Abuse Survivors, It’s Time to Heal Ourselves by @TruthisHers


grapes, sexual abuse, Rachel Thompson, RachelintheOC

I’ve been in recovery from my childhood abuse for thirty years. For the last 18 years I’ve worked with thousands of survivors as both a therapist and a trauma recovery coach. Healing from childhood abuse is a complicated, lengthy and tricky process. Survivors need a lot of help and support to navigate recovery.

But there are three million reports of childhood abuse, involving six million children, every year (Childhelp). One in four girls and one in six boys will be subjected to sexual abuse before the age of eighteen (Centers for Disease Control). The United States doesn’t have nearly the amount of resources that are needed to help that many victims. If a child or adult survivor is lucky enough to get counseling or mental health support the frequency and quality of services are often less than adequate.

Every day I talk to survivors who don’t have access to counseling or therapy, either because they cannot afford it or because the services simply don’t exist where they live. Other survivors can access counseling, but they need more than the one hour of help they’re getting every week or every other week. That is not enough support for someone in the thick of recovery from childhood abuse.


I wish it were. It would be wonderful if we could process the years of painful shame, despair and betrayal that we feel. Believe me, we would love to have it be that simple and easy. But it isn’t. Abuse doesn’t disappear with a finger snap, even when we work as hard as we can with helping professionals who are highly educated in abuse recovery. But when we don’t have services available, or those that are available are not from professionals educated in abuse recovery, we can work and still not gain an inch of ground.

When I began seeking counseling for my childhood abuse, my HMO decided I was only in need of therapy every other week. When I asked why I couldn’t see someone more frequently I was told that they didn’t want me to become dependent on therapy as a source of support. Immediately I was ashamed of wanting more help, because obviously only weak, dependent people wanted such a thing.

So I stumbled and fought my way through my abuse with only two hours of therapy per month. This was before the internet existed, so I couldn’t turn to the Web for support groups, chat rooms or discussion forums. There were no Twitter Chats or Facebook groups available to me. I couldn’t even find any in-person support groups for childhood abuse survivors.

I was in so much emotional pain. But instead of offering me more help, the providers at my HMO made me feel worse. I was told I wasn’t feeling better because I didn’t want to, that I must be motivated to stay stuck in my pain because I got pleasure from it. They made it clear that my inability to recover was my fault. I was malingering, weak, and unwilling to change.

Eventually, feeling like my pain was my fault, I attempted suicide. Thankfully, I panicked and called 911 after consuming a lethal dose of medication and alcohol. I endured one more useless, demoralizing stay at my HMO’s psychiatric ward.

After that, summoning a courage I didn’t know I possessed, I walked away from the shoddy and meager resources my health care provider was offering and found a private therapist. She recommended a private psychiatric hospital program designed specifically for survivors of childhood abuse. I borrowed the money and admitted myself.


That hospital stay was my turning point. It was the first time my mental health providers treated me like a valuable part of my treatment process. They didn’t shame or blame me for not making progress in my recovery. They listened to me, valued my input and understood the depth and breadth of my pain. They educated me about abuse and how it affects victims. Then they established a treatment plan with my therapist for my release. Included in that plan was receiving therapy twice a week. With their help and the additional support, I finally began making substantial progress in my recovery.

I was lucky. After fighting through years of inadequate help, I finally got the amount and quality of support I needed. Many survivors have not been as lucky. Every week they show up in my email inbox, Twitter stream, and Facebook feed spilling pain from their hands into mine. They need help that our mental health system either doesn’t have available or is unwilling to make available.

WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGEBroken Places, Broken Pieces, girl alone, real life, abuse, sex abuse, Rachel Thompson, RachelintheOC

It has become clear to me that if survivors are going to receive the amount of help and support they need, that it is going to have to come from someplace other than the current mental health system. Where, instead, will it come from? Us, fellow survivors.

We need to establish a network of trained survivors who will support and help their peers.

We need a system of frequent, open meetings and peer sponsors like the addiction field has with the Alcoholic’s Anonymous model. I’m not advocating 12 steps for survivors, but I am strongly advocating the system that provides support groups offered around the clock in virtually every city in the United States. I am advocating a system of sponsors, where a peer further along in their recovery will mentor and support a peer just beginning process.

