Sunday, October 9, 2016

What To Do When You Feel Hopeless: Repeat Positive Mantras

A mantra, which is a spiritual practice in Hinduism and Buddhism, is a statement or slogan repeated frequently. 

An affirmation, according to the Google dictionary on the internet, is the action or process of affirming something or being affirmed.  To affirm is defined as "to state or assert positively; maintain as true.

Mantras and affirmations can be used for healing and coping with all levels of stress including extreme stress.  There are two ways to use mantras or affirmations: on a daily basis to raise self esteem and lower overall stress or to cope with stressful situations on a case by case basis.

I learned to use mantras to heal myself on a difficult day in the fall of 2008.  I had the ex-husband from hell.  He was constantly requesting parenting time schedule changes, making plans with our children during my parenting time without asking me first, and requesting to take his vacation over my birthday while refusing to make schedule changes for me to take a vacation with the kids.  He also sent me mounds and mounds (I printed them out for evidence) of e-mails criticizing me and blaming me for our problems getting along.  That day in 2008, I was also scared for my financial future as my work prospects were not going well.  AND I was sick with a sore throat and earache runny nose and lethargy.  Oh, I forget to mention that I was also a child sex abuse and date rape survivor, so depression and anxiety were my constant companions.  I was so stressed that I start to cry.  How could I handle everything?  Life was so hard.  I thought to myself as I often did for years that if I had known what was ahead of me, I might not have chosen to be born.  As I cried, my children, then nine and twelve, also began to cry.  I knew as a mother that my tears were dragging my children down into despair.  I also knew that I had to be strong for them, to be their hope for a happy life.  I wanted better for them than I had had in my life.  My parents had passed away years before and the never ending conflict with my ex-husband left me little time to develop friendships.  I was trying to handle bad times on my own.  Fortunately I did have a mentor--someone just like me who had struggled through child sex abuse and an abusive relationship with her ex-husband.  However she had figured out how to heal herself from these wounds so she often had good answers for my problems.  So I called up my mentor to ask for help.    

She told me, “Repeat a positive mantra.”

What my root fear was that life was just too much.  I could not handle it.

My fundamental need was to believe I could get through this day, this life.  Although that day was a particularly bad day, I had been through many particularly bad days in my life.  What I needed more than anything was to remind myself that I was strong and could get through this one particular bad day too.

So that became my mantra and for good measure I substituted the word "we" for the word "I" because I needed to help the children I had hurt with my tears.

My mantra (or affirmation) became, “We are strong; we are getting through this.”

So I got off the phone and took my children’s hands while we stood in a small circle.

Together we repeated the words, “We are strong, and we are getting through this.”

We did this not once or twice or even for ten minutes.  We did this for a full forty-five minutes because that was how long it took me to feel OK, to be able to proceed with my life, such as it was, without crying.

I have used the technique many times since then.  For greatest effect, combine the mantra with breathing and gratitude for the forces of the universe aligning with you to help you be strong.

Become aware of your breathing.

Breathe in, "For making me strong."

Breathe out, “Thank you.”

Breathe in, “For making me strong.”

I have known other abuse survivors who used mantras and affirmations to help themselves heal.  Armando, for example, used a different kind of mantra or affirmation for his healing.  Armando was physically and emotionally abused as a child by his father and suffered low self esteem as a result.  At age 18, he immigrated from Mexico to the United States and worked in a factory in the Los Angeles basin.  In his spare time he chased girls and the dream of owning a cherry red Mustang.  One of the girls he was pursuing invited him to a spiritual retreat at her Catholic Church.  Armando attended the retreat.  In the long run he lost the girl, but he found faith during the retreat.  

After the retreat he would stand before his bathroom mirror every day and repeat the words, "I am made in the image of God."

It was an important first step in his healing that eventually led him to become a Catholic priest.

