“Mommy your tummy is awesome!”

I was changing in my room a few weeks back, and my 2 year old daughter barges into my room, kisses my tummy and says “Mommy your tummy is awesome!” I was stunned at what a profound moment that was immediately . My stomach has always been “my problem area” it certainly has always been my biggest insecurity. In that sweet moment from my daughter, I felt love for my body, something I have never felt before.

She was right, my tummy is awesome. My body went through a lot of trauma and survived it. It also was her home while she was growing in my womb, and that IS awesome!

For as long as I can remember food has been my coping mechanism. Food and weight have been such a complicated strong hold in my life. Food has always comforted me and helped me numb out. Being over weight has always made me feel safe and in a twisted way made me see who really loves me for me , especially when I was single with men. I’ve struggled a lot of my life feeling unlovable because of my abuse, and this was a weird game I would play to see who really loves me.

To add another layer of complication to this, I grew up in awful diet culture and bought into it for most my life (I’m currently trying to recover from that way of thinking.) so I just piled shame on top of shame when it came to my food addiction and my weight and it’s been a vicious exhausting cycle.

I’ve been doing some work and healing in this area in my life, but nothing has brought me more healing then what my daughter so innocently said to me. I couldn’t help but feel loved by God through her in that moment.

God kisses our wounds and unconditionally loves us in all of our messy, insecure, unhealed work in progress areas, and for exactly who we are.

Self-Compassion By Brandi Nichols

I asked my dear friend Brandi to write something for my blog for SAAM. I’m so glad I did because what she wrote was timely and beautiful.

Self-Compassion

April is sexual assault awareness month, which may be hard to wrap our minds around during a time of global pandemic. As anything other than COVID-19, seems to take a back seat. I appreciate the open perspective of seeing and bringing awareness to other things that are affecting us during the pandemic, allowing people to feel seen as they make it through multiple challenges. I would like to take a moment to highlight something I have been noticing while continuing to provide trauma-informed therapy during COVID-19 pandemic. What we say and expect of ourselves, we end up saying and expecting of others.

There is a term, “collective grief,” which we are all experiencing as we grieve the losses that have come with this new life of physical distancing. This also applies to those who are sexual assault survivors. A collective grief of those who know what it is like to lose a sense of safety, protection from those we thought would protect us and even our ability to protect ourselves. We grieve many things on the road to healing after abuse. We even lose people who we thought would be there for us, which compounds our sense of loss.

Here is what I know from working in both trauma and grief: we all grieve differently. We have our own unique story. We process the loss(es) differently; we relate to the loss(es) differently and we all have different speeds through which we begin to experience joy again after loss(es) and trauma. Grief doesn’t “end,” your relationship to it changes. There is no right or wrong way to do this. And if we believe there is no “right way” to grieve , then we must notice how we speak to ourselves, and what we expect from ourselves during this global pandemic and our collective.

Brandi Nichols, MA

Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist AMFT109783

Supervised by

Dr. Don Welch, PH.D, LMFT

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist LMFT50129

#MeToo jokes, and why they encourage me.

It’s been over 2 years since #MeToo went viral with the Harvey Weinstein scandal . I was actually giving birth to my daughter that day, which is so interesting, because my entire pregnancy I felt God nudging me to be a voice for sexual assault, I was baffled by it at the time, but leave it God to have perfect timing.

I’m a stand up comedy junky to the core. I started noticing that all my comedy podcast and stand up specials were taking about “The MeToo era.” Big name comedians like Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, and Aziz Ansari all had a big part of their specials about it. They made jokes about it, and had both positive and negative things to say about it. As a survivor watching ,that was when I felt encouraged by the movement the most. I personally wasn’t offended by the jokes (although I respect how offensive that could be to some.) I was just glad it was being talked about in a mainstream platform.

For so long sexual assault has been the taboo topic we don’t talk about. It’s kept in the dark. It’s the family secret, and the topic people just don’t want to deal with. Most people don’t know the actual facts and statistics on it, and instead believe many harmful myths about it. We have sadly lived in a world that is victim blaming and pro perpetrator. But that is changing!

There has been a 7% increase on sexual assault reporting since #MeToo. High profile cases are being taken serious, Harvey Weinstein’s butt got put in prison for 23 plus years, laws are changing and becoming more pro victim.

There is a huge shift, and you can feel it! Im encouraged by the brave survivors telling their stories and fighting to make a change. I’m also incredibly encouraged by this younger generation being so supportive, open and willing to learn about the tough topics. There is always light in the darkness, you just have to look for it.

