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Finding Healers

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Finding your Healers

By Jackie McCullough



“The people, the ideas, the resources you need to heal will come. They’ll appear on your path. Sometimes you’ll think it’s almost magical. Sometimes you’ll resist, saying, That can’t be right. It’s too easy. But your healers will come when you need them, when you’re ready.

You can trust the universe to send healers to you, but also trust yourself…Trust yourself to know what’s right. And remember, healers aren’t your source of power; they merely assist you in claiming your power. They come to help, to bring their gifts to you so that you can find yours. Your heart will guide you if you listen.” Melody Beattie, Journey to the Heart.

When I met Joe I had been alone 13 years and had not had any love relationships in that time. At first, I was too raw while I was healing from the sexual abuse from my childhood. Then, I was very distrustful of men in general and didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

Joe was different from any man I had been close to in my life. He was gentle, sweet and kind. He never raised his voice the whole time I knew him. In the first few months of our relationship, when I was overwhelmed with feelings from the past and crying, he tried to fix me. He was uncomfortable with my discomfort and tried to counsel me and make me feel better. He was always wanting to help. I told him I had a very good counselor and just wanted him to be loving. He became very patient with my distress. Probably most men would have walked out on me after a few months of that, but this gentle, caring man stayed.

I always felt safe with Joe. That was a major thing for me, because I didn’t feel safe with most people, especially with men. There was never a time I felt unsafe with Joe. So many times I got the distinct feeling that Joe was in fact an angel and I was the only one who saw him. That someday I would mention his name to someone and they would say, “Joe who?’

Joe passed on, but thinking of him today I still have the sweet feeling I had when he was here with me.

Be patient with yourself and others. Watch for your healers; they will come at the right time and the right place.

Jackie M

Jackie McCollough is a LifeOptionsCoach/Counselor/Teacher helps individuals take control of their lives. She is the author of Kathy Said, You’re Not Lost to Me, a self-help book for people struggling with anxiety and depression. With a new powerful approach to our lifelong beliefs, plus a modality called Life Options Dialogues, she helps people uncover the beliefs that are keeping them stuck in unwanted feelings and behaviors, like stress, anxiety,and depression.


Life Options teachings help them learn how to live happy empowered lives, no matter what is going on around them. The end result is becoming present, and non-judgmental, so their lives are easier, happier, and more effective. Jackie studied and was certified at the Option Institute International Learning and Training Center in Sheffield, Mass. She now counsels and teaches self-empowerment to those struggling with unwanted feelings and behaviors. She loves to see people take charge of their lives with her gentle processes, to go from “Survivors” to “thrivers.” She counsels in-person and face-to-face on line.

Jackie lives in the Rochester, NY area, is a member of the American Counseling Association, her local Youth Board, Henrietta Interracial Clergy Council, and Unity Church of Greater Rochester.

[email protected]’reNotLosttoMe

A Tale of Survival from a Victim on the Front Lines

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A Tale of Survival from a Victim on the Front Lines

By Julie Boyd Cole



Gretchen von Mering, 59, of Florida, fell for her abuser two decades ago in a pretty usual way couples meet, the two kept bumping into each otherat social events. He was sort of charming, cute and a little mysterious,she recalled.

She was an accomplished health care administrator, a Boston University graduate, and an independent, middle-class woman by her own right.

Over the course of several years, she and her abuser moved from social acquaintances to serious item and then quickly to married with children.

I liked that he was very spontaneous,she said. It was excitement, fun, in the moment and I very much believed that I loved him.

During their courtship, he seemed to always be jetting off to some far-flung continent or was preparing to spend a year working in the IT field in Iraq. Gretchen believed he was a very important person in the information technology field. She believed him when after just after a month gone in the Middle East, he returned from Iraq declaring that he could no longer stand to be away and had spontaneously quit his high-profile job to be with her.

I was soften by it and it opened me up to allow him in,she said as she remembered those early days of their romance, long before the trouble began.

Just a few years later and while pregnant, Gretchen experienced the first of many episodes of physical abuse. She was punched in the stomach. Increasingly more violent attacks soon followed. In one dramatic attack, Gretchen was strangled nearly to death on their bed while her children were in the next room. She was only able to get him off her by begging him to stop. In another attack, she was sexually assaulted, she recalled.

Years of abuse, lies and lots of couples counseling didnt seem to help or end the trauma in her marriage. Gretchen never considered herself the victim of domestic abuse per se, despite the growing list of actions her abuser did against her that fit every definition of the crime. Instead, She thought that she had married a man who didnt know any better, had a temper and needed the kind of love and help that she was strong enough to could give.

She took the high roadover and over but slowly became afraid of her husband.

I didnt like making him mad. I was walking on eggshells,she said. And back then, she thought, there has got to be something mentally wrong.

After too many beatings, body checks, discovered lies and financial abuses, Gretchen decided that enough was enough and she made the move to get herself and her children out safely.

At first she tried to continue to hide the abuses she endured in the marriage as they moved through the divorce process, again in order to take the high road. She didnt want revenge, just out with her kids.

But, that has proven to be a whole new challenge she wasnt expecting. The documented abuse was considered in family court, at first, and supervised visitation was part of the custody agreement for their young children in the beginning. But, seven lawsuits and court motions later, Gretchen lives with new abuses, legal abuse. This form found on the power and control wheel used to describe a domestic abuser, uses the last of the collateral they both share, their children.

It makes for a difficult life filed with lawyers and judges, motions and court orders and uncertainty and hurdles most dont understand. She has spent thousands on legal fees and lost more in financial abuses over the course of the marriage than she can talk about in one interview.

Today, Gretchen doesnt believe much of what people say. She holds back her trust in new people in her life until she sees real proof that they are who they say they are. She doesnt ever want to be conned again. Despite what a court order says, she doesnt count on her ex when it comes to co-parenting, either. Her ex-husband has never told her where he lives, how much money he makes, and will often change at the last minute where he will take their children on his occasional and often spontaneous visits, she says. She knows very little about him.

On the other hand, she follows her agreement to the letter and never deviates from what it tells her to do as a mother co-parenting with her abuser. She fears one slip up by her could be used against her in yet another court action and endanger her childrens custody. She doesnt ever want to be responsible for that.

She no longer holds a high-paying job. Her life-savings and retirement has been cleaned-out. She lives paycheck to paycheck and does her best to continue to take the high road, this time for the sake of her children.

Gretchen has a great circle of friends that give her the support she needs as she continues to face this challenge. Her oldest child is almost 18 and her second isnt far behind and both will soon be of age. When they are, the court will no longer force interaction and cooperationbetween abuser and victim.

But, her life has been forever altered and her trauma may never be fully healed from decades of abuse that despite her best efforts, she has never really been able to get herself and her children away.

No More Domestic Violence in Family Court

Make Family Court Safe for Kids



Julie Boyd Cole is a mother of two sons, a journalist, writer and business woman. She has written for the Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel,, among many publications around the country. Currently, she is the chief executive administrator of a non-profit in North Florida. And Julie is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, an NFL sportswriter, and today is an advocate helping other victims sort through the trauma of domestic abuse. Julie also writes for, @bruisedwoman on Twitter and Thriving in Crazy Land about the topic of domestic abuse, co-parenting with an abuser and the emotional damage caused by narcissists and personality disorders.

She can be contacted at j[email protected]

How I Got In, and How I Got Out

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How I Got In, and How I Got Out

By Suzanne Suchan



Just 8 years ago, life as I knew it erupted in a nightmarish mental volcano. The floor of the house that I worked feverishly to build using delicate cards of pain, tears, scars, anxiety, band-aids and cover-ups imploded.

 Living with domestic violence is a condition that develops from a subtle,  gradual seedling. It is not a sudden, bam-in-your-face situation. The abuser leads you into a knight-in-shining-armor scene, using charm and implied, inflated self-importance of themselves and their family.  They build up your trust, so you share all your darkest secrets and deepest fears.  They are grooming  you.  They celebrate, honor and laugh with you. They put you on a pedestal. They make their move with the “L” word, jumping into swift commitment, and you are whisked away in this whirlwind of euphoria.

  Now that you feel this is the best person on earth for you, and you for them, you declare love. Your partner uses the words ‘soul mate’ and ‘forever’ quite a bit, overstating how nobody else could ever have a relationship so uniquely perfect; and you can finish each other’s sentences.  You feel so connected, bonded, like this person is the answer to your dreams of everything you wanted in a partner.

 The hooks of love have been set.  You’re smitten.  A bright light is blinding you, or at least is distracting you, while the biggest transformation in your life is about to take place. It’s not a good one, and you have no idea. You’re smiling, looking the other way, in love.

