Many, many years ago, during a session with my therapist, I found myself sitting slumped down, defeated, exhausted --- I was so close to the end of my rope that he was concerned enough to ask me if I'd create a safety plan with him before leaving his office.
Begrudgingly I agreed, internally thinking, "Yeah right, like that's going to help."
We began putting together a plan that would keep me tied and tethered to this earth. After a few of the usual to be expected questions, "Who can you call if you feel like harming yourself? What is something you could do to self-soothe?" -- my therapist asked, "Would you be willing to spend 5 minutes a day practicing gratitude."
Not in the mood for any of is "woo" nonsense, I replied, "F*** off. You've got to be kidding me. What in the world do you think I have to feel grateful for? Sometimes I wonder if you even know what you're doing." (ouch! right? -- not one of my shining moments)
As he often did when I would lash out in this way, he took a deep breath and just sat, looking at me, letting me be, not rejecting or shaming or judging or correcting. And in that space, I felt my heart soften, and I said, "Okay, okay. If you think it will help."
For the next two weeks, I spent 5 minutes at the end of my day reflecting on the things I felt grateful for. And I have to tell you, I was really stretching in the beginning -- like, all I could connect to was feeling grateful for sleep, a funny TV show, being able to get out of bed.
But as the days passed, my sense of gratitude expanded, deepened, and I started noticing so much that I had in my life that I just hadn't been able to even seen because I was so consumed by depression and anger.
This gratitude practice saved my life.
Fast forward many, many years, and I'm now studying neuroscience and developing the Beyond Surviving program. I knew that this practice needed to be a part of my program, but I wanted it to be backed up by research -- add a little science to the woo. :)
In my studies, I came to learn that gratitude is amazing, because it ignites the brain stem and causes the release of dopamine, can boost serotonin levels, and ultimately creates a positive feedback loop that further heals the brain!
So today, I want to encourage you to incorporate a gratitude practice into your day to day. And I know you might be feeling just like I did - like there isn't anything to be grateful for. So I encourage you to start small, whatever feels doable -- and hey, maybe this email can be the first thing on your list!
Watchthis video narrated by Louie Schwartzberg on how to cultivate gratitude
Read about four practices that lead to more happiness (including gratitude!)
What do you feel grateful for today?
BOOK OF THE MONTH
Becoming a Man in the Shadowlands: Surviving Rape, Abuse, and Incest by Dennis Randall
This story of survival is a book by a survivor for survivors. Never a victim and always a survivor, journey inside the mind of a child overcoming sexual abuse while navigating a pathway through the social insecurities of adolescence. Becoming a Man in the Shadowlands is a beautifully written saga about an ugly subject. It is an inspiring survival story and a book worth reading.
FOR MEN ONLY Join Me for This Live Master Class! February 27th, 3:30p PT / 6:30p ET
Are you sick and tired of feeling stuck and paralyzed because of self-doubt?
For survivors of sexual abuse, our self-esteem and confidence are so depleted that we often find ourselves struggling with self-defeating thoughts, plagued by a fear of making mistakes, and exhausted from trying to constantly keep up a façade, afraid that any day we’ll be “found out”.
So it's no wonder that we struggle with confidence, feeling motivated, and relationships. For many of my male clients, they additionally feel inadequate and battle a sense of not being "man enough".
And while I'm not a guy, I have had my own struggles resulting from a lack of confidence! And I can't wait to share with you what helped me put an end to feeling worthless and not good enoughso I could finally stand up for myself, pursue my dreams, and achieve the success and relationships I always dreamed of.
As survivors of childhood sexual abuse, mothers are often one of our most complicated and painful issues. This month, we’ll explore what our relationships are like today with our mothers and what we might need to do to experience healing in this area.
It's inevitable as we turn the corner into a new year, that we will reflect upon our journey so far (the wins and losses), and we will look ahead to the future and try to crystallize for ourselves some vision of what might come.
Underlying this ability (and ultimately willingness) to look ahead is hope. Without hope, we fall into despair or resignation.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately, as I've been rereading "Hope: The Art of Living" by Stan Van Hooft with one of my clients. I came across one of my favorite quotes again that I'd like to share with you:
"There is always a gap between our intentions and the achievement of what we intend, which our efforts may not overcome. There is always the possibility of failure. Our intentions cannot bridge the gap. We do not have complete control over our circumstances. Accordingly, our hope bridges the gap."
This quote always takes me back to my early 30s, when I was at the edge of hope and despair and a decision was on the horizon. Give in to resignation or not.
I had made some great strides in my healing, but ultimately, when I looked at my life, I couldn't see a future that was meaningful or fulfilling. I couldn't find the joy in living, the meaning or purpose of it --I was seriously stuck!
And then, as often happens in my life (I guess it's the English major in me), I sought out guidance from literature and came across Van Hooft's book.
