The Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivor

It’s amazing how people visualize what a victim of Childhood Sexual Abuse looks like.  They picture a person who looks “broken”.  Many people relate a victim of Childhood Sexual Abuse to that of someone who visibly struggles.  They may think that a victim may suffer from addiction issues, mental health issues, relationship issues, etc.  While some CSA survivors may, indeed, struggle with some of these issues, many do not.

I remember when I first revealed to people about my past Childhood Sexual Abuse, so many were shocked.  Here was this seemingly happy woman, who was educated, had a good career, superstar single mom, her own home and she appeared to really have it together.  How could it be possible that she could hide such a deep, dark secret?  Well, the truth is, victims often carry so much shame, guilt and blame and the majority feel obligated to bare the burden silently.  They may feel that by portraying happiness, they can forget those painful memories, or keep them tucked safely away to protect the abuser and others.  It is why many do not reveal past abuse until later in life, while some victims do not at all, because they fear the consequences.

It is virtually impossible to do a blueprint for what a victim of sexual abuse should look like, or how they will carry their pain.  Since coming out with my story, I’ve had people who I have known for years reach out to me and reveal that they had also been sexually abused and one of those people, I would have never suspected it.  There were a couple of people however; I could see the signs.  Some people hide it very well, while others attempt to numb the pain through addictions.  I personally believe that how a person deals with such trauma, largely depends on the environment in which they were raised.

It is quite an epiphany for a survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse to seek treatment to confront their demons.  It takes serious commitment and determination to not let past abuse define their mental health, future relationships, intimacy with spouses and from them leading fulfilling lives.

The stigma of CSA Survivors as unsuitable life companions, or forever broken, is completely false. Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse should never be identified by what happened to them and what they had no control over.  It takes tremendous courage and strength for a survivor to share their story and it truly becomes a defining moment in their journey of healing.  They gain the confidence in knowing that they had control over how their story was told and in their future happiness and healing.  I am very open about my journey as a CSA Survivor and I am committed to educating and helping other survivors seek the healing and inner peace that they deserve.  CSA Survivors are the bravest, strongest and most amazing souls you will ever encounter.

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People Are The Reason I Am An Introvert

I know what you are probably thinking. It is wrong for me to categorize everyone without really knowing them personally. I get that it may seem harsh to you. But you have to understand the dynamics of a traumatized person. It is not uncommon for a person who has been traumatized, especially as a child, to shut people out and have their guard up. It has been my own personal experiences that have led me to the conclusion that people can be very hurtful and lack compassion. As a result, I tend to enjoy my own company and need my alone mental health time, where I shut out the world and recharge. I have been introverted and socially awkward since I was a little girl. Maybe the abuse that I suffered caused me to be that way, maybe not. But I do know that I felt safest by myself as a child. That way, no one could hurt me.  I do have a few people that I have allowed myself to trust to an extent, but I am always guarded and wary. You see, I was betrayed by close, immediate family members, so I just automatically suspect anyone else I meet is capable of the same.

Realistically, with all of the fakeness, dishonesty, and cruelness that exists in our world today, I embrace my loner status. My tormented past has made me appreciate the simplicity and peace of my own company.  Extroverted people may experience extreme loneliness and depression if put in my position.   We all come from different backgrounds, have had different upbringings and have experienced different life events that have shaped us into who we are today.  I am a confident and strong woman, with no desire to be the “popular one”. I do not seek the approval of others and have always rolled to the beat of my own drum. Since I have gotten older, my tolerance for bullshit is non-existent. I simply don’t entertain it.

I value the “down to earth” people. I don’t care what profession you work in, or how much money you have. If you are real with me, you will get my upmost respect. If you are not, I will simply ignore you. I value honesty above all else. By being honest about my past, I have lost a lot of family and friends and I’m okay with that, because I accept that those people cannot handle the truth and are not my people. Some of those people, who are well aware of who my abusers are, choose to pretend that the perpetrators are “good people” and that my claims are false. They choose to live a lie because the truth scares them. I can relate to that, as I tried to ignore it and pretend for years, until it ate at me from the inside, like a cancer. While being honest can sometimes come at great consequences, the releasing of that burden brings so much peace and contentment, it is truly self-satisfying.