 In comes subtle hints that they don’t care for your choice of friends.. they make up things that you would look really awkward fact-checking which seeps to your family, your hobbies, your habits, your personality, your character and oh those dark secrets.  In comes a “knee-jerk” slap..

 In comes a pregnancy.  I was terrified to move out and live alone with him, but, I felt that I had no choice and that it was the ‘right thing to do.’   I was too .. ?? proud ???? of my seemingly solid love relationship to admit how it was dangerously wrong, to anybody.

 I was terrified of him and obeyed him out of fear.  I left the first time when our first born was 6 months old.   I believed his cunning setup, and desperately wanted the portrait he painted in my mind, of a loving happy family.  I could see it. I wanted it, I went back.

Naturally once I came back it was a celebration, up on the pedestal, lovey lovey and all that jazz.  We decided to give our first born a playmate and so I got pregnant.  And it only got worse after that blissful ‘honeymoon phase.’   I left again, two more times.. before coming back and then marrying him. I was so removed and disillusioned that I turned against my own mother, not inviting her to my wedding and not letting her near when our last child was born another 10 years later.

 Each time I left, he used intimidation like phone calls with certain songs playing. He would make radio requests when he knew I was listening.  He would follow and stalk me. He would call, write and use every opportunity to create a situation in which I felt the need to respond, naturally including affair rumors, or that I am making a fool of myself and the whole town was laughing at me.  The illusion that I could never fend for myself, survive on my own, or have any success without him.

 I remember one time after a honeymoon phase, he was flipping out on me.  He inflated himself up, hovered over me as I was seated at the kitchen table, and he was scowling.  He skewered me with his steel blue eyes and froze me with his stone cold face.  He kept on jabbing his pointer finger in my eye sockets.  Through a tight jaw and gritted teeth, he let drool ooze down onto my face, and he visually trembled with rage as he impaled my soul with: “If you EVER leave me again, I will KILL your family, and then I will kill YOU!”

 I never shared that until a couple of years after the breakup. It took a long time to sort through the mental rubble, to really look AT it, and identify all the behaviors that I tolerated and how I feared him continually.  I can now see how brainwashed I was .. like an elephant tethered to a fence with a single rope.  I could have walked and snapped it .. but I was so conditioned and scared that I stayed.  What’s worse, perhaps, is that I was defending him by my silence.

 And heaven help me if he hurt himself while hurting me..  such as the time he punched me in the mouth, and cut his middle knuckle on my tooth. He became more mad when he saw he was bleeding.  (“Oh I’m sorry, was I supposed to pose a certain way for you to deck me so you don’t injure your hard working hands?”)  Ugh.

 My family had given up hope for me, but never turned their back. They did what they could. They had to protect themselves from the toxicity, and I had to bottom out for myself. You see, when someone is being victimized, nobody else can do anything to force them out of the relationship.

 For example, for a long time I can say if our tenant would have called the police, I would have defended my husband, I would have blamed my clumsiness and made up a whole story of how I got such injuries. Ask any of my coworkers or tenants over the years; I’ve come up with some doozies to explain away black eyes, a blown out voice box, grab marks, cuts, scratches and bruises.

 I was scared of a worse beating if I allowed the truth to be known.. and I didn’t see a healthy, safe way out.  At a Thanksgiving dinner at his parent’s house, I was very badly bruised all over.  I had layers upon layers of makeup on.  When I wiped my mouth during the meal some of the makeup wiped off, onto the napkin, revealing some black bruising. I took a beating for that later that night, for not staying on top of it.

 What if the police were called and they knew each other, or if they laughed it off and did nothing?

 Thankfully our daughter saved my life.  She was my wake up call.  One weekday morning, she confronted me square in the face and said, “Mom, I can’t take living like this anymore.  It’s him or me.”

 We made an agreement that next time it was happening and I had enough evidence, that she would call 911.  Within 2 week’s time, that’s what happened.

What was different this time?

 This time, I hadn’t run away and moved out.  This time, he was plucked from the home, by police.  There was now a written report.

 The most excruciating challenges that followed ended up being some of my most empowering strengths.

 I had promised the kids that I would not go back again. Now I had something firm to hinge on.  I gave my children my word, and there was no way I would violate that.

 I wasn’t going to go back.  I wasn’t going to accept him back.  This time it was final.

 In fact, I was so prepared from leaving 3 times prior that I was able to predict all the tactics he would use.  I wouldn’t tune in when he made himself cry, or when he said he’d “just let me leave if it ever happened again,” or that he “wanted to be a family man” or how WE “would get counseling if it happened again,” how he loves me inside and out and bla bla bla.

 I told his brother, who helped us move, how he would hint at threatening suicide if I didn’t take him  back, and that he’d claim to have chest pain or a pain running up his arm’ .. suggesting he was on the verge of a heart attack.  Yep he tried ’em again.

 Now, I was better prepared.

 Instead of letting my heart strings be pulled again, or letting my compassion take over, I came back with “then go to the hospital.”

 The kids and I had moved to a different house the following spring.  He spoke to our eldest on the phone, threatening “Tell Mom I know where she lives.”

 I responded with “So does everybody else because I’m in the phone book.”

 That was when I began to feel empowered. I was no longer hiding, afraid of being found. Not this time, and not ever again.

 When you separate from an abuser, it’s like a huge old dying tree in a windstorm.  It creeks for a long time, losing a few branches.  It wobbles with the fiercest winds,  larger branches break off,  before it finally falls.

 When it does fall, there’s a huge backlash. And you need to take cover to protect yourself from the dust and debris flying everywhere.

 Since getting out, I have heard from hundreds of former victims, men and women, grandparents, parents and children.  Many felt nobody else would understand what they were going through .. that they couldn’t share what happened behind closed doors.. that nobody would be able to relate or help bring validation for their situation.

 When I speak, I am powered by a sea of faces who shared their stories with me.  Some have lost their voice. My mission is to talk about domestic violence, raising public awareness because 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are directly impacted… The public needs a voice.  Some have asked that I be their voice and in their honor I will never be silenced, ever again.

 I share how I made it, and how I am on top of my game, loving life, and doing everything I ever wanted to do, and actually a heck of a lot more!

 I started a local support group (in Orchard Park NY), and offer speaking engagements anywhere in the world.  I’ve created several helpful, healing workshops and am happy to serve on panels as a SME (topic expert) in domestic violence and abuse.

 Nobody  will ever take this smile away, or break my stride, ever again.



Survivor of a 22 year violent marriage, founder of Love Shouldn’t Hurt Inc., Suzanne is an award-winning mentor and a powerful inspirational speaker. She exudes excitement and enthusiasm that creates a feeling of welcomeness, of ‘I can do it, too’ and one of overcoming any obstacle in an open, accessible way.

Suzanne created her own set of workshops under the “Happy Camp” name, workshops designed to empower people to pursue their dreams and reconnect with their true self, as well as how to manage toxic situations and find inner peace.

Voice of the underdog and the ‘Pied Piper of Positive’ she hosts a radio show, coordinates awareness events, and is living testimony of a happy life outside of domestic violence

He Never Hit Me

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How many times did I find myself on his bathroom floor cowering beneath him, feeling the hot spit land on me as he screamed? Stop crying like a baby. You’re crazy. No one else would put up with you. How many times did I shudder on that floor counting my breaths, bringing myself back from the brink of suffocation during a panic attack that was triggered by one of these maniacal and regular assaults? But he never hit me.

How many hours did I remain on that bathroom floor after he had gone to bed, my eyes red with burst blood vessels? How many times did I hear the sound of his snores and realize he had fallen asleep, no more than a meter away, to the sound of me hyperventilating while still in the throes of that panic attack? How many times did I whisper aloud, “How did I get here? How did I become this woman?” How many times did I tell myself to get up, call a cab and walk out the front door? How many times did I get up and look in that mirror and fail to recognize myself? How much hate could I have for the broken woman staring back at me? But he never hit me.

How many times did I crawl into that bed, rather than into a cab, and wake up with his arms around me, telling me that I brought it out in him? He wasn’t like this. I made him like this. I needed to change the way I approached him about these things. Be less accusatory. If I just softened my approach, it would allow him to react differently. How many times did I adjust my approach before I realized the only way to avoid the abuse was not to bring it up at all? But he never hit me.

How many emails and text messages did I find? How many parties did we attend knowing that one of the women was there? I learned quickly not to address it so that “I” wouldn’t ruin a perfectly nice evening. When his family member asked me if a lipstick she had found under the couch was mine, I threw it away and said nothing more of it. Neither did she. Another humiliation taken in silence. But he never hit me.