This was the beginning of my new relationship to hope, my deeper understanding of it as being at the root of all change, healing, and transformation.
A year later, I was testing out the first Beyond Surviving group for women!
So, ultimately, I share this story with you today as my greatest hope for you is that you press on -- even in the face of failures and unknowns, even when it seems it's all pointless -- you never know what might be right around the corner waiting for you.
Perhaps 2018 is your year to break free, to reclaim your life, and to move forward into a new journey that isn't just about recovering from the past but is about painting a future that brings you joy. And so I leave you to step into this new year with another quote:
"Hopefulness is an essential ingredient of joyfulness. To live life with joy is to be able to project the promise of a hopeful future for oneself and for others. Life is full of surprises. The hopeful person sees this as a source of joy while the pessimist sees it as a threat. The pessimist fears the new and the strange, while the hopeful person accepts and delights in it. In this way, hopefulness becomes a constituent of courage, trust and tolerance as well as of joy and love."
To a hopeful 2018,
Listento this fun and funky song about hope by Jain
Read about Beth, a survivor of childhood abuse who went from wanting to kill her parents to a thriving and successful live!
What brings you hope?
BOOK OF THE MONTH
You Can Be Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson
In this revised edition, #1 New York Times bestselling author and nationally known stress-management consultant Dr. Richard Carlson reveals a profound breakthrough in human psychology. Most of us believe that our happiness depends on outside circumstances, that by solving our problems, improving our relationships, or achieving success we will find contentment. But Dr. Carlson clearly shows that happiness has nothing to do with forces beyond our control — in fact, he says, it is our natural state.
One of the many reasons it’s so difficult to break the silence is the many negative messages we receive about ourselves. It’s a wonder we ever tell anyone about the abuse. But tonight, even if you don’t share, come join us in breaking the silence.
Whoa! The end of 2017 snuck up on me! I guess it really is true that time flies by as we get older. This past year has been an important one for me on many levels, but I want to share one key learning I've gained during 2017.
Every year, in January, I choose a theme for the year. This year, my word was "cushiony"! I wanted to focus on creating more space in my daily routines, work with clients, social activities, and create more time for just "being". (By the way, one of my clients shared with me a great little book along these lines.)
One day, I was l lounging in my backyard enjoying my garden (when did I become a gardener! how did that happen!). Needless to say, I have come to enjoy this time outside and began to treasure more and more the quiet pleasure of standing in my garden tending to living things.
As some time passed, I found myself thinking about how many hours were left in the day? Wasn't it nice to have nothing on the calendar for the rest of the day, so I could laze about and do nothing?
And then I wondered, "What if the nothing was actually everything! What if this time of just being, soaking in the sounds, the wind, the breeze, the smell of the flowers from the garden -- what if that was actually everything?!"
Our lives become so busy that we seek this "nothingness" as a way to reprieve ourselves from the day-to-day pressures and stresses and ups and downs and often think of the "nothing time" as a time to tune out, to escape.
That day, I realized that this frame needs to shift. There's an opportunity to experience everything, to transform what was once "nothing". These moments hold the opportunity to pause and take note of all there is to gain. I was able to tune into the experience of "being" instead of "doing".
I also realized that as I sat there calling this time "nothing", there was this part of me that would push back and say, "Well you better get up to something then! Be productive, get busy, get something done" andimmediately all of the peace and ease that I was experiencing in that moment of everything was made bad and wrong and taken away.
As I practiced what I teach my clients -- pay attention to your thoughts, pay attention to the language you use, to pay attention to what you are out to prove -- I decided to change my language and my focus, and this moment of nothing became a moment of everything!
I treasure this year of cushion and have so much to celebrate, because even while I made more time for myself, this year:
Over 50 people completed the Beyond Surviving Program and are now doing wonderful things like starting a family, stepping out as speakers and advocates for survivors, building new businesses, starting graduate school, and developing deeper relationships.
I expanded my Healing from Sexual Abuse Facebook Group(now more than 3700 members) and built a great team to support me in making this (I think!) one of the best groups for survivors on Facebook today! www.facebook.com/groups/realtalkwithrachel
With the help of my amazing team, I delivered 4 Master Classeson various topics such as shame, fear, anxiety, abandonment and more!
Looking to 2018, I am branching out and taking on some new projects! Here’s what I’ve got in mind for the New Year:
Continue development of programs for medical professionals about screening for abuse;
Expand my impact through partnering with various non-profits;
Add peer support as a new component for my group programs;
… and even more!
Most importantly, I want you to know thatI couldn't have done any of it without your amazing and ongoing support. I’m in an incredible community and hope that you have been touched, inspired, and healed by something we shared this year.
So, with deep gratitude, my wish for you is that your holiday and 2018 are filled with joy, love, laughter, and strength.
With much love,
* post dunk in 410' waterfall!
