Monthly Archives: February 2013

What Story Are You Telling?

Thank you so much to the friends who came out to see us perform last night at UCI’s event “We Step Into the Light.” Ana did her poem “I Wish I Was Beautiful” and I sang “Caged Bird”–one of the songs on the album we are almost finished writing.

Story. How you tell a story really matters. What story you tell yourself about your life shapes your feelings, actions, and your relationships. At this UCI campus event, sexual assault or abuse survivors were paired up with artists from various disciplines, and each artist was commissioned to tell the survivor’s story. This project was so beautiful to me, because it invited artists to create an intimate representation of someone’s deepest human experiences. Catch: not just the pain, but the beauty and resilience. They chose a perspective that focused on the courage & love in survivors’ lives now, not only what happened to them.

There are several miracles about this project.

First, survivors were willing to tell their stories. This is so rare–so many men and women experience the crushing weight of shame, secrecy, and silence, believing that no one will love them “if they knew.” As Maya Angelou says, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Second, the artists were listening. If you are friends with an abuse survivor, one of the most powerful gifts you can offer is your own silence: just listen. Don’t fix. Don’t give advice. Just be present, in their pain.

Third, the artists’ works were an external expression (validation) of the survivors’ internal experiences. Many abuse survivors receive little to no validation about their experiences. Oftentimes, people don’t believe them, or they get blamed. Sometimes their experiences are brutally minimized: shrunk down to crying over spilled milk, when in reality, the very core and fiber of their beings have been shattered & irrevocably altered. Having someone believe and validate the pain is a way of saying: You are a human being, not an object. Your feelings about this are real, and you can have them, whatever it looks like.

Last night a young woman stood up to talk about her experience of being brutally raped as a new college student. She pointed out the artist who had listened to her story and had somehow painted a work that validated her very being and captured her soul. The piece of art wasn’t only about her rape experience. It celebrated her strength and her choice to press into life and move forward.

This is the song that we offered last night. It is called “Caged Bird” and it is partially a reference to Maya Angelou’s poem, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” As Ana and I have processed our own abuse stories this year, these songs have become an external memorial to our experiences, and our own struggles toward freedom. It’s our hope that they will be validating for other people’s experiences as well.

Nobody heals alone. Nobody. I don’t care if you’re the Pope–we are still made for relationship and we need one another to move through and beyond our experiences. And we need to own all the pieces of our stories: the pain AND the beauty. Without the pain, the beauty is shallow and meaningless. Without the beauty, there is no hope.

What story are you telling yourself today? Do you leave out the painful experiences, minimizing your own losses, to just “move on”? Or do you focus so much on the grief that you are blind to your own internal resilience & the gifts your very being offers the world?

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Legacies of Trauma, Part 2


Miriam-Webster’s definition of legacy, part 2:

  1. of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system.  Denoting software or hardware that has been superseded but is difficult to replace because of its wide use.

In my previous post on legacies of trauma, I talked about how there are still lingering effects of the sexual abuse I went through as a young child, and no matter how much I want to pretend they’re not here anymore, they still say hello from time to time.

I find that those effects are akin to outdated software, like the Miriam-Webster definition listed above.  These legacies aren’t just lingering effects—-they are outdated ways in which my body, heart, emotions, etc. continue to operate in daily life.  It’s difficult to develop a different operating mode, because they’ve been the basis of how I’ve been living since everything happened.  My life continues to operate  on a level less than what it could be, because it’s still programmed to run off of old ways of being.

The war is over.  I am no longer being abused. I don’t have relationships that are abusive, and I’m surrounded by people who truly love and care about me and fight to keep me protected and grounded.  And yet, if I continue to live in the world operating out of this legacy of trauma, I will never become the person God truly intended me to be.  I will continue to abuse my body, to hide from good and healthy relationships with men, to relate to God in ways akin to how I relate to my abuser.

I think it’s time for an upgrade.



The Empire Strikes Back

In case you didn’t catch Part One of this story, you’ll want to read it here, first. 