How many times did he tell me he was going to sleep, out for dinner with a client, couldn’t hear his phone, but actually taking out another woman? How many times did he ignore my calls and call the next morning telling me nothing had happened? It was sadistic. I could see how much he enjoyed being that powerful. How many defamatory lies did he concoct and propagate to my old colleagues and friends when I walked away from him? How many times did he smear my reputation? How many times did I go back, believing every promise that he was a new man, believing every half-hearted apology? But he never hit me.

How many times did a friend pick me up because he had kicked me out of bed in the middle of the night for questioning him about one of the women? How many times did I go back before those friends had had enough. How many times did I defend him and justify his behavior when I told a friend about what he had done? When did I stop telling anyone altogether to avoid the shame of the insanity of the circumstances I was somehow in — the shame of being a strong independent woman who couldn’t take care of herself enough to leave a situation that was so toxic? When did I stop expecting more? But he never hit me.

How could I explain to someone that I believed it was partly my fault, even though I was embarrassed to hear those beaten woman’s words spoken from my lips. No one really understood. No one knew him like I did. It was my job to protect him from the truth of what he did to me. I couldn’t let them think he was a monster. I wouldn’t tell anyone. I was entirely alone. But he never hit me.

My solitude meant that I could no longer see the reflection in other people’s eyes indicating what was normal. I could only see the reflection in his eyes and began to believe what he told me about myself. I began to believe his irrational explanations despite my own heart and eyes. I let him define reality. I became isolated. It became easier to cut off my support networks completely than to have to lie about everything. Than to face the humiliation of my reality. A part of me knew that once they knew the extent of what was happening, they would force me to get out for good. I wouldn’t be able to go back. I knew I would always need to even in the worst of times. But he never hit me.

I set a benchmark. The red line I wouldn’t cross. The minute he hit me, I would leave. But the truth is, I know I wouldn’t have left then either. I would have rationalized that in hitting me, he would realize how out of hand things were. Everything would change now. I wouldn’t have left. By hurting me, he showed me he loved me. He cared enough to go that crazy. He cared so much that he was overwhelmed by anger or jealousy or sadness and simply couldn’t control himself.

When it was over, I wasn’t permitted to mourn him. No one could understand how love, hate, fear and comfort could coexist simultaneously. They could not understand that in addition to my abuser, I also lost my confidant, the person to make dinner with, the person to watch movies with on a rainy Sunday, the person to laugh with, the person who knew me. I lost my companion. How can you explain to someone that the abuse was only a part of who he was? How do you explain that to yourself?

There are still days when I remember tender moments and wonder if it really was that bad. I still struggle with reconciling how he could love me to the point of tears and yet hurt me as if I was an enemy. Like a child, I’m learning to redefine the borders of normal behavior and to realign my expectations. I remind myself that acts of violence can never be acts of love.

For the first time, I see my own reflection in other women who have emerged from the depths of such darkness. Indescribably courageous women whom I have never met, but who have shared their stories and in doing so, saved me. These women embraced me with their pain and unknowingly convinced me that I was not alone, that I am worthy of more. I hadn’t believed that singular truth in a very long time.

Knowing that others were there has allowed the shame to dissipate. I used to default to the trained belief that I was crazy, overly sensitive or had imagined it all because I could not reconcile the love and the abuse. I have permitted myself to accept that both existed. Their stories have allowed me to forgive myself. To recognize how arbitrary that red line was. Seeing myself in their eyes has allowed me to name my abuser. To name my experience as an abused woman. And then to let go.

I pray now that my words will travel to the broken woman staring back at them and embrace her. I hope they equip her with the strength and love she needs to raise herself from the depths.

Reut Amit


Reut Amit  lives in Vancouver, British Columbia where she works at a commercial litigation firm. She holds a Master of Arts in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies from the IDC Herzliya and a J.D. from the University of Victoria. She writes essays and opinion pieces about feminism, politics, law and public policy. Follow her on Twitter @reutamit .

The Other Kind of Motherless Mother

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The Other Kind of Motherless Mother




With a special thanks to Scary Mommy for letting us re-publish this in time to help a lot of readers.  (c) 2016 Donna Shute, as first published on Scary Mommy


“Mothers,” J.D. Salinger once observed, “are all slightly insane.” It just so happens that mine is more so than most.

If my Facebook newsfeed is an accurate representative sampling, my mommy friends fall distinctly into two categories: those whose mothers are alive and well, and those whose mothers are neither. Mine, however, is alive but unwell; she is here but gone, physically present but absent in every way that counts. And as I have learned the hard way, nobody throws a wake or sits shiva for your ambiguous loss. There are no well-wishers, no little black dresses, no bringers of casseroles; you can’t eulogize a woman for living when she never died.

My mother has schizoaffective disorder, which in layman’s terms means she exhibits both features of bipolar disorder and features of schizophrenia. I am not one to poke fun at mental illness or perpetuate the all-too-pervasive myths surrounding psychopathology (I myself inherited more than just my mama’s good looks). But my mother is not seeing a therapist, taking her meds, or conscientiously managing her mental illness. If she were, I would see her as a survivor to admire, someone with whom it was safe to have a relationship. My mother refuses to treat her condition, to her own very real detriment and that of those around her, despite the detritus she leaves in her wake.

And growing up with an emotionally unstable hoarder bouncing in and out of rooms with locked doors and padded walls does a number on you that you won’t soon forget. When you become a mother yourself, the impact of growing up with a mother who has mental illness becomes more clear.

1. You will always feel like a mom imposter.

Being a motherless mother, you will permanently feel the sting of being the odd one out. You are forever the last kid picked in gym class and the only first-grader who didn’t get a Valentine. You will listen, somewhat incredulously, to your friends swap stories of their mothers’ support during their pregnancies, labors, and other momentous kid-related events. You will, much like Chief Brody sheepishly eyeing his appendix scar in Jaws while Hooper and Captain Quint trade shark attack tales, stand awkwardly to one side, lacking a frame of reference for even comprehending these narratives.

You told your mom you were pregnant eventually. Or maybe someone else did. Do people call their mothers about these things? Yours was living on the streets because she thought the NSA had implanted surveillance cameras in her fluorescent lights and a 30-foot statue of Jesus was talking to her. The heartbreak here is not so much that you will never share these moments with your mother: The heartbreak is that you will never understand why anyone else would.

2. Nobody taught you how to do mom things.

I don’t live in squalor, but my domestic skills lack finesse. I don’t have a natural barometric to gauge when things are clean or dirty (Can they make an Adult Children of Hoarders spin-off on TLC? Because I would watch the shit out of that). Hell, if I can walk through your front door without climbing over a waist-deep obstacle course, it looks great to me. People have teased me my entire adult life for loading a dishwasher like it’s a precarious game of Jenga and for not knowing how to mince garlic until the ripe old age of 30. I sometimes have to take a step back, take a deep breath, and extend myself some grace. Nobody taught you how to do this, lady. You’re doing just fine. But I have a lot of anxiety about imparting this particular set of life skills to my child when I perpetually struggle with it myself.


3. You won’t have anyone to call when things are really, really bad.

My kid had colic—bad. For the first eight weeks of his life he cluster-fed ’round the clock and screamed like someone was sawing his right leg off. I considered returning him, but the warranty had expired. (You with the bleary eyes freebasing caffeine, you know what I’m talking about.)

And you know when you’re a kid and your world is imploding on itself, and it all fades to black, and you just want your mommy? Yeah, I get that too, only my mommy is usually in a mental institution somewhere leaving me deranged voicemails sounding like Linda Blair in The Exorcist so instead I have to make do with my mother-in-law, my own lousy instincts, and Facebook crowdsourcing. When my son’s fever spikes to 103 degrees, I have no one to call to ask how high is too high and whether or not I should I go to the ER. I have never had that person, and sometimes it sucks like a whorish Hoover.

4. …or when they’re really, really good.

Conversely, I will never have a mother to call about the good stuff. She wasn’t there to hear about it when my kid learned to crawl or when he took his first steps. She won’t be there to ooh and ahh over his prom pictures. She wasn’t at my wedding; I doubt she’ll be at his. She is too busy pursuing the extravagant desires of a broken mind and doesn’t give the flyingest of fucks that by doing so she has jettisoned everything that really matters.

And you can reassure yourself all the live-long day that it doesn’t matter, that you don’t miss her, that you didn’t really need anyone to call and tell that funny-gross story about the strained turnips in the bathtub. And you don’t. You’re tough. You will get by. But sometimes? It’d be nice. Because no one would appreciate a good strained-turnips-in-the-bathtub story more than the mother you don’t have.

5. You will fear for your children and question your own decision to procreate.

It should go without saying in 2016 that mental illness has a biochemical basis and a major genetic component. Mood disorders and schizoid-spectrum disorders in particular tend to cluster in families. Every time you look into the big blue eyes of your sweet baby, you will be overcome with the irrational fear that he, too, will go crazy.