* march against unlawful deportation
of immigrants with my honey
I know as we turn the corner into the final months of 2017, I am first of all astounded by how quickly this year flew by. I'm also very much aware of how this time of year begins to bring up so much for people as the holidays approach and navigating family relationships during this time can be a huge strain, particularly for survivors of abuse who not only have to deal with the usual stressors but are often trying to navigate gatherings where an abuser might be present.
This is no small feat to tackle and one of the many reminders that those of us who have experienced trauma must continute to generate courage, groundedness, and positivity in the midst of some really challenging situations.
Today, I wanted to share with you an interview I did with Anne Cuthbert on how to end emotional eating and survive the holidays. Finding positive coping strategies is so key during this time.
And as always, if there is anything I can do to support you during this time -- I'm here!
WatchKati Morton discuss how to overcome the fear of intimacy.
Read about three quick tests you can do right now to assess your level of anxiety, depression and PTSD.
What are some positive things you can do as the holidays approach to nurture and comfort yourself?
BOOK OF THE MONTH
Healing My Life: From Incest to Joy by Donna Jenson
In chronicling the physical and spiritual steps she took to reclaim her life and peel away the layers of damage done by incest, Jenson has written a powerful narrative of one person’s healing journey. And though the subject matter is deeply serious, Jenson writes with her sense of humor firmly intact, reminding us that joy is possible in the face of great pain. Poignant, brave, and helpful, Healing My Life offers a much-needed testimony for anyone affected by or concerned about childhood sexual abuse.
You can also check out the guest blog series Donna did last month here.
November's Theme: Re-Enactment
This is an issue we all need to be aware of as survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Re-enactment is about the unconscious drive in all of us to master our traumatic experiences and triumph over the past. And it is possible to become caught up in behaviors that re-enact the experiences we had as children of dysfunction, poor care, exploitation, and shame.
NOTE: We will meet on Tuesday, November 28th instead of Monday for this month
If so, you can still get the mp3 in which I share with you the keys to unlocking the cage of fear and anxiety so that you can finally do the things you love and obtain the things you want in your life.
William Edward Hartpole Lecky, a historian, once said, "There are times in the lives of most of us when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed." This he noted in his book, The Map of Life in 1904!
Back to the quote though - I love Lecky's not so subtle reminder that this day we are living may seem bland, uneventful, repetitious, and, yet, with one shift tomorrow, would instead be longed for.
We often hear admonitions to live "now" - in the present - it's even one of my 12 Commandments ("Don't miss this moment"), but Lecky's statement brings a reason as to why into high relief for me.
Beyond the usual points that you'll miss out on what you could otherwise experience, lose out on opportunities to connect with others or learn something ... Lecky's thought on the matter causes me to reconsider my repetitive, boring days to be something altogether different. Namely - peace, ease, and comfort. Days to be appreciated and enjoyed - even in their monotony.
In other words, it's very easy to connect with "now" when I'm standing on the beach inhaling a beautiful sunset. These sorts of experiences call on us to pause, to just be.
But what about when I'm at the sink washing the dishes, maybe feeling annoyed at the repetition of this chore and that it's keeping me from something I really want to be doing. And yet, if tomorrow I were in an accident and lost my arms (I know, a touch morbid!), how I might long to be able to wash the dishes again!
And to bring the point even more home, when I think back to a time in my life when I couldn't even get up to wash the dishes because I was so consumed by depression -- how easily now I take for granted and even resent this task that is in some ways a powerful representation of my healing!
So, for today (and hopefully days to come), I'll take comfort in the repetitions of my day, enjoy the stability of routines, and look for the little moments that distinguish this day from the others.
In celebration of all facets of life,
WatchJill Tolles talk about the courage to have conversations about sexual abuse.
Read this article to learn how yoga can help you improve your sex life.
What are some ways you can practice being present and appreciate even those things that seem mundane this week?
BOOK OF THE MONTH
Boys Cry Too: A Story of Hope, Forgiveness, Redemption and Change by John Mark Clubb
As a boy growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, John endured years of sexual abuse by his father, a former Baptist minister. John tried to find refuge in the regimentation of a military career and in multiple marriages, but his efforts to deal with the trauma of his experiences led him on a self-destructive path that left a trail of broken people and dreams. His life continued its downward spiral until he reached the ultimate bottom. . .and began his journey toward forgiveness of his abusers and, finally, himself. This memoir is a groundbreaking account, from a man's perspective, of the effects of sexual abuse on all aspects of the victim's life. John speaks out about the details of his abuse and the family culture that enabled generations of abusers to victimize its children. His searing openness throws a spotlight on the darkly kept secrets of childhood sexual abuse, and his story will serve as an inspiration to everyone who longs to embrace their own healing journeys.
Triggers are something we’ve all had to deal with as survivors of childhood sexual abuse and can occur anytime something in our current environment reminds us of the past. As survivors, it’s important when we’re feeling “crazy” to ask if we may have been triggered and by what.