Cult and Abuse Survivor Comes Full Circle

I love the title of Athena Dean Holtz’s book, “Full Circle.” Picture a half moon, and now, a full moon. When you hear the words, full circle, you know it means completion or the fullness of a thing. You’re hopeful from the outset that things will be set right in the end. The author’s story will lift you up, pull you back, fling you sideways, and then twirl you back around. And then you get to do it all over again! So, fasten your seatbelts. In reading Full Circle, you become an armchair traveler in the author’s very personal journey of restoration, reconciliation and redemption. Including periods of time trapped in childhood sexual abuse, deception, false religion and cults, along with poor personal choices. Choices that led to a ripple effect of mistrust, fear and damage in her personal and business relationships. As is so often the case, early memories of abuse, dashed expectations, not fitting in, or outright rejection can become false guideposts for what is to come, and what we are to become. They help fuel the flames of a morphed personal connection to our God-given destinies, dreams, reality and/or future.

We revisit her places of affluence and privilege, influence and prestige to places of failure and shame, false accusations, heartbreak and loss. A constant juxtaposition between having and losing, success and failure, fullness and emptiness. The author candidly shares of her great love for her father. The father who chooses another woman over her mother, redefining the family as they once knew it. A perfectionist mother who she never fully bonded with and whose approval she struggled to win. And early influences that shaped her perceptions about life and God. She walks us through her entanglement with cults, deception and legalism. And her inner struggles with identity, control, workaholism, perfection and perceived wants and needs. We see how her choices mixed with others’ controlling and manipulative influences made for lethal concoctions. A colorful, sometimes toxic, sometimes confusing, sometimes simply human whirlwind of individual pieces to an ultimately beautiful puzzle.

At the conclusion, we are gratefully relieved and encouraged as we see the necessary course corrections put into place. We are relieved and encouraged in part, because readers can find bits and pieces of their own stories within her story. Places in our own lives where we drifted, (purposely drove, or were manipulated/coerced) off course without our navigational systems fully functioning, only to find ourselves shipwrecked and suddenly wondering how we got ourselves so off course.

The author touches on a multitude of issues in Full Circle. Issues that were no doubt difficult to deal with, much less admit. It serves as a painfully transparent reminder that we all have choices. Choices that will reflect what we believe. What we believe about ourselves, others and God. And because we are a part of a greater entity called humanity, choices that will, for better or worse, ripple out to effect the lives of those who touch ours.

Full Circle is the real and personal story of Athena Dean Holtz. But we all have a full circle story of our own. And even if our stories are stuck at “half-moon,” the best message in this book is that by making wise, discerning, healthy choices coupled with the faithfulness and grace of God, we too can come full circle. The stars can shine that bright for all of us! He is a God of restoration, reconciliation and redemption. He never leaves us alone. That’s his promise. If we seek him, we will find him. That means, step-by-step, thought-by-thought, choice-by-choice.

Thank you Athena Dean Holtz for being vulnerable so that others can be more alert, learn, change and grow. I love that when we give, we receive. As the author chose to give, forgive, “do the work” (reconciled business issues, restored personal relationships, redeemed the time and resources God had placed in her hands from an early age, took personal inventory, underwent counseling and now shares her “lessons learned” with others), she received. Not only wholeness, but forgiveness, restored relationships, healthy perspectives, new opportunities, and so on. I love that God’s plans and purposes for us are always for our good. And they are always so much better than we could ever imagine.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

You can purchase Athena’s book, Full Circle, online. Visit her website athenadeanholtz.com or blog. Athena also produces and hosts the Always Faithful radio show where she interviews authors, artists and women of faith spotlighting the faithfulness of God.

Athena Dean Holtz is an Author, Speaker, Radio Personality, Pastor’s Wife and Publisher. She has been speaking to groups, large and small, for over 30 years. She is passionate to see women recognize the faithfulness of God, no matter how difficult life may be. 

(I received an advanced reader copy of Full Circle. This writing represents my personal and honest review.)

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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Scars Speak

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What comes to mind when you read the word SCAR?

A scar can be left over from a surgery or a “trophy” on a veteran of war. It can be a reminder of a painful accident or a traumatic physical assault. And not all scars are visible to the eye. Sometimes we carry internal scars caused by wounds from a verbal assault, emotional or psychological damage.

“We’re stronger in the places we’ve been broken.” – Ernest Hemingway

One thing all scars have in common is they tell us that at some point in time, trauma occurred. They also tell us by their nature, the incident that caused the trauma happened in the past. The hurt may or may not remain, but the scar always does.