Why do I want this system of meetings and support to be lead by abuse survivors, rather than professional mental health providers?

  • First, because there simply aren’t enough mental health providers to facilitate the number of meetings needed to support the millions of survivors who need help.
  • Second, I believe abuse survivors are best helped by other abuse survivors. An abuse survivor never would have limited me to two hours of therapy a month because they know the painful complexities of recovery. An abuse survivor never would have shamed me for not recovering with that inadequate amount of help. We understand one another in ways non-survivors don’t.

Of course there are exceptions, and of course, not every abuse survivor can provide good peer support. I’m not advocating that all abuse recovery work should be done by survivors. There should still be the involvement of therapists and psychiatrists, as there are now. But this model of relying heavily upon recovered peers as support and recovery help has been used very effectively in the addictions field for years. I have no reason to doubt it wouldn’t be as effective in the field of abuse recovery.

We desperately need the field of abuse recovery to change. Survivors are suffering every day, some of them turning to alcohol, drugs or suicide to alleviate their pain. We cannot, however, depend on the mental health system to help us. We have waited too long with little to no results.

It’s time for survivors to come together and solve the problem for ourselves. We need to launch a grassroots movement to coordinate and provide some of our own care through a network of peer support meetings and mentors. And we need to do it now, before more survivors are lost to drugs, alcohol, incarceration and death.

It’s time to stop depending on others to save us and start saving ourselves.

Broken Places is available NOW from Booktrope. It's already hit #1 on Women's Poetry and Hot New Releases on Amazon! Broken Pieces is still going strong, #1 on Amazon’s Women’s (paid) Poetry list.

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All content © 2015 by Rachel Thompson, author, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to use short quotes provided a link back to this page and proper attribution is given to me as the original author.

Submit Your Essay for our 2015 #NoMoreShame Anthology created by me, Bobbi and @AthenaMoberg http://ow.ly/MmcLU to be published by my publisher, Booktrope! Theme: Community.
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Top 3 Reasons Censoring Your Writing Is Holding You Back

There will be cursing today. Run away if that bothers you. I don’t mind.Rachel Thompson, RachelintheOC, writing, BadredheadMedia, social media

Do you worry what others think about you? Do you sit at your computer screen, paralyzed to type what you really want to say for fear of what your mom, husband, brother, friend, or best friend from second grade might say? Maybe you have shared your writing and been burned, relationships severed, friendships or family relationships strained or even ended. Or maybe those around you are so threatened by the possibility that you will share your abuse story that they actually threaten you.

Others people’s problems are other people’s problems. Don’t take that shit personally.

Fuck that shit. As Cheryl Strayed says, you need to write like a motherfucker. What does she mean by that? Does she mean write with papers everywhere, cartoon balls of trash flying across the room, keys tapping to the beat of Copacabana? (Let’s hope not. We’ll never get that song out of our heads.)

No. She means that you need to own it. Own your shit. Write your shit. Ignore the voices or others, get in your head, your heart, grab your soul and write the shit out of that shit. This resonates with me because that’s how I wrote Broken Places (my latest release) and Broken Pieces. Let’s deconstruct.


Why are you censoring yourself? If I came up to you and stood over your shoulder, read your latest paragraph, and told you, “You can’t say that!” what would you say to me? Because if you said that to me, I’d tell you to go the hell. Not only because this is my book, but because who are you to tell me what to write? Isn’t this my book? My work? My story? My name?

Does their name go on that book cover? Are they the ones spending countless hours writing and rewriting the work? No. So fuck em.

Yet, people attempt to tell us daily what we should or shouldn’t write about, right? It amazes me, to be honest, that others who don’t know our story, or who think they know our story intimately but can’t possibly because they don’t live in our heads and haven’t felt our emotions or lived our lives, want to censor us for what we may or may not say. What makes them so scared?

Scenario #1:

I shared a Brene Brown quote the other day about having courage and vulnerability when sharing your story, and someone replied that when she’d done so, people had chastised her, she’d lost good friends and even family members because her truth upset them too much, so she’s done. She’s ‘taking a break from truth.’

