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My Name is Sandra, I'm a Survivor
My Story of Healing From Childhood Incest
My name is Sandra and I am a survivor of childhood abuse. I kept my secret about the sexual abuse for over forty years. As with most rape victims, coming forward and talking about what happened to me was the hardest thing I've ever done. It's getting easier now to tell my story about being sexually molested as a child, and I produced a video about my journey called My Name is Sandra.
I didn't really think about what happened to me as a child, until about four years ago. I'm not sure why the memories chose that time to come back, but they say it happens when you are at a point in your life that you can deal with it. I just know I started to feel really, really depressed, and then the memories of the childhood sexual abuse started playing in my mind and I couldn't seem to stop them. Little did I know that this was the beginning of my journey through hell.
The Devastating Effects of Child Incest
The Incest Price
My story of incest is not that much different from other rape victims stories of healing. The effects of childhood abuse in adulthood are often a life-long struggle for survivors. Major depression and post traumatic stress (PTSD) is common. I didn't sleep for weeks at a time and when I did fall alseep I would often be woken up by nightmares. During the daytime I couldn't concentrate because my mind kept playing out the scenes of the abuse.
When the flashbacks were really intense, I would have body memories where it felt like the abuse was happening to me all over again. The PTSD was so bad that I often blacked out for a few seconds, which was kind of scary. I spent close to two years of my life in this crisis state. I felt like I paid the incest price with my soul, because it took so much of my health.
The Courage to Heal - This Book Saved My Life
The Courage to Heal is a wonderful book full of information about what you need to do to heal. Can't tell you how glad I am that this was the first book I came across in my recovery. This book has been around for 20 years because it is one of the most comprehensive books on sexual abuse that is available. This new anniversary edition contains extra and expanded chapters, including a new section on post traumatic stress.
This book is considered the "bible" for survivors and is highly recommended as the first book to read on your healing journey. It's an absolute must-have book for any survivor.
The Road to Wellness
Battling the definition of depression
Getting well wasn't easy. The depression knocked the energy out of me and the lack of sleep affected my ability to concentrate, or think rationally. I had to simplify my life down to the basic accomplishments. My goals for each day were: 1) get out of bed, 2) get dressed, 3) eat, and 4) walk. It sounds simple enough, but almost impossible for those who are battling depression and PTSD.
I did seek therapy, but unfortunately I was too sick to realize how much damage this therapist was having on my recovery. My red flag should have been the night I tried to take my life because my therapist's voice was in my head telling me how messed up I was and how much I hurt her feelings. It took me two years to understand how this therapist was repeatedly re-traumatizing me before I changed therapists.
What I Struggle With
Healing is Hard Work
Much of my journey of how to get over being molested as a child, has been learning about the effects the abuse has had on my life. I still have body memories, I'm still afraid of people, but at least the nightmares are fewer now, and for the most part, I sleep better. I know now how important sleep is to my well-being, so when I'm having trouble sleeping I use sleep medications.
My feelings of worthlessness are a daily battle and it doesn't take much for me to convince myself that I'm a useless person. I get defeated easily and am frequently overwhelmed to the point where I can't cope. Much of what I do to stay on the track to wellness is accepting that I can't take on the world at this moment, and allowing myself to forgive what I see as my inadequacies. I try not to compare myself to others because that gets me wrapped up in the self-talk about how I have no useful purpose in life.
Some people do recover from PTSD, but others go on to suffer for years. There isn't any cure for it, and most of the help is aimed at managing the symptoms. I have frequent, intense fear responses daily. Now that I know what my triggers are I can manage them better, but sometimes they hit me out of the blue. I have different intensities of triggers where at times, I am frozen in fear for around 20 minutes and other times the trigger is so bad I end up in bed, in an almost comatose state, for a few days. Learning about these triggers has been a major step for me. Honestly, I thought I was normal and everyone went through what I do. Finding out that my experiences weren't normal was life changing for me.
