May 23, 2017

Riding the Wave of Emotions (Especially Anger!)

This week, we continue our series with Adena Bank Lees. In this post, she talks about the power of emotions, how to be with our emotions (particularly anger), and how she was able to restore her spiritual life through the expression of this powerful emotion.


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Feelings are simply energy that show up in body sensations often with thoughts attached. “Don’t talk, Don’t trust, Don’t feel” can be some of those thoughts. They are classic alcoholic family messages but are also common in family systems where sexual abuse happens. 

Being sexually abused, either covertly or overtly can create body experiences that feel good, icky, scary and/or shameful. Because of the confusion and overwhelm this causes, we learn to shut off feelings and disconnect from our bodies. This is a survival strategy that loses its potency as we grow into adulthood and wish to enter and engage in intimate relationships. Not having a voice or a safe place to express it, locks feelings inside and greatly their impact.

“Feelings and sensations will rise and fall unless we assign danger to them.” -Recovery Inc.

This tells me that if I believe feelings are scary, they will get stuck and not move through my body. I won’t “ride the wave” so to speak, and I will pay the consequences. Feelings last between 30-90 seconds. Therefore, if this is a part of recovery and healing, I can do this for 30-90 seconds, right?

A feeling that I have struggled with, and sometimes still do, is anger. I witness this with clients all the time. I have learned many important lessons from and about anger. I would like to share a few with you.



1. Anger, like all feelings is simply energy I experience in my body. It does not mean anything about me as a person. It is simply energy in my body. I do not have to be afraid of it.

2. Anger is not a “negative” feeling. There are neither positive nor negative feelings. There are just feelings.

3. It is okay and healthy to feel angry despite negative cultural and gender stereotype messages. (a woman who is angry is often called a “b#$%^)

4. The gift of anger is the energy and motivation to take care of myself.

5. It is important to get help in how to be with and ride the wave of anger because it is such a powerful energy.

6. As a young child, experiencing my caregiver’s anger felt like the love was cut off and I was cast into space by myself. This can be a universal experience that causes the fear and suppression of anger.

7. Anger is a feeling of protest; that my boundaries have been violated.

8. As a person who experienced sexual abuse, I probably have anger towards the “abuser”, and more importantly, the person, people or institutions that did not protect me.

9. It is okay for me to be angry with “God.”

“God?” Why did I just bring “God” into the conversation? Because many abuse victims spent and/or spend hours praying to an entity asking for the abuse to stop. They pray for their pain to be removed, for someone to listen to and believe them, and for the removal of the symptoms that are plaguing them. They wait for something to happen. What happens? Nothing. The abuse continues. The pain continues. No one has rescued them. The post traumatic symptoms continue. “God must not love me. I must be bad or have done something bad. I am being punished,” are just some of the messages a child gets with this scenario.

The crux of my healing from CEI and CSA has been the nurturing of my spirituality. I have explored and discovered many facets of this. One facet being this entity called “God.” When I started 12 step programs many years ago, I was challenged to confront my beliefs and feelings about “God.” I carried distorted ideas such as “it is not okay to be angry with 'God'”. If I am angry, I will be punished.” 

My mentor in the program suggested that it was acceptable to be angry with this power greater than myself and it was necessary for me to directly express it. I took the suggestion and began to speak about, raise my voice and even curse at “God”. This is how I expressed my anger for “God” not listening to me, for forsaking me, and for allowing the abuse to happen to me and others like me. I had these monologues for about two years. 

Something surprising happened. I began to soften, and realized that nothing bad had occurred because of my yelling, cursing, etc. I actually felt relief and began to trust that there might be something out there that is loving and that I can plug into for strength and courage to continue my healing journey. 

Obviously, this concept was very different from what I had thought “God” was previously. This was the whole point. I got to experience my concept of “God”; the one that worked for me. This “God” or Higher Power was a force of love vs. an omnipotent being that controls people’s actions and decisions. I could not have had this pivotal experience if I had not been given permission, guidance and had the willingness to own and be forthright with my anger.

I share this story with you to acknowledge that anger towards “God” may be an important issue for you to address in your healing. I also share it with you as an example of how honest and straightforward expression of anger can have a much needed positive and empowering outcome.

It would take a book to discuss all the ways I aid clients in identifying, labeling and expressing their feelings, anger, in particular. Due to limited time, space and the purpose of this blog, I will stop here.