As a result of my childhood trauma and Jerry’s suicide, I guard myself and my son very carefully. Even though Matthew is an adult now, the single mom syndrome is still alive and on bust.  People often jokingly say to me, “it’s time to let go”.  Of course, they do not know our story and tend to judge a book by its cover.  Until you’ve experienced trauma to the magnitude that I have, you will not understand how it changes you as whole.  Jerry’s suicide instantly caused me to place my son in a bubble for many years, so that I could protect him.  Those who know me, know that I done so fiercely.  But I’ve always been real with him and never sugar-coated things.  I wanted to ensure that he was happy, but prepared to face the sometimes cruel realities of this world.  Matthew is also a very guarded and determined person.  It takes a lot to get to know Matthew and earn his trust.  But, like me, when he loves someone, he loves them hard.

Trauma forces a person to look at the world differently.  Being a survivor has given me the unique ability to detect bullshit and people who are not being genuine. I think many survivors have this ability.  I often observe people silently, choose my battles wisely and simply smile, even if I don’t agree. If it’s one thing my mother did teach me, it was, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. I’m sure most of you have heard that saying and it takes practice. But often times, silence is much better than the alternative.

I avoid negative energy and stressful situations, because I will not allow someone else’s actions or words to impact my mental health. I will simply “zone out” and not even pay attention. It is a trait that I adopted as a little girl, having to face my abusers on the daily and pretend for so many years. By zoning out, I mentally escape to my happy place, find my zen, or daydream…whatever you want to call it.  It is a form of meditation for me and has worked for years and continues to work.  Some people may not understand this concept, but perhaps, if you are a survivor, you will relate to this very well. It is very common for survivors of sexual abuse, in particular, to have coping mechanisms and this was one of mine that stuck with me.

Being an introvert may not be considered healthy in the eyes of the extrovert and I definitely understand your point of view. While you thrive best at being the center of attention and feeling that need to interact constantly with others, I am that person that has thrived by simply blending in and proceeding with caution. The most important thing to take from this, is that everyone is different.  Accept people for who they are and  do what ultimately brings you peace and contentment, both mentally and physically.

Suicide Induced Anger

An interesting topic came up in a suicide support group that I am a member of. Someone asked the group were they angry at their spouse for taking their own life? This is a complicated question to answer, so I thought that I would write a post about it and elaborate.

Am I angry at Jerry for taking his own life and leaving us? The short answer is no. At times, I have certainly tried to be and I was angry at myself for that. There have been times of extreme loneliness and depression that I thought that I felt anger. But I’m not sure if it was ever anger towards him. I think it was more disappointment.  Disappointment because he didn’t reach out to me. Disappointment because he left his son at such an innocent and tender age.  Disappointment because he left me with the task of explaining why he left us. Disappointment because he knew that we both grew up with unstable families. He knew that I would have no family support, it would just be Matthew and I.

Periodically, in the first 4-5 years after Jerry’s death, I would go for drives alone in my car and just let out screams of frustration, to attempt to release some of the internal pain I was feeling. I wanted to blame someone for Jerry’s death, but I could never bring myself to hold him accountable. Instead, I blamed myself for many years, until it became just too unbearable . I suffered in silence because I, like Jerry, didn’t want to burden anyone with my mental health struggles. It took me a very long time and going through a lot of pain and grief to accept that it was Jerry who chose not to seek help and ultimately made the decision to end his own life.

I was angry that I was thrown into this tragedy without choice in the matter. It was one thing to be a single parent, but when you are also a widow to someone because of suicide, it is a whole other situation. You carry it with you and your children carry it with them…forever. People look at you differently and treat you differently. The sad reality is that I lost so many family and friends because of our tragedy. It angered me how cruel our world is, when people judge you by your mental health status and the tragedies you have suffered. I didn’t ask for this and most importantly, my son didn’t ask for this. I learned very quickly that no one was going to take my pain away, or save me from this. I had to learn to do things on my own and to cope on my own, heal and become a survivor.