Will he inherit the family curse? Is he a ticking time bomb waiting to detonate? What kind of life have I wished on this poor innocent child? And perhaps more fundamentally, was it selfish of me to bring a child into this world knowing I could be passing on such a terrifying legacy? And even if it was, what can I possibly do about it now? For now he is fine, and perfect, and beautiful. But the full-scale horror of the as-yet-unknown—ay, there’s the rub.


6. You will fear becoming your mother.

When you aren’t worrying about your child becoming your mother, you will be worrying about you becoming your mother…and leaving your child to pick up the broken pieces. The thought of your kid coming to resent you the way you resent your own mother is heartbreaking enough. Couple that with debilitating lifelong guilt for feeling the way you do about her and the logistical nightmare that is the care and maintenance of a psychotic adult, and you’ve potentially bequeathed your kid one hell of an inheritance.

7. You will have very little from your childhood to share with your child.

When your childhood memories are steeped in chaos and trauma, it doesn’t mean that no good things ever happened to you. It does mean you have a very difficult time recalling them. And when your primary caregiver was as neurotic and unstable as mine was, family traditions went by the wayside and day-to-day survival was all that mattered.

I don’t have a cherished “Mom’s German Chocolate Cake” recipe. Mostly, I microwaved frozen chicken nuggets for myself and ate them standing up. I have no concept of family mealtimes, no family heirlooms, and for a highly creative person, I’m rubbish at making up holiday traditions. I want to pass these things down to my son, but I keep coming up empty-handed. Manufacturing a whole new childhood for someone else from scratch is hard work.

8. Your kid is missing a grandma.

My grandmas were both pretty badass. One made killer red velvet cake; the other took us out for Chinese food on the reg. One we spent Thanksgiving with, the other Christmas. They both loved me fiercely and showered me with gifts and attention and the best sugar cookies in any possible universe (the secret ingredient is almond extract).

My kid, on the other hand, will always have a gaping hole in his life where he is missing 50 percent of the whole grandmother equation. I can’t tell him she died. She didn’t die. She simply has no interest in having a relationship with him, and even if she did, she is toxic and unsafe for him to be around. Fortunately he’s still little because I’m still working on how to formulate that narrative in the least traumatic way possible. How can you possibly explain to the bright eyes and precious dimples peering up at you and asking the hard questions that while some people’s bodies are broken, Grandma’s brain is broken? That she doesn’t love us because she can’t?

9. You will learn that it’s OK to question yourself as a mother.

In time, however, you will learn to forgive your own mother (albeit imperfectly) for what she couldn’t give you and, more importantly, forgive yourself for what you were not given. This is not to say you will absolve yourself of doing better by your child; you will make it your paramount priority. But you will eventually shed the layers of hostility you feel toward yourself, although perhaps not all those you feel toward your mother. You will learn to treat yourself with a little kindness; you will learn through trial and error that platitudinously but truly, you yourself, as much as anyone else in the universe, deserve your love and compassion. You will learn that you are not a failure for having failings, and that the very fact that you are questioning yourself as a mother means you are already a good one.

10. You will triumph, and prevail, and be one helluva badass motherless mother.

You are not defined by your past. You are not destined to be your mother. You care deeply, something your mother never did. And the deep-seated, love-till-it-hurts empathy instilled in you by what you have suffered can only make you an unstoppable force of motherhood to be reckoned with. We are made to refract light in the broken places. You got this, mama. Go forth and conquer.

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Donna Shute is a freelance writer, actor, director, sound designer, digital editor, behavioral therapist, and professional dilettante living in northern New York. She enjoys theater, film, psychopathology, gross overconsumption of caffeine, and hanging out with her toddler. You can follow her on Instagram at @shesgotthewritestuff or her author page, Donna Shute, on Facebook.

I want a divorce

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I Want A Divorce

By Destiny Roberts



I want a Divorce.


These four words would forever change my life.   I blurted them out without even hesitating as I sat in the car, traveling out of state for a wedding.


I looked out the corner of my eye to see my husband’s reaction.  Literally, it was like I said “Oh it is a nice day out today, isn’t it?”  I knew in my heart I didn’t regret those words, but my husband had no reaction.  Was it because he told me he wanted a divorce weekly, and now the shoe was on the other foot?  Did he not hear me?  I didn’t understand why there was no reaction.


Over the next few months, I was overwhelmed with flowers, poems, cards and promises by my husband.  The very things I yearned for in our years of marriage, he was using to lure me back to the marriage that was a lie. There- I admitted out loud that my marriage was a lie, right from the moment I said “I do”.

Inside, I struggled.  My heart knew I no longer loved him. In some ways I hated him, and yet my mind was playing a game.  I felt guilty for wanting to leave him, I felt sorry for him, and I didn’t understand why.  


One day at work, my husband called and said he had scheduled an appointment for me to see someone. Clearly, something was wrong with me because I wanted a divorce.  He said no woman in their right mind would want to leave behind what he had given me. He constantly reminded me how lucky I was to have a husband who wanted me, because no one else ever did. I should feel honored- he could have anyone he wanted, but I was the lucky one. He reminded me daily of what a hard- working man he was and how he provided me with the finer things in life. He would hold my face, making me look around to see what he had provided me. It had nothing to do with me.


I hated him even more now.  He voiced, to anyone who would listen and to those who wouldn’t, that there was something wrong with me because I wanted a divorce.  As I drove myself to the appointment, I had butterflies in my stomach. I was shaking and scared when I walked into Dr. Smith’s office.  As I turned the door knob and walked inside, there was no one in the waiting room.  You could have heard a pin drop.  I sat there thinking to myself what am I doing? If I don’t stay, what will my husband do to me when I get home?”  I heard my phone buzzing- it was my husband’s number.  I sat with the phone in my hand, trying to decide whether I should answer it or let it go to voice mail.  I knew I had better answer it or I would be in trouble.

My voice was shaking when I said “hello”. He said “I’m just making sure you made it to your appointment ok.”

“I’m here, just waiting.”

“Ok, I’ll see you when you get home.”


To the outside world this would seem like a caring, doting husband making sure I made it to my appointment. To me, it was more than that.  He always checked up on me and made sure I was where I was supposed to be. I always had to check in with him and let him know every move I made. If he didn’t like where I was or who I was with, he would make a scene. I would come home with my tail between my legs in embarrassment. Was he going to show up at my appointment?


I heard the door open behind me, and I jumped about 100 feet.  Dr. Smith came out and asked “Are you ok?”

“Yes thank you.”

He said “You can come in and have a seat. We’ll get started.”


As I sat on his couch, I looked around his office. I am not certain what I was looking for, but I was trying to find something in his office to give me some sign that I was ok.

Dr. Smith took out his note pad and began asking me questions.  But he seemed to be writing a lot more than what I was answering.  Was he finding something wrong with me, like my husband said?  What was he writing? I kept trying to tell myself it was going to be ok.  Dr. Smith then put his pen down and asked “Now, can you tell me why you are here?”


I still remember hearing those words. My mouth opened, but nothing came out.  My body couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, what was happening?   I looked up at him, my eyes welling up with tears, and said “I don’t know why I’m here. My husband scheduled this appointment for me because he said there’s something wrong with me.”


Dr. Smith looked at me and said “why don’t you tell me what’s going on.”  Before I could take another breath, I blurted out that I wanted a divorce. There was a pause, and then Dr. Smith asked “was there someone else?”


“Does he have someone?”

“I lost count.”

“Is there anything else?”

I tried, but couldn’t look at Dr. Smith in his eyes. I didn’t know what was going on.  Dr. Smith said “Ms. Lyon, its ok.”

I slowly tried to gather my thoughts. I looked up, and said in a very faint voice “I’m scared.  My husband hurts me, I want to leave, but I feel guilty.  I cannot do this anymore.”  


Dr. Smith looked at me and gave me the sign that I had been yearning for.  He sat there and let me cry, and told me it would be ok. I have tried so many times to remember the rest of the meeting but I can’t. The only evidence I have of this meeting is the crumpled piece of paper from Dr. Smith with information about Domestic Violence Services.  I remember him telling me to keep this piece of paper in a safe place.  


Dr. Smith called the next day. He told me my husband had contacted him, making sure I kept my appointment and didn’t change any appointments he had so graciously made for me.  Dr. Smith advised him that he was couldn’t discuss the details with him, and would be more than happy to schedule an appointment with him.  I later learned through the insurance statements that my husband scheduled two appointments for himself.  


Over the next several months I met with Dr. Smith trying, to deal with the mental, emotional, and physical abuse I endured for almost twenty years.  During one of the sessions, Dr. Smith promised me that a year from now I would look back and says “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” I sat there in his office and shook my head as I said “I don’t think that day will ever come.”   


