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'The Gift of Healing is Our Birthright - What an Advocate Looks Like'Coral Anika Theill for Salem-News.com
Breaking the silence and 'telling secrets' takes courage. But I have discovered there is more danger in keeping secrets.
(DALLAS, Ore.) - In America there are many victims of childhood molestation and abuse, rape and domestic violence! But guess what: There are relatively few batterers and perpetrators.
In their efforts to seek safety, justice and vindication, victims often become further victimized by our judicial system. Why? The batterers and abusers are “innocent” and protected by family, friends, co-workers and church members. Often family and friends turn against the victim in order to protect the abuser and their own reputations.
Victims suffer not only from the abuse they experienced but also from the threat of meaninglessness and powerlessness that comes with it. People who experience the trauma of violence at the hand of someone they know, (i.e, a partner, parent, relative, therapist, teacher, pastor, or priest) - struggle to make meaning, usually in a context of isolation, if not moral condemnation and victim blaming.
Meanwhile, as the years pass, many victims become progressively more mentally, physically and emotionally sick because the victim has been rejected and betrayed all over again by those close to them who refuse to deal with the truth and by those who find denial an easy alternative. The burden placed on the victim's shoulders becomes unbearable. Finally, family and friends who "knew the truth" dismiss the crimes of molestation, rape and violence because "it happened a long time ago."
The victim's worst nightmare has come true. If the perpetrator is “innocent,” then the victim must be guilty by default. It was their fault to begin with (they were told by their abuser). In the victim's mind, they must be both the criminal and the victim. The victim has a hard time finding where "they" are inside themselves. Finally, the victim becomes so physically sick and unnerved that he/she has a breakdown.
I have a personal story to tell of a lifetime of abuse: childhood abuse, marital abuse, mental and physical abuse, sexual abuse, ritual abuse and now finally judicial abuse, condoned first within some of the fundamental, evangelical Christian movements (cults) that thrive today, and now within the very court system of my own country.
A few years ago, I believed by sharing my truth and breaking my silence, my very life would be threatened. Breaking the silence and 'telling secrets' takes courage. But I have discovered there is more danger in keeping secrets.
I was 'groomed' to accept abuse and violence since I was a young girl. I had no other reference in life. As a young child I learned that abusers were embraced and protected. There was no help, nowhere to go and no one to tell. Sadly, as an adult, I have discovered the rules of this game have not changed much. My abusers, still, have been repeatedly embraced and protected.
My married life continued the pattern of my childhood. After experiencing twenty years of violence and abuse in my marriage, I intuitively knew that continuing this way of life would eventually kill me. I went to Oregon's courts for help and protection for myself and my children. Nothing had prepared me for the horrors that I would experience in what we call 'Oregon's justice and legal system.' Marital and ritual abuse evolved into legal abuse.
My story is about the overwhelming stigma that comes with abuse. My story is also about survival and overcoming, truly 'Making Light of the Dark.'
After fourteen years of personally seeking assistance from advocacy groups on a local, state and national level, the advocacy system, as is, has offered me nothing.
I met pseudo advocates these past years, who could not counsel with me, as my traumas were too "over the top" they said. Some advocates had their own "baggage" which prevented them from healthy thinking and viewpoints, other counselor/advocates projected their own judgments on me, because my traumas did not fit into their own religious perspective and beliefs. Some advocates were as abusive, non-ethical, disrespectful and dismissive as my abusers. And sadly, I met a few advocates who wish to keep their clients as "victims."
Not all individuals who offer help as therapists and advocates have good intentions.
Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel wrote, "Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere."
As long as we continue to condone those in power who harm and victimize innocent people, then we will continue to witness injustices against those who are vulnerable and unable to protect and defend themselves. I believe my own life and experiences these past years reveal a moral dilemma for the religious organizations and judicial systems that exists today.
The following fourteen years to date has been an incredible journey from darkness to light. Through my journey of "making light of the dark," I have had the privilege of meeting extraordinary individuals, who, like me, are human, flawed, spectacular and deeply compassionate. I am thankful for their assistance in my survival these past many years. Most importantly, they helped me heal the imbalances created from past wounds and see my past from a new perspective.
"When the pupil is ready, the teacher arrives."
I have come to appreciate the mystery of human suffering. When we can truly embrace our pain and suffering, and are able to be authentically grateful for our wounds and the brutality that we may have endured, we become 'healed healers.'
"It has been said, time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wound remains. In time the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” - Rose Kennedy
In 1997, I was in shock and numb from decades of trauma, abuse and horror. At that time, Dr. Barbara May, Professor of Nursing at Linfield College, Portland, Oregon, came into my life as my long term mentor and counselor. Among the many truths she imparted to me, these were the ones that literally set me free: Keeping secrets only protects the abuser. Abuse does not deserve privacy. If violence cannot be talked about, it cannot be stopped. I truly believe more victims would be willing to share their pain, fear and shame if they could expect to be believed, respected and vindicated.
When I met Dr. May, I did not know the extent of my traumas, as abuse was the only life I had known. I had not heard of the term "domestic violence" or "Stockholm Syndrome" in my years of marriage. Divorce was never an option in the legalistic, fundamental Christian world that I had escaped. Wholeness, wellness and joy had not been an option in my previous years of marriage.