As the years have passed since Jerry’s passing, I find myself more empathetic towards him. He doesn’t get to grow old, he is forever 26 years old. He has missed out on so many little things that most people take for granted. I am 41 and in the best physical and mental health of my life…he doesn’t get to experience that.  He also doesn’t get to see how amazing, sweet and intelligent his son is. He is missing out on the amazing person that he and I created together.  Jerry’s death has taught me that I’m stronger than I ever thought I was. Granted, I never believed that in the beginning, but in time, I realized my own strength. Looking back now, I don’t think I could have, or would have, done anything differently, given the situation.

I think I have simply reached a point in my life where I feel that being angry is pointless. Yes, you absolutely are entitled to feel angry, or whichever way you need to feel as part of your grieving. We are all different and react to life events differently. When you have lost a loved one to suicide, it is so traumatic that we often times don’t know how to react, or feel. The grief of suicide is much more complicated than any other form of death and it changes how you view the world.

My tragedy has taught me to appreciate every day that I’m alive and get to watch my son flourish into a wonderful human. I get to wake up everyday and choose to be happy and thankful.  I am more compassionate towards others and still have so many goals and dreams that I want to fulfill. We will always have struggles and moments where we wonder if life is worth it. The answer is a resounding yes. Look at your children and think about how much they need you and love you and you will know it is all worth it.

The Evolution of My Mental Illness

13 years ago when I lost Jerry to suicide, I never thought I would live to tell the story.  The pain was so deep and raw, I was convinced it would literally kill me.  The guilt of not seeing the signs and the expression on Jerry’s face the very last time I saw him, will go to my grave with me.  At the time, no one seemed to understand my pain. It seemed as though the medical profession was still stumped by suicide and mental illness.

I would hide my grief and sadness from Matthew.  I knew it was essential for me to put on my happy mommy face and be a strong, good mom.  But I didn’t do that without the help of 100 mg daily of Sertraline and an unhealthy dose of Ativans for those “moments”.  The night times were my time to fall apart.  After tucking Matthew in, I could finally grieve the way I needed to, to let my tears flow freely and talk to Jerry.  Yes, I know that sounds crazy.  But I felt in some strange way, that he could somehow hear me and that was all I had to hold on to.

During my many stages of grieving Jerry’s death and the evolution of my depression, I was somehow triggered and began experiencing flashbacks of my childhood sexual abuse.  This intensified my anxiety and depression because I had blocked out much of those memories for many years. I was formally diagnosed with anxiety, depression and PTSD.  I was back and forth to numerous doctors and went through so many different types of medication, I didn’t know if I was coming or going.  I knew that I had to get healthy, but I was severely depressed.  I couldn’t let Matthew see me like this and I could not afford to fall apart.  Failing my son was not an option for me because without me, he had no one.  I knew that I had to fight the depression and anxiety and show Matthew that I was strong.

I spent several years on the Sertraline, as it seemed to be the only medication that kept me calm and didn’t give me so many adverse side effects.  The dreams were terrible and vivid, but that was the only downfall of Sertraline, in my experience.  I eventually decided that I didn’t want to spend my life dependent on this drug to keep me sane.  I didn’t want a life sentence to my depression and anxiety and I wanted to be in control of my own thoughts.  So I weaned myself slowly off of the Sertraline a couple of years ago Below, I have listed a few natural approaches that I hope you may find useful:

  • Meditation and Yoga- Breathing exercises are so effective for anxiety and I highly recommend them.  If you’re a homebody like me, you’ll enjoy YouTube for both meditation and yoga exercises.  You can do breathing exercises anywhere. I choose to do them while driving to and from work each day.
  • Faith – It may not be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s your choice, however; I have definitely found peace and strength in my faith in God.  Some of my hardest moments were witnessed only by him and I’m not ashamed of my faith.  You have to believe in something ❤️
  • Reading- Positive and uplifting stories, preferably old fashioned paperback books 😊. If you don’t have a book, go find some stories on your phone/laptop. Find some uplifting quotes and save them to your phone for those moments when you need a reminder.
  • Be honest – The more you talk about your pain, the easier it is to begin healing.
  • Quit toxic relationships – It doesn’t matter who they are. If they cause you pain, or interfere with your peace, they gotta go!
  • Address your addictions – You need to be in control of your own mind and thoughts. Addictions temporarily numb that pain, but it doesn’t take it away.
  • Exercise – Even a half hour walk a day calms your mind and studies have shown that it reduces anxiety and stress. On top of my other activities, I always make time for at least one walk a day with my dog. I have never regretted a walk and always feel better after getting out and enjoying nature.
  • Treat yourself – Shitty day? Go get your nails done, go buy yourself that new makeup, treat yourself to a Starbucks. For people quitting addictions, it’s also nice to use that money to reward yourself for a job well done! When I quit smoking, I would always reward myself every payday…even if it was something small.
  • Get a dog – I will say this until my dying day….dogs are therapy. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who owns one. 99% will agree with me. Dogs are your voiceless therapy, offer unconditional love and are, by far, the best cuddlers!
  • Dress up and take care of your physical appearance – No, it’s not everything. But taking care of your physical appearance boosts your self confidence and mental health.
  • Self-Hypnosis – Youtube is a great resource for this as well. There are all types of hypnosis videos from quitting smoking, help with anxiety, help with sleeping, etc. They are very effective for relaxation and refocussing.
  • Grateful heart – Yeah, you’ve been through some heavy stuff. So have I, and so have millions of others. I’m not trying to minimize your pain, but part of life is learning to cope with those hard times. We fall down and get back up. You have to wake up everyday, be thankful you’re alive and healthy and stop with the expectations of what you think your life should be. There will be many days you will force yourself to be thankful and drink copious amounts of coffee to do it 😉 I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “positive thoughts bring positive results”. I believe this to be true and I guarantee you that if you find one positive thing, even when things are going wrong, you will eventually learn to accept the hard times a lot easier.
  • Career – If you are working in a job that makes you dread going in everyday, you need to make a plan to get out. Maybe it’s time to explore a new career path. I am 41 years old and still working towards my Business degree. I will never stop learning. There is always something that interests me and that I want to learn. Dog training would be top of that list. Think of what genuinely makes you happy and dive in and do it.
  • Make plans – Take every opportunity to travel, save for it if you have to. Go to concerts, take random road trips, try something new that you haven’t tried before. You need to look forward to things.
  • Negativity – Find yourself thinking or speaking negatively? Redirect and shut it down immediately. I find I can catch myself these days before it initiates and I always do whatever I can to cheer myself up. If you don’t nip it right away, I find it tends to drag you down. If you see a lot of negativity on social media, take a break for a few days, or unfollow negative people. I once took a social media break for over a year and it was refreshing.
  • Healing stones – This one is new to me, so I will be doing a follow up post on my experience with using them.
  • Financial woes – Work on reducing your debt. I recently had to explain to my 21 year old son the value of the credit card…it has no value. The banks just hand out these credit cards to university students, knowing full and well that they cannot financially afford it…it’s a trap. Basically, if you don’t have money in your pocket, you don’t buy it. Just because you can get approved for it, doesn’t mean you finance it. I have a car that is 8 years old now and I refuse to buy another one until that one dies. I’d rather keep that $500 each month and invest it into my retirement, or put it towards savings. If you can’t pay your bills in full, always work out a payment plan. Keep your income and debt ratio at a healthy level. If it’s not, go see a bank or credit counsellor and consolidate your bills. Nothing feels better than not being in debt.

While I’m nowhere near “cured”, I have developed effective coping mechanisms that have worked for me, but they might not work for you. Whatever the case may be, I strongly encourage you to seek out your own coping strategies, keep trying new things and be open to different avenues of self care. The important thing is that you never stop trying.