Some may look at their scars and be unaffected or even laugh because they don’t have any recollection of the actual incident. They may have had surgery and been under anesthesia. Or, they may have received their wound in an accident but their memory of the event has been erased.

There are some people, however, who have to look in the mirror and live with negative memories associated with their scars every day. They are the ones I’m writing about today. Scars caused by abuse, neglect or violence. Their scars are a constant and merciless reminder of pain. The relentless pain of hatred, rejection or violence against their person or spirit. Those memories summon our worst nightmares and haunt us with torment. Sometimes the scars taunt as if to say, “You deserved what you got” or “You’ll never be good enough. You’ve got the scars to prove it”. They are reminders of the powerlessness in abusive encounters. To some, a permanent warning sign to stay inside an imposed boundary. And they can’t be erased. The most we can do is cover them so the world can’t see. Because if the world sees them, they will wonder how our scars came to be, and we can’t bare to reveal or re-live the trauma.

Donita’s mother burned her with cigarettes and left scars from beatings with an iron hanger. Veronica’s uncle sexually assaulted her and her sister leaving a different set of scars. The pain of shame on top of sexual assault with the pressure of keeping a secret no girl should have to bare. Morgan’s arm is scarred with needle marks from a life she desperately wants to forget from her drug-addicted past. As beautiful as she is, Chandler wears scars under her clothes from cutting. No one knows because she masks it with a fake smile. Shauna wears long sleeved blouses and lots of bracelets to cover her wrists after attempting suicide. Makeup and jewelry cannot completely hide years of abuse to Trina’s face and neck at the hands of an abusive husband. Women and girls with faces and bodies acid-burned by their own husbands, fathers, brothers and family members–people they should’ve been able to trust to love and protect them. Every single scar from abuse cries out, “Why me?” Our faces, our bodies, our minds and our spirits are such a deep part of our identity. When we are assaulted in any way that is meant to inflict injury and pain by another, visible or not, it is inexcusable. When it is self-inflicted pain or abuse, we hurt and scar the same.

Thankfully, as the saying goes, beauty truly can come from “ashes”. We can rise to a better place. The other thing that all scars have in common is they Tell a Story. Your story. A very personal story. A painful story. A pain-filled story. But yours, nonetheless. So what’s so great about having a personal painful story? Nothing. That is, nothing in and of itself. But your scars, our scars, tell us and the world, “I am here!” They say without speaking a word, “I lived through it!” THAT is the story. THAT is the grace. It is your badge of courage. It says you are a fighter, a victor.

The truth is, the scars are proof that you made it through. You are meant to be here. And maybe one day, you will come to understand that you lived (or made it through the pain) to tell your story so that others can learn from it. And in so doing, what someone tried to take away from you, (your confidence, self-worth, freedom, identity, voice) ended up positioning you to give strength (and courage and hope) to another. And in the process, gave you back the voice no one could ever truly take.

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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20 Quotes about Abusive Control

Control comes in many forms including physical, sexual, and/or emotional/psychological abuse. It may involve controlling a person through finances, controlling their comings and goings, what they wear, how or when they speak, who they spend time with, what they do with their time, and so on. I’m not referring to parents who place healthy boundaries around their children out of love here. I’m talking about adult relationships and adult relationships with minors that involve a destructive or unhealthy force of control. Put simply, anyone who tries to exert strict control over another person in a way that is harmful or degrading is abusive. When a person restricts or restrains another’s freedom to think or act according to their own free will while squelching their individuality or dignity, it is control. Abuse is always about control.

Violence never belongs in relationships. Control does not equal love. -Dr. Lynne Namka

One of the prevalent features of life with an angry or controlling partner is that he frequently tells you what you should think and tries to get you to doubt or devalue your own perceptions and beliefs. -Lundy Bancroft

When people encounter controlling behavior, they often feel “erased”, as if, to the perpetrator, they don’t exist. -Patricia Evans

Controllers may target someone’s emotional, social, financial or physical well-being, but their most effective target is a person’s self-identity. -Mary Rose

If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. -George G. Woodson

Emotional abuse exists apart from physical or sexual abuse, as incredibly destructive to an emerging sense of self. -Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D

Power is embedded in our society and makes its way into relationships through control. -Mary Rose

The violence committed by a serial bully is almost entirely psychological, for psychological violence leaves no scars and no physical evidence. -Bully Online

Manipulators often know what buttons to push, when to do so and how hard to press. Our lack of self-awareness can easily set us up to be exploited. -George K. Simon

Covert aggression is at the heart of most manipulation. – George K. Simon

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence.

