Like 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and mention your interest. We are all still #StrongerTogether.
When I first became a personal trainer 30 years ago, I was convinced that exercise and fitness was the secret to overall health. Gradually, though, my belief that every ailment could be improved, if not cured, with the right exercise prescription wore thin, as I encountered physical challenges in my clients and myself that wouldn’t budge through fitness alone. Thus began my search for the “missing piece” — a more holistic approach, which led me to yoga and Pilates, which in turn led me to meditation and breath work. I followed that trail through all kinds of mind-body modalities, with improving results, but I ultimately found that even though this was an improvement over traditional strength and cardio work, most of these results were more “body” than “mind”.
I first learned about positive affirmations back in the late eighties, when Louise Hay’s wildly popular You Can Heal Your Life was creating armies of fans and fierce detractors alike. Hay espouses that every aspect of our lives – from health to relationships to career and more – is a manifestation of our thoughts, and that simply by changing our thoughts we can change our lives. Though it seemed like a vast oversimplification, the guts of this idea appealed to me, and I found that applying these principles helped me better manage stress and improve my state of mind. Yet these results also fell short of what I’d hoped to achieve in terms of maximizing health and well-being.
Today, I find the greatest power for self-healing lies in the judicious combination of all of these techniques and more. My current arsenal of healing tools includes everything mentioned above plus energy work, essential oils and my most recent addition, writing. I combine all of these modalities daily to promote healing on every level and the achievement of optimal health for myself and my clients.
Here’s an example from my own self-care routine that I actually did today: To further the healing of a debilitating spinal disk issue that I experienced back in January, this morning I performed hip and back stretches recommended to me by my extraordinary physical therapist, Kevin Towers, DPT. To optimize the effect of those stretches, I prepped by applying a few drops of a calming essential oil blend to acupoints on my feet, followed by a short Eden Energy Medicine daily routine. Then I read an entry from one of the inspirational daily meditation books I use regularly. Free-associating in my journal for a few paragraphs about the reading helped me identify a negative thought pattern likely related to my back pain. So finally, while doing the stretches, I recited an affirmation countering that negative thought pattern. The whole process, which took about 30 minutes, is more complicated than the homework I offer many of my clients, but it’s an excellent illustration of the powerful combinations of mind, body, and emotional healing techniques that I’m grateful to use and teach.
I’ve been a self-help book junkie for decades. Psychotherapy literally saved my life, but it’s expensive and time consuming. Since I’ve always loved reading and learning, early on in my process of recovery from a traumatic childhood, I began supplementing my own talk therapy with countless tomes on personal growth, emotional healing and spirituality. So, in hopes of guiding readers to books that might help support their healing, I offer occasional reviews here of the titles that have helped me find peace and stay sane in the wake of a severely dysfunctional upbringing.
At the very top of that list is The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. This book was my bible from 1987, when I first started to have flashbacks, through my decision to confront my father with my memories, and later my decision to sue him, and finally my working to forgive him. I’ve always been the kind of nerd who loves reading textbooks, and this is the ultimate compendium on how to get through a terrifying, painful and complicated process. Though it’s the size and weight of a textbook, the writing style in Courage, as I’ve come to call this old friend through the years, is that of a loving confidant or wise counselor. Every survivor’s experience is completely unique, of course, and a peek at the Table of Contents for Courage shows how the book’s structure allows readers to easily find the help they need, regardless of what stage of the healing process they’re in. Every chapter offers immediate, user-friendly advice and encouragement, including writing exercises, how-to bullet lists and related resources. Co-author Laura Davis’ related books have also been invaluable to me. The Courage to Heal Workbook offers writing prompts, checklists and a variety of activities to help survivors focus and deepen their healing work. And my husband Steven recommends Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused for anyone in a serious relationship with a survivor.
More information about my story and my writing can be found at www.sherylburpeedluginski.com.
Although it’s too late for me to benefit from the Child Victims Act, I’m adding my voice to the chorus calling for the reform of state laws that shield criminals who sexually assault children from legal action by their victims.
I was in grade school when my father first crawled into my bed. In this fourth grade class picture taken during the time that my father was sexually abusing me, I’m second in from the left in the first row of chairs. Like many trauma survivors with PTSD, I initially repressed the memories, and only began to recover them at the age of 23. By then it was already two years too late for me to take any legal action against my father, despite the fact that he had admitted – on tape and in front of two therapists – that my debilitating flashbacks were of actual incidents that he remembered too.
Childhood sexual abuse survivors deserve their day in court. The statistics are staggering: 1 in 10 children will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18, and the vast majority of those will be victimized by people they know and trust. Most people don’t realize that sexual abuse of children is far more prevalent than adult rape. In fact, nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) happen to children under 18. Their are 19 of us in this photo, so chances are good that one of my classmates seen here would also endure childhood sexual assault, if they hadn’t already.
It is time for all of us to face up to this scourge that has remained hidden for too long. New York has one of the shortest windows in the country for pursuing sexual-abuse complaints through the courts. Our laws should protect children, not their abusers.
Today I reject the idea that because this subject is repulsive and makes people uncomfortable, I shouldn’t talk about it. That belief, like the current New York state law, only enables child molesters to lurk safely in the shadows, to intimidate their child victims into secrecy and silence, until it is too late for justice. In 1991, my lawsuit against my father was dismissed because of the statute now in question. The laws have changed minimally since then, but they are still woefully in favor of protecting criminals.