Once again, don’t think that repeating a mantra or affirmation a few times is enough.  During a period of extreme stress, repeat it many times for thirty or even sixty minutes if need be.  If you need it to lower overall all stress and improve self esteem the way Armando did, repeat it several minutes every day for weeks, months or years if needed.

You may also want to remind yourself of these things by making decorative cards with these simple sayings on them to post them around your bedroom or your home.

These are some affirmations or mantras I have come up with:  
I am lovable.
I am good.
I am smart.
I am capable.
I am strong.
I am worthy.
I am beautiful.
I have glorious hair.
I am a great writer.
I am a good cook.
I am creative.
I am giving.
I am fun.

Now come up with your own positive mantras to help you feel good about yourself.

It is important to remember that we repeat mantras not because we believe them but because we need to believe them.

(c) 2016 Virginia Pickles 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sex and Other Discontents: Real Life Losses Experienced by a Rape and Child Sex Abuse Survivor

 I wrote this poem in October 1991.

Sex and Other Discontents

Monday Night After Soccer
You said you couldn’t sleep with me
But it was I who lay

You called me that night
And asked me to
Share watermelon with you.
We sat
Spitting seeds

Oh how I tried
White lace negligees
Black silk Teddies,
A chemist’s experiment
Books on Turkish cooking
And erotic massage

After the phone’s
Three-week silence
You wanted to know
Why I
Knew no new massage

But how could I bake bureks
Or study sex
Not knowing when you would call
Not knowing if you would call
Knowing only
What was it you wanted
Not me,
Not me.

I wrote that poem after the end of a relationship, if you could call it a relationship. The man (slightly fictionalized), was Mehmet, a Turkish Post Doctoral Fellow in engineering at the University of Washington.  He had earned his Ph.D. from Humboldt University in Berlin.  He was an interesting mix of liberal German and conservative Muslim Turk.  It was not a good mix, at least not for me.  He liked casual sex.  He didn’t want commitment, but if I showed the slightest interest in another man... well he took a very dim view of that.

The problem I had with Mehmet was that he was a very good lover.  He really knew what to do.  Before me, Mehmet had a German girlfriend who had taken “how to” sex classes and taught him what to do.

The reason that was a problem was that the next man I dated was my husband.  My husband never had a girlfriend before meeting me.  He had never had sex before meeting me.  But he had a buddy who told him that something was wrong if I wasn’t having sex with him by the third date.  My husband pressured me.  I told him about having been sexually abused at age four and raped on a date at age 22.  My husband was a medical student when we met.  He had female patients who had been sexually abused and raped and had stopped having sex.  But with me it was personal.

My husband told me...if I could just change my thinking about sex, things would be great.

He said, “I want to let out the inner whore in you.”

But I felt like a whore after the date rape.  I didn’t want to feel like a whore again.

My husband was always saying things that were completely wrong.

He’d say, “I want to feel my hot cock in your pink, wet, pussy.

I told him to go read a romance novel and come back to me with different language.  All he managed to do was to make sex sound a little more clinical.

“I want to feel my throbbing penis inside your wet vagina.”

Sex with my husband just never worked.  There was always the memory of Mehmet, with whom sex worked much better.

But even Mehmet asked me, “How come you don’t have orgasms?”

I had already given up on feeling pleasure during sex years before, after I was raped on a date at age 22.  That’s why my husband’s lack of skill didn’t seem important.  I could like sex less.  I could like sex more.  Rarely did I like it very much.

At 18 I fell in love with Danny, who left me adrift, half conscious, with pleasure only by kissing me and caressing me.  But Danny was in love with Kathleen, and Kathleen was engaged to Seamus.  Danny had only started things with me to help him get over Kathleen.  It didn’t work.  Within four weeks Danny abandoned me.  Several months later I ended up in the college campus hospital after a suicide attempt.   I never told the psychiatrist about being sexually abused at age four.  I didn’t know sex abuse survivors had trouble with abandonment and depression and suicide.  I didn’t even know what sex abuse was.  The year was 1978.  Society had barely begun to talk about such things.