The Secret Sexual Predator

I normally do not post mid-week, but read an article on Facebook yesterday and thought, as a #CSASurvivor, I need to make my opinion known. My question to the world is this…Why does the world assume that Sexual Predators cannot be a war veteran, a doctor, a lawyer, a politician, etc?

Yesterday, I was scrolling through my newsfeed on lunch break, when I came across an article posted from NTV News in St. John’s, NL, and my home province. It detailed an individual, who was a veteran with the Canadian Forces, who had been found guilty of possessing over 17,000 images of Child Pornography, which he obtained through the internet. These were images of innocent children, maybe children you know, some of them infants and toddlers. He was sentenced to 15 months in a provincial jail, strict conditions for 10 years and placed on the sex offender registry. Yes, that’s all the punishment he received. What really upset me were people’s comments on the article, condemning the news outlet for releasing the fact that he was a veteran. Really? This guy literally got off with a serious offence with a slap on the wrist and you’re upset with the news outlet for releasing that he’s a veteran? This is exactly what is wrong with our society. We need to diminish the fact that people in respectable positions and positions of authority cannot be capable of heinous crimes.

In addition to the fact that this monster only received minimal jail time, the judge did not order him to undertake any type of therapy, or program, to address his predatory behaviour. Therefore, he will be released from jail, after only serving two-thirds of his sentence and he will likely re-offend. He will find another way to fulfill his sick, sexual desires and this time, he may physically violate a child. This monster actually pleaded with the judge that he would rather be chemically castrated, in order to receive a lesser jail term. This enraged me because I feel that not only should he be castrated, he should also serve jail time and undergo mandatory treatment for his sick and twisted desires. By simply serving a few months in jail, he will not be cured from his predatory ways.

Folks, it’s important nowadays, with the ease of the internet, that we address the seriousness of sexual predatory behaviour. As someone who has been personally victimized as a young girl, I can assure you that this problem is not going to go away. A Sexual Predator is a very smooth talking, loving, likeable and manipulative person. As I have discovered, they can be members of your family. They are basically the people that you would LEAST expect.

Sexual Predators and Sexual Offenders are not sorry for their behaviour, they are only sorry when they get caught. They will not stop and they will find other ways to do it and not get caught. They will embarrass and humiliate their victim. They will even manipulate their own family because they are selfish, deviant and disturbed individuals. For a time, their spouses and other family members may even protect these people and believe their lies, thinking they are not capable of these acts. But they are wrong and I can tell you that from my own experience. I’m thankful that I recognized the perpetrators in my family and removed those people from my life. I personally addressed these individuals and their behaviours. These people know that as a victim, I can see through their deceit. In upcoming posts, I’ll go more in-depth on how I spotted the signs of these Sexual Predators. I’ll also talk about how we can protect children and educate them on sexual awareness.

Have a great week everyone 🙂

Jen

The Aftermath of Jerry’s Death

The weeks and months following Jerry’s death were filled with extreme sadness and despair.  I had lost 15 lbs in 3 weeks and survived on a diet of cigarettes, coffee, sleeping pills, Zoloft and Ativan.  I wore Jerry’s clothing until I couldn’t smell him anymore.  Each night after tucking Matthew into bed, I would retreat to my car and drive around all night, going nowhere in particular, feeling like the world was a different place.  It was like I was seeing it for the first time for what it really was and it scared me.  I didn’t want to be alive.  I drove up on the highest point in St. John’s, trying to muster the courage to just drive off that cliff into the Atlantic Ocean.  But each time I thought about my son.  He was 7 years old, just a baby in my eyes.  He was so innocent in all of this and didn’t ask for any of it.  It would ruin him forever if both of his parents had succumbed to suicide.  Not to mention that there was absolutely no one on either side of our families that I could trust to raise my son.  That was what gave me the strength to go on.  Those initial moments by myself, driving around the city in circles, walking through the graveyard alone through those cold winter nights.  Those moments were what I needed to experience to find my courage and strength to carry on.  I made a promise to myself and to God and I would be there for my son and be the best parent that I could be.  There was no other option, Matthew needed stability.  Somehow, I was going to get through this. 

