I’ve been a lifelong Joni Mitchell fan. For those who know me, it’s easy to see why. She appeals to my inner hippie. One song in particular—Both Sides Now—has always been a favorite but I’ll admit younger Kiersten didn’t quite get the full meaning of the song.
I truly get it now. Or, at least, why the lyrics burrowed deep into my soul for eternity.
As I watched Sara Barielles' beautiful rendition of Both Sides Now during the Oscar’s ‘In Memoriam’ last night, tears welled but not for obvious reasons.
As a child and a young adult, I looked at life as Joni did:
Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
I had no idea that life could look so different. What I once thought was black and white wasn’t really that way at all. The more I lived, the more I would come to understand that I don’t fully understand.
I recently wrote to my abuser. I told him I know what he did and how it shaped my entire life. It took three years, from the time I first started having flashbacks, to feel ready to put pen to paper. Much to my surprise, writing the letter was easy. Taking direction from my soul, my fingers tapped away furiously on the keyboard. I felt strong. I knew it was time. But there was a moment I realized that both sides of me—little Kiersten and adult Kiersten—aren’t fully integrated.
As I was sealing the envelope to put in the mail, tears welled in my eyes. The thing is, I didn’t realize I was crying. It was as if it wasn’t me. I was surprised by the trail of salty tears down my cheeks. I quickly realized it was Little Kiersten who was crying—a release after all these years. Maybe now, I’ll start to fully connect with her again. Maybe she feels vindicated. I don’t really know yet.
Looking at life from this side now, I am truly grateful for the healing and growth I’ve experienced over the past three years. And I’m proud that I didn’t let the revelations of my life break me. I feel now, they are just part of the tapestry of who I am.
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day
I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
I really don’t know life at all, or the reasons we endure what we do in our human experiences. What I do know is I am grateful to feel open to not knowing or understanding everything. Just carrying on one day at a time without all of the answers and most importantly, becoming whole for the first time in my life.
I’m living both sides, now.
Don't look down. It's way too steep. Yet, truly, all I want to do is jump.
I'm ready. I know I am. Sure, I sometimes question whether putting pen to paper will really make any difference but I already know the answer. It will, if only to the little girl who held her tongue for three years, plus 37 more. Never in a million years would I have thought, at age 43, I'd be mentally journaling thoughts I want to include in my letter to the man who sexually abused me and raped me when I was a child.
It's a weird place to be. I'm leaning over the edge, but still finding the space and courage to write what's in my heart.
In the meantime, these postcards caught my eye.....
While champagne toasts were being made in half the homes in America this past week, many sexual abuse survivors were experiencing bubbles in a very different way.
Let me be clear. This post is not about one candidate versus the other. It's about what I've experienced—as well as others in my circle—as a survivor this week.
I was truly surprised by how much I was triggered by the outcome. I didn't expect it but it came in as one very large, thick, heavy bubble of grief, rising to the surface. I know, as a highly sensitive person, I was feeling my own sadness as well as the sadness of the collective. With that said, as a woman who's been through bankruptcy, job loss, and the inability to afford health insurance, I completely understand wanting change. Revolution. Fix what hasn't been working. I get all of that and I respect Americans wanting a better future.
As a survivor, I felt violated....again. Maybe it was the never ending loop of election ads on TV, but I kept hearing a mash-up of the Access Hollywood audio over and over again in my head. "Grab her by the pussy" looped in my mind. Typewriter text from the stories about women who experienced our new President-elect as a sexual predator scrolled behind my eyes like the opening scene of Star Wars. Mainly, I thought about how, for the next four years, I will have to see my president in an equivalent form to my abuser.
A friend of mine who is a therapist told me her clients who are sexual abuse survivors are booking appointments with her left and right in order to help cope with the feelings bubbling up. I've heard multiple survivors say they felt like they were raped again, not just by the results but the knowledge that some of their strong, smart, compassionate female friends voted for Trump, a known sexual predator. As women, we naturally think that our sisters couldn't possibly condone that kind of behavior and i'm sure the women who voted for Trump do not; however, they still said "yes" to putting a man at the helm of the free world who has shown his true colors regarding women. To many survivors, it just felt like a big fat slap in the face.