Her insecurity about herself and her idealization of him offer the perfect opening for his manipulation. -Dr. Robin Stern

…All forms of sexual manipulation carried out by the perpetrator with the intention or perceived intention to cause emotional, sexual, and physical degradation to another person. -M. Abraham

Whether you were emotionally abused as a child or an adult, the messages were meant to belittle, devalue, shame, and ultimately control. -Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D

The objectives of serial bullies are power, control, domination and subjugation. -Bully Online

…An ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another. The essential ideas, feelings, perceptions, and personality characteristics of the victim are constantly belittled. -M. T. Loring

Abusive behavior and violence is a deliberate choice made by the abuser in order to control you. -Dr. Jeanne Segal

Sexual abuse includes behaviors that fall under legal definitions of rape, plus physical assaults to the sexual parts of a person’s body, and making sexual demands with which one’s partner is uncomfortable. -L. L. Marshall

One thing most abusive relationships have in common is that the abusive partner does many different kinds of things to have more power and control over their partners. -National Domestic Violence Hotline

Controllers have beliefs of entitlement that they get to do harmful things to others. -Dr. Lynne Namka

Anyone who tries to convince a woman that she is unworthy or deserves psychological, verbal, or physical abuse, is wrong and needs help. Even if a woman consents to acts of harmful aggressive physical or sexual behavior by another, it is still a form of violence and it is abuse.

Join me on Twitter @DestinysWomen

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

Warning Signs & Red Flags: Abuse Defined

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Deeply Hidden Memories

Many deeply hidden memories have come flooding back. The important message here though is that it is possible to heal and survive. Everyone has survived their own kind of emotional or mental trauma. We all have our inner fears and misplaced feelings of guilt. -Lynette Gould, Heart of Darkness: How I Triumphed Over a Childhood of Abuse

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Freedom Series: Abuse to Favor

 “For me, my dreams were shaped out of a childhood that was fenced in by fear”

Abuse to Favor is a 96-page minibook that is a part of the Freedom Series created by popular author and speaker, Michelle Borquez. Each booklet shares a woman’s true story about her journey from brokenness to freedom.

In Abuse to Favor, Jo Ann Aleman shares her story, struggles, and triumph over abuse.  It begins with her father, a man she recalls as generous and loving with his children, but extremely abusive to their mother.  Her “normal” was a violently abuse home life fueled by alcohol binges. A home (a life) that healthy families would see as filled with fear-invoking, pain-inducing, spirit-shattering chaos.  Time and again, her mother would pack the children up and flee for safety, then return when things seemed more settled, and so it went on and on.

The cycle brought on by her father’s rage and abuse directed at her mother caused her to go to a place she felt more secure–her mind–a place that no one could touch, a place that seemed safe. Like so many others in her situation, she dreamed about how her life would be different. She fantasized about someone coming to rescue and protect her: a savior.

But, as with any story of abuse, there’s always more than what appears on the surface. Why did her mother stay in that abusive situation? Her mother stayed because of her own experience with abuse. She and her siblings experienced great physical, emotional and mental abuse by their stepfather.  So she promised herself that her future children would never be subjected to a stepfather. But it wasn’t that he was a stepfather. It was that he was a broken abusive man.

“Many times we think of abuse as being only physical; however, abuse takes on many forms. Sexual abuse, verbal abuse, and emotional abuse—even neglect–are all perversions of real, unconditional love.”

Fast forward to Jo Ann Aleman’s adult life… with her childhood promises to herself still with her, she married someone she thought would take her in a direction that was new and better. To a place she could only recognize in her dreams. But he didn’t.  She shares about his abuse and the ultimate disintegration of the marriage.  So longing to be loved, she quickly found herself in another marriage, this time to an older man. She hoped he would bring the security she so desperately wanted. Again, it was not to be found. He too, abused her both physically and emotionally.

“Many nights I was awakened by his fists pummeling my face. He would get so drunk that he would black out, and the next morning we would wake up to a house that looked like a tornado had ripped through it… He was bent on compete destruction.”

As you may have noticed in your own life, there is this resilience about human nature. No matter how bad things get, no matter how improbable the odds, in our little broken torn-apart state, we still somehow find a way to reach out like a flower in the shadows, straining toward the sunshine, hoping against hope for something good.  Jo Ann Aleman was no different. Her heart reached out yet again, longing for love. She spent twelve years in “prison” with her third husband. A man who abused her through fear and intimidation, lashing out through physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse. But this time, it spilled over onto her daughter.

