Two Ways You Can Help Abused Children

Recently, I’ve become involved with an amazing organization, The New York Center for Children, which provides free therapy services to children  and their families. In the month of October, NYCC is partnering with the  Polished Man Campaign, an international awareness and fundraising campaign to help the 1 in 5 children who experience violence worldwide.

The Polished Man Campaign challenges men (and women) to paint one fingernail Polished Man Blue to represent the 1 child that dies every 5 minutes as a result of violence worldwide. Hopefully, that nail starts a conversation, which leads to a donation, which leads to prevention and healing.

All funds raised by the Polished Man Campaign support trauma recovery and trauma prevention programs for children around the world. This is the third year in a row that the New York Center for Children is the sole U.S. beneficiary.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I know firsthand how much therapy and support it requires to heal from this kind of trauma. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I would not be here today, writing this blog, if I hadn’t been able to access the lifesaving therapy that kept me sane and safe as I struggled to face and process traumatic memories of being abused by my father. That’s why I am so deeply inspired by NYCC, whose clients receive their therapy completely free of charge in a uniquely warm, nurturing and supportive environment. And that’s why I’ve started a fundraising team to support NYCC and The Polished Man Campaign.

There are two ways you can help

1) Donate: Please use this link to join the Generations Fitness and Friends Team. Help us reach our goal of raising $1000 to serve abused kids around the world.

2) Spread the word:

Thanks in advance for your generous support!

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Book Review: The Fact of a Body by Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich

Fact of a Body coverWhat does it take to put the painful past behind us? How does memory get buried in our bodies and our lives? Must we forgive those who tore our lives apart in order to make ourselves whole again? Or is justice all we need? And what is justice anyway?

The recently-released, genre-bending book, The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, digs into these questions with such a smooth, eloquent touch, you barely notice how deeply your heart’s been pierced until you turn that last page and suddenly find that everything you thought you knew is no longer clear.

The story begins…well, that’s another theme of the book. Just where does a story begin? The meaning of any story changes, Ms. Marzano-Lesnevich proves, depending on where it begins and where it ends, even if the facts remain the same. Yet every story must begin somewhere, and she chooses to start this tale during her law school internship at a firm specializing in the defense of death row criminals. She’s staunchly opposed to the death penalty, and has been for as long as she can remember. Until, that is, the first day of her internship, when she watches a video of one of the firm’s clients, an admitted pedophile, confessing to the murder of a little boy. Suddenly, she wants the man dead, and she doesn’t know why. Thus begins her odyssey for the truth about herself and her family, and the mystery of how her story is so tied up with the murderer’s.

This is a true crime book. This is a memoir. This is unrelenting reporting on a gruesome murder case. This is a story about how the secrecy and shame surrounding childhood sexual abuse strangles the flow of love and life from victims and their families. Marzano-Lesnevich deftly stewards us through a dizzying kaleidoscope of perspectives and timeframes, unraveling a tangled trail of facts that somehow always lead to more questions.

Along the way, remarkable parallels emerge between the lives of the author and the man she’s been hired to help defend. Phantom siblings. Family secrets. Hidden evidence. Both protagonists struggle to piece together the deepest mysteries of their childhoods so they can understand and move on. Both are stymied by families and cultures who refuse to see or acknowledge their pain. And both eventually find some version of peace by standing up and staring down the searing glare of truth that they alone refuse to hide from.

The Fact of a Body is the result of ten years of work by an author whose credentials read like a list of the literary world’s most revered programs and publications. Having put half that amount of time, so far, into my own memoir Wasteland Reclaimed, which explores similar terrain, and as a relative newbie to writing for publication, reading this book has grounded me in the reality of how much work and practice really goes into a masterpiece. Is “masterpiece” too strong a word here? I don’t think so. For me, this is the most important, life-changing book I’ve read in decades, as both a reader and a writer.

Here’s just part of how she describes the nauseating terror of having an abuse flashback during lovemaking with her present-day life partner:

“…it felt good and I moaned and it felt good again. And then it didn’t. When this happens I know it only the way you realize that the water has suddenly got too hot in the shower, has crossed over some invisible threshold and is now burning. Though it would be smarter to just hop out of the shower entirely—damn the bathroom rug, so it gets wet, who cares? —you stand under the spray that is now scalding you and you grope and fumble for the shower knob…Where does the mind go in these moments, while the body trembles? For me it is a white-hot slipstream blank-out, the nothingness of no time and nowhere and no one…”

She then goes on to explain how her flashback experience has changed through the years, and how she’s learned to process the memories by riding them out like a wave.