Rejection

I realized something that I do when I feel rejected by someone. I overly try and see things from their point of view. Which sounds like a wise and kind thing to do, but I realized most of the reason I’m doing it, is to avoid the sting of rejection and hurt feelings.

I got married 3 years ago and immediately got pregnant. Then the weirdest thing happened, a few of my really close friends and some family became distant, the very people I felt would be the most involved in my life and my baby daughters, became the ones I hardly knew or saw anymore. Nothing happened and there wasn’t any drama, there was just this sudden distance that seemed to come with my new stage of life. I obsessively thought of all the reasons they didn’t seem to want to be a part of my new family, and convinced myself that they were all having really difficult stages of life (which they were) but then last week my daughter was watching Frozen and Do you wanna build a snowman came on and I started weeping. I felt her pain! My feelings were crazy hurt, and I couldn’t explain them away anymore. I felt rejected by some of the people I loved the most and it hurt. Even if people have good reasons to be distant, it’s still disappointing and hurtful.

My childhood abuse made me feel so incredibly rejected not only by my abuser, (because he was my biological dad) but by anyone that would know this about me. I struggled to find my worth and my biggest fear was someone thinking I was less than because of my abuse. So much of my life I avoided vulnerable relationships, or being completely honest out of fear of rejection.

Then God perfectly placed this book Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst in my life and this quote struck me “God’s love isn’t based on me. It’s simply placed on me. And it’s the place from which I should live…loved.” People can and will let you down and I know I’ve let people down too, nobody is perfect, but God is! He will always love me and want me no matter what. So when my heart is hurting, I’m trying to remind myself to “live loved” because I am, and so are you!

When the eye twitch is strong, I search for God in the chaos.

I’m an emotions stuffer, I always have been. I think it’s part my personality and part survival tactic of a childhood abuse survivor, so I’m not always sure how I’m feeling or what I’m feeling. What I have learned is my body tells me when I’m stressed  and when I’m extremely  stressed or overwhelmed I get the good ol eye twitch.  Right now my eye twitch is going strong. I have been in one of those survival mode stages of life for the last couple of years and it’s exhausting and hard. God gave me a verse  a couple weeks ago  Galatians  6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” I needed that verse and and I love that God comforted me with it.

God called  me to be a voice in the MeToo movement, at a time in my life I was the most weary, had the least resources and time, and  God has been with me through it all, providing, comforting, and giving me strength the entire way.

One of the things I learned young during my abuse was to find God in the chaos, and it’s what I  have continued to do throughout life, especially in the hard times. He is always there. It doesn’t mean I understand it, or like it ,or wish that it could be different, but I can honestly say that when I look to see where God is in my mess, He is always there.

If you are in one of those eye twitch stages of life, I see you. It’s hard.  It won’t last forever, and you are not alone.

Living that awkward life.

When I decided to start this blog and be vulnerable with my story in the hope of helping others, one of the things I didn’t expect was how awkward I was gonna make things for people and environments. I kinda feel like a cop when people see me they slow down and make sure they are following the body safety rules. 😂

I decided to kick the awkward up a notch, and start a podcast with my sister called Talking about the no no’s. It’s hopeful conversations about the hard stuff, with regular people telling their stories. The first series is my story. It’s a series on sexual assault, and the last episode airs tomorrow. I’m incredibly proud of this podcast and my series. I’ve received a lot of great feedback from people telling me how helpful this was for them, and how appreciative they are that this subject is being talked about. I’ve also got a lot of “I’m scared to listen to it.” and both are honest feedback. When you start a blog and podcast on heavy subjects, you don’t exactly gain a huge fan base or have the most likes on Instagram. I started both of these things to help the people it’s suppose to help, even if it’s only 1.

I’ve been reflecting on my series ending, and how awkward my life has been lately, and I decided that I’m proud of my new awkward life. It’s freeing to not be silenced by my abuse anymore, or care what others will think if they know. Living a vulnerable and open life just makes things awkward, and that’s not a bad thing, especially if it’s helping others.

Live your best awkward life!

The people who lean in.

Yesterday I taught a class on sexual abuse awareness to a group of people who are amazing speakers, to say that was intimidating would be an understatement. I already have stage freight, and I definitely stumbled through words, and rushed through parts I had prepared more, my eye started twitching, and my legs were shaking, but God was with me, and got me through it. The information was shared and the the audience was gracious and kind.