That’s when something shifted. This time, she didn’t reach out to a man, but to God. She writes, “Although we are all somewhat conditioned by our environment, something deep inside of us reveals the truth.” There was more for her.  She wanted once and for all, to be free.

Sharon Kay Ball (a professional counselor) uses biblical illustrations to define healthy and unhealthy thinking and behaviors, and speaks to the issues of conflict, power, authority, power struggles, and abuse that can affect any type of relationship. She also walks readers through common abuser behavior:  using rage, silence, intimidation, altering your sense of reality, criticizing, and blame-shifting to control their victim.

“His words only confirmed my feelings. They shaped me, took root in my heart, and I believed the things he said.”

Ball breaks down the phases in the cycle of abuse and talks about making a “safe plan.” Although it’s crucial to get out of an abusive relationship physically, it’s not enough. Victims need to purge themselves from the damaging affects of abuse that are left embedded in their minds and spirits. That means talking about trust, low self-image, forgiveness, anger, and learning how to move forward.

Aleman writes, “I was free on the surface, yet broken and deeply wounded inside.” That was, until she decided to no longer allow herself to be defined by abusive men, but by a loving God who offered hope and healing.

You may also be interested in:

Domestic Violence: But He Really is a Good Person

What is Emotional Abuse?

Quotes From Women Who Have Suffered Emotional Abuse

Sexual Violence Against Women: Rape, Abuse and Incest

Innocence Lost: Women and Childhood Sexual Abuse

Note: Rose Publishing provided me with an advanced reader copy of this booklet.

Join me on Twitter @DestinysWomen

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™–”Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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Freedom Series: Fear To Courage

Unhealthy fear is a liar. If not stopped, it will always seek to bully us into believing lies about ourselves and about others, ultimately morphing our reality. It is a thief. It robs our peace and joy, and in many cases, the faith and courage to follow our dreams and live healthy fulfilled lives. But the worst part about unhealthy fear is that it can become a slave master. Its single focused goal is to destroy the truth and any potential goodness in our lives by disempowering us and holding us captive.

From Fear to Courage is a 96-page minibook that is part of the Freedom Series created by author and popular women’s speaker, Michelle Borquez. Women desperately want to get to the other side of fear, shame, low self-esteem, hopelessness, or any other issue that keeps them from finding their ultimate freedom in life, but often they don’t know how. The book’s authors use biblical truths to guide readers out of their unhealthy fears into a place of understanding, healing, and freedom.

Have you (or someone you know) kept a secret that has bound you in chains, choked off your voice, drowned your hopes, or silenced your dreams?

In Fear to Courage, Kim Vastine shares her personal story of shame, betrayal, loneliness, and anger brought on by childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by an uncle, someone she “should” have been able to trust. Instead, she was lied to, stolen from, and enslaved to her abuser.  Fear became an unwanted and demanding companion. She uses words like torment, pain, fear, and grief to describe how the abuse made her feel.

Adding fuel to the fire, yet another family member compounded her abuse profile. Speaking of her father’s volatile outbursts that would leave the family, “cowering, sobbing, or desperately striving to seem invisible,” she concluded, “as bad as it was physically, emotionally it was worse.” And just when you wonder how much more a child can endure, she tells of yet another abuse in a place she “should” have felt safe and secure.

The images and memories of abuse branded in her mind helped formulate how she saw the world, God, and herself. My voice was silent, but my heart cried out for justice.” Like flecks of emotional shrapnel searing through the skin, unless extracted, they remain embedded in our minds and spirits. In her case, she learned to mask her negative emotions in deceptive and unhealthy ways.

Paige Henderson writes, “When fear dictates, love is silenced.” This booklet invites women to take the critical journey “moving from life-crushing fear to life-changing courage.” None of us can survive without hope or apart from love. She helps readers put fear into perspective. To understand the awe-inspired “fear” of God and positive healthy choices, as opposed to unhealthy fear that distorts truth, steals our voice, and robs us of our intended destiny. Love is more powerful than fear, but as long as we give fear a place, we give it power.

Then she uses examples from the Bible to show the consistency (predictability) of human nature in our reaction to fear: hiding or running in the opposite direction, and then speaks to trust and identity issues and how they inform us on how we relate to ourselves and the world. The heavy burden of abuse and its fallout are real, but remember, we are not alone in the battle. When childhood abuse occurs, children are left to define their trauma through their own experience and feelings, never grasping what it all means and where they fit in the overall scheme of what has happened to them. (Underscore, to them.)

