What Goes Around Comes Around

Mom - Feb. 2015The first time I told my mom the truth about having been abused in childhood, and then its effect on my teen and young adult years, she cried. That surprised me, but what I didn’t expect her to say was that she couldn’t even remember some of the events that were most upsetting to me. One memory was of my mom giving me a sewing lesson, a rarity to get one-on-one time with her, let alone for her to have the time to teach me anything.

About seven or eight years old, I thought the relaxed moment was good enough to tell her about the abuse again–as that wasn’t the first time I tried to tell her. That day I said, “Mama, Eddie keeps touching me. Down there.” I looked downward, because we weren’t allowed to say the V-word. My mom stopped sewing and narrowed her eyes on me. She clamped the top of her bathrobe tight at her neck and shouted, “Stop trying to look down my robe! Cochina!” She had called me a dirty pig.

As an adult, I had my first candid adult conversation with my mom and reminded her of this incident. She told me she didn’t remember it, but was sorry she had reacted that way. I asked her how could she ignore my trying to tell her yet again that I was being molested by one of my brothers (who later became a Christian minister and denied ever having abused me, my sister, and other young girls in the family.)

Chain of PeopleAmong other things, my mom admitted she had also been sexually abused, by her brother, too, and by neighborhood boys. I found out that a few of my aunts, my mom’s sisters, had been abused by the same brother who assaulted my mom. Cousins, too, had been abused by their brothers or fathers.

Sexual abuse is more often than not, a generational pattern. 

My mother knew my work involved coaching abuse victims and that I planned on writing a book about it. She asked me not to write it until after she had died. Shamed or embarrassed, I figured she didn’t want to see the truth of her ignorance, to be made aware of her mistakes as a parent. Maybe she didn’t want to admit that she had been abused, a subject less talked about in her generation than my own.

I told my own daughters about my abuse, not the horrific details, but enough to hope they would learn to say no to anyone who would take advantage of them. Fast forward at least a decade later, to after I found out my oldest daughter had been molested by my father and raped by a neighbor boy. I never expected to hear anything like that from any one of my children, thinking I had prevented it with my telling.

Mother & DaughterMy daughter had her own coaching business, primarily helping people with issues surrounding their sexuality and relationships. One of her clients was interested in taping her story. During the interview, Marisa shared a childhood situation when I caught her fondling herself. She described the shame she endured and how she felt I discounted her feelings. The incident traumatized her. As an adult, she told me of the incident and was stunned to learn that I had forgotten all about it until then. 

I don’t think I easily recalled the incident because I didn’t see it as a horrible event. Awkward, yes, because having a sexual abuse background, I had a distorted viewpoint about sex and didn’t know what was considered the norm and within healthy boundaries. In retrospect, I know I could have handled the situation a lot differently, but given my limited knowledge, I did the best I could with what I knew at the time.

Still, seeing her share that story in a video, I felt what must have been the same punch to the gut my mother had when I confronted her about the past and announced that I planned to write a book about it. Watching that interview, I felt painted without patience, wisdom, compassion, or understanding when I thought I was being very modern—acting totally concerned yet cool in catching my daughter in an act my mother would have beaten me for.

shamed womanIgnorance breeds ignorance. And I think now, rather than asking my oldest daughter to keep mum until my dying day, I’d rather bring all the cards to the table, clear up the baggage, and move on to a better relationship with her. It is through her I have learned the meaning of integrity and authenticity, especially when it involves communication between us. I am saddened that I couldn’t do a better job raising my girls. A product of ignorance, I didn’t educate myself enough before having children.

The relationship I’ve built over the past few years with my daughter has included the best and the worst moments in my life. They’ve been emotional celebrations and challenging hits to the heart. But the new foundation is stronger than anything we’ve ever shared. I know we still have many paths to walk together, a journey I’ll gladly take to its fruition.

Women EmbracingComing clean about our thoughts and feelings to our parents, children, or other loved ones is a difficult process. The ego suffers when truth is revealed, but it really does set one free from anxiety, guilt, and/or negative thought patterns. Consider any overdue apologies you need to make, explanations at least for your behavior, or someone who needs to know the truth. Release yourself from the past and share your story with those who matter, even if there’s a chance you won’t get the reaction you’d like. You will uncover your integrity and learn to be more authentic in your voice from that moment forward. You’ll find that the next time you interact with someone, it will be pleasant when that story finds its way back to you.

