Today I am excited to share Sara’s story. Her’s is a story of amazing resilience, and desire to heal and live fully.
She is a 41 year old mother of two children and she been married for 15 years to a caring and devoted husband. She is also a part time youth sports coach and an advocate for abuse prevention in sports.
A lifelong runner and an outdoor enthusiast, she enjoys hiking, skiing, biking, and paddle boarding. Through drawing and painting she has learned the profound healing nature of expressing her deepest and most indescribable feelings through art.
The most meaningful and impactful quotes for Sara come from primarily two sources – Brene Brown, whose work has profoundly shaped her healing journey, and music. She feels and connects with meaningful song lyrics deep within her soul.
“Though your garden is grey I know all your graces someday will flower in a sweet sunshower.”Chris Cornell, Sunshower
Please share as much as you are comfortable with regarding your childhood abuse/trauma.
I was born into a large strict catholic family.
My parents were very caring yet the rules of the church were enforced in such a way that shame was often used as a family management and disciplinary tool. My parents, as loving and well intended as they were, were unable to express and model a sense of unconditional love, support, and connection in my family.
No Emotions Allowed
The unspoken rule in my upbringing was that feelings were not welcome. To express happiness or pride was perceived as boastful. To express fear or sadness was viewed as weakness. I learned at a very young age to maintain personal security and fall in line with my family by keeping my head down, using humor and sarcasm to deflect vulnerability, and always complying with authority.
These impactful lessons I learned when I was young shaped not only how I interacted with others, but also how I perceived and valued myself. My parents were not responsible for the abuse that unfolded in my life. But the dynamic modeled by them created a void that left me vulnerable to a manipulative predator who made his way into my life.
I was 14 years old when I first met my abuser.
He was my high school coach. His careful process of isolating and sexually abusing me began with a year of meticulous grooming where he wove himself into a position of trust and care while he simultaneously created an intentional wedge between myself and my family and friends.
With precision, he placed himself into a position as the only person in my life that I could turn to and trust before he proceeded into three years of very regular and intensely traumatizing sexual abuse.
Along with the lasting vivid images, body memories, and flashbacks of his abuse came an enormous weight of shame and self blame for all that was done to me. This is a weight he carefully and intentionally placed onto my shoulders to keep me silently compliant for the duration of his abuse. This shame stayed with me long after the abuse ended.
Following this ordeal I found myself in an eerily similar abusive relationship throughout my college years, which added more layers of trauma on top of my already battered soul.
The Years After
As a result of these experiences I grew to firmly believe I was defective in some way to bring about these relationships in my life. The intense shame from these experiences led me to seek numbing relief through self-harm as well as self-medication. These are struggles that still haunt me today. And in my darkest days of my early twenties I wrestled with a level of hopelessness that brought me very close to ending my life.
Nearly two decades of silence and shame passed before I was able to begin to speak up about my experiences and slowly let go of the burden of responsibility and shame that I had been so carefully trained to carry.
Nearly two decades passed before I could begin to even identify with the term “sexual abuse” and slowly begin my journey in healing from it.
“When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.”Brene Brown
How have your experiences with childhood abuse/trauma affected your life? Please share both the good and the bad.
Trusting others is one of my greatest challenges as a result of my experiences with childhood sexual abuse. I am an extremely guarded person which makes it very difficult for others to get to know me. I am hyper vigilant and constantly anxious about caring for my kids and trying to keep them far away from the horrors that I experienced.
I also deeply struggle with close physical contact and sexual intimacy. The uncontrollable memories and feelings that flood my system make it very difficult to feel safe in an intimate or vulnerable situation.
The Good Stuff
Along with the negative repercussions of my experiences, I have recently begun to experience a greater sense of purpose in my life. I have involved myself in education and advocacy work that has become a profound passion of mine. My intense healing work has helped me find my voice, to speak out about my experiences, and I am working to use that voice to inform others and to make sports safer for kids.
What are a couple things that have helped you manage your C-PTSD from day to day? Talk a little bit about what it is like to live with this diagnosis.
It is an enormous task to begin to untangle all of the ways my past abuse has impacted my life. The way I relate to myself and to others was profoundly shaped by the ongoing traumatic events in my youth. Learning to connect the pieces of my wounded inner parts is my daily ongoing challenge. Learning to pay attention to what those parts need from me instead of denying and hiding from them is where my greatest healing can be achieved.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails at least fails while daring greatly.”Theodore Roosevelt
As a parent, what is the hardest part of parenting after trauma? What is the most rewarding part of parenting after trauma?
The hardest part of parenting after trauma is carrying the immense weight of responsibility to protect my children and keep them safe. They are my greatest gift and my most important responsibility. Trying to navigate the process of allowing them to grow and spread their wings while also providing the protection, care, and attention that was not available to me as a child is a heavy stress I feel every day. I have no greater responsibility in life than to care for them as best I can. While this makes me highly anxious as a parent, it also makes me highly attuned. I pay attention to the details of their lives because of my abuse. I show up for them in ways I needed as a child because I was abused. I strive to create a safe and secure open line of communication in our relationships because I was not afforded that as a child.
What is one thing you want others to understand about being a childhood abuse/trauma survivor?
Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is part of who I am. I am a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a coach, an advocate, an athlete, an artist… and I am a sexual abuse survivor.
It has quite certainly shaped who I am and the lens in which I view the world around me, but it is just a part of me. Having childhood sexual abuse as part of my story is no longer something I am running away from. I am dedicated to work towards fully owning my experiences, and more than that, I seek to use my experiences to help me improve in all of my roles in life.
“You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot have both.”Brene Brown
What advice or reassurances do you have for other survivors who are struggling?
My advice to others is to stay open and curious. When you are feeling overwhelmed in struggle, pay attention to what is going on inside of you and give yourself what you need. Healing from trauma is not a linear path. It is filled with ups and downs, surges and setbacks. Stay curious and let the wounded parts help to guide your healing journey.
How Can Other Survivors Connect With You?
I am fueled by the connecting validation that comes from sharing with others. I recently started my blog as a new venture along my healing journey. I wish to not only continue to give a voice to all of the wounded parts of myself, but I also hope that my words will help to build a healing connection with others as well as enable others to connect to themselves more fully.
We were not meant to sit silently and wrestle with our deepest struggles alone. I welcome you to join me along my healing journey of sharing my writing and art.
You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter: @wishingtree133
“I couldn’t whisper when you needed it shoutedShrike by Hozier
Ah, but I’m singing like a bird ‘bout it now”
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