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Stuck?  Five ways to heal after tragedy.

When tragedy strikes, the world seems to stop. It’s hard to imagine moving — much less moving forward — ever again.

If you were anywhere on social media or the news this month, you saw the massive container ship ‘Ever Given’ get stuck in the Suez Canal. For almost a week, this one ship paralyzed shipping around the world, holding up billions of dollars in revenue.

I think that ship is a lot like tragedy in our lives.

In my own life, tragedy paralyzed me for years. In 1990, I was a 27-year-old with great aspirations. My public relations career was building momentum. I was happy in my marriage and loved life and the vast opportunities that lay ahead.

Then, in a hotel hall, I was attacked. In just 15 minutes, the assailant stopped me in my tracks, overpowered me, held a knife to my neck and took me hostage. He gave me an ultimatum to open my hotel door or kill me, and then he robbed me and sexually assaulted me.

In essence, he stripped me of all sense of security I had ever known.

And I became stuck…for a very long time.

Fortunately, two decades later, I finally got the counseling I needed to navigate life successfully again. I believe if I can accomplish this, anyone can because I was firmly cemented in fear, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.  Here’s the five methods that unlodged me and led me back to a purposeful and peaceful existence.

  1. Search for a new perspective. Tragedy can make us feel like victims, like the universe is working against us. That’s how I felt. Until I wrote my book, Room 939, I felt like a crime statistic.  I identified as a victim and clung to a victim mentality.  But the truth is, I was actually a survivor.  I survived something so horrific and didn’t die that night in the downtown Atlanta hotel room.  I learned that my survival was something that I needed to celebrate every day. I found the goodness in everything around me; and I thanked God each day for the simple gifts given to me.  I was able to see that so many people around me had it far worse than I.  Women struggling with chemo and breast cancer.  A man losing his family because of drug addiction. Mothers and children suffering in poverty and living in their cars.  What had I lost?  Nothing, compared to these people.  I had an abundant life!
  2. Create a new soundtrack in your mind.  Take some time in the next few days and explore what you are telling yourself repeatedly? Are there self-sabotaging thoughts on instant replay? Carry a notebook around and record these untruths in a journal. What I discovered was there were about 10 negative “self-talk” messages that I kept on a continual reel. One was that I was going to be assaulted again. This became a pattern of belief.  The good news is you can hack into your brain and reprogram it.  I started doing cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychologist and I retrained my brain to stop the negative thoughts and replace them with others.  Major takeaway:  thoughts become things. Get control of your thoughts and change your destiny.
  3. Do the work to get back to normal living. Most of us have a fear of ripping the bandaid off of our painful past because we believe if we do so, it will hurt more, bleed more and reopen the wound in such a way the pain will be unbearable. That’s what I believed, but I was wrong!  By hitting rock bottom with depression in 2010, I had no place to go but in a new direction. I found enough courage to reopen the wound and began counseling.  In my great desire to get well again, I found a strength I didn’t know I possessed.  The commitment to do cognitive behavioral therapy was arduous, but it led to wellness.  Ahhh….peace, wellness, happiness. The gift of peace is priceless!
  4. Allow grief to play its role. If you are reading this blog, you most certainly have experienced grief in your life.  It’s important to allow the process to take place because to disregard it is to prolong your suffering. I mourned the loss of innocence in the world as I had known it. I felt despair, vulnerability, sadness, anger, loss of self, and most importantly, loss of the future I had envisioned.  Years later, I learned I had experienced disenfranchised grief because if we are honest, no one wants to talk about rape and sexual assault.  It’s ugly to the core, horrifying, messy. It’s easier for families and friends to not talk about it and keep it swept neatly under the rug.
  5. Open up and talk about it. This last point is the mother of all advice to get unstuck. It’s a tough one, no doubt! You must talk about the life event that causes you pain and suffering.  Air your laundry. Get it out in the open.  Claim it. Openly admit and discuss that you are incapable of doing this alone.  Your friends and family will likely fail to have the right words and advice.  But there are hundreds of thousands of therapists that can help you.  To listen and to guide you to a better place in life.  Joy is attainable, but you cannot remain in a silent bubble if you are to heal. The toolkit is there.  You just have to pick it up and start using the tools to get the job done.  The most useful keys to my recovery were and continue to be yoga, meditation, mindfulness, reading the Bible, spirituality, speaking to groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, and journaling to find restoration.