 

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It Sucks to Feel Vulnerable

Bored Woman Sitting on BenchMost abuse survivors have a hard time surrendering to vulnerability. Being vulnerable is when we stand in our truth or want to stand in our truth—but speaking up may leave us susceptible to being hurt either physically or emotionally. Vulnerability is when we leave our feelings open to assault and in a position that makes it difficult to defend ourselves.

We avoid vulnerability–in order to gain approval or to save ourselves from repercussions–we rely on defense mechanisms to save us. We may get mad when we’re expected to be honest with someone. We might get embarrassed when we’re corrected and called out on our mistake in front of others. We may feel ashamed if we start crying because we don’t want anyone to see us as weak. Maybe we’re afraid to be honest because a loved one might reject us if we tell the truth about how we feel. 

We are afraid Confrontation Cartoonof the consequences, be it fear of physical retribution, emotional ostracization, or ridicule. We fear attack or criticism because that makes us feel unwanted, unaccepted, and unloved. Confrontation is scary, especially if we have to admit when we know we weren’t acting fairly to someone else, or to ourselves. Yet there are times we must hold ourselves accountable and take responsibility for something we’ve done or said. 

As childhood abuse victims, we could have experienced harsh criticism or were punished for telling the truth. Quite a few of us were threatened and told not to tell on the person or people abusing us. We grew up afraid of telling the truth and learned to say what we thought others wanted to hear, or we didn’t say anything at all.

We were vulnerable when we were abused. No one was there to save us, to be our champions. However, as adults, some of us were able to learn how to stand up for ourselves. We learned that we didn’t have to keep our mouths shut at the times we needed to speak up the most.

Free of RopesWhen we’re honest with ourselves and speak our truth, we set ourselves free. Amazing things happen when we allow others to see our vulnerable side. That means we no longer have to accept abuse like we did each time we spoke up in the past.

Each time we allow ourselves to be vulnerable it means that although we’re willing to open our heart to what might not feel good, we know it is far more important to overcome fear of speaking our truth. We are worth the effort and energy it takes to confront someone by speaking up, no matter how vulnerable we feel.

Our emotions are merely a gage to tell us when we’re uncomfortable. We feel uncomfortable telling the truth because of how we were treated in the past. The unconscious mind tries to protect our feelings, because at heart, we don’t want to be vulnerable. We don’t want to admit to someone that they had the ability to make us sad, upset, hurt our feelings, make us feel regret, put us in a place where we should apologize, admit we were scared, or make us cry.

Yet each time we admit the truth, we are closer to setting ourselves free from a past pattern that once had the strength to immobilize us. When we speak up, we free ourselves from having to please others when something doesn’t satisfy us.

Free from FearOnce we are rid of the fear holding us back by using our voice, we make room for receiving what we truly desire. We can be honest enough with ourselves to say, “Yes, this is what I want,” or at the very least, if we have yet to define our desires, we will know what we no longer want in our lives. We know what abuses we will no longer allow and we can overcome the role of victim.

Most of the time, when others see that we are willing to put ourselves in a vulnerable position, they, in turn, feel safe in allowing themselves to speak up. They permit themselves to be vulnerable with us. Then, we start communicating on a new level, and we attract those who want to travel that higher path of personal growth alongside us.

Celebrate LifeYes, initially it sucks to be vulnerable, but freedom comes at a cost, and relinquishing part of the ego is a very small payment to learn to communicate honestly and to uncover integrity. It’s a breath of fresh air, a big release and a big relief, as we stand in vulnerability and practice speaking our truth when necessary.

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Why Do We Suffer?

Bored Cartoon Woman

No one wants to consciously suffer, yet without enduring challenges, be it physical or emotional, we remain rooted in the same old thing, the same life, routine, and behavior. Without suffering, we live a mediocre life, always a part of the status quo. Without traumatic events in our life, we are less likely to choose the harder path of learning, growth, or acceptance.

It’s a lot easier to stay the same than to try and change. And since change doesn’t always feel good, our ego is satisfied sticking to what it knows. Our ego generally chooses comfort instead of growth. Change isn’t always a comfortable journey, but if we make good choices around it, we’ll learn something new, create something better for us, or at least it will feel better in the long run.