What I do wish to close with is for us to remember that anger is simply energy in our body. We have the choice of what to believe and say to ourselves about this energy. Asking for and receiving guidance on how to experience and communicate anger in a healthy way is a crucial part of the healing from childhood sexual abuse.






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Adena Bank Lees, LCSW, LISAC, BCETS, CP, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, trainer and consultant, providing a fresh and important look at addiction treatment, traumatic stress and recovery. She has been providing premiere clinical and consulting services for over 25 years. Adena is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed independent substance abuse counselor, board certified expert in traumatic stress, and a certified psychodramatist. She is the author of “The 12 Healing Steps for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse; A Practical Guide” and is currently penning an educational memoir on covert emotional incest due out in late 2017. Most importantly, Adena is a thriver, enjoying travel, hiking in the Arizona desert, and filling her days with laughter.

May 16, 2017

Reclaiming Our Sexual Energy As Life Energy

This week, we continue our series with Adena Bank Lees. In this post she explores the journey from objectification to sexual empowerment and full embodiment of all aspects of her self.


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A young boy of seven just lost his father to a heart attack. You are at the funeral and overhear an adult shake his hand and say, “I am so sorry about your dad, Johnny, but you are the man of the house now, take care of your mom and your sisters.” 


Do you notice anything disturbing here? Or, are we so acculturated to this dynamic that we do not recognize the message(s) we are sending to Johnny?

After the funeral, his mother starts relying on him to soothe and comfort her, calling him “my little man.” Is he a man? Is he developmentally capable of taking care of his mother and sisters? What does “take care of” his mother and sisters entail?

Sadly, Johnny is expected to be an adult when he is a child. He becomes a substitute spouse to his mother and substitute father to his siblings. That is quite a heavy burden for a little seven year old boy.

The above is another way that Covert Emotional Incest manifests. It, in my belief and professional experience, has been woven into the fabric of our society.

Objectification is one more aspect of Covert Emotional Incest that is important to identify and explain.

Objectification is when one feels like an object -- a thing -- created to please others, (often sexually) rather than a human being in their own right. I know I felt this way as early as the age of five. I knew I was expected to welcome stares and comments from others about my body. Both my parents, my mother in particular, kept a keen focus on my physical appearance, directing me to diet when I was eight. There was also unwanted touch that made me cringe -- kissing on the lips, hugs that were a bit too tight and too long. They were uncomfortable but my family believed these things happened in a close-knit family. So I denied my feelings of fear, anger, humiliation and revulsion. I was ever the good girl and I never said no.

As I have seen with clients, being objectified taught me the following:

1. I was only worth something if I was sexually attractive to a man and provided him with what he wanted.

2. I was only sexually attractive to a man if I had the perfect body. Who defined the perfect body? My father.


One of the most profound experiences in my recovery from CEI and CSA happened in a professional training group back in 1996. “My hope for you is to be able to hold your competence, your sexuality and your spirituality all at the same time,” said my mentor. 


He voiced in that short sentence what I had been trying to accomplish for many years. This integration was exactly what Covert Emotional Incest (CEI) robbed me of. Being objectified and made a surrogate spouse led to compartmentalization of my sexual and sensual self. I believed, because of my experience, that being female meant being a victim to sexual violence. Therefore, identifying as female and feeling sexual was scary and bound with shame and guilt. What I know and teach today is that whatever gender identity you claim, it, in and of itself, does not mandate you to victimhood. 

What I also know and teach today is that sexual energy is literally our life energy. If I split that off or suppress it, I will find myself down and depressed.

Spirituality is about our essence, our soul. Spiritual, soul energy, and sexuality, sexual/sensual energy, are joint forces that can create one heck of a powerful and joy-filled human being. They are worth fighting for!

Without these two resources, I would not enjoy nor be successful at what I do, be it hobbies or professional endeavors. I would be a talking head and the experience empty. Because of embodying and allowing room for my life and soul energy, I have great fulfillment in what I accomplish.

I am excited to say that I have been thriving because of the integration of my sexuality/sensuality, competence and spirituality for quite a number of years now. How did I get there, you ask?

I have to be honest. For me there was no one right way. I had many teachers, guides and supports.