I never knew some of the things he had been doing to me for years were actually abuse.  I never fully understood the feelings I felt were from the abuse I had endured and silenced, in fear of what he would do to me next.   I felt like I was on a roller coaster, waiting for that last twist and turn so I could get off, walk away and never have to get back on.  I wouldn’t be one of those kids that wanted to get back on this roller coaster-I found no amusement in it at all. The highs of the roller coaster represented the positive steps I took; the lows represented the setbacks I would encounter in dealing with my husband’s backlash as I exposed him. The dark tunnels and valleys that I kept going through were the secrets I hid for so long inside of me.  My husband didn’t want anyone to see the mask he put on his face. He only wanted the world to perceive him as a great guy, and to see how terrible I was. This ride would haunt me for months because this is where my struggle was. I wanted to get off this ride but I did not know how.


I finally came to the pivotal moment in my life where I felt I had some direction and was ready to move on.  Most people refer this as the “T” in the road.  I finally left my abusive husband and started my new life.  What most people call routine events were now new adventures for me.  I started shopping at new places in order to avoid running into my husband who just happened to be there, grocery shopping, or at the bank cashing his check. This was not an easy task for me due to the fear that he had instilled in me.  But I kept putting one foot in front of the other.


Over a year had passed since this nightmare became a reality and I couldn’t wait to schedule an appointment with Dr. Smith.  I was not the same woman who had walked in his office on a cold snowy night over a year ago, and I wanted to be the person to say “you were right, why didn’t I leave sooner?” As I said this to Dr. Smith, he sat back in his chair and smiled.  For the first time, he wasn’t writing down what I said.  This meeting was different from any of our other meetings.  This one finally brought closure for me. I had fought the good fight. I had won, and I now knew my course. We ended our session on that note.


It felt so different for me to be able to make decisions on my own and not to have to account to anyone.  I still found myself calling my ex-husband to check in with him, telling him what I was doing, where I was going, etc.  Why was I still doing this?  I recognized that I still needed help in certain areas of my life, and this time I was able to choose my own counselor.  I knew within my heart there was nothing wrong with me. But I still felt I needed help learning to trust people again, and more importantly, tearing down those walls I had built up so high that no one was going to get beyond them and breaking the cycle of talking to my ex-husband.  


As I sat in Dr. John’s office, I was surer of myself. I was not looking around for a sign that I would be ok. I already knew that. This time, I savored not being afraid, not looking over my shoulder and jumping at every noise I heard.  I actually could admire the art work hanging in the waiting room.  With each piece of art, I wondered about the story behind it.  I found myself creating a story in my head for the art.  For a moment, I was created a happy story, a story that one day I hoped to have.  Would I ever be able to find the fairytale that I had yearned for all of those years?  Yes I would, I just knew that I would, since I already came to the realization that I was none of those things my ex-husband told me I was. I needed to find a way to erase that part of my life.


Ok, here we go, it’s my turn.  I sat in Dr. John’s office, looking around, thinking that these walls could tell so many stories, and now mine would be told.  Dr. John got right to work and left me sitting in the chair thinking to myself “I am not feeling very well.”

Dr. John wanted me to write on a blank sheet of paper what I saw in his office.  It took me just a few minutes to write down that I saw furniture, books, lamps and a box of Kleenex. When Dr. John read his list- green walls, white light switches, a 12 X 12 room, photos of his family, and his computer- he explained that we both are in the same room, looking at the same things but we see things differently.  He explained that’s how life is, and there’s an important lesson to be learned. He said “What you may see when you look in the mirror is not necessarily what I see when I look at you.”  


I looked forward to my weekly sessions with Dr. John.  I always came out of there with another revelation, another useful tool in my journey.  I realized there would be bumps along the way. Those bumps would not define me, but how I choose to go over those bumps would.


After a few months, Dr. John explained that I had a lot of scars on the surface that looked like they had scabbed over and healed, but inside there still was an infection festering. In order to remove this infection, I needed to reopen those wounds.  Dr. John tried to tell me this process would be very painful, but he asked me to stay in the game while we worked through this.


I tried so hard to stay in the game and see it through.  I found myself exhausted, feeling as alone and confused as I had before I left my husband.  I remember sitting in Dr. John’s office sobbing after a few months of this, telling him I cannot do this.  I was reliving every step of the abuse all over as we opened up the scars and dug the infection out.  The wounds that I believed had healed in reality never had. The surface of the abuse had only been touched; not the underlying abuse itself.  As Dr. John kept working with me week after week, I found that the more he kept digging; more puss kept coming out of my wounds.


Finally, one day I sobbed in Dr. John’s office because I was overwhelmed with what I had been through.  I finally grasped the extent of the abuse I had endured, including things I had suppressed and did not even realize until that moment. That’s when Dr. John asked me to write a letter to my abuser.  In this letter, he was very specific that I had to tell my abuser exactly what he did to me, how it made me feel, and why I felt about him like I did.  Dr. John further assured me that it could be as nasty as possible- we wouldn’t send it.  Dr. John told me to take my time in writing this letter.


I felt this would be an easy, but in hindsight this letter took almost a year to write.  I struggled with trying to write how I felt and what he did to me.  At every session, I felt like I had failed because I couldn’t write this letter.  Dr. John assured me it was ok. This was part of my healing, even though I didn’t see it.


Finally in late February, I sat down over the weekend, and to my amazement, I completed the letter.  I was meeting with Dr. John later that week and I finally would be able to share it.  


As I sat in Dr. John’s office, he asked me to read the letter.  As I read, I paused and looked at Dr. John, then continued reading.  Dr. John asked me to stop, and asked what was wrong?  I put my letter away and cried.  It was at that moment that I realized my scars were healing.  He asked me why I was crying. I said I am not crying because of me, but I am crying for the woman who wrote that letter. I feel so bad for the woman in this letter, she is so scared, so alone and so hopeless.


Dr. John looked at me and said “What I see in front of me is a very strong woman and who has let her scars heal.”


Top Ten Things You Learn by Listening to Survivors

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Top Ten Things You Learn by Listening to Survivors

By Melanie Blow



Top Ten things you learn from listening to survivors.


April is Child Abuse Prevention month and events for survivors, like Take Back the Night and Speak Outs, are scheduled in cities across the nation. Giving Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) survivors a chance to tell their stories sounds underwhelming, until you really think about the taboos we put on discussions of sexual violence, and the ways we’re insensitive to survivors. Letting survivors tell their stories and connect with other survivors is healthy for them, and it gives the rest of the world a chance to learn things about child sexual abuse that they’ll never learn from the media.


These are the top ten things I’ve learned from listening to survivors.


  1. Arrests are rare- Usually, when we see discussion of CSA on TV, it’s in connection to a case being investigated by the police. But when you meet with groups of survivors, stories about putting their abusers behind bars are almost unheard of. Stories about not telling their parents are common, as are stories about telling a parent who did nothing useful. Sometimes I’ll hear stories about trying to prosecute a case as an adult and coping with a Statue of Limitations on the crime. But mostly, I hear about adult survivors seeing their abuser at the grocery store, at a family reunion, near their child’s elementary school. Research supports this observation, as it shows no more than 10% of sex offenders ever see a day behind bars for their crimes.

    2. Having multiple abusers is very common- Researchers Able and Harlow estimate 10% of adult American men, and 1-3% of women, are pedophiles. Some subsets of pedophiles average over 100 victims. Some subsets average fewer, but all average more than one. The ACE study shows about 22% of Americans experienced CSA. The numerical difference is explained by the fact that many, if not most, victims are victimized by more than one abuser. Sometimes all the abusers are part of the same family and act in concert with each other, sometimes the child is sexually trafficked, and sometimes there is no logical explanation besides bad luck and the sheer commonness of the crime.

    3. The line between child sexual abuse and sex trafficking is thin- I have reason to believe I was sexually trafficked as a teenager, and I was abused by two adults. A friend of mine was sexually abused by about 20 adults and has absolutely no reason to believe she was trafficked. Forcing or coercing someone to work as a prostitute is only a small percentage of what is considered child sex trafficking, although it’s the part that gets the most attention. I’ve also met survivors who will talk about working as a prostitute, a pimp, or both because after being sexually abused as a child “it was all I knew” or “it was the only thing I thought I was good at”.

    4. A lot of kids are abused by other kids- Some survivors recognize child-to-child sexual abuse as the same brutal, damaging crime that adult-to-child sexual abuse is. Others approach it with a certain shame or embarrassment, as though it wasn’t “bad enough” to warrant the lifetime of suffering it has caused. Realistically, about 40% of CSA is committed by children, and it is every bit as damaging as the abuse committed by adults.