Abused children typically draw conclusions based on false thinking, and as they mature and advance into adult relationships, they act out what they believe. Although a woman’s body matures and changes, for those who have suffered from childhood trauma, their wounded little girl remains still very much a part of them. That little girl is desperate to be loved, feel worthy, and to be seen and heard. She needs healing.

Henderson talks about the significance of fortifying our lives (how we think, feel, and act) in the way we build our life foundations.  How important it is that we build wisely, and with truth, because eventually, we act on what we believe. We live out our lives, based on what we believe to be true. Using a simple Q&A format, she encourages readers to pause and reflect, and then record their thoughts and feelings. The process helps define the root causes of fear and the difference between healthy and unhealthy fears and their effect.

Armed with a healthy understanding about fear, love, and the importance (and power) of taking personal responsibility for our ultimate wholeness and freedom, Sharon Kay Ball rounds out the book with a section called, “Steps to Freedom.” She discusses the devastation of sexual and emotional abuse including disempowerment and trauma. Readers are then given steps to help in the process of healing those broken places.

Victims of abuse will learn how to un-pack and re-pack, so to speak, their belief systems (about truth, themselves, and others), so they can move from fear to courage, and from victim to survivor. That means taking the power away from the perpetrators, and reclaiming it for ourselves. She reminds us that, “secrets only carry power when they are kept secret.” And discusses how to get past self-blame, the importance of not stuffing bad memories, and how to process anger in a healthy way. She also underscores the value of journaling and working with a professional therapist if necessary.

“When fear enslaves us, it paralyzes us and keeps us from having the courage to live out our purpose in life.” –Michelle Borquez

This booklet begins with Kim’s story about sexual and other abuses. Maybe your fears have different origins. But the fact remains: fear is a liar and fear is a thief. Eventually, unhealthy fear becomes a slave master, and until we replace it with truth, it will keep us where we don’t want to be, in a perpetual internal prison.

It’s time to let go of fear and claim your freedom. Commit to the process because you are worth it. Give yourself permission to take the journey that will eventually lead you out of the cage and into your freedom.

Purchase the book: Fear to Courage

You may also be interested in:

Fear is a Liar

20 Quotes about Pushing Past Fear

Live Fearless, Live Free.

Join me on Twitter @DestinysWomen

Note: Rose Publishing provided me with an advanced reader copy of this booklet.

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™–”Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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Run for Congo Women: Advocating for Congolese Women One Life-Saving Step at a Time

It’s one thing to run in fear for your own life, but to run in courage for the life of another is quite different.

That’s exactly what Stephanie Riggs, award-winning journalist, news anchor and talk radio host has planned along with other advocates of Congolese women on July 31, 2011 (3.1 mile) in Denver, Colorado. As a pro-active organizer of the “Run for Congo Women” — a global run/walk movement benefiting Women for Women International’s Congo program, she puts her feet to the street, literally!

WHY CONGO?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been labeled “the rape capital of the world”. Rape has long been used as a weapon of war that has physically ravaged, emotionally terrorized and financially oppressed women. The rapes are atrociously brutal often including physical objects, gang rape and the inflicting of AIDS. They are not limited to women, but also males and babies.

“Decades of brutality, dictatorships and corruption have given birth to a violence so dark, deadly and destructive that no female is safe.” –Stephanie Riggs

It’s hard to imagine that something as simple as a fundraising run could impact the life, freedom, and/or future of a woman, but it can and it does. In her gripping article, “Running for Their Lives” featured in the Colorado View Magazine (Summer 2010), she reports:

“The light has left their eyes; they carry such deep spiritual, physical and emotional pain that they have checked out as their bodies struggle to go on.”

THE ROOTS OF RUN FOR CONGO WOMEN

After learning that millions had died in Congo and that rape and torture were occurring in shocking numbers, Lisa Shannon, head of A Thousand Sisters ran a solo 30-mile run to sponsor Congolese women through Women for Women International. Her run launched Run for Congo Women, the first national grassroots effort for women in Congo.

Women for Women International works in eight war-torn and post-conflict countries in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. Their programs are designed to support women with financial assistance, job skills training, rights awareness education, trauma counseling, and small business assistance.

A CALL TO ACTION: LACE UP!

Many of us glibbly multi-task through our busy lives not giving any thought to our liberties. We take our secure borders, justice systems and educational opportunities for granted. In societies where women are free, we don’t question the idea of a woman’s ability to love and be loved or her freedom to become a leader–as a realistic possibility.