Somatically focused work was essential in allowing me to get in touch with and really listen to my body. It taught me to not just tolerate sexual and other feelings and sensations, but to revel in them. It helped me feel free to express them in a safe way with safe people in the present moment. Being with my wife, who celebrates my sexuality, competence and spirit daily, has been the main reinforcer that this freedom is possible and here for the taking.





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Adena Bank Lees, LCSW, LISAC, BCETS, CP, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, trainer and consultant, providing a fresh and important look at addiction treatment, traumatic stress and recovery. She has been providing premiere clinical and consulting services for over 25 years. Adena is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed independent substance abuse counselor, board certified expert in traumatic stress, and a certified psychodramatist. She is the author of “The 12 Healing Steps for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse; A Practical Guide” and is currently penning an educational memoir on covert emotional incest due out in late 2017. Most importantly, Adena is a thriver, enjoying travel, hiking in the Arizona desert, and filling her days with laughter.

May 9, 2017

Surrogate Spouse: Another Form of Abuse

This week, I'm excited to introduce you to Adena Bank Lees. Not only is she a survivor of abuse, but she's a dear colleague and advocate for survivors. In this post, Adena defines and shares about her experience with Covert Emotional Incest.


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“I can’t talk to your mother like this…you father doesn’t understand me the way you do. You are such a good listener. I always feel so much better when I talk to you. How do you know so much, you are so young?” 


These were common statements made by my parents as I was growing up.

How did I feel in response to these statements?

I felt special, privileged, and chosen. I was trusted with very adult information and I could keep such secrets. Powerful? Yes, I felt powerful also. My parents told me I could MAKE them feel better.

So, then why did I, at the same time, feel helpless and like a failure?

Because I couldn’t fix or change either my mother or father and I definitely couldn’t fix or save their marriage. I tried, believe me I tried. It never happened. I felt torn between the two of them. I didn’t know how to be loyal to both. I was just a kid. I felt confused and overwhelmed with a knot in my stomach most of the time.

This is totally inappropriate to ask of a child but I thought I could handle it. I knew it was my job.

I can tell you all this today. It took me until I was in my late 20’s-early 30’s to have the words and awareness of this dynamic and how it negatively impacted me.

What I am describing here is called Covert Emotional Incest.

CEI happens when a parent or caregiver uses their child as a substitute spouse or confidant. 


Parents/caregivers are supposed to be there to meet their children’s needs, children are not there to meet their parents or caregivers needs. With CEI this is turned upside down.

Why do we call it incest and put the sexual spin on it? Because the spousal role is a sexual role whether there is physical sex happening or not. Sexual energy and sexual messages are implicitly communicated through the spousal or confidant role. No actual physical sexual contact is made. This can be and usually is crazy-making for the child.

Covert Emotional Incest survivors have very similar behaviors, feelings and

beliefs as those who have been overtly or physically sexually abused. Things like difficulty in establishing and maintaining healthy intimate relationships (both sexual and otherwise), not trusting your own reality/intuition, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse are common.

There is a way out. There is a solution. The first step is to have a name and context for what happened to you. Being aware of this provides the foundation for the next step which is to ask for help.

By asking for and receiving help in many forms and modalities, I have gone from the role of victim to the role of survivor, to today, identifying as a thriver with a covert emotional incest history. The abuse no longer defines who I am. I do respect, however, its impact on me and that it is a crucial part of my story.

There is much more to say about Covert Emotional Incest, both the components of it and the healing process from it. More will be discussed in next week’s blog entry. For now, know this: Covert Emotional Incest is enough for someone to experience the aftermath of what has been described above.



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Adena Bank Lees, LCSW, LISAC, BCETS, CP, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, trainer and consultant, providing a fresh and important look at addiction treatment, traumatic stress and recovery. She has been providing premiere clinical and consulting services for over 25 years. Adena is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed independent substance abuse counselor, board certified expert in traumatic stress, and a certified psychodramatist. She is the author of “The 12 Healing Steps for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse; A Practical Guide” and is currently penning an educational memoir on covert emotional incest due out in late 2017. Most importantly, Adena is a thriver, enjoying travel, hiking in the Arizona desert, and filling her days with laughter.

April 25, 2017

Do you feel safe enough to trust? These 4 Keys will change you forever...

This week, we conclude our series with guest blogger Ruby Usman, who teaches some great strategies for feeling safe.