    5. Rape as an adult is a lot more common for CSA survivors- I’ve only met a few people who were raped as adults who weren’t sexually abused as children. This is something the ACE Study predicts, but is rarely mentioned in discussions of rape among adults.

    6. Domestic violence is more common among CSA survivors- this is something else the ACE Study found. There are two very common themes I hear from CSA survivors who ended up in abusive relationships- one is that they are so desperate to leave a home where they are being sexually abused they are willing to settle for a partner they realize is dangerous. The other is that since they are used to being hurt and degraded by someone important to them, an abusive intimate relationship didn’t feel abnormal. It’s been my observation that women who started adulthood with low ACE scores and end up in an abusive relationship never enter another one. Women who enter an abusive relationship with high ACE scores tend to enter one abusive one after another.

    7. Everyone “knows” victims become abusers, and everyone wants to break the cycle- To me, this is the source of inspiration and angst. There is a lot of truth to this observation, but research shows the truths are more complicated than our colloquial knowledge predicts. If someone struggles with sexual attraction to children, it’s an attraction they develop at or before puberty- they don’t wake up one day with it. There are lots of other unhealthy behaviors survivors tend to have that can seriously impact their children- unchecked mental illness, drug addiction and abusive relationships are ACE’s themselves. A lack of parenting skills predisposes parents towards abusiveness, as does social isolation. But all these things can be fixed, too. Maternal Home Visiting programs, and their ability to prevent abuse among high-risk parents, are among our society’s best kept secrets. After listening to survivors tearfully talk about not having children because they’re sure they would abuse them, you really want to start getting the “secret” of these programs out.

    8. There is so much shame and stigma among male survivors- for years, I didn’t have any male survivors at the event I organize. I was sure it was because I wasn’t recruiting properly. I tracked down male-survivor support groups, de facto male survivor support groups, and male survivors I know personally. Now I usually get some, but not as many as statistics imply I should. I’m sure some of it is my recruiting skills, but I think some of it is that there is a whole lot of shame and stigma surrounding any sort of victimization of men. Yes, huge steps forward have been made since Penn State, but I think that says more about how bad of a place male survivors were in before, as opposed to them being in a good place now.

    9. Sometimes there are indirect victims- I hear a lot of stories where parents do the wrong thing. But, I consistently meet some parents who are as hurt by their child’s victimization as their child is. Their pain perfectly mirrors their children’s, but they have a wellspring of resolve to help their own child heal, to heal as many other survivors as they can, and to make some meaningful change.

    10. Everyone wants a happy ending- when CSA survivors get together to share their stories, you tend to see incredible acts of kindness and moments of connectedness. Usually, there’s much less crying and much more laughing than you’d imagine. Strangers from different walks of life share a common bond they’ve rarely, if ever, shared. Yes, there actually is a lot of laughter. A lot of friendships are made. Many survivors desperately want to help other survivors or to end child sexual abuse. We’re stronger together, and together we get to realize that.




Why I keep talking about it

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Why I Keep Talking About It

By Melanie Blow


It’s never easy to talk about being raped. It’s never easy to use words like “incest” and “victim” when you’re talking about yourself. But I still do it, and I have my reasons why.


The day after my mother learned my uncle had been molesting me, she asked me specifically what “we had been doing together”, and for how long. She said she’d stop it from happening again, but she didn’t. So my first experience at telling someone was underwhelming.


Eventually I started writing about it. Eventually that writing became participating in on-line support groups. On rare occasions the writing became emailing. Eventually in an email I “blurted out” that I was a survivor. I “blurted it out” to a woman who had contacted me through a group I volunteered with. And when she and I met face- to- face, she assumed I could talk about it face-to-face. And I did.


Eventually I let the organization I volunteered for learn my story. We had never have a survivor last for more than a few months on the board or as volunteers. Part of the reason I remained tight-lipped was because “everyone knew” that survivors were flighty, and I didn’t want to be seen that way. Instead, I became the go-to person when someone wanted a survivor’s point of view.


And that was when I started seeing value in telling my story. I realized that abuse is like a massive stain on your heart and soul. It’s instinctive to avoid touching something that stained. But if you completely avoid it, you’re not using a whole lot of yourself. That means you can’t fully commit or engage in anything. And the act essential to reclaiming those parts of your self is talking about it.


It never gets easy. It does get easier. I set up informational tables about child abuse at the local farmer’s market. When I see people circle around, but not touch, the pamphlets about CSA I assume they’re a survivor. If they engage in conversation, and I say that I am, they usually become brave enough to say it, too.


I walked into a bakery one time wearing a shirt with an anti-child-abuse logo. A customer saw it, and started telling me about the abusive childhood she endured. We talked a little, the conversation meandered to a local, high-profile case, then she went back to talking about her experiences. I mentioned that I was a survivor. Then the woman behind the counter said she was too. Her brown eyes flashed with terror and as she said it -she had obviously never said it before. She was shocked by the words that came out of her mouth. But she kept talking. I bought more baked goods that spring than I normally would have, to give me an excuse to keep going into the shop and make sure all was well with her- it was.


I give a “Thank you” speech on a local college campus every year to thank them for a fundraiser they do. I always identify myself as a survivor when I give it, because in all statistical likelihood, some of the hundreds of attendees who hear me speak are survivors themselves. Most of them have never talked about it nor heard someone else talk about it. Some years I’ll have an attendee corner me. They’ll try hard to get me alone. They look at me very intensely, making a lot of direct eye contact. And they don’t say anything meaningful or profound. I know they want to. What they do is so subtly odd, and something I’ve seen so many times before- a little like when someone wants to ask you a question but isn’t sure if it would be rude. I listen to them, I talk. I hope I’ve made it easier for them to say those words in the future. I remember what I was like back then.


I attend a local writing group. Sometimes I’ll read pieces that have something to do with CSA, sometimes I’ll promote local community events for survivors. And sometimes afterwards, when thirty or so of us are in the middle of a bookstore and there is no privacy what so ever, I’ll get a random hug, a random shoulder-squeeze. Afterwards, more of that super-intense eye contact followed by meaningless conversation. Someone will work very hard to isolate me from the group and say nothing significant. I know what they want to say.


Sometimes I wish I could do more. I was driving home from a meeting in Albany one time (a four-hour trip), and the toll-taker at the thruway asked why I had been on the road so long. Ordinarily, I would have said something flip, but I patiently explained that I was coming from a meeting in Albany that was all about preventing child abuse.

“Wait, what were you talking about?”

“Preventing child abuse.”

“You mean like my father did to me?” And then the story. As she was talking to me, I realized how young she was. Being a thruway toll-taker is a desirable job in NY, it pays well, but people usually need years of seniority to be able to work the shift she was working. She probably applied for this job the day she turned 18, took her civil service test, worked a few minimum wage jobs while she waited for an opening, and worked a graveyard shift for years. I could see so much of myself in her- the desire to escape, to survive. Unfortunately, the odds of both of us surviving were diminishing by the second, as traffic was backing up all through the exit ramp and onto the thruway. I didn’t have any business cards to give to her, and I’m not sure how appropriate that would have been. I still see her once in a while. She doesn’t recognize me, and that’s probably just as well. Hopefully she’s found a better person, or at least a safer place, for talking.


A few years ago there was a big lobbying event for the Child Victims Act, New York’s bill to eliminate the state’s Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse. As is typical for these events, lobbyists are put into pre-assigned groups with people they likely have never met before. My group contained a therapist, who I had met once or twice before, and an older couple I had never met.


The first visit of the day got off to an unremarkable start. A polite senator seemed to believe that, in a distant district, children probably were being sexually abused by degenerates. So I told him my story. I told him that I grew up not that far from his district, and that one of my father’s victims was likely a constituent of his. The senator was almost in tears. The older couple seemed much more awake. Throughout the rest of the day, one of them would come up to me, either tell me something or ask me something, then walk back to their spouse. I have a high tolerance for strange- this barely registered on my radar.


The day wore on, and there was an educational talk towards the end of it. On my way out, the older couple pulled me aside, and said how happy they were to meet me. Then the gentleman said “We have a son your age who was molested. And you’re doing OK!” At the time, “OK” seemed like a very generous term for describing my life. But I also realize the value in myth. I realized how important is was for these people to see a glimmer of hope for their son- to realize that he may be “OK” in a few years. If I could be that glimmer of hope, well, it was better than no one being one. And if I was going to do it, I had best do a convincing job at it. To me, that meant things like maintaining a healthy weight, not having gashes on my arms… all the things I should be doing anyway.