Girl with SuitcaseEach time we move beyond fear and open ourselves to change, we can put ourselves in a vulnerable position. In hard times, our ego tries to protect us by putting a wall around ourselves so people can’t know how we feel, yet that forces us to face our pain alone. In a state of vulnerability, we can be hurt, but the payoff is that we maintain integrity. Every time we are honest with ourselves and others, we become better individuals. 

The ego doesn’t want us to be vulnerable—it doesn’t want us to be honest with others or ourselves to save us from experiencing any uncomfortable feelings. It’s embarrassing to admit to someone that we were wrong in what we said or did, and it’s just as embarrassing to cry in front of another person. It hurts to tell how we feel, especially if we fear our feelings will not be validated or agreed with by another person.

Thumbs upWe can take drugs or drink to excess or have some other kind of addiction to avoid suffering, but the reality is that no one can escape all trauma. So, the question isn’t so much ‘Why do we have to suffer?’ The question is, ‘How can we make suffering more of a learning experience that can bring insight and wisdom?’

Consider if the trauma is under your control. Are you choosing to worry needlessly or are you trying to get involved in a situation that doesn’t concern you? Only try to control that which is in your power. You’re not in charge of preventing others from learning their lessons. Don’t rob others of their opportunities to learn and grow by taking care of their problems.

If the suffering is truly yours and cannot be changed, like a serious physical injury or detrimental emotional event like a death or divorce, acceptance is the key. Once you accept that circumstances cannot be undone, you can focus on things that are within your ability to change. You’ll go through a normal grieving process, but you won’t Happy Girl on bikeremain stuck in it. You’ll have the ability to choose the course of action you want to take regarding the situation and determine how much effort is required. Once transformation occurs, a better, stronger, wiser version of you is born.

Suffering is made to serve us, but it will be all for nothing if we don’t choose to change and ultimately transform into something better because of it.

 

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First Grade Story

This excerpt is from my current work-in-progress, The Long Term Effects of Sexual Abuse. ~Carole Avila

It was the first and best story I had ever written. Never had I concentrated so hard on a homework assignment. My heart revealed itself on paper in my best printing in four sentences of seriously contemplated, emotionally unbalanced hero-worship about my oldest brother, nicknamed Rocky. The one who didn’t make me play the games.

Rocky became my surrogate father because I wanted, and needed, another chance to be loved and accepted by my dad who seemed to have cast me out of his heart, if not by emotional distance, then by his frequent physical absence in my life. My oldest brother didn’t physically protect me from my other brother, and I wasn’t even sure if Rocky knew about the abuse or not. The biggest difference between my three primary male role models was that Rocky was kind to me. His voice was always even and calming. He didn’t abuse me like Eddie did, and he didn’t hit (spank) me like my father.

My oldest brother warranted his own story, and I knew Sister Luciana would beam with pride at her best student when she read it. I imagined her patting me on the head saying, “This is great, Pumkin!” I loved it each time she called me by my special nickname reserved exclusively for me. It was all mine, and it was one of the very few things in life no one could take away from me. In a way, that’s why I was sharing my intimate feelings about my brother with Sister Luciana. I trusted her. She provided the only safe haven for my feelings.

The next morning, I proudly brought my writing assignment to school, but the most unexpected thing happened. For the first time, we had a substitute teacher. A young woman, not in the dark brown and white Carmelite habit, but dressed in skirt, shirt, and sweater. The lay teacher uniform.

Reluctant hands transferred my treasured story to the substitute as she collected homework from the class. I prayed Sister Luciana would only be gone the one day. My heart seemed to fold in half, and her absence felt like a betrayal.

I tried to make it through the slights of the day, not having received one smile from the substitute. Not one acknowledgment that I was special. That I was Pumkin. Nothing could have been worse than having someone else for my beloved teacher, except of course, seeing the substitute’s return the next day. When she handed back our homework, I breathed a little hope. Perhaps, once she read my stellar paper, she’d understand how special I was.

To my horrific surprise, colored ink littered my paper, highlighting every error in rejection red. There were as many correction marks on punctuation, spelling, and grammar as letters in my story. Not one comment was made on the content. A huge red F hung like a flag in the right corner, waving attention for the world to see, pronouncing my glorious story a dismal Failure. I had been invalidated. It seemed each time I tried to express myself, I was silenced.

