September 27, 2018

I died that day - An account of sexual abuse

Andrew was just 11 years old when it happened. His mom had to work nights, so him and his twin brother Jack were being watched by a close family friend, Florence. She was kind of an Aunt figure to the boys. She woke the boys sometime in the dark of night, and said one horrifying word he can not forget, "Fuck." She forced him and then his brother to repeatedly perform cunnilingus and then have intercourse with her. Each time saying "again, and again, and again."

Andrew remembers her musty smell, the chill in the air and the glow from the moon in the hall. He remembers desperately hoping that someone would hear them through the opening in the door and rescue them, but a rescuer never showed.

Trauma can work in strange ways. There are some parts of the traumatic event that can imprint in your brain as clear as if you are watching them on TV right in front of you. Other memories get buried and can be hard to access.

Keeping the secret of abuse

After Andrew and his twin brother were molested by Florence, they never mentioned a word to anyone. Andrew was scared and ashamed. He felt as if he had done something wrong to make this happen. Him and his brother never spoke of it to each other, either. It became a secret he held onto closely and shaped how he felt about himself. To this day, he has never told his mom what happened that night, and he can't bear for her to know because it will be painful for her to hear.

Sex was always a dirty thing

As a teenager, Andrew became hyper sexual. He was a fit, handsome boy and a star athlete, and it was never hard to find sexual partners. Later in adulthood, he lost all interest in sex. He never felt he was good enough in bed.  And it was difficult for him to become aroused if his partner was not  dominating him. Sex was always a dirty thing to Andrew after his own abuse.

"I am a failure"

There are things from that night that Andrew can never forget. The image of Florence making him go down on her and then fuck her saying repeatedly, "again and again" is burned into his brain. His young mind read those words as a kind of condemnation of him. As if she was saying, you're not good enough, so you better do it again and again until you get it right. He felt like a failure. And he has felt like a failure ever since.

"I feel like I died that night"

When we worked on the abuse in therapy, Andrew talked about the sense of hopelessness, anger and confusion he still feels now as a middle aged man when he thinks of his abuse. He says, "I feel like I died that day, 31 years ago."

As a human being, and as a parent, it breaks my heart to hear these stories. As a therapist, I am grateful there are tools that can help people like Andrew start to heal from his trauma. Healing from sexual abuse takes work. Andrew was not freed from the burden of his abuse overnight, but he committed himself to healing. It has been wonderful to see him start to be able to recover his life.

I am a survivor

One of the tools I used with Andrew is a type of psychotherapy often used with trauma victims called EMDR. EMDR can help people heal by removing blocks that prevent emotional healing. Through therapy, Andrew went from saying "I feel like I died that night" to "I am living," "My words are the words of a survivalist," ""I am not to blame," and "I'm free."

We are in the era of the #MeToo movement. It is a time when people are sometimes more open about the abuse they have experienced. There is an expression in the addiction world, "You are only as sick as your secrets." With secrets comes the idea that you or your actions are shameful and should be hidden from everyone.  But it can be freeing to open up about our secrets.

We believe you

I worry that the downside of all of the revelations of abuse is that it is also triggering for survivors. I worry too about the backlash against victims who speak up. It can be a secondary trauma to be abused and then when you have the courage to speak up after years of living with the trauma, to be questioned, ridiculed, shamed, or harassed.

To all the victims of abuse who are reading this, please know that we hear you, we believe you, and that there is hope for healing. If you are a victim, please consider contacting a therapist and maybe telling a trusted friend.

We also have Houston Counselors at Wilson Counseling who can help you begin your journey to healing. If you feel stuck, please contact us at 713-591-3612, or via email at Nancy @ wilsoncounsleing.  org.

September 19, 2018

Feeling sad? Let the music heal you.

Sometimes the darkness feels closer than the light. Sometimes the depressive voice in your head is loud and persistent and convincing. Sometimes when you compare the sad, tough moments in your life and the happy joyful moments, it feels like the hard moments win out. Sometimes you feel alone and misunderstood. And in those times, you can wonder if life is worth it. 

Your mind can play tricks on you and make you feel that things will never get better, when, in truth, it almost always will. 

What can you do to break the spell and start to feel hopeful again? Lots of things, but today I want to suggest you plug in to the power of music to open you up and give you hope. Get on YouTube or Spotify and find some of your favorite songs. They can be sad songs or more upbeat ones.

An artist whose music I have been appreciating lately is Milck. I first heard her when listening to the NPR Podcast All Songs Considered. They played the song "Black Sheep." It is a song about someone who feels alienated,  alone and stuck, a black sheep. For me, when I listen to it, I feel both the sadness and hope all at the same time. My favorite line is 

"Every warrior grows from her battles and scars. "

I love the image of the female warrior, battered and bruised and yet strengthened by her struggles. That gives me hope that whatever I am going through makes me stronger. And to take it a step further than the song does, that the strength I have from my battles will equip me to love and serve and care for others who are in the thick of the battle. This idea is fortifying to me. 

Feel the healing balm of hope through music

Sit back, close your eyes and turn up the volume on this. Take it in. Feel the healing balm of hope through music. Sometimes art can pierce the brokenness when other things can't. I have hit the repeat button on this song more times than I can count,  and I love it every time. 

And after you listen to "Black Sheep", try listening to this redemptive, joyful song, also by Milck, "Oh My My (What a Life)," about falling in love, growing up, and being surprised by happiness. Milck's smile and laughter in this video feel contagious. I love those moments when you catch yourself feeling happy and connected and content. Open yourself to be mindful of these small moments of joy and you might find they are happening more often than you think. 

Whatever your favorite songs are, play them today. Give yourself permission to sit and do nothing but be with the music. Notice how it affects your mood. Give thanks for the gift of song. 

What songs do you like to listen to when you are sad or happy?

If you are struggling with feelings of despair, sadness, or anxiety, we have Houston Therapists who can help you. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call Wilson Counseling at 713 - 591 - 3612 or email us at Nancy@wilsoncounseling. org.