Then there was Sean the summer I turned 21.  Sean was very funny.  For me, I guess, humor is very sexy.  I fell in love with Sean too.  Sean was an art student and an athlete.  He was inexperienced, but he was very graceful.  Sean could leave me limp with pleasure.  Sean promised to write, but when the summer was over, Sean’s promises disappeared like bubbles popping on a breeze.  Once again, depression and thoughts of suicide followed.

So where did love get me?  How could I trust love?  Love only brought me years of pain.

I didn’t love my husband.  I liked him, cared for him, enjoyed his company.  I even loved him as a person.  He loved me as no man had loved me before.  I wanted a man who would love me so much he would not abandon me.  I had no intention of dumping my husband the way Danny and Sean and others had dumped me.

But there was the problem of me not liking sex.

After Sean abandoned me at the end of my 21st summer, I tried casual sex.  If Sean didn’t want me, other men wanted me for at least one night.  I dated a young man I never should have dated.  It was against my better judgment, but the young man pursued me.  I was lonely.  I wanted to be wanted.  Finally I said yes.  The young man had a friend who wanted a ménage a trios’.  I said yes again.  As the two guys sucked on their bong and ignored me, I got to thinking that sex wasn’t such a good idea.  But my ever-present depression and low self-esteem kept me rooted to the bedroom.  How could I give up the crumbs of attention promised to me?  After putting down the bong, the young man’s friend, a former high school football player over 6 feet tall, went first.  I am a small woman, five feet two inches.  At age 22, I weighed only 105 pounds.

The football player was rough.  He was hurting me.  I told him he was hurting me.

I asked him to stop.  He ignored my pleas and continued.

After the football player finally rolled off me, he said, “I’ve had better.”

I next morning I wrote in my diary, “...I feel degraded, like dirt, a whore...”

I never reported the date rape.  Who would believe me? I had consented to sex and then changed my mind.  In recent year I read about a similar cases that a woman reported.  She lost in court.  I felt overwhelming shame and guilt.

Months passed.  I wrote in my diary, “    I hate men and sex, I hate men and sex.  I am just a number, a trophy.  If they could cut the insides of me out and hang them up on a wall, they would.”

I wasn’t depressed.  I was numb.  When men asked me out, I felt nervous and made excuses as to why I could not go out.  I preferred to stay home and read or watch Kung Fu on television.  I went hiking by myself.  It was years before I would go out with a man again.

When I did, I didn’t like the sex.  Every man I dated after the date rape remarked on my response to sex.

A Russian man I was deeply in love with told me in broken Russian, “Virginia, I have a problem.  I can’t tell if it is good for you or bad for you.”

My most skilled lover said, “Virginia, I can’t move you.  You’re a cold fish.”

What was I supposed to do?  My husband and I tried sex therapy.  The therapist suggested going without sex until I wanted sex.  It couldn’t work.  I never wanted sex, and my husband felt he couldn’t live without sex.  In the end, even in marriage, sex felt like rape.  Afterwards, I would go into the bathroom and cry.

I thought, “How can I live with having sex for the rest of my life?”

So I am not married anymore.  For years I felt lonely, but I didn’t date.  Finally I began to date again, but I still sleep in a twin bed.  Maybe there is something subconscious to that.  I could share my bed if I really had to, but it wouldn’t be very comfortable.  How can I feel any other way?  I am a thoroughly heterosexual woman for whom sexual and romantic relationships with men never worked out.  Men are great as friends.  Mix in sex....

At age 41, I converted to Catholicism.  

Sometimes I think the Catholic Church should hire me as a sex educator for young girls.

“Casual sex is like playing with fire.  Don’t do it!”

But it is true.  Sex outside of the right place, outside of a committed, loving, and completely consensual relationship between two adults, can be very harmful.

In the end, the Catholic abuse scandal awoke me to what had happened in my own past.  I was baptized by a priest who was later removed for abusing boys.  To deal with my pain, I read about the abuse scandal.  I ended up connecting with clergy abuse survivors.