I'm finding it's a process and by owning and honoring the pain, healing is happening. Feelings coming from deep within are surfacing for many who haven't fully looked their abuse in the eye. Women from all over the country are reaching out to one another for support, providing life jackets for bobbing in this first wave of post-election pain. For that, I am so grateful. We're coming together in ways we haven't in the past. Sexual abuse is such a taboo topic but a HUGE light is shining on it right now and we all know only light can defeat dark.
I certainly don't have all the answers and I'm coming to grips with my feelings one bubble at time, but I will say overall, I am even more determined to use my voice to help stop the perpetuation of our country's rape culture. If we don't do it, who will?
If you are a survivor and want to share your feelings with me privately, please feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can always post an anonymous comment.
One of the hardest parts about being a childhood sexual abuse survivor is trusting memories and/or repressed memories. Doubt enters the mind quite a bit, especially in the beginning as memories/flashbacks bubble up. For me, discovering and trusting intuition coupled with assistance from other spiritual and mental health professionals helped reinforce that what I was coming to grips with was not "just in my head."
Part of my healing journey has involved really tapping into my own intuition and learning to recognize how to differentiate intuition from ego. I am going to share a few tips I've learned along the way but please know, everything surrounding intuition is very individual. I believe intuition is like a road map for life, if we learned to get quiet and listen.
Intuition is subtle. I've learned over the years that my ego mind is much louder than my intuition. When I get an idea that I know is truly stemming from my intuition, a calming feeling comes over me. And the thought/idea will keep coming up over and over, but in a quiet way. My ego mind is much more of a bully and more impulsive. And typically, if i get an idea out of nowhere and there's a sense of urgency and fear around it, I'll know to sit back and wait. If the thought comes back to me in a very calm way, without fear, i'll know it's something I need to pay attention to and act on when I feel the time is right.
Ex. When I was coming up with the idea for Mod Mom Furniture, everyone thought I was nuts. I had no carpentry experience and zero design know-how, yet the idea to start my own furniture company kept pushing me forward and it wasn't panicked. Sure, I was nervous, but deep in my gut, I felt very calm about it. I was excited and felt in my soul, it was something I was being guided to do.
Intuition can produce physical sensations. Sometimes when I'm ignoring the more subtle intuitive thoughts, my body will get my attention. I will feel chills/goosebumps. Sometimes, I'll even feel muscle spasms in different parts of my body. For example, when I start to feel twitching in my knees, it's typically because I'm resisting moving forward in some area of my life. I felt this intensely before I came out with my childhood sexual abuse story. And the minute I published my post, the twitching completely went away. More commonly, we all know the "kick in the gut" feeling and how it literally feels like a heavy punch to the upper stomach. From my studies on the energy systems of the body, that area corresponds with our power center so when you go through something that strips you of your personal power, your body responds physically.
Seeing is believing. Everyone is intuitive but some are more inclined to pick up intuitive information in heightened ways. Most highly sensitive people live in this category and many don't understand what is happening to them. For me, when I started to fully tap into my intuitive side, I was seeing things out of the corner of my eye and questioning my sanity. Ultimately, it was the help of other intuitive healers and spiritual counsel that helped me understand I wasn't going crazy, I was just opening up more to what was always there. Learning to pay attention to signs helped me learn to trust my intuition. A few signs you may notice are....
Other great resources for learning more about intuition:
10 Things Highly Intuitive People Do Differently
How to Recognize True Intuition
Recognizing Your Body's Intuitions About Vibes
Trigger Warning: Some of the content of this post may trigger emotional responses for sexual abuse survivors.
Sadly, my story is not unique. We literally cannot watch TV without seeing some reference to sexual abuse in the news, and what we see publicly isn't even the half of it. So many survivors have not reported their abuse for one reason or another. Aside from writing about it publicly, I'm one of those.
Because my experiences happened when I was so young--and I didn't start to put the pieces together until I was 40--I've had to cope with the emotions and physical memories in more holistic, non-traditional ways.
Granted, my road to discovery involved children in spirit clueing me in (something most survivors who have repressed memories do not experience), I still feel what I've learned along the way about healing might help others. I'm outlining below two of the nuggets of wisdom that have helped me through the journey of healing.