I immediately got myself and Matthew into grief counselling.  I also enrolled in an online Suicide Survivor Support Group, designed solely for spouses of suicide loss.  There, I was able to relate to others who had experienced the same emotions that I was having.  Because honestly, outside of that, no one understood.  Jerry died in 2005, at that time, suicide was taboo and not a common occurrence where I lived.  There was such a strong stigma associated with it.  People pretended and treaded carefully around me, they could see that I was very vulnerable.  They would say typical things that people say when someone close to you dies.  It honestly sounded like pre-recorded, robotic messages.  Everyone said the same generic crap such as, “it will get easier in time” and “I know how hard it must be, but think of your son.”  I would have rather they just stay quiet.   

I isolated myself from the world and basically became a recluse.  I was tired from the judgement of other people.  Nothing made me angrier than when someone would ask how he died and when I told them, they would ask how he took his own life….seriously?  Why would you ask such a morbid question and why would you want to know?    

I hated how life was just going on without Jerry.  I was angry that he would forever be 27 and I would grow old.  It broke my heart over and over again to see how sad Matthew was and that I wasn’t able to take his pain away.  He lacked any sort of positive male role model in his life.  My father became gravely ill the same year that Jerry passed away.  Seven months after Jerry’s death, my father ended up in a coma.  He pulled through that time, but  in 2009, he passed away at the age of 62, due to complications brought on by alcoholism.  As for Jerry’s father, who was still in his early 50’s when Jerry died, he wanted to forget that Jerry’s suicide ever happened.  It was a battle to even have Jerry’s ashes released from the funeral home after the service and due to his father’s need for control, Jerry’s ashes lay in a vault for a month after his death.  Jerry’s father, virtually a millionaire, wanted to throw his son’s ashes into the Atlantic Ocean and not even have a place of mourning for his own grandson.  I came up with the money on my own and made sure that Jerry had a beautiful headstone. I never wanted that man’s dirty money anyways and I raised my son solely on my own.   I worked for everything I have, nobody handed me anything. 

I went back to work 2 months after Jerry passed and this really helped to keep my mind busy.  But I was still so internally lost and I put on an award-winning act, so no one asked questions.  I didn’t think that my heart would ever recover from this tragedy.  I was raised in a strict Roman Catholic home and we were always told that Suicide is a sin and your soul would be forever lost between heaven and hell.  I actually believed that crap for a long time and it haunted me.   I spent nights praying to God, asking him to send me signs that Jerry was in heaven.  I needed to know that he was safe and he would be there when it was my time to die.    

They say that part of the grieving process of suicide involves periods of anger and feelings of abandonment.  I definitely know that I felt those periods of abandonment.  But every time I tried to be angry at Jerry, I thought about what a terrible childhood that he suffered and how he kept everything bottled up inside of him until he just couldn’t take it any longer.  It made me feel so bad for him.  I harbored many years of guilt that I didn’t see the pain he was going through and didn’t help him. 

Jerry, much like many individuals who suffer from mental illness, are masters of disguise.  They are often the person who likes to make others laugh.  Jerry was definitely that guy.  He was one of the funniest people that I have ever met.   I know that’s what I loved the most about him.  He could make me laugh on point and even as kids, he was always the fun guy, the guy who was a risk taker and he liked to live on the wild side.  It was one of the qualities that drew me to him.  He was an amazing friend as well and his friends fondly remember his crazy ways and constant jokes.  Even after all that his parents had put him through, I have never seen a person more respectful and kind to his parents than he was.  He was such a mild and gentle soul and I’m so happy that Matthew inherited his best qualities from him.   Matthew has the same mannerisms, determination and drive as his dad.   I’m so thankful that I still have that part of Jerry to cherish.

In my upcoming blog posts, I will share my journey of how I fought through those tough years after Jerry’s death.  I will share my struggles with PTSD, anxiety and depression.  I will also share how I was successful in abolishing my dependence on prescription medications to get me through each day.  I will share with you how I learned to love life again and how I learned to be honest with myself and the world about my journey.