“Get therapy; get help,” they advised me.

Try to heal on your own from sex abuse and rape alone -- the way I did most of my life – is very difficult.  Don’t try to go alone.  Psychologists may help you explore your wounds form the past and how they affect your current thinking.  A Licensed Clinical Social Worker may try to help you improve your coping skills.  A psychiatrist can prescribe medications to ease your pain as well as offer talk therapy at a very high price.  If you can’t afford therapy, many rural counties have Domestic Violence services that also work with sexual abuse and rape victims.  Many have support groups for survivors.  Some even offer classes on relationship skills.  Spiritual retreats can also help heal wounds of abuse.  Connecting with other survivors, particularly those who have been working on their own healing, helps us both know that we are responding normally to profound wounds as well as point us in helpful directions for healing.

I still have hope for a healthy physical relationship with someone I love.  I am dating again, taking it slowly, step by step, valuing myself in ways I never valued myself before.

Post Script:  I wrote this back in 2006.  I went through a family crisis from the Summer of 2012 until Spring of 2014.  My children need me too much.  Dating has gone by the wayside since then.  I belong to the Jackie Kennedy school of parenting.  If you don’t do a good job of raising your children, not much else you do that matters.  My children need me right now so I don’t have time for dating.

Tips for resuming dating after abuse and rape:

Give yourself lots of time and space to heal before dating again.  Not that I really know about that.  I don’t.

Take things slowly, step by step.  Set boundaries and limits you won’t go beyond

Know that you are valuable, deserving of only the best treatment.

Remind the guys and gals that commitment is sexy, and sex without commitment is kind of boring.

Commitment means he or she takes you out and tells others how special you are and then treats you that way in private.

If the guy or gal calls after 10 PM and wants to come over, tell him or her it is too late.  Or don’t even answer the phone.  You are too valuable to be treated with such little concern for your needs.

If the guy or gal only comes over for sex, tell him or her to consider taking you out to dinner or a movie or coffee or a picnic or just to sit on a bench and talk is foreplay and that you won’t be ready for sex without proper foreplay.

If you are like me and don’t like sex and don’t have time and money for a sex therapist, try reading books to help you figure your way back to enjoying sex again.

You will need more than therapy and reading a book or two or ten to recover.  Honestly, therapy only took me part way to healing.  I learned to trust the therapist, and the therapist took me in the right direction, but I needed to learn relationship and communication skills as well as how to calm and soothe myself through bad times.  I learned these skills first at a retreat with The Compassionate Listening Project, which does not work with survivors sex abuse and rape but nevertheless teaches valuable skills for healing.  Later I learned Non-Violent Communication developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan. All three disciplines are related in what they teach.  Compassionate Listening focuses more on helping others heal but helps you heal too.  Non-violent communication focuses on communication skills to heal relationships.  Dialectical Behavioral Therapy focuses more on healing oneself but also helps heal your relationships.

© 2016 Virginia Pickles 

Me, the summer I turned 21, the year before the date rape.  I am holding two baby Red Tail Hawks I helped to band for my wildlife biology internship with the Bureau of Land Management.

Chance Encounter With Formerly Homeless Sex Abuse and Rape Survivor

The woman on the bicycle was very angry.  We had only passed her on the Springwater Corridor minutes before when she followed us on her bicycle to give us a piece of her mind.

“I just had to tell you, I don’t like being stereotyped.  I am not homeless; I am not like these people.  These people (the homeless) are bad.  So don’t stereotype me.”

My daughter and I were walking along the Springwater Corridor, a bike and walking trail along Johnson Creek a hundred yards east of the Cartlandia food truck court off of SE 82nd, on the border between Portland, Oregon, and Clackamas County.  We had passed the woman, resting with her bicycle just a few minutes before.  We had eaten at Cartlandia and then walked to Green Lents food forest at Malden Court.  My daughter is interested in food gardening.