What life experience is keeping you from moving forward today? Help is out there.  You don’t have to remain the lone ship lodged forever in immobility.  There are plenty of dredgers and tugboats out there to pull you out of your despair.  You just have to be willing to let them get close enough to help free you.

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Why is Forgiveness So Hard?

I recently completed a bible study and we used “Choosing Forgiveness” by Nancy DeMoss as the guide.  Throughout the three-month study, I was reminded how pockets of bitterness can take hold and thrust me into a backslide to an unforgiving heart.  Here are a few takeaways from her book that helped me grow as a Christian:

1)The more we hold on to bitterness, blame and anger, the more we become slaves to unforgiveness.

2)Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to deal with another’s sin and when you do so, you wipe the slate clean.  It’s permanent!

3)Sometimes we say we have forgiven the person. However, if you find yourself continually bringing up the the way someone has sinned against you, you have not truly forgiven the person.

4)It will never be in your power, in the depth of your love, in the ANYTHING of you that allows you to forgive.  It is only through love of Jesus Christ placed into your believer’s heart that can enable you to forgive the offender.

5)”I’m going to making him/her pay!!” Isn’t that what our response is as humans?  We take justice into our hands and spend our lifetimes thinking of how we will revenge the wrongdoer because we think they got off scot-free.  However, we must trust God’s process and believe that justice will still be served if we forgive the person.  It is not up to us to administer justice to the person who hurts us.  God is the ONLY ONE who rights all wrongs.  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  Basically, God is saying to us, “You don’t have be the keeper of the keys and hold that person in prison.  Justice is my job so give the keys to me and let me to do the job!” God is the most righteous of judges and we can trust Him…..meaning He’s going to do a heck of a lot better job. 🙂

6) Satan will tell you over and over not to forgive the person.  What are the lies that the devil tells you to prompt you not to forgive?  Often, I have thought and have wanted to scream out loud, “He doesn’t deserve it!!!”  But then, I have to ask myself, “Did I deserve for Jesus to hang on the cross for me?”

7)By God’s grace, forgiveness doesn’t have to take a long time.  It can be done in a moment of time.  It allow healing to begin, restoration to take place so that we don’t have to live in a prison of bitterness, sorrow, sadness, anger and blame.

 

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Is the road to forgiveness easy? No. Is it possible? Yes.

Forgiveness is hard. Forgiving someone who has hurt you is absolutely one of the most challenging things to do in life….it was for me. You might say you have forgiven, but what happens when you don’t FORGET. If you are like most of us, you can get to a point of forgiveness and actually feel like you have forgiven, but then the bitterness re-emerges, creeps back in and all the feelings of hurt, disgust, pain and anger start all over again.

That’s not true forgiveness.

If we turn to God’s word, He specifically tells us in Ephesians 4:31-32: Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

The greatest thing that forgiveness has brought to my life is peace. Forgiveness is not for the person who created the pain and suffering. Forgiveness is for YOU! Remember, forgiveness never justifies the terrible deed and/or the person who hurt you. It does not provide God’s forgiveness for their actions, because only God can do that.

Forgiving others makes a way for our own healing to begin.

God is saying that the act of forgiveness is the only path if we want to find true peace. A spirit of unforgiveness (and not forgetting) puts a roadblock with our daily walk with God. Forgiving others releases us from anger and allows us to journey with Him and feel His presence and love daily.

Which path will you choose to take today?

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Restoration from Sexual Assault is Attainable…Look at my Life

 

 

It’s been 9,862 days since my sexual assault occured 27 years ago today.  Over the decades, I have been tormented by fear, anxiety, and loss of trust in the world.  I have wept, grieved, and experienced one of the most horrific things a woman can endure.

But today, I stand here a stronger woman.  The man who sodomized me did not destroy me. The man who robbed me did not steal my pursuit of happiness.  The man who fled from that hotel room didn’t have within him what I had.  I had resilence. Determination. God’s grace. The love of family.

I came out the victor.

But how about all the other women who get harrassed, assaulted, raped?  Will they recover?  Will they have the belief to not give up hope of restoration?

Restoration came to me from many different places.  In honor of 27 years, I’ll give you 27 of the most important things that helped me.