Yet countless women in places like the Congo live fetered to emotional bondage and in constant fear of rape, torture and sometimes murder of themselves or their children.

With help from advocates and feet-on-the-street efforts by Run for Congo Women and Women for Women International partners we can help women rebuild their lives. As we join forces to build a stronger voice, we collectively make way for Congolese women to become economically self-sufficient, healed emotionally and spiritually, and become leaders in their communities.

PUTTING YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD

So, do you want to run for Congolese Women? Once you register for Run for Congo Women, you’ll receive instructions on how to set up your own personal fundraising webpage. They even provide Fundraiser Tips and Talking Points making it easy to personalize your goals and share your mission with friends and family!

IT IS PERSONAL

One last note… It’s not about making it personal. A reported 1150 Congolese women are raped every day. They are afraid to work outside their homes. On a human level, they are not considered equal to men. Many have been infected with AIDS or have been so violated that their bodies are ravaged. Babies are being so brutally raped that many require colostomy bags, and women, reconstructive surgery.

So you see, it’s not about “making it personal” — It’s already personal.

How will you choose to make a difference?

GET INVOLVED

Register for the Denver, CO Run for Congo Women event

Find an Event near you!

Host/Coordinate a run/walk in your area

Visit Run for Congo Women Colorado Facebook

ABOUT STEPHANIE RIGGS

Stephanie Riggs is a veteran award-winning journalist, has contributed to CBS Sunday Morning, and 48 Hours. She hosts Denver’s Movers and Shakers on Vista TV Denver, a local lifestyle TV show on Comcast’s Channel 19 M-F at 7 p.m. Sat/Sun at 9:30 a.m. or watch online. She also hosts her own call-in radio show M-F at 2 p.m. on 94.7 FM KRKS or listen online to Divine Calling with Stephanie Riggs Facebook for podcasts. Stephanie is a regular contributor to Colorado View Magazine and she also blogs for CBS 4 News about the best of Denver.

LEARN MORE & TELL A FRIEND!

Women for Women International

A Thousand Sisters

Lisa Shannon’s Book: A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman

Sources: Journal of Public Health, Human Rights Watch, U.N. Report on Congo, Voice of America News, The Guardian UK, ABC News

© By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women –”Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

(Photo by Andre Thiel)

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Innocence Lost: Women and Childhood Sexual Abuse

Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.  When you imagine little girls, maybe you think of soft pink bows and pretty summer dresses, hearts and flowers, dollies and kittens, giggles and laughter.  Tiny little treasures brimming with life and hope–a future of possibility and promise.

But, in a single solitary moment, a little girls innocence can be violated, stolen. Through a single touch, her precious sanctity shattered.

“The long-term emotional and psychological damage of sexual abuse can be devastating to the child”

  American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Whether a family member, trusted friend or a stranger in the community, the perpetrator always comes to ravage. “Sexual abuse kills your innocence, your sexuality, your life, but most of all your soul,” says Gwen, whose sexual victimization began when she was only 5. Sexual abusers take what is not theirs for their own twisted perversion and pleasure.  They use, destroy and throw away the innocence of a child’s life.

DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL

In some cases, the words: “Daddy’s little girl” take on a dark and sorrowful meaning.  At the age of 18, Stacey Lannert shot and killed her father while he slept. He had sexually abused her from the age of 8, but the final straw came when she learned that he’d also started raping her younger sister.  

When Helen was a tiny girl, her father repeatedly raped her. “In the years of our marriage, sex was a terrible nightmare.  I was unable to forget my past as I constantly relived the rapes I experienced as a child,” she said.  Helen is now 60 years old.

“You have no idea how much of an impact your actions have on a child, how it can absolutely devastate a person’s life, and how much work it takes to reverse the damage done.” –Survivor of childhood sexual abuse

LITTLE GIRLS BECOME WOMEN

As seasons lapse one into another, the day comes when a girl looks in the mirror and a another person’s face is reflected back–she has become a woman. She has left behind her shiny little shoes, roller skates, coloring books and dolls. Her body and her life have changed on the outside, but on the inside, she cannot leave her childhood behind. The memories and that part of her seem frozen in time. 

As she carries the secret of childhood sexual abuse into her future as a woman, the effects of such a personal and invasive abuse can leave radical imprints. “We now clearly know that sexual abuse is a major risk factor for a lot of later mental-health problems” –David Finkelhor

SHATTERED MEMORIES

The beautiful and sometimes tragic truth about time and memory is that humans have the innate ability to capture details, things like atmosphere and feelings–like a snapshot from a camera. That includes for many women, the single solitary moment when their carefree innocent life as they knew it, changed forever. That moment when her life morphed from carefree and innocent to being held captive. Captive by her abuser and enslaved to her own thoughts, questions and feelings. 