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During the past few months, the idea of safety has been coming up in many ways. I realize more and more that women (especially those who have been abused) don't feel safe at their very core. And this sense of "feeling unsafe" gets worse by things no one else would think twice of.

When we are feeling unsafe, the trust goes out the window. Our lives then become a survival battle to try and keep safety in whatever ways we can. Some of these ways are:
  1. We control ourselves - we keep it in and become self-sufficient (if no one else sees how vulnerable we are then nothing bad will happen to us)
  2. We control others - if we can keep a tap on others then nothing bad will happen
  3. We don't trust ourselves and we don't trust others. After all, trusting means letting go and how can we if we are feeling unsafe?
  4. We avoid living life, taking risks and doing things that we could have dreamt of. What if something goes wrong?
As I am writing about this, I can't help but get connected with that sense of insecurity inside me. In the past, this sense of vulnerability and feeling unsafe was so strong that I became the queen of control. I controlled myself and I controlled others; I kept it all in but nothing helped of course. I was trying to fill this vacuum inside of me and no matter what I did, it kept sucking more and more out of my life.

At the end of it all, I had to confront it; I had to explore and investigate and finally resolve. Since then, I have helped others work with their sense of safety too and have found that the 4 keys described below play a crucial role in regaining that sense of safety.


Key#1 - Recognizing when you are feeling unsafe

The thing with safety is that it doesn't show up as "feeling unsafe" - it always hides behind other forms of emotions like control, anger and anxiety etc. So the first key to recognizing "feeling unsafe" is to be aware of how it shows up for you.

For me personally, the biggest sign for feeling unsafe is that I start acting like a man - meaning I become more masculine, more goal oriented and more rational. With time and practice, I have been able to catch myself when I am behaving in this manner and make different choices (mostly this means staying true to my needs and my femininity).


Key#2: Congratulate yourself

The mere fact that your defense mechanism is working - is amazing!! Yayyyyyyy... Your system (though hyperactive) is active meaning that you can rely on it that it will let you know when any danger presents itself.

Imagine if your defense mechanisms stopped working. You wouldn't know how to defend yourself when the real threat presents itself.

The only issue is that you might not need it and it's getting triggered unnecessarily. Well! that's an easier problem to solve compared to if it didn't get triggered at all, right?


Key#3: Evaluate and Relax with affirmations

Of course, if the situation is dangerous then do whatever you can to remove yourself from that situation.

If that's not the case then, it's critical that we remind ourselves that

* "there is nothing to be afraid of"

* "we are safe"
* "this feeling of unsafety is coming from the past and it's not needed"
It would be a great idea to do a simple meditation or slow deep belly breathing to bring yourself back to feeling ok again. The affirmations above are crucial because your mind needs to realize that it's being hyperactive and hyper vigilant.

With time, your brain will start to re-calibrate when to trigger your defense mechanism and when to stay calm.


Key#4: Find Assurance in love

We are born for love and it's critical to end with love whenever your feeling of unsafety gets triggered. Gary Chapman talks about 5 love languages, which I have found to be very helpful. If you know your love language, you can ask friends or romantic partner to provide that assurance in your love language.

The ending in "love" will help you feel safe again. It will rebuild your trust in yourself and others and with time, you will be able to find that safety and that trust within yourself

Good luck and Blessings

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Hi, I am Ruby Usman, Founder of Healing Wounds Together – A Platform for Female Adults who have experienced sexual abuse in their childhood.

I have lived with abuse for many years of my life. And I have spent many more decades in understanding, recovering and becoming whole again. From my own journey, I have learned valuable lessons not only for myself but for others that were around me and now I have made it my mission to:

* Help the abused take charge of their own healing

* Empower partners of the female survivors

* Help prevent sexual childhood abuse


If this resonates with you, check out my website at www.healingwoundstogether.com, sign up for my blogs and connect with me on these social media sites.

FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/rubiversity/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIYk6qCCvWERbGHR9UQgAkg

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+RubyUsman

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ruby_usman

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rubyusman/

April 18, 2017

You can calibrate your body to experience trust...

This week, we continue with guest blogger Ruby Usman, who teaches some great strategies for using the body rather than the brain to trust.


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What happens in our body when we are feeling sad, upset and untrusting?

We are slumped over with our neck; our shoulders are curved forward and the head is looking down; we are holding the tension in our muscles and in our body (as a sign that we may need to protect ourselves and be ready).