That saddens me deeply. I’m not judging her — she’s had enough of that. What saddens me is that she is allowing others to make that decision for her, letting them dictate what is okay or not okay to share, because they are embarrassed that she shared her abuse story: now others know and can’t deal, which really is just another form of shaming her for something she didn’t do.

THE LOOP OF SHAMEwriting, Broken Places, Broken Pieces, Rachel Thompson, reading, best books

Someone abuses us, we don’t tell because we are ashamed. When (or if) we do tell, we are shamed because it’s embarrassing and shameful to us — what child (in many of these cases) wants to say that an adult used our body for physical pleasure? It’s sick and twisted, and yet here we are, alone, forced to wrap our young, innocent minds around these confusing acts, with nobody to talk to, nobody to help us understand that we did nothing wrong.

Fast forward to adulthood: we choose to write about it as a form of whatever: catharsis, healing, therapy, or simply sharing so others will know they are not alone, only to have our loved ones shame us for sharing, or further chastise us for going public in some way. Shaming a survivor is one of the most selfish acts there is. We’ve survived the abuse — dealing with your discomfort isn’t our issue. It’s yours. If you can’t get over yourself, oh well.

But survivors don’t have to accept that. We have a basic human right to speech. You have a right to tell your story.

Scenario #2

One fellow, T, shared his story in a public Facebook post, and with his permission, I’m sharing his story here with you today. T’s sister immediately chimed in to scold him for ruining the family name, embarrassing her, accuse him of lying, of creating current drama when all that happened in the past, and on and on. I complimented T on his courage and she came after me, warning me to keep my mouth shut, to stay out of their family business, etc.

What I love about the survivor community is that we support each other, and we understand that many people don’t understand that we have a right to tell our stories. We don’t do it for pity or attention (more on that in a moment), but as a way to heal and bond with others who have also survived, and to help educate non-survivors what it means to live the lives we do, to deal with this shit on the daily.


Sure, there’s risk involved in opening up those dusty doors of honesty. I’m not immune to the coughs and sputters of family and friends, even strangers who may or may not judge me for my words, or who place blame on me for their behavior. I’m been called a liar, an opportunist, one person even went so far last week as to accuse me of ‘prostituting myself for profit and attention,’ and I’m told often to just move on (as if I haven’t).

I find it interesting that people equate sharing my story with victimhood or ‘being stuck in the past,’ when that’s not the case at all, yet they are determined to tell me that yes, that must be so.

Truth is, those are not my issues.

Scenario #3

I wrote a guest post recently as part of my Broken Places blog tour, and the host shared it, as hosts kindly do. Someone on Twitter replied that basically I was ‘playing the victim’ by sharing my story, compelling people to feel sorry for me. Fortunately, people supported me without me saying a word (I don’t respond to those types of comments). If you know me at all, you know that I am anything but a victim…but, these kinds of comments aren’t uncommon.

I wasn’t offended. If anything, I want to thank this person for reinforcing that I’m on the right path to help remove the stigma of child sexual abuse, or any abuse, survivors have to face. This person is a light for me — further helping me to realize that I still have a lot of work to do. In a strange way, I find comfort knowing that my advocacy work is not done, and I have many more people to reach with my story.

Ignorance needs an audience so that sexual abuse survivors have one, too. 

Please join me any Tuesday 6pm PST/9pm EST for #SexAbuseChat with my cohost Bobbi Parish, also a survivor and certified family therapist who specializes in treating childhood sexual abuse survivors. We recommend using Tweetchat to participate — log in using your Twitter account, enter the hashtag once, and it does it for you for the remainder of the chat. Easy.
We are also taking submissions for the next #NoMoreShame Anthology Project (published by the Gravity Imprint I’m directing for Booktrope). I’m also the Communications Director for Stigma Fighters, a fabulous group that removes the stigma from all mental illness, created by Sarah Fader. If you have a story to tell, submit to them directly by visiting their website here.
If you’d like to sign up for my free sexual abuse resource list, click here.
Broken Places and Broken Pieces are currently #10 and #11 on Amazon’s Best Sellers Paid list for Best Women’s Poetry! and both are temporarily priced at only $4.99. This is how I share my story, through poetry and prose. I’m currently working on Broken People, due by Christmas.


pictures courtesy of royalty free picography

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