GUILT AND SHAME

Many women who are victims of childhood sexual abuse live with a crippling sense of shame. Oftentimes victims don’t believe something bad happened to them– they think they are bad personally and that’s what caused the abuse. Tragically, the debilitating shame perpetuates the secret and keeps victims silent.

CONFLICTING EMOTIONS

A girl might learn that the only way to get attention or love is to give something sexual or give up their self-respect.   In Cheryl Burke’s case (Dancing with the Stars), she recalls, “I felt guilty for wanting his love and affection.”  In some cases–although perverted from what a pure and innocent adult-child relationship is suppose to be--a bonding takes place and because of it, a girl may find herself trapped between affection and loyalty for her abuser. Sex can become confusing and many victims of abuse mistake sexual activity for love, and vice versa. This can be carried into their adult relationships.

TRAUMA AND COPING

Trauma so often associated with sexual abuse can leave survivors to wrestle with some form of addiction as a numbing or coping mechanism aka strategic survival.  Seventy to 80 percent of victims live with a shattered sense of self by medicating their pain with alcohol or drugs. Through various forms of coping mechanisms, women attempt to mask their shame, numb the pain and erase the memories of the trauma. Even in adulthood, they may try to prove to others (or themselves) that they are “clean”, “to be believed”, or are “good girls”.

RESTORING TRUST

It is no surprise that sexually abused women have problems with trust, because the vast majority of perpetrators are people that she trusted as a child. Her experience has taught her that people in general, are not trustworthy. Victims oftentimes expect to be hurt.  No one understands better than she does what it feels like when those she trusted most didn’t save her, help her, believe in her, or even see her.

HOPE AND HEALING

Though childhood sexual abuse is a debilitating experience with potentially lifelong effects, it is not a life sentence. Hope is that little flame that refuses to give up, it is the little bit of light that penetrates even the darkest of times.

In order to recover, adult survivors must adopt positive coping behaviors, forgive themselves, and relinquish their identities as survivors (Sgroi, 1989). The healing process can begin when the survivor acknowledges the abuse.  

They can learn to heal through counseling, making positive empowering choices, washing themselves in the light of truth, and surrounding themselves with a strong support network. Over time they will learn that they no longer need to wear that coat of guilt and shame that was wrongly placed on them by someone else.

Stacey Lannert:

“Coming forward helped me find forgiveness. I learned that no matter how badly I wanted to I could not change the past, I had to accept it for what it was. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but it set me free – on all levels. Speak up, shatter the silence that binds us. Our chains of silence can be broken with just a whisper.” 

Our innocence may be forever lost, but as long as we are alive, we still have a future of possibility and promise, and no one can take that from us. Break the chains, silence the silence, and yes, speak up—because the only voice that matters is the voice of Truth.

Additional Reading:

Redemption: A Story of Sisterhood, Survival, and Finding Freedom Behind Bars by Stacey Lannert, and, The Case of Stacey Lannert by Charles Montaldo

Please Tell!: A Child’s Story About Sexual Abuse by Jessie Ottenweller (1991)

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (4th edition) by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis (2008)

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by bithead, Caroline, AJ Baxter, Mary, Melanie Cook)

Sources: National Center for Victims of Crime,, The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, National Center for PTSD, Childhelp

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Sexual Violence Against Women: Rape, Abuse and Incest

TWO MINUTES… What Can You Do in Two Minutes?

Put on your lipstick.  Make a quick phone call.  Check your email. Let the dog out.  Change your dress.  Fix a cup of coffee.  Write a postcard.

 QUICK FACT: Did you know that someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every 2 minutes?

Most research concludes that girls and women are at substantially higher risk of being sexually assaulted than males (Matsakis, 1991). These girls and women are not just part of another crime statistic either. They are people we love–Our sisters, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, co-workers, and the list goes on.

Understanding the Definitions

RAPE: The crime of forcing somebody to have sex against their will

ABUSE: The physical, sexual, verbal or psychological maltreatment of a person

INCEST: sexual intercourse between persons so closely related that they are forbidden by law to marry

Sexual assault and violence against women do not discriminate. They happen to girls and women of all races and every religious, educational, and financial background.

QUICK FACT: Did you know that 15 out of 16 rapists will never spend a single day in jail?