I thought about that interaction all through the four-hour ride home. I realized I’m a work in progress. All of us have a tendency to avoid work sometimes. If I talk about my story, I give myself “deadlines”, of sorts. Sometimes I learn useful insights about how other people have accomplished the same task I’m facing. And I can give the same insights to other people who are just beginning their “project”. About 20% of American adults are CSA survivors. I’m in good company- some of my best friends are survivors, and that has been enormously therapeutic to me. When I tell my story, when I connect with other survivors, I’m undoing some of the damage someone did to me. I’m defying someone who tried to control me, and I’m also letting someone else defy someone who tried to control them. We’re stronger together. And when some of the most formative experiences of your life involve times when you were made to feel completely powerless, that’s a very good feeling indeed.  


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Pleading For Power

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Pleading For Power

By Jackie McCullough



Anger is a plea for power. When I was a child my parents felt angry most of the time, and they behaved in many negative ways when they were angry. I thought it was my fault when my alcoholic father raged at me, threw a stool in front of the sink, and slammed me onto it to reach the sink so I could wash dishes. I thought, must be I was supposed to know he wanted me to wash the dishes. Yelling, screaming, hitting, and slapping were some of the behaviors they exhibited when they were angry.


The anger is a feeling, not a behavior; even though feelings are always accompanied by actions or behaviors. When we feel happy our behavior might be to smile. If we feel sad, our behavior may be to cry. The smile and crying are not feelings, they are actions/behaviors that accompany our feelings.


Raun Kaufman of the Option Institute tells us, “When we are angry, we are not powerful. We are pleading for power. We are feeling powerless, not powerful. This doesn’t make anger bad or wrong – just inefficient and uncomfortable. You may get mad and yell, or simply bury your anger and keep it voiceless, but it is there, boiling up inside. When you are at ease and unclouded by discomfort, you can act with maximum effectiveness. It’s time to start building within yourself an unshakeable sense of strength so that your can powerfully voice what you want – without getting upset.”


People can feel angry without yelling and hitting those they blame for their anger. In actuality, they are the cause of their anger, because of the beliefs they hold about themselves and their world. My parents’ anger about my not doing my chores was about their feelings of powerlessness of getting the chores done, not about me.


Anger is not powerful, it is a cry for power. Many people believe, “Maybe if I get mad enough, I will get some power over this situation.”

“…our rush to anger and upset usually distances us from the possibility of changing and creating personal miracles in our lives and cements us into being stuck in our unhappiness.


A person or event does not create happiness of unhappiness; that is the stimulus, and the stimulus just ‘is.’ How we judge it determines how we feel and how we act. If we judge a circumstance to be good we feel excited, happy, fulfilled and tend to support or move toward the experience. If we judge it as bad, then we feel duly angry, fearful, anxious, or sad and tend to move away from the experience, because our society has taught us to use discomfort to take care of ourselves.” Barry Neil Kaufman, Happiness is a Choice.


Have you ever tightened up your body for some sort of “protection?” Tension doesn’t protect us, it makes us less able to function in the ways we want. We are often afraid if we don’t resist a situation and get angry about it, we will be used as a door mat and stay stuck in the situation. That is, believing someone else is accountable for our discomfort. Reality is, we are always the only ones responsible for how we feel.


I had a foster son, Sean, who lived with me when he was 17. Sean lied a lot. How many times do you think I might have been angry about him lying in the two plus years he lived with me? Not as many as I would have before I learned that the stimulus isn’t the source of our discomfort. I knew he was doing what he thought was the best way tontake care of himself, so I didn’t judge the lying. Of course, I preferred him to tell the truth, but he fabricated tales anyway. Even when I was angry, it didn’t stop Sean from lying.


Maybe if we are angry enough about a person or situation, maybe we’ll find a way to change it. Maybe not! Anger usually only gets us more anger and unhappiness!

We get angry, fearful, anxious, and judgmental:

 To motivate ourselves & others.

 As a reinforcer – to perform, & stay the course.

 As a gauge to measure the depth of our caring, our humanity – we believe if we judge something as terrible, we will know we care very, very much.


Being non-judgmental is powerful, not passive. We don’t have to use anger in order to have preferences and go for what we want in our lives.


If the electricity goes out, we can still want it to come back on, without being upset. No matter how angry we get, the electricity will come back on whenever it does. Our anger just makes us and those around us more distressed.


We can probably drive more comfortably and safely, when that other driver does something “stupid” if we don’t get angry, but use our energy to stay safe. Our anger will not make other people on the road better drivers! We may get upset for a moment or an hour or a day, but it won’t impact that person cruising down the highway, oblivious of the world around him or her. It’s not personal. They are just bad drivers, and our anger won’t improve them!


Truly accepting a person or a set of circumstances feels like letting go in the most gentle and liberating way, a joyful movement inward that frees us from anger. Unencumbered by judgments which cause anger. we find a reservoir of energy more expansive than ever imagined. This does not reflect a moral standard or any verifiable truth. We use it simply as a reminder of the possibilities and happiness any of us can create in response to any circumstance.


If our happiness does not depend on anyone else’s actions, reactions, words, or commentary, then we are not at anyone’s mercy.


Never be angry again?? It might be worth trying.



Jackie M

Jackie McCullough, Life Options Coach/Counselor/Teacher helps individuals take control of their lives. She is the author of Kathy Said, You’re Not Lost to Me, a self-help book for people struggling with anxiety and depression. With a new powerful approach to our lifelong beliefs, plus a modality called Life Options Dialogues, she helps people uncover the beliefs that are keeping them stuck in unwanted feelings and behaviors, like stress, anxiety, and depression.

Life Options teachings help them learn how to live happy empowered lives, no matter what is going on around them. The end result is becoming present, and non-judgmental, so their lives are easier, happier, and more effective. Jackie studied and was certified at the Option Institute International Learning and Training Center in Sheffield, Mass. She now counsels and teaches self-empowerment to those struggling with unwanted feelings and behaviors. She loves to see people take charge of their lives with her gentle processes, to go from “Survivors” to “thrivers.” She counsels in-person and face-to-face on line.

Jackie lives in the Rochester, NY area, is a member of the American Counseling Association, her local Youth Board, Henrietta Interracial Clergy Council, and Unity Church of Greater Rochester.

[email protected]’reNotLosttoMe

The Power of Letting Go of Judgement

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The Power of Letting Go of Judgement

by Jackie McCullough

When We Accept Others, We Accept Ourselves

“I used to think that, if I forgave people, they would be of some cosmic hook, never to be called to account for their actions. Later I learned that if I didn’t forgive, I was the one hooked, while others went their merry way.” Science of Mind Melody Beattie said in, Journey to the Heart, “ I used to spend a lot of time judging other people. I used to think the world was divided into right and wrong; I thought judging others would help me stay clear on the difference; I thought judging was my job. Now I’ve learned something new about judgments and about myself. Judging others is what I do when I fell afraid, insecure, and limited.


Judging others is something I do when I am afraid to love, when I can’t accept love because I can’t accept myself. And most important, I’ve learned that judging others is not my job. When I judge others, I judge myself. Judgments come from the head.  Freedom and love come from the heart. Transcending judgments will set you free. Learn to look at yourself in love – who you are, where you are, where you’ve been. Learn to look at others with love, too. When we accept others with freedom and love, we accept ourselves. Transcend your judgments & you’ll be free.”


Last year I attended an Alternatives to Violence Program weekend workshop. There were 16 people in attendance. On Friday one of the facilitators laid out some parameters for the weekend. Don’t interrupt whoever is speaking, raise your hand to be called on, if some one says something you believe is really helpful, raise your hands above your head and wave your fingers, and if some one says something you believe to be hurtful, say “ouch.”


All went well until mid morning on Sunday. We were discussing being understanding of others and I started to tell them my experience with “Allowing” rather than judging. My example was that one day I turned on TV and there was Jerry Springer advertising his show. My reaction was strong and negative. Then I remembered to “allow.” I thought: Jerry Springer is doing what he wants to do, the people on his show are there because they want to be, the audience and people at home are watching it and enjoying it and Jerry is making heaps of money…


Just then the woman sitting next to me stood up and screamed, “OUCH!” She started screaming at me that Jerry Springer exploits people and he shouldn’t be allowed to make millions of dollars exploiting people. She went on and on for a couple of minutes. She was judge and jury for Jerry Springer.


I was perfectly calm and present while she was screaming. Not only had I allowed Jerry to be who he was, I allowed this angry woman to be who she was too. After she finally calmed down, the facilitator brought us back to the discussion. I finished what I had started to say, that if I judged Jerry Springer as bad, it wouldn’t make one bit of difference in his life or the lives of his participants and viewers. My judgment and anger would only hurt me. I could “not agree” with him and decide to do something constructive about changing what he does, if I wanted to, but anger and upset wouldn’t be an effective way to do that.