Alternatively, when we are feeling relaxed, our chest is broader; our arms are open and our muscles are relaxed.

In my last blog Beginning the Journey of Trust, I talked about calming the mind so that you can start to tune into the "inner voice" that is you. Granted, that this process initially can be difficult if you haven't meditated and this is where some somatic/body work will help you progress very quickly.

The idea is this:

If you know your body state when you are feeling trusting & relaxed versus when you are not, you have the capacity to engage your body in listening to your inner voice.

Why is listening to the body important? I hear you ask.

Our brain and our body work in very different ways. Our brain works on creating a databank of experiences and it accesses these past experiences when evaluating a situation at hand. This becomes dangerous for adults who have been abused because their past experiences are very traumatic.

The body instead works on sensations and physiological states. It doesn't have stories. In my blog First Steps Towards the Healing Journey, I explain more on this.

Something very amazing happens when you focus on the body - the stories start to disappear and what remains are just sensations. In this state of presence, you can literally differentiate between whether you are living from the past or being present.

And I have done this myself. No matter what stories my brain was creating, I was able to be present in my body and that completely changed my experience of the situation at hand.

To do this successfully, the first and foremost step is to calibrate your body. This means knowing what are your unique body postures that you use to embody emotions. Once you know how your body posture is whether you are relaxed and trusting versus when you are not, you can use this information to gauge and make decisions in the moment rather than listening to the story your brain is telling you.

CALIBRATION

when you are NOT trusting
For me, there was an abundance of these situations where I didn't feel safe so it was easy to be in one. It may be the same for you or different. Just make sure that you are "actually" safe and be responsible for your well-being.

Once you are in, start to scan your body from head to toe. Take note of any sensations, numbness, coldness and any other sensations or feelings that are present or not present. You can also place your hands on various parts of your body to get a more accurate idea of these sensations or feelings.

You may need to do it a few times but this is your gauge. You know how your body reacts whether you are not feeling safe or when you are not trusting of yourself, or others.

when you are trusting
What relaxes you?

Is it being with a friend? Perhaps a solo walk? or may be feeling the sunshine on your body? no matter what it is, create that for you.

Once you are in that situation, do the same thing. Scan your body from head to toe. Take note of any sensations, numbness, coldness and any other sensations or feelings that are present or not present.


USING THIS CALIBRATION IN REAL-TIME

As you experience life, you will need your "inner wisdom" from time to time (or pretty much all the time). When this happens, here are the questions that can help you assess what's going on inside of you:

* What is your mind telling you? I think it would really help is listening to all the "what-if" scenarios and past experiences that your brain is referring to. 

* Next, focus your attention on your body sensations. What is your body telling you?

* Take a few belly breaths and continue focusing your attention on your body.
Your body's state will tell you what's present for you in that moment.

And now, you have all the information you need to make up your mind. If your body is giving you more signals of "relaxation" then you may become more aware of how your brain stops you from living your life and vice versa.
What if I NEVER feel safe enough to trust?

If you didn't know this before about you, then Wow! now you know and you can do something about it!!

There is also another great lesson in this discovery - whether people are trustworthy for you or not, has nothing to do with them and has everything to do with what has happened in your past.

This realization can free you and can bring you more into the present. It can enlighten your journey because with awareness, comes the choice. You can now start to choose differently.

In my next week's blog, I will expand further on safety and how that's related to how much trust we put in ourselves and others...


Stay Tuned

Blessings


Read Part 4: Do you feel safe enough to trust?

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Hi, I am Ruby Usman, Founder of Healing Wounds Together – A Platform for Female Adults who have experienced sexual abuse in their childhood.






I have lived with abuse for many years of my life. And I have spent many more decades in understanding, recovering and becoming whole again. From my own journey, I have learned valuable lessons not only for myself but for others that were around me and now I have made it my mission to:


* Help the abused take charge of their own healing

* Empower partners of the female survivours

* Help prevent sexual childhood abuse





If this resonates with you, check out my website at www.healingwoundstogether.com, sign up for my blogs and connect with me on these social media sites.






FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/rubiversity/


Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIYk6qCCvWERbGHR9UQgAkg


Google+: https://plus.google.com/+RubyUsman


Twitter: https://twitter.com/ruby_usman


LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rubyusman/

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