Just as I had discovered my passion for writing, the lay teacher had crushed my dream, snuffing it out like a barely lit match. Excessive criticism was too much for any first grader to handle, and the abuse magnified the experience. The paper crushed easily in my hands, like my expectations of having a well-received story, and I shoved it into the farthest corner of my desk. I may not have been able to define it, but I knew exactly what shame felt like. My head drooped lower than my shoulders, and I swore I’d never express the secrets of my heart on paper or anywhere else ever again.

But I did. My poems and stories lay hidden with other secrets, buried with unnamed desires and impossible hopes where no one could read them, securely concealed where not even I could find them.

Over the next twenty-five years, I continued to feel graded, judged, and criticized and gave these negative effects undue power, allowing a record number of significant opportunities for personal joy and success to slip past.

The starting point of a tumultuous journey of self-condemnation had been paved with the best story I had ever written.

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Healing Through Writing

In my writing class, we were given an assignment to write a poem with form, and I decided to write a petrarchan sonnet about something I knew. Voicing our stories, sharing what is true for us through written self-expression puts us on a healing path. Share your feelings through a story or poem here in a safe place, and enjoy the freedom–enjoy the release–from the shackles of abuse.

The Tree
By Carole Avila

I prided myself on climbing that tree
Higher than rooftops where two branches split,
A place to escape home, cruel and toxic,
That tree—heaven for invisible me.
One day he made me climb up the tree
He made me play games; I begged him to quit.
The tree watched helpless as my world was ripped.
He peeled off my bark, stole my sap from me.
I told Mama what my brother had done
Six-year-old words for a life that was maimed.
She spanked me for lying about her son.
Somehow it was my fault, I was to blame.
Into the pitch-dark garage I had run
But not by myself—I hid with my shame.

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2019 Resolution – What If I Stopped Asking “What if…”

Although nearly every day something arises to remind me that I’m acting like an abuse survivor, I still can’t draw out enough resolve to write about it. My fingers stop typing on their own before I can get a single word out. My own doubt holds me back. Sometimes I find myself in a pity party–who really cares? What if I don’t adequately express myself and my point is lost on the reader? Other times instant weariness sets in. I close my eyes and think about anything other than all the “what if I had never been abused” scenarios.

What if I followed through on the enthusiasm I had for ideas worth pursuing–what would I have accomplished? What if I put more effort into exercising and my body’s health rather than emotionally overeating? What if I wasn’t so uncomfortable around crowds–how much more joy would I be experiencing? What if I never let my fear immobilze me and I was able to get back all those wasted years? What if I didn’t let myself be bullied before I had finally learned how to speak up for myself?

Sadly, my “what if” lists are generally longer than any bucket list I’ve ever written.  “What if” is a terrible question to keep asking myself when it keeps me rooted more in the past than in possibilities.

When I take out the “what if” scenarios, I’m more at peace, yet changing a negative mindset is one of the toughest aspects of surviving abuse. I’ve practiced it more frequently than anything else I’ve ever done, and it still challenges me. It involves forgiving myself and not beating myself up for my ignorance, yet another effect of abuse I continually struggle through.

I don’t like to make New Years resolutions, so often times seeming like I’m setting myself up for failure. But one thing I will do is work on using the term “What if” as an indicator when a good idea presents itself, instead of the precursor to a negative statement about what I could have done differently in the past. I’ll use this term as a signal that a good idea is about to make itself known and find the gumption to act on it. What if I could do that?

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Little Triggers-Big Affects


weight-watcher-51993937Today I hit a huge trigger that caused a major rift in my relationship. My boyfriend came into the bathroom when I just got out of the shower because he needed to get to the walk-in closet. Now, for a “normal” couple seeing each other naked wouldn’t be a problem, and it probably wouldn’t have been an issue for a woman without a rock-bottom self-image. But for someone who has always felt fat, ugly, and disgusted in herself, it was a major problem.

We had an agreement; he would never enter the bathroom even if I didn’t lock the door, an agreement he had never violated until today. Even after screaming twice, he just continued to explain why he had to get to the closet—to get his wallet to give the insurance agent on the phone his license information. He spoke into his phone while I was screaming in the background, “NO!” He held his head down and didn’t look at me, but that wasn’t the point. He didn’t honor my feelings, my request. My well-being was given the back seat to the person on the phone while I felt violated.