After briefly agreeing in 1990 to attend joint therapy and contribute to my psychotherapy bills, my father abruptly changed his mind, withdrew his admission, and shunned me. That’s when I decided to sue him, and I soon learned that the laws were stacked against me and protected him. This is not a new issue. In 1992, I submitted testimony to the Senate and Assembly Codes Committee Regarding the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Offenses Committed against Children:
“The process of repression and recovery of memories for child sexual abuse victims like myself is extremely painful and debilitating. To say that it turns your world upside-down is an understatement. As you start to realize the truth about yourself and your family, you also realize that part of your childhood was stolen from you; that you never learned fundamental things about being a human being, such as what it means to love someone, to trust someone, to be nurtured or to nurture. You realize that you have been horribly confused about the meaning of sex and love for your entire life. And you wonder if you will ever be whole again…”
Once I knew the truth about my childhood, I came to understand that my silence as a child had protected my abuser and not me, and that the secret had festered and grown inside me like a cancer. Finally, I was ready to put the blame and the shame where it belonged, but the statute of limitations blocked my chances of ever even having my day in court, much less seeing justice done. If children are to be protected from the horror of sexual abuse, we must be willing to face and talk about the difficult truth and we must pass the Child Victims Act, sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), which would eliminate the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits in cases of childhood sexual abuse and open a one-year window for suits to be brought in old cases.
One month from today the current legislative session ends. According to the Daily News, which has been heroically and relentlessly covering this important issue since March, as of last week, the issue was not even on the legislative agenda. Time is running out to bring attention and support to the proposed law. Please help by adding your voice. Tell Governor Coumo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan that our laws should support child victims, not the criminals who sexually assault them. Support the Child Victims Act now.
Sat down at my computer over an hour ago, just to quickly check email, and fell into a digital wormhole that spun me around and spit me back out, more inspired than ever to share my story of healing from sexual abuse. Here are just a few of the amazing, writers, sites, workshops and campaigns that are fueling my resolve to blend my writing and healing work:
And this seems to be just the tip of the iceberg. So grateful to learn that I have such a beautiful chorus of strong voices to add mine too!
It thrills me when things I love collide like atomic particles smashing into each other to create new sub-atomic particles. Science and spirituality. Fitness training and energy medicine. Writing and health. Today I stumbled onto this quote from Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD, who graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and trained in family medicine, psychiatry, and clinical psychology. He’s a presenter at the Narrative Medicine (another mash-up that intrigues me) workshop that I’m thinking about attending this summer.
“In the view of conventional medicine, disease is found within organs. Autopsies with microscopic confirmation are the ultimate form of diagnosis. When we look for disease, we look for structural and enzymatic changes within individual organs. Aboriginal elders tell me that what we are seeking is only the footprint of the disease. Looking as we do, we only find the tracks and traces of disease, which, they say, is long gone by the time a person dies. Look for the disease within the relationships, they say. That is where it is found. The rest is consequences and effects of the disease. This leads us to a consideration of the logic behind spiritual healing, for it addresses what lies between people, or between people and spirits, or people and earth energies.”
While studying Eden Energy Medicine I learned that first the energy systems of the body become disorganized, then physical symptoms show up. Mehl-Madrona’s words give me a deeper perspective of that concept. Healing relationships — with our self, others, and the world — heals our bodies too.
For me, and maybe for you too, setting and working toward goals is the easy part. Actually achieving them is the scary, hard part. Manifesting our dreams brings Change with a capital C. And Change, even good Change, can be terrifying. I know, because as I write this, I’m in a wrestling match with anxiety, over finally accomplishing a dream I’ve had since early childhood. I’ve written a book.
For almost four years now, I’ve been working on a memoir. At this very moment, as I type the words, “it’s done”, my insides quake. Yes, there is obvious joy and pride in accomplishing my goal, of course. But now I must also face a host of unknowns: Will I be judged for the truths I reveal? How will these revelations affect my relationships with family, friends and clients? Will anyone even notice or care enough to read this thing that I’ve poured countless hours of heart-wrenching work into? Will I find a publisher? And that’s just for starters. But my wiser self knows the simple answer to all these questions:
It’s none of my business.
When I’m still and quiet enough to listen to my inner teacher, I know that my only job in this life is to pursue my deepest passions and thereby to become the most authentic version of myself possible. The effort is my responsibility. The outcome is not. And so, I hand it all over to the Universe, or whatever you want to call that entity that is a greater power than ourselves. In the language of 12-step programs, I Let Go. Let God.
Here’s what that looks like for me today: Breath work, affirmations, energy work, prayer, yoga, and journaling. These are the primary methods of self-care that help me face, accept, deal with and finally release, all my negative thoughts and inner resistance about reaching my goals, a.k.a, my Fear of Success.
How about you? Could you be harboring some hidden angst about achieving what you think you want? How would your life change if you did succeed? Are you truly ready, willing and able to handle that change? How do you root out and clear those surreptitious, negative beliefs that disrupt your energies and keep your dreams from becoming reality? Share your answers in the comments below, so we can support each other.
If you’d like to learn more about how I incorporate some of these self-care techniques into my work with my private fitness and energy work clients, click here. And if you’d like to read an excerpt and learn more about my recently completed memoir, Wasteland Reclaimed, click here.