault survivors. Although there has been success in removing Kramer from a leadership position, I still believe what I wrote has merit in that those that deserve to be heard remain silent. You will find me at DragonCon wearing my teal ribbon with pride. If you want to know why, read on, knowing that this is my attempt to allow the silenced to be heard.

  

Do Something That Helps: A Differing Vision on Boycotting DragonCon

Originally written July 2, 2013 

If you have ever been in love with superheroes, vampires, zombies, the paranormal, video games, fantasy and science-fiction, Anime, or cartoons; this blog is a must read. You may be unaware, but the largest all fan based convention with all the above love affairs, complete with costume and camaraderie, take place in Atlanta every year during labor day weekend. About 50,000 people gather from all over the world to share in their love of all things chic-geek. From an outsiders position, those that truly run this country, are who show up. The brightest and most creative minds come together to be accepted and nurtured in a space that celebrates the numerous talents of both the celebrity and individual. Big names like William Shatner and George Takei From Star Trek to Nicholas Brendon from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. But the real heroes are those that toil over their personal costumes and seek out moments to be enjoyed and respected for their creativity; reflecting their love of a genre of work.

Unfortunately, a dark cloud hangs over this magnificent conglomeration of creativity. One of the original investors of DragCon is a man named Edward Kramer. Kramer is currently being charged with six counts of child molestation from 2000, but has been able to successfully postpone trial, get out of jail and had been free to move about the country until 2011 where he was caught with another adolescent in a hotel room in Connecticut (AJC News, April 26, 2013). It appears that the other investors have attempted to untangle themselves from Kramer because, as a share holder, he is required to continue to receive a share of the profits from the convention (Atlanta Magazine,

March 28, 2013).

Now, you may love your superheroes, but we all love to love a villain. In an effort to take away Kramer’s money, which likely goes to lawyer fees, many have chosen to boycott DragonCon. Both individuals, promoters and celebrities have attempted to use their voice of dissent in an attempt to either shut down DragonCon all together, or at minimum to tell the other investors and DragonCon Board that they are not doing enough to stop their money from going to Kramer.

As a sexual abuse trauma survivor myself, I agree that the DragonCon bosses are not doing enough. The ongoing and repeated choice to create a hush-hush environment about these facts continues to not only create a dismal cloud over every person attending, it perpetuates and grows the shame of silence for all trauma victims and survivors. I can understand and support an individuals decision to not be associated with a potential pedophile, but I do not support those that are in power to continue to take the stance of silence. Although there is some growing conversation of how they would like to disentangle themselves and believe that no one would want to willfully be associated with even a hint of victimization, taking no meaningful stance on this issue simply creates an opportunity for real loss.

When I began just a few years ago attending DragonCon, I was NO believer. My spouse is the smart, sharp geek who loves all things Stars Wars and is currently shaping the world through his professional work to broaden what we literally understand about the universe. I, the psychotherapist, was going along for the ride. In absolute truth, magic happens at DragonCon. People who often struggle with feeling that they don’t fit in and are misunderstood, maybe are awkward in this every day world that expects conformity, come to breathe in the memory that they are not alone. Even if little of what DragonCon offers is not exciting or interesting to you, just being present with others who live out their truth and give up what the world pressures them to do, can be meaningful to any human being. As a trauma survivor, it continues to encourage me to live out loud and honor my whole Self, accepting and honoring those parts of me that for much of my life was silenced and shamed.

So, it may seem unlikely that I would want to openly support, with my money, a man on trial for sexual molestation. Although it is true that money often speaks loudly, nothing has the power of supporting and honoring survivors more than embracing and speaking its realities. I understand that the institution of DragonCon would like nothing more than to make Kramer and his ugliness go away, but avoidance, pretending it does not exist and not inviting a forum to speak these truths are the choices being made. These choices are the hallmark of why sexual abuse and all forms of trauma continue to occur every single day. I have personally known the shame and continue to watch others be potentially destroyed not by the abuse itself, but the shame associated with the silence.

1 in 4 women will be victims of sexual violence over the course of their life time, while between 1 in 6 and 1 in 8 boys will be victims by the age of 18. How many attendees, promoters, merchandisers, celebrities, hotel staff, artists, DragonCon staff and volunteers are victims and survivors? How many of them have to potentially loose their moment of emotional glory or even their paycheck to financially hurt one perpetrator? Instead, why not embrace would could be the perfect moment to open the dialogue and truth telling that is required for a trauma victim to move towards seeing themselves as a survivor. Yes, I understand this convention is not one big group therapy session and no, there is no track for trauma survivors. I understand that DragonCon had no intention of taking on such a monstrous taboo, but here it is. Continued decisions to operate by silence do not honor victims and instead continue to give growing voice to all the Kramers in the world. The question now is, who will speak louder?

If the voice of the people and the voice of all trauma survivors is what deserves to be heard, there is a simple solution. During DragonCon, wear a teal ribbon, the symbol of hope and support for all sexual assault victims. Allow it to create a conversation and recognition that it is ok to talk about sexual abuse. It is ok to speak the words, ‘I am a trauma survivor’. It is ok to advocate for change through education and support. I will wear mine for myself and for each of Kramer’s possible victims to let them know; they are not alone. If we are bigger and more powerful than the pressure of the outside world, and I am confident we are, we can become real superheroes in one simple act. When we say, ‘I won’t go because of Edward Kramer’, we give more power to his voice. When we give open voice and dialogue for healing, every day courage becomes an extraordinary act. As fellow DragonCon members know, this is how we change the world.  

 

* Begin Here

I have always wanted professional writing to be something I could put on my resume, but a friend once told me that I lacked the ‘fire in the belly’ to make that a reality. I have learned over the years that I do have fire, but it is more like heartburn that fades quickly with a glass of cold milk. I tend to do well with writing short pieces, making blogging a natural connection I have openly resisted, until, this obvious moment.

I chose the title of Mental Health Hack as a signal to a reader that it is not necessary to have polished edges (even perceived ones), especially those of us in the mental health field. I find it terribly disheartening that even in 2013, so many struggle with preconceived ideas about what a mental health professional does, let alone who they really are. I can be just as clumsy and lost in my mind as the next person. My best friend would say that ‘we are brilliant one minute, but are known to hide our own Easter eggs the next’. Now, please, let’s be hopeful that you discover eloquent moments through pieces I have and continue to write. However, no matter how much I am aware that judgement constrains our joy, I have been known to rant about how tired I have grown counting the number of women wearing their pajama pants to the grocery store.  

So, here are a few commitments I make to you if you choose to read my writing:

~ I will impart what I understand to be true for me around issues related to our emotional health and well being. I hope to do this in an honest and genuine fashion, one that communicates something meaningful to you.

~ I intend to be REAL. I want people to know there are helping professions out there that laugh at sixth grade potty humor just as well as themselves.  For me, writing is sometimes a form of play and if I can’t be authentic and have fun with it — then I don’t wanna. 

~ There are a few quirks about myself that I intend to share. I like to think of them as aspects of my childhood that I truly enjoyed and as I re-remembered who I am, through my own therapy, I have returned to them with fierce love.

~I will often link ideas back to an emotional premise, but I believe there is intrinsic value in just being REAL. If I am going to do this with a whole heart,  I must impart my whole Self, not just the parts that know how to effectively spit out the psycho-babble I have learned over the years. Image