I’ve left the door unlocked and he has never violated that trust before. It wasn’t only a Shower
breech of trust but it made me remember all the times my brother and other abusers invaded my privacy and forced me to engage in unwanted sexual acts. My brother always tried to get into the bathroom, especially while I took a bath. I’ve mentally blocked out the times he made it in.

I realize this was my issue and not my boyfriend’s, that he’s not the one who abused me. It’s surprising that after all the healing I thought I had accomplished, there are still areas that have yet to be worked through, one of the biggest of them all being my low self-image. 

Mad GirlI don’t know that we can ever fully heal from abuse. Scars linger and some get torn open. We can change behavior, negative thinking, and reactions, but every now and then something can trigger the senses, and we’re flung back into the nightmares of the past. Even the briefest visit can be painful, and then we have to force ourselves to deal with it or live a C- life instead of an A+. We have to settle for a mediocre life if we don’t opt for healing.

Girl in SuitWe have to keep recreating ourselves, our lives, so that we can be better than what the abuse made us.

Our subconscious minds will find a way to help us face the things that are too hard to deal with so that we can heal and move forward. If it’s too much to handle on our own, we may have to seek out a therapist. That’s what I’ll do to clear up these body image issues. I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of my boyfriend anymore. I want to share all aspects of myself with him, including celebrating my body and bringing more excitement into our sexual relationship.

It takes a lot of effort to face our screwed-up-edness, but come the day we don’t react to the same trigger, we’ll feel so much better about who we are. We’ll feel proud of ourselves every time we find the courage to work through yet another effect of abuse.

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Working Hard on Abuse Book

downcastEmotional fatigue is having its way with me as I’ve been working on my non-fiction abuse book. I’m recalling—not for the first time—upsetting experiences and the people who had no qualms about trying to make my life more miserable than what it was, whether their hurtful intentions were deliberate or accidental.

Fork and measuring tapeIt doesn’t help that I’m dieting and can’t resort to old coping methods like stuffing my feelings with delicious desserts or hot foods smothered in melted cheese.

I’m currently working on chapters describing betrayals by my entire family—not just the brother who molested me but by my parents and other siblings, painful abusive relationships, and recounting times of feeling flawed and scarred because of all the detrimental effects abuse left me with. I find myself wanting to keep my reactions at bay but know this is counter-intuitive to my continued life-long healing journey, as well as for the basis of my book.

If anything, I’m hungry to get the book finished to help others who are coping with the effects of abuse and that goal is what has been keeping me on task. If you know someone who is on a healing journey from sexual or physical abuse and think they’d be interested in Cinnamon Rollmy forthcoming work, The Long Term Effects of Sexual Abuse, please spread the word and ask them to follow this blog so that I can let them know when the book is published.

I think this manuscript will help them as well as myself, as completing it will ease the pressure each time I’m faced with a carb and calorie laden temptation. Thank you!

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Therapy today: Bridging gaps

An eloquent and honest expression of feelings…

blackspotsite

I was anxious about therapy today. After forwarding J the post I wrote after our last session, I was worried I had done the wrong thing. I sat in a bus shelter on the way to her house, deliberating whether I should go to my appointment or whether to jump on a random bus and disappear for a while. Yes, therapy is where you’re supposed to be able to say anything at all. But after a year of working with J, I’ve come to care about my relationship with my her. In the past week, I’ve realised that this might have started getting in the way.

We both knew something wasn’t right, as I was holding back and shutting down. When she questioned this, I initially felt like I had done something wrong. I am already in a phase of feeling like an oxygen thief, so I am susceptible to taking any…

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Your Handmade Donations Help Refugee Children!

Sandra HurtesMy author friend, Sandy Hurtes, started THE MADE-BY-HAND PROJECT to raise funds for child migrants in Europe. Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to Save the Children’s Refugee Child Relief Crisis Fund.

LOGO--Save the ChildrenSandy is interested in donations that people have made–jewelry, crocheted/knitted items, paintings, sculpture, clothing, pottery, authors’ signed books–virtually any art or craft that is hand created. These items will be sold at a future event, some time in early March.

For more information on donations or how to get involved, contact Sandy at TheMadeByHandProject@yahoo.com or visit The Made By Hand Project Facebook page.

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