This is one of the many passages in the book that brings tears of relief and empathy to my eyes. Never have I felt so seen, understood and no-longer-alone, on such an intimate level before reading this book.

Another thread in The Fact of a Body that touched me personally is how the author sleuths into the pedophile-murderer’s story, searching for some explanation for how he morphed from boy to “monster”. She wants to understand, hoping it will lend insight into her own abuser’s transmutation. I search this way too in my own manuscript, into my parents’ marriage and what little I know of my father’s life. How could my father be both the man who helped my mother get sober, yet also be an abusive alcoholic? How could he cause so much damage to me as a child and yet so much of his positive influence still echo through my life to this day? How does the human heart manage to hate and love someone so deeply at the same time?

Marzano-Lesnevich explores these questions about her abuser too. That she finds no pat answer is more satisfying than if she pasted some over-simplified, band-aid rationalization onto her wounds in an attempt to prove she’s fully healed. As any trauma survivor knows, some mysteries are unsolvable and the healing process never ends. The Fact of a Body reveals the paradoxical beauty behind that reality.

The Least Known and Most Powerful Benefit of Walking

I recently rediscovered the universal benefits of regular brisk walking in my own day-to-day lifewalking. After several months during which knee arthritis limited my mobility, my weight was creeping up, my stamina was down, my body was feeling unusually stiff, weak and tired, and my monthly spending on taxis was ballooning. In January, after receiving hyaluronic acid treatments at the Hospital for Special Surgery, my discomfort resolved dramatically and I happily returned to my regular walking program. Almost immediately, I felt lighter, more balanced and more energetic. Most people know that science has long supported regular brisk walking as a way to maintain a healthy weight, boost heart health, prevent or manage high blood pressure, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve balance and coordination. What most people don’t realize is that there’s also an energetic explanation for the health benefits of walking.

Neuroscientists have long known that the right hemisphere of the brain controls the muscles of the left side of the body and vice versa. Similarly, energy crosses over from each side of the brain to the opposite side of the body. These lateral crossing patterns of energy can be found throughout an optimally functioning body, from the organs and cells right up to the aura that surrounds it. As we walk, our left arm swings forward naturally coordinating with our right leg as it steps forward and vice versa. Similar patterns occur when we swim, use an elliptical machine or simply march in place. This oppositional movement of upper and lower body in our physical body is called “cross-patterning” and helps facilitate healthy crossing over in our energy body.

When your energies are not adequately crossing over, you are in a “homolateral state” and have access to only about 50% of your energies. Reverting to a homolateral energy pattern is your body’s way of trying to slow you down so you can rest, heal or re-group, but it can become a bad energetic habit – similar to the way poor posture is a bad physical habit. While walking is usually a great way to get your energies crossing over and improving brain-body communication, sometimes a homolateral pattern is so ingrained that walking can just exhaust you even more. If you are chronically homolateral you may feel: your senses dulled, less alive, physically sluggish, depressed, unable to think clearly or focus, chronically fatigued or clumsier than usual.

Fortunately, there is a deceptively simple energy exercise that retrains energy patterns stuck in homolateral. Doing the simple energy correction in this video daily, especially right before you begin any cross-patterning movement, will help retrain your energies to flow in their naturally beneficial figure-8 patterns and will help keep your energy and physical bodies humming along in tune with each other.

#WhyIMarch

womens-marchThis Saturday, I’m literally stepping out of my comfort zone to make a political statement. Why now? What statement? Why the #WomensMarch in Washington D.C.?

I march because on the first day of this new administration, I declare, “We are standing up, we are mobilizing and we are moving forward toward unity, justice and equality for ALL Americans and all people everywhere.”

I march to unite with people of every gender, every sexual orientation, every color, every religion and every economic class because supporting the marginalized and vulnerable makes us all stronger.

I march to acknowledge my privilege as a white, middle-class woman and to use my social and economic advantages to dismantle the racial and gender inequalities in our criminal justice and educational systems.