When God called me to be a voice in this sexual assault movement, it was easy to think of all the reasons why someone else would be better at it then me, in fact most of the ways I’m using my voice are my biggest weaknesses instead of my strengths. So I’m counting on the Holy Spirt to work, and I’m trusting that God picked me, so all of my insecurities about it I can give to Him, and just follow His lead.

I say all of this because being vulnerable is hard, and so is using your voice. Survivor stories are powerful and can bring healing and hope to many. We are not all these amazing speakers but that doesn’t make our story less helpful.

I was reflecting on what has helped me the most with starting this journey, and it’s been the people that not only support me, but leaned in to be a part of it.

To all the people who have leaned in, I cherish your support more than you know.

When you risk the shame.

I was listening to Pastor Ben Stuart preaching on Luke 7:36 Where a women with a bad reputation comes to a dinner party, risk’s the shame of what the people will think or say to her, to pour perfume on Jesus’s feet, thanking Him and worshiping Him for his forgiveness of her sins. I loved that the pastor described her as “risking shame”, it struck me as beautiful for a lot of reasons, but what felt personal to me in this story, is how every time I tell my survivor story I risk shame.

What is so hard about Sexual abuse and assault, is that even though NONE of it is the victims fault, you are left feeling the shame of it. I personally was in a prison of shame for many, many years and shame takes a toll on your soul and it’s a heavy weight to carry. What is so beautiful about the story above is that Jesus took her shame and He took mine, and as the pastor perfectly described “turned our ugly things into something beautiful.”

Because of Jesus graciously freeing me from the shame and silence of my abuse, I’m able to tell my story in the hopes that it brings other survivors out of their silence and encourages them that healing is possible.

Survivor, you are not alone, I know the shame you are risking every time you share your story and I know how incredibly brave and hard that is to do.

A hard pill to swallow about sexual abuse.

We care more about offending adults than protecting kids. I’ve wanted to write about this topic for awhile, but just like the sentence above, I was worried about offending adults.

The past six months that I’ve been researching for my blog, reading, talking with, and watching survivor stories, the one same theme in all of the stories is… most people would rather be wrong about a possible victim, than be wrong about a possible predator.

Here’s just a couple of stories ( but there is countless) that support predators over victims this year. A bus driver pleaded guilty to raping a 14 year-old-girl and he only got probation, because he had no prior arrests and there was only one victim according to the judge. The judge was more concerned for the rapists future, then the innocent child’s future. And to be clear, one victim is too many. Here’s a list of some of the challenges this girl may have to endure because of this horrendous sin and crime committed against her.

  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Feeling different or alone
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Dissociation
  • Fear
  • Hatred
  • Depression
  • Promiscuity
  • Eating Disorders
  • Body Image issues
  • Anxiety
  • Substance Abuse
  • Self Injurious Behavior
  • PTSD
  • Flashbacks

Another story, Church hired pastor without checking criminal record-then said it didn’t matter. This pastor pleaded guilty to two crimes against children and served a year in prison and his church is defending him, meanwhile putting the children at the church at risk as well as showing no regards to how other adult survivors would feel with him in this position. Jesus can save anyone, even pedophiles, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have consequences for their sins, and one of their consequences is they don’t get to be in a position of authority over children, and if they are truly repentant they wouldn’t even try to be.

Parents, caregivers, and adults in general please, ask the hard questions, be okay with offending someone and lean always on the side of protecting children over protecting an adults ego when it comes to who we allow to be around our children.

The power of embarrassment.

Think about your most embarrassing moment. It’s often when you were a kid , and your biggest concern was avoiding embarrassment at all cost. Or it could be at 30 years old like me, when I went a little heavy handed on the laxatives after surgery and pooped my bed! Everybody has a story, or a few, and the interesting thing about your most embarrassing moments are, they are only told to those you trust the most. It’s almost a seal of approval on new friendships or relationships. These stories are not a first date conversation or a getting to know you topic. They are reserved for those who have earned your trust.

One of the biggest silencers for me on my sexual assault  was embarrassment. It’s strange how much power things that embarrass can have over you. You often hear victims stay silent because of shame or fear but I never  heard much about staying silent because of embarrassment, and for me that was probably my biggest reason.

The other interesting thing about embarrassment is, that once you have healed from that situation it has zero power over you. Those moments that once left you paralyzed, now become your story, and  biggest weapon to help others, and create stronger bonds.  I am so very thankful for those safe people through out my life that I was able to share my moments  with, free from  judgment.

 For those who are struggling with embarrassment from abuse, none of the embarrassment falls on you, that belongs ONLY to the abuser.  I pray for  safe people in your  life, and freedom in your healing.