I learned to turn off my emotions and numb them during the abuse. It's what abused children do to survive. As an adult, I'm still numbing my emotions. I can cry a bit now, but for the most part I'm still quite numb. I also dissociate and when I have to face the trauma in therapy, I "leave" the room. Most people experience a form of dissociation when they can't remember the drive to their destination. Children who are abused use dissociation to "leave" their bodies during the abuse as a way to cope with the horrific things that are happening to them. I'm still learning to stay present in my life, and I'm getting much better at it.
Ten Things I've Done to Help Myself Heal - Learning How to Live Again
- Connecting with other survivors.
- Learning about mindfulness.
- Being an advocate for sexual abuse prevention.
- EMDR (a type of therapy).
- Learning about self-care.
- Practicing meditation.
- Taking time for myself.
- Going on retreats.
- Not being so hard on myself.
- Educating myself about post traumatic stress.
Where I am Now
A Better Place
The biggest jump I took in going forward with healing was volunteering with an organization that educates about sexual abuse prevention. Becoming a facilitator of their prevention program has been the most rewarding experience for me because I feel like I'm helping stop this epidemic. It is my hope that no other child will ever have to go through what I did. I teach people how much sexual abuse hurts, the devastating life long effects it has, and how to prevent it.
Many people are quite shocked to hear that the statistics for sexual abuse are 1 in 3 girls, and 1 in 6 boys, will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen. And those are just the reported statistics. The actual numbers are believed to be quite higher due to the secrecy that surrounds it. Most children who are abused don't tell until they are adults, and some, like me, keep the secret for years.
Teaching sexual abuse prevention has been beneficial for me in so many wonderful ways. I've never thought myself much of a public speaker, so can't tell you how rewarding it is when people ask me to come back to teach another session, or specially request that I be the one who does their training. I get so many nice comments on my evaluations that I am a dynamic speaker, personable, and empowering. For someone who has felt all their life that their voice was never heard, this is quite amazing to me that I am in such demand as a speaker and people want to hear what I have to say.
My Favorite Quote
Putting My Story on Video
My Name is Sandra
I produced a video, My Name is Sandra, as part of a survivors project to speak out about abuse. The video was hard for me to put together especially when I was scanning my childhood pictures. I had to watch it over and over as I was assembling it, and then I had to post it on YouTube. Yikes! At first, I could only bring myself to let the survivors in the group see the video, and then I took the leap and showed it to some of my friends. Then, before I knew it, people from all over the world were viewing it. Somewhere along the line it got picked up by a newspaper journalist, and a talk show host put it on their blog. I saw people sharing it on Facebook as well. I was also honored when the video was featured on the front page of the Journal of Hope and Healing.
I've received so many wonderful comments about this video. Many people say they cried, and most describe it as very powerful and moving. I am flattered that people have been so moved by my story. The success of the video in bringing attention to the devastating effects of sexual abuse, has gone beyond my wildest dreams. I've had survivors contact me and tell me they've found the strength to speak about their own abuse after seeing my video. This makes my heart sing.
I've had some sexual abuse support agencies express interest in showing the video as part of their education program and I am thrilled they want to use it. My dream is that one day someone will ask to use it in a sex offender program. Plus I'd be even more excited if I was ever invited to speak about it.
Watch My Video - My Name is Sandra - My Story of Healing from Sexual Abuse
Teach Your Child about Improper Touching - Keep Your Child Safe With These Books From Amazon
Talking to young children about sexual abuse doesn't mean going into detail about what a child molester might do to them. Teaching them about boundaries, that their private parts are private, and talking about not keeping secrets is a non-threatening way to bring up the subject. For very young children the focus is on "personal safety" and not a scary discussion about child molesters. Please take a moment to protect your kids and read one of these books to them. I wish someone had taken the time to read one of them to me.
1 in 3 girls, and 1 in 6 boys,
will experience some form of sexual abuse
before the age of 18.
If you want to learn more about talking to your children about sexual abuse visit: How To Talk to Children About Sexual Abuse. We have to talk about it, or it will never stop.