I march for true and lasting social progress toward a unified, just and compassionate world for all human beings.

I march to expose and heal the rape culture that put a man who brags about sexually assaulting women into the most powerful office in the world.

I march because women deserve to live full, healthy lives, free of all forms of violence against our bodies.

I march to bask in the positive, healing energies of hundreds of thousands of other patriotic Americans, most especially two of my daughters who’ll march with me.

I march to express my love for and pride in this country and our democracy.

I march to prove that love and compassion always trumps fear and hate.

 

How We Help Each Other Help Others

I’m happy and proud to be yesterday’s guest blogger at Surviving My Past.

Matt is one spiral staircaseof the hardest working advocates I know for those of us healing from childhood sexual abuse and trauma. I look forward to his guest post here in the next few weeks. It’s so important that we work together to blow the lid off the stigma, shame and silence surrounding the issues of childhood sexual abuse, PTSD and mental health. Thanks, Matt for all you do. Here’s to making 2017 our healthiest, happiest year yet!

Two Simple Breathing Exercises to Release Your Neck and Shoulder Tension

Amazing fact: breathing is the only involuntary bodily function that is also easily controlled voluntarily. This unique property makes breathing a powerful mind-body connector. Our stressful, sedentary lifestyles can lead to improper breathing patterns that contribute to chronic pain and tightness throughout our bodies. Instead of using our diaphragm properly, many of us use muscles in our neck and upper chest to inhale, contributing to fatigue and achiness there. Reset your breathing pattern with this simple exercise.

Lie on your back with your feet on the ground and your knees bent. If necessary, place a small pad under the back of your head to level your chin and forehead (neutral cervical alignment).

breath-with-hands-on-chest-and-belly

Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. As you inhale through your nose, feel your stomach rise first, followed by your chest. Exhale fully and feel your chest lower first, then your belly. When you are completely empty of air pause for a count of 4. The pause helps your diaphragm and ribs function as they’re meant to. Inhale again and repeat for 5 breaths.

Next, move your hands to the sides of your ribs. Once again inhale fully through your nose. Feel your ribs expand laterally into your hands. breath-w-hands-on-ribsDon’t let your shoulders hike up toward your ears on the inhale. When you keep your neck and shoulders relaxed on the inhale, your intercostals (the small muscles between the ribs)  stretch to make room for the air. Exhale fully. When completely empty of air, pause for a count of 4. Then inhale again. Repeat for 5 breaths. This may take practice. Be patient and focus on the ribs widening as the neck and shoulders relax.

For more on breathing and 3 other simple exercises click here.

I welcome your questions and feedback about these exercises in the comments below.

Write to Heal Rape Culture

pen-writing-notes-studyingLike so many of us, the recent election results caught me off-guard and knocked me off balance. To re-center myself, I first gave myself time to mourn and then made the decision to channel despair into action. Of all the many well-documented reasons why I believe our president-elect is unfit to lead our great country, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, the one that hits me personally the hardest, is the fact that he is an admitted sexual predator. By saying this, in no way do I mean to minimize the threats posed by his statements against minorities, immigrants, gays and gender variant people, people with disabilities, the earth, or established scientific facts. I simply mean that the place where I personally feel I have the most passion and power to act is around the fact that the election of a self-proclaimed sexual predator is undeniable proof to me that we do indeed live in a rape culture. That’s why I’m launching a group tentatively called Write to Heal Rape Culture. Its mission is to connect and support all writers, emerging or established, who write or want to write about anything that helps us identify and heal from the effects of rape culture, on both the individual and societal levels. The simplest way to get involved is to use the hashtag #WritetoHealRapeCulture whenever you post or share on social media, blog or write about topics related to this issue. It’s time to claim our power, to raise our voices together to enlighten and educate about the rampant minimizing, denying, silencing and shaming around sexual violence and harassment of all kinds. A preliminary general interest and idea gathering event will happen on Friday, December 2, 2016 at Generations Fitness Studio located at 222 East 75th Street, apt LC, from 6:30-8pm. The official full launch of the group will be in early 2017. Whether or not you attend the meeting on 12/2, if you’d like to stay informed or get involved, please comment below or send me an email at sheryl.genfit@gmail.com and mention your interest. We are all still #StrongerTogether.