  1. God
  2. Counseling from a Psychologist
  3. Counseling from a Psychiatrist
  4. Yoga
  5. Meditation
  6. Beth Moore Bible Study
  7. Community Bible Study
  8. Writing my memoir
  9. Public speaking
  10. Being a mentor to other survivors
  11. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
  12. The Anxiety Disease by David Sheehan, MD
  13. My family
  14. Writing a blog
  15. Writing in a journal
  16. Speaking at sexual assault conferences
  17. Reading about post traumatic stress disorder
  18. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  19. Learning to say no
  20. Recognizing when exhaustion can turn into depression
  21. Self care
  22. Rest
  23. Anti depressants
  24. Learning about anxiety and depression and how they are cousins and often travel together
  25. Learning how to combat the evil cousins
  26. Finding my voice
  27. Using my voice to share there is hope

 

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Is Peace Attainable after a Life-Threatening Event?

It isn't enough to talk about peace One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it.

After I was robbed and sexually assaulted in 1990, my body, mind and spirit went into overdrive.  It’s the fight/flight syndrome that’s common when people experience something horrific whether it be a natural disaster, crime, or any life-threatening event. My nervous system stayed in this perpetual state for 20 plus years which unfortunately led to anxiety and ultimately depression. Sometimes, depression would come first and its ugly cousin anxiety would tag along and show up later.  Of course, all this didn’t happen overnight.  It crept upon me little by little and by the time our first daughter Morgan was a freshman at University of Georgia, I was literally a basket case on some days.  I remember one such UGA parents’ weekend that Mark and I were invited to attend.  On the way to Athens in my husband’s truck, I sat beside Mark and begged him to turn around.  I was too exhausted to “fake it.”  I didn’t want to have to pretend to be a happy, proud, normal mother at the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority event.   I was unraveling. He held my hand, told me I was going to be okay, and we made the three-hour drive.  I sat shotgun all the while having intermittent crying spells.

I made it through that weekend (barely), and at times had to excuse myself to find a women’s restroom where I could weep. I’d pull myself together and Morgan never knew a thing.  Upon arriving back home I made two important decisions. I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist and I started attending yoga classes at the Episcopal Church.

Now, seven years later, I still see that same doctor two times a year for a mental maintenance checkup and am a dedicated yogi.  I discovered that what I needed more than anything was to breathe.  Yes…breathe.  I had essentially held my breath and gasped for breath for two decades due to anxiety and fear to the point my nervous system was in ruins.

What I have learned through yoga is that if we quiet our monkey minds and slow our breath, we can retrain ourselves to be calm in the midst of any storm.  We have to learn to be still.  That’s hard for the ones of us living with angst, worry, and panic.

Anxiety and panic are not a part of my everyday being anymore.  I’m not saying I don’t get overwhelmed.  But if I start feeling engulfed with fear and worry , I get myself to a yoga mat.  One session of 30 to 60 minutes has a clearing and calming effect.  And, of course, the more yoga and meditation you do, the better you rewire your brain and the sympathetic nervous system to find healing.

Yoga has changed my life and it can for you too.  The practice of yoga allows us to balance body and mind.  It can energize you, align you to attain both physical and emotional pain relief, and open your heart and inner being to find peace. Do you believe you can find peace?  I do.  But we must commit to seek it every day.

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What Were You Wearing When You Were Raped?

I recently was asked to speak to a group of high school girls about violence against women.  As I got dressed for this speaking engagement, I decided on a whim to do something I had never done before.  I would layer my clothing so that I would reveal a strapless dress underneath my maxi dress and reiterate one of the most common rape myths out there — that women “invite” assault by dressing a certain way. The fact is that no one has ever been able to show a correlation between how a victim dresses and her chances of sexual assault.  Women get sexually assaulted because the male wants to dominate and control the victim. It is not an act of impulsive, uncontrolled passion; rather a premeditated act of violence.  Research shows that 50% of rapes are planned; and in my case it was definitely a premeditated violent crime.  Over the years, I too have been asked dozens of times what clothing I had on.

Katherine Cambareri, a young photographer from Arcadia University, has done an excellent job showing that sexual assault has nothing to do with the clothes a woman wears in her “Well what were you wearing” series.  I applaud her for keeping the conversation going regarding this topic.

And, if you were wondering, I was wearing a below-the-knee black and white skirt with matching blouse.

 

 

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