Help for Victims of Sexual Assault

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE and the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, and publicizes the hotlines’ free, confidential services; educates the public about sexual violence. RAINN also leads national efforts to prevent sexual violence, improve services to victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.

Resources for Assault Victims & Their Advocates

Tips for Sexual Assault Victims

Tips for Friends of the Sexual Assault Victims

International Sexual Assault Resources

More Information on Sexual Violence Against Women

“May the love hidden deep inside your heart find the love waiting in your dreams. May the laughter that you find in your tomorrow wipe away the pain you find in your yesterdays.” –Author Unknown

Recommended Reading

Recovering from Rape by Linda E. Ledray, R.N., PH.D

The Rape Recovery Handbook by Aphrodite Matsakis

As Cicero said, “While there’s life, there’s hope”.  While the recovery is daunting, you made it through.  Your life matters, and you are here for a purpose.  Be there for your sisters, and make sure to be there for yourself–you are worth it!

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photo by erikadotnet)

Sources: RAINN, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Matsakis, Aphrodite. (1991). When the Bough Breaks. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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The Clothesline Project: Honoring Women Victims and Survivors of Violence


How would you feel if someone hung your deepest darkest secrets out on a clothesline for everyone to see?  Your hurts, fears, betrayal, anguish and shame just blowing in the wind?

Women are doing just that across the world!

 

THE CLOTHESLINE PROJECT

The Clothesline Project was designed as a voice for victims of rape, battering, incest and child sexual abuse–and to honor victims and survivors of intimate violence. As its tagline states, it has been: “Bearing Witness to Violence Against Women for over 20 years”.

The idea of women exchanging information over backyard fences while hanging clothes on a line, prompted something special in visual artist, Rachel Carey-Harper. It presented a unique vehicle for raising awareness about the issues surrounding the violence and oppression of women. True to its objective, it created something remarkable—something that would leave an imprint on viewers, while also acting as an exercise to promote healing.

 

“The concept was simple – let each woman tell her story in her own unique way, using words and/or artwork to decorate her shirt. Once finished, she would then hang her shirt on the clothesline. This very action serves many purposes. It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the Clothesline; it becomes a healing tool for anyone who makes a shirt – by hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of that pain of their experience and walk away; finally it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone.”

At a distance, they look like beautiful colors gently blowing in the breeze. As you draw closer though, you see more than just beautiful colors. You see the shattered lives of women.  The t-shirts hang out for anyone to see.  To see the messages that are written on the outside of the shirts, but more powerfully, from inside of the women— messages from their hearts and minds.

Some represent the victims themselves while others are from family and friends who use their voices to speak on behalf of their loved ones. As individual as each woman and each crime is, so too are the messages they want to convey to the world and to their oppressors. Some are statements of what happened to them, like the one that simply says: “Rape”. Others are messages to their abuser: “I hate you for what you did, you took my innocence and happiness”, while others are messages to themselves: “I Am Beautiful!”; or, from loved ones: “She didn’t deserve to be hurt!”

RAINBOWS OF HOPE

The shirts are color coded to show the form of abuse and whether the victim survived the abuse they experienced. 

White represents women who died because of violence

Yellow or Beige represents battered or assaulted women

Red, Pink, and Orange are for survivors of rape and sexual assault

Blue and Green represent survivors of incest and sexual abuse

Purple or Lavender represent women attacked because of their sexual orientation

Black is for women attacked for political reasons

BREAKING THROUGH THE SHROUD OF SILENCE

Profound and often difficult to read, the messages displayed in a kaleidoscope of color are reminiscent of a rainbow, reminding us thankfully — that there is hope.

“It is the very process of designing a shirt that gives each woman a new voice with which to expose an often horrific and unspeakable experience that has dramatically altered the course of her life. Participating in this project provides a powerful step towards helping a survivor break through the shroud of silence that has surrounded her experience.”

CREATING & ADVOCATING — THE VOICES SPEAK 

–       Daddy please stop!   

–       30 years later am I still screaming?   

–       I hate every evil act done toward women

–       It started when I was 2

–       Every child deserves their childhood

–      Who was to save me from you?

–       My baby, she was killed in a satanic ritual, I was only 14

–       Don’t suffer in silence

–       In loving memory… You Are Free!


© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by Al Fed, Mallory Dowd, Cheryl Wolfe, Michael Hanscom)

The Clothesline Project (CLP) started as a program on Cape Cod, MA in 1990 to address the issue of violence against women.  Start your own Clothesline Project.

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