There are many homeless encampments along the Springwater Corridor.  Portland mayor, Charle Hales, formally tolerated them and the city provided dumpsters for garbage as well as Honey Bucket outhouses.  Other cities sent their homeless to Portland and encampments proliferated on certain city property such as the Sprinwater Corridor.  Homeless encampments lined a fence by Cartlandia until the owner of the food truck court sued the city.  The city swept the fence along Cartlandia, but the homeless merely moved farther down the Corridor.  I occasionally give out food, clothes, water and sometimes bedding to the homeless because the first survivor of clergy abuse that I worked with was homeless.  I quickly learned that trauma survivors and people with biologically mental disorders comprised many of those who live on the streets.

Back to the story about the woman on the bicycle.  I sensed that there was more to the story than what she was telling.  When my daughter and I first encountered her along the trail, I suppose it crossed both my and my daughter’s mind that she was homeless because I had met some many homeless along the Corridor handing out goods to homeless people.  Some homeless people I encountered owned bicycles and used them to collect cans for the small amount of cash they earned through returns.  This woman carried with her two black plastic bags bulging with what appeared to be empty soda and beer cans.  I say appeared because I couldn’t see for sure what is under the black plastic.

My daughter and I had been eating a crepe filled with ice cream and a smoothie as we walked.  

Given that it was my habit to give to food to homeless people, I turned to my daughter and asked her, “Do we have anything to give?”

My daughter examined the slimy, brown crepe into which the ice cream had now melted and the mostly empty plastic cup of smoothie.

“No,” she said, “It’s too disgusting.”

I don’t know if the woman on the bike thought that we said that she was too disgusting or she simply hated being stereotyped as being homeless.  I don’t know precisely what caused her anger, but her sudden and extreme anger told me was profoundly wounded.  I knew her emotional outburst was typical of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder common among victims of trauma experienced during abuse or combat.

I learned how to work more compassionately with survivors of child sex abuse, clergy abuse, and domestic violence by studying and practicing Compassionate Listening and Non-Violent Communication.

I simply replied to her accusation that we had stereotyped her as a homeless person, “Thank you for sharing your feelings with us, but I know that many homeless people are not bad people.  I worked with a child sex abuse survivor who was homeless.  I know many homeless people have suffered physical or sexual or emotional abuse as child or rape as an adult.”

The woman responded quickly, “I am a child sex abuse survivor.”

I added, “And many women who live outside become victims of rape.”

The woman replied, “All homeless women get raped.  Men just come into your tent.  That’s why homeless women do drugs.  They don’t want to fall asleep and get raped.”

She added, “I lived on the streets until a year ago, but I am not like these people.  I got myself off the streets.  That’s why I collect cans.  I am trying to provide a home for me and my dog.”

By then the woman was feeling a little guilty.  She added, “I’d give you a hug, but I don’t do hugs.”

I replied, “I understand.  I am a child sex abuse survivor.  I only hug my children and a few close friends.  Go home and hug your dog.”

“I will do that,” she replied smiling.

In a few short sentences of listening, treating the woman with respect and validating traumatic experiences common among homeless peple, the truth came out and the woman’s anger dissipated.

My daughter and I discussed the interaction later.  My daughter wondered if she, my daughter, had said and done something wrong.

I said, “Nobody did anything wrong.  We maybe could have been better with our choice of words, but our intent was good.  The woman has been abused so many times in her life that she can’t trust that she won’t be abused again.  She wasn’t mad at us.  She was mad at all the bad things in her life.  We actually gave her a great gift.  We gave her a chance to express that anger in safety, and she has known so little safety in her life.”

So next time you pass a homeless person, be open to the thought that maybe there is something to their story that you don’t know, whether it is sexual trauma in childhood or adulthood or combat or a biologically based mental disorder.  Please remember that a little compassion can help heal the wounds and perhaps help the person take a step forward.  And you will feel better for being kind instead of angry.

Copyright 2016 Virginia Pickles