So, I ventured across the vulnerability bridge [aka Indiana Jones’ Leap of Faith], thinking that I got across the chasm of my FEAR of rejection… and then: The Empire Struck Back. (Yes, I know I’m mixing pop culture references and John Williams’ scores, but bear with me. I’m a geek.) This is what happened after I publicly shared my abuse story for the first time, at a summer camp when I was 17.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (NES game)

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (NES game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my rush of anxiety and excitement to break the silence about my sexual abuse, there was one MAJOR oversight: I didn’t account for the Midwest Culture of Silence in which I had been raised (aka, The Empire). No one talked about stuff like this, especially in church.  I did not consider that my friends and family members in the audience now knew the Most Shameful Thing about me. Despite the fact that my story had created an opening for two campers to talk about their abuse, the care of those two girls did NOT ensure that others would accept me. The desire to “be real” was burning like a fire in my bones and I couldn’t put it out… (I was also 16 and hadn’t fully developed my frontal cortex and a number of psychological defenses to help me weigh the potential consequences of my actions and to keep me from doing stupid, impulsive things that might end in shame and rejection).

So, picture: Luke Skywalker is not a fully trained Jedi. He has an opportunity to rescue his friends who may (or may not) be in danger. Yoda knows he’s too weak to face his father. Yoda warns him not to go. Does he listen? No. (Has anyone else ever noticed how whiny Luke is? He is totally a teenager!) Instead, he gallivants across the galaxy, running full force into a danger he couldn’t foresee and vastly underestimates. He ends up on a catwalk, dangling wildly over an chasm (man, this abyss thing keeps popping up everywhere!) above a galactic trash chute, facing his greatest fear: his family of origin [insert raspy breathing noise]. Young Luke just has no idea what he’s in for.

After the campers dispersed, my mom marched up to me in a fit of boiling emotion and erupted, “I can’t believe you said that in front of all those people! Your brother is so upset! You’d better go talk to him!” (Crap. I hadn’t thought to talk to my little brother…Oh, no! What did I do?!) Her response was rooted in the classic 1950’s phrase, “What would the neighbors think?” I was so relieved to have shared my story, and elated that it brought freedom for other girls, that her response caught me completely off guard. It sucker-punched the joy out of me, my words failed and I choked on my own thick shame. I stumbled out of the arena into the dark, trying to figure out where to go when one of the leaders caught up with me and held me for a long time.

I admit, I could’ve prepared them better—forewarned my family about what I was going to say. I didn’t take into consideration my little brother. He was just a baby when I was molested by one of our babysitters, so it was a pretty rough shock to his system to hear it from his big sis in that public context. In my rush toward honesty, I missed a pretty significant opportunity to care for him well.

Truth be told, I was afraid if I let someone know  what I was going to say, my nerve would fail me. The Empire (aka, What The Neighbors Think) would convince me stay on The Dark Side [silence and shame].  I would succumb to the desire to “put on a happy face” and keep on faking it. The brief ray of conviction, courage, or adrenaline that drove me would be submerged in a familiar cloud of shame and I’d get lost again in its disorienting fog. I was frightened that my own overwhelming desire for self-preservation would keep me from being fully known, and rob me of the potential to be fully loved and love others as we are, in reality.

I was, and am, in my better moments, tired of pretending to be something I’m not. I’m a writer, singer, teacher, sister, worship leader, and many, many things, but I am also a survivor of sexual abuse and I’m coming to terms with how its residual effects have left a legacy of trauma that I’m still trying to disinherit.

When have you taken a risk to disclose a piece of your personal history to someone, in spite of your fear of rejection? What happened? Did it result in deeper communion or abandonment?

[Note: Before I wrote or published the story above, I called my mom to talk about how painful that night was, and I got to hear her perspective for the first time. I know now that she wasn’t rejecting me or ashamed of me, and that her response was rooted in her own fears. She wasn’t intending to hurt me. I realized through our conversation that somehow I became a freedom-seeking CA girl, and my mom was raised in the 1950 & 60’s at a time when what the neighbors thought was incredibly important. (We could probably use a little more of that today, honestly, but not to the extent that we create a culture where people stay in bondage and silent pain to keep up appearances.) I am so grateful for the opportunity to reconcile with her and gain some mutual understanding. A lot of people don’t get to have those conversations. If you haven’t risked one yet, and there is still a chance to reconcile, don’t wait. You just never know.]

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