After lunch the woman who screamed at me asked me if we could talk. We stepped into a room where it was quiet. I started to hug her but she jumped back and said, she wasn’t ready for that. She said, “I want to do that thing you said yesterday, where you look into each other’s eyes.” (I told them about the first time I had realized I was as loveable as everybody else on the planet. It was an exercise we did at the Option Institute. We walked slowly around the room with soft music playing. Then the facilitator had us stop in front of some one and look them in the eyes and love them. Then we went on to another person and did this four or five times, with different partners.


So she took my hands in hers and we just gazed into each other’s eyes. I stood loved her and loved her. After a few minutes she was done and we went on back to class. She didn’t say anything about how she felt so I didn’t know.


At the end of the day, we each had a large sheet of paper with out name on it and each class member wrote us a personal note on our paper. This woman’s note said, “WOW, what an amazingly surprising gift you gave me today. I could feel the light in your eyes and the warmth in your heart.” All because I loved her instead of judging her.


Being non-judgmental is powerful, not passive. Judgments are beliefs of good, bad, right, and wrong that we use to place value on ourselves, others and events around us. We don’t have to use judgments in order to have preferences and go for what we want in our lives. We can still want the electricity to come back on when the power goes out, or our children to keep themselves safe. Letting go of judgments makes us far more effective in clearly understanding, reinforcing and communicating our wants. No matter how upset we get, the power will come back on whenever it does. Our anger just makes us and those around us uncomfortable.


The woman’s judgment in the AVP Workshop was about her, not about me or Jerry Springer. Just about her beliefs. We are the belief makers!


When we judge others we are in essence putting them in charge of our happiness. We don’t “not judge” to be more moral. We do it because it works better!

Jackie M

Jackie McCullough, Life Options Coach/Counselor/Teacher helps individuals take control of their lives. She is the author of Kathy Said, You’re Not Lost to Me, a self-help book for people struggling withanxiety and depression. With a new powerful approach to our lifelong beliefs, plus a modality called Life Options Dialogues, she helps people uncover the beliefs that are keeping them stuck in unwanted feelings and behaviors, like stress, anxiety, and depression.

Life Options teachings help them learn how to live happy empowered lives, no matter what is going on around them. The end result is becoming present, and non-judgmental, so their lives are easier, happier, and more effective. Jackie studied and was certified at the Option Institute International Learning and Training Center in Sheffield, Mass. She now counsels and teaches self-empowerment to those struggling with unwanted feelings and behaviors. She loves to see people take charge of their lives with her gentle processes, to go from “Survivors” to “thrivers.” She counsels in-person and face-to-face on line.

Jackie lives in the Rochester, NY area, is a member of the American Counseling Association, her local Youth Board, Henrietta Interracial Clergy Council, and Unity Church of Greater Rochester.

[email protected]’reNotLosttoMe

Is it time to get ‘comfortable’ with trauma?

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Is it time to get ‘comfortable’ with trauma?

Childhood trauma is common and damaging. And it's time we talk about it

By Jane Evans

The word ‘trauma’ means such different things to us all. When I am speaking or training I always ask “what do you think trauma is?” and give people time to discuss it and then feedback. A wide range of descriptions, thoughts and insight come back to me as it is not clear cut. Some say, “a serious accident, death, domestic violence, a life-limiting injury, child abuse, terrorist attacks, living in a war zone”, all of which makes sense. What does trauma mean to you?

Writing in the book by Emmerson, D. and Hopper, E. (2011) called Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga, Stephen Cope says of trauma:

“Trauma may result from overwhelming or violent experiences, or from difficult psychological and emotional experiences. Its impact may be sudden and dramatic-or the result of gradual and unrelenting violations of our very sense of self. “

Why should we ‘get comfortable’ with trauma?

Surely the whole point is to feel deeply UNCOMFORTABLE that trauma exists, especially in the lives of babies, children and young people? I can’t disagree with this and, having shared the stage on several occasions with the inspirational. Dr. Eunice Lumsden, Head of Early Years at University of Northampton, who, when talking about how our youngest children are being failed, and continue to be traumatised at a time when we know the value of early intervention in their lives. Eunice always poses the question,“Where is our outrage?”

Statistics on the Young Minds website show the levels of trauma in our children and young people which appears in their mental health,

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class (1).

  • Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm (2).

  • There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self-harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68% (3).

  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time (4).

  • Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression (5).

  • Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression (6).

  • 72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems – these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society (7).

  • 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder (8).

  • The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s (9).

  • The proportion of young people aged 15-16 with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999 (10)

I want people to get ‘comfortable’ with the fact that trauma is a common, shared experience for many children on a continuum, from a tiny amount, up to the unimaginable. We need to become far more comfortable with this FACT, rather than continue to believe it’s just ‘those children ‘from ‘those families’.

How should we get ‘comfortable’ with trauma?

By becoming educated in what trauma is, what it does to the developing body and brain, how it presents in a baby, child, young person or adult, what is helpful to them and what is NOT helpful to them. This doesn’t mean we have to be diagnosing anything or anyone, there are far too many people rushing to do this so no need to join in!

It means we have to put our ‘trauma glasses’ on so we don’t see things which are not there, after all we can easily take them off if it is obvious what has happened.

We need to get comfortable with the fact that it is relatively easy to traumatise a child’s developing brain and nervous system, by:

  • Isolating them when they are upset

  • Spending too much time absorbed in a screen so their emotional needs go unseen and unmet

  • Numbing children out by repeatedly giving them a screen, dummy, food, bottle or anything else to distract them

  • Shouting at and shaming children when they have made a mistake

  • Giving them a consequence which put additional barriers between them and us at a time when they need to emotionally re-connect to explore what went wrong and how to feel calm again

  • Repeatedly giving the message that acceptance comes through achievement

These are all ‘mini-traumas’ which can accumulate over time and give the message, ‘you have to please me to be in my good books’, whereas children crave and need ‘unconditional’ connection and closeness to feel calm, well and to experience life fully and joyfully.

It’s always time to learn about trauma.

Having educated myself about the impact of early emotional and developmental trauma, I can safely say it’s a) possible b) essential c) time everyone did!

I am fortunate to have linked up with Mike Armiger, someone who fully and deeply shares my passion and determination that all who are present in the lives of children and young people, and/or support their parents/carers, REALLY  become comfortable with the fact that trauma is wide-spread.

Together we are holding a series of conferences around the UK to share our extensive front-line knowledge and our studies on how the body and brain are impacted by early trauma.

Our clear aim is to share what we know and to back it up with practical tools and techniques practitioners can use in whatever capacity they are working with vulnerable children, young people, parents and carers. (See below for details of our first event)

Why getting comfortable means offering hope to many

If we each do SOMETHING which pays attention to trauma then things WILL change!

We can develop methods and experiences that utilize the brain’s own natural neuroplasticity to help survivors feel fully alive in the present and move on with their lives.”

“The vast increase in our knowledge about the basic processes that underlie trauma has also opened up new possibilities to palliate or even reverse the damage.


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How to Help a child recover from sexual abuse

We’ve spent a little time talking about preventing child sexual abuse and bystander intervention and now, let’s shed some light on the recovery process! Your role in a child’s recovery sets the tone for a path of healing or well, not. If a child trusts you enough to report abuse, listen. Listen and believe, because the best chance for a positive outcome begins with that. When we listen and believe, healing can and does happen. Every day that passes between the traumatic event and the starting point of the healing process exponentially increases the power and the negativity of the abuse.


Understand that disclosure is a process. Children tend to tell about abuse over time, reading your response and choosing to keep talking or to keep silent. Disclosure may take place over a period of hours, or days or even weeks or longer. Be comfortable in the silence and be patient and open as you wait. Don’t be in a rush to “get to the bottom of it.”  Don’t ask leading questions about the details. Questions can come across as judgment and can confuse the child’s memory of events. Ask open ended questions like, “What happened next?”  or “Do you want to tell me more?”


Reassure. Say things like, “I believe you,” “It’s not your fault,” “I’m here to help you.” Don’t make broad or overreaching promises about the future.


Seek help from a professional who is trained to talk with children about sexual abuse. Report the abuse to the police or child protective services. Be clear and specific when reporting abuse. If your community has a Children’s Advocacy Center, utilize their services; there is often a good partnership between law enforcement, Department of Social Services, and the Children’s Advocacy Center.  To find a Children’s Advocacy Center near you, contact the National Children’s Alliance at or call 1-800-239-9950.


Will you choose to believe? Will you choose the path to recovery and healing? Will you choose to report? I believe in you. I believe you will. Because you know that child abuse only stops when WE stop it through prevention, intervention, and recovery.


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