The energy of abuse is real and can live in your body long after the abuse:
Before I went down the "woo woo" path, I never thought about life in terms of energy but a wise spiritual healer told me that the energy of abuse stays with you. In some cases, it will create blocks and health issues in the first chakra (energy center that relates to safety and security) area such as reproductive issues for women. While I can easily relate some of my ovarian issues to heredity, I also know that as I started to come to grips with what happened to me I saw a lessening of my polycystic ovarian syndrome. I can't deny that the more that I started to dive into the abyss of pain, the more I started to heal physically.
Another example of the "tangible" energy of abuse is here, in this story I wrote for the Little Light Project a few years ago. Gradually over the years, I was experiencing more and more difficulty breathing. I thought it had to do with allergies or altitude but after one hypnotherapy session, I quickly realized I was holding grief and sadness in my lungs. Sadness from what I was discovering happened to me.
Recall comes in many forms, and for some, it comes in physical symptoms:
One of my most vivid memories of physical recall had to do with a post I saw on Facebook a couple years ago. It was a benign post but pointed to a specific period of time of the year, one that I came to learn was when I was sexually abused and raped by a distant relative. I read the post (not related to my abuser) and I started sobbing. Tears flowed out of nowhere. I couldn't even understand why I was crying. And I felt this massive kick in the gut feeling right below my rib cage. My body started shaking uncontrollably. I now know that I experienced a PTSD episode that led to more understanding about when I was raped. I believe that little bread crumbs of knowledge are dropped bits at a time, like following a trail, when we are ready to handle it. If all of the knowledge of repressed abuse came at one time, it would be so overwhelming most of us couldn't handle it.
For more on symptoms adults who have suffered childhood sexual abuse endure, go here.
I'll continue to share more about healing in future posts. If you're a survivor, know you're not alone. And you can get through this.
Since coming out publicly with my childhood sexual abuse story, I have been so honored and touched to receive supportive messages from friends (and strangers) near and far. No matter how much I know I'm doing the right thing by opening myself up, a deep seeded pit of fear still takes up residence in my belly—fear of being accused of making it up, fear of hurting others in the process and fear that maybe my intuition was off when I felt guided to publish my experiences.
I call it the Circle Game. I've lived it my whole life. It wasn't until recently that I started to understand that this cycle of seeking validation isn't something that is unique to me. It is, in fact, a coping mechanism.
Messages from other childhood sexual abuse survivors started flooding my inbox last week. Many of them sharing similar stories of repressed memories, and much to my surprise, the need to please and receive validation from everyone throughout their life.
"I did the same thing, people pleasing and constantly looking for validation."
"I had no idea- in fact thought my childhood was great- I was the "good" daughter and tried to be perfect- I took care of everyone else, running 100 miles an hour to stay ahead of it. "
Turns out, I'm not alone. I spent my life in this circle of thinking: I'm going to do "x". Do you like what I'm about to do? Ok, good, so you liking it must mean it's the right thing for me." The circle game. Going outside of myself became common practice from the time I was little. As long as I was pleasing everyone, I felt good about myself.
I have an evolving theory on this. I believe a child who suffers trauma at the hands of someone trusted —especially when repression is involved—unknowingly experiences the shut down of their God-given intuitive compass. More of a smashing, if you will. You learn very quickly that the intuitive sense you received that led you to trust someone who ultimately hurt you deeply is not to be trusted.
Seeking external validation is truly the only way to replace the shattered compass. I was labeled a "people pleaser" and until recently, I truly thought that was just part of my personality, part of my DNA.
Along this journey, I've been given opportunities to test my brand new compass. I've shared too much and sought validation outside of myself only to be looked at as crazy, which is the opposite of what a people pleaser wants and needs. I'm being forced by my own intuition to trust what I feel inside, even if it doesn't make sense to others around me who love me. Even if it leads to them longing for the "old Kiersten."
The merry-go-round of seeking external validation is exhausting and anxiety-ridden. What I've found personally, is that once I started stepping off that ride-—even though it meant going against public opinion—I found an inner peace that I had never truly felt before. It's still a struggle at times but I feel like I'm finally off that damn spinning ride.
For now, the only circle game I like is this one by Joni Mitchell.
Kiersten Parsons Hathcock