As I began to seek the Truth that would create wholeness for me, mentors and friends assisted me in remembering who I truly was apart from my trauma. They taught me how to respect and honor the sacredness of my being. They helped guide me from a devastating past to wholeness. Through their assistance, I am in touch with the wildish and sacred part of my soul, again. Most of all, they helped me understand Dr. Viktor Frankl's wise words, "To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering."
Healing is the process of rounding up all the fragments of our shattered self and reconciling them. The traumatized person who accomplishes the work of recovery and healing has the potential of becoming more integrated and more aware and conscious than the person who has endured no blatant trauma and has never had to piece together a shattered psyche. Throughout the years, I learned to value the horrifying scars of my childhood and past adult life as valuable raw material for soul work, that I was responsible for my life and could be a part of "creating my reality."
My counselors assisted me in regaining my spiritual and emotional wellness by meeting me in the place of chaos and aiding me in regaining my spiritual center---our inner knowing and sacred power. I believe our emotional wellness is balanced and strong when we are operating from our place of inner knowing and that individuals heal themselves, counselors simply offer support.
They always encouraged me to listen and follow my own intuition and integrity, my own commitment to truth. I learned that when I listen inside, I discover who I truly am apart from the conditioning and brainwashing so prevalent in our society, culture, politics and religion.
My greatest coping tool and gift I possessed was my own "still quiet voice, my intuition." As I began to listen to my own inner voice, lights within me turned back on and I became more aware of myself and the world around me. Intuition is like hearing a song played only once---you must respond to it when it offers itself, for it seldom plays the same song twice. I value this gift---intuition. It has never never failed me.
Counselors and friends, throughout the years, introduced me to great thinkers, authors and writings that led me in my own research to help me understand "what had happened and why," i.e., Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Estes, Ph.D., Power of Now, by Eckhardt Tolle, and Man's Search for Meaning, by Dr. Viktor Frankl.
My mentors helped me understand the importance of finding my voice and "giving voice to the violence." They also encouraged me to write my life story. See: bonshea.com and Tim King's news article, May 12, 2007, Abuse Under the Watch of Oregon's Justice System.
At first I found that many chapters of my life were too difficult to discuss or talk about. By writing, I created what is called a "healing crisis." To heal from our trauma, we must face it squarely. Alienation from our memories dooms us to live in a constant present, cut off from the past and the future. By remembering, I am a "healed healer" prepared to help others see that they can also help themselves.
My mentors encouraged me to "go to the edge of the light, listen deeply and feel my own inner guidance." They helped me realize the truth that we all possess, that each one of us has a right to live without fear, to be treated with respect, to have and express our own feelings and opinions, to be listened to and taken seriously, to set our own priorities, to say "no" without feeling guilty, to ask for what we want without reprisal, to ask for information from others, to have our own needs met, to have privacy and support and friendship.
As I healed, I began to understand that my personal losses could be a vehicle to experiencing a greater good. Surrendering lost dreams helped me prepare for new dreams. My mentors never told me what to do, but instead equipped me by helping me become aware of a wide range of self care and self help books, alternative health literature, spiritual history and delight directed activities that strengthened me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
I learned that true freedom begins the day we walk away from fear, scarcity, blame and guilt. We must take responsibility for our own life, to the best of our ability and serve as beacons along the way. As I healed, I understood that the greatest gift I could offer to those around me was my own inner joy and wholeness. Once healed, all that is left is compassion and inner joy.
"To stay with one's joy, we sometimes have to fight for it, we have to strengthen ourselves and go full-bore, doing battle in whatever way we deem most shrewd. To prepare for siege, we may have to go without many comforts for the duration. We can go without most things for long periods of time, anything almost, but not our joy......Clarissa Estes, Ph.D., Women Who Run With the Wolves
Many of my friends and counselors possessed the rare gift of being able to sit with another's raw pain, without having to move it, change, it, shift it, or judge it. Their compassion and empathy, along with resonating respect, gave me the support I needed to not only heal, but become an empowered and intuitive woman. Often no words were needed to be exchanged, but in these moments, I knew I was with someone I could trust, for life, who would never betray me, and who literally stood in the fire with me month after month and who encouraged me through many dark nights of the soul.
Another positive component involving my counselors and friends was the fact that they "believed me and believed in me." They had a profound gift of gently walking me through some of the unexplored territory of my life, when it was correct for me, and help draw out unspoken pieces of me. They allowed me to see more of myself. Even though I was in such a broken state, my counselors and friends envisioned me as "whole." And that was their gift to me, someone who not only believed in me but could envision me "all anew."
To heal and become empowered we need to "go home." Home was a place I was not familiar with. Up to this point, I had only known how to obey to avoid further cruelty and harm.
"Home is the pristine instinctual life that works as easily as a joint sliding upon its greased bearing, where all is as it should be, where all the noises sound right, and the light is good, and the smells make us feel calm rather than alarmed. Home is whatever revives balance. Home is where we can imagine the future and also pour over the scar maps of the psyche, learning what led to what, and where we will go next." - Clarissa Estes, Ph.D, Women Who Run With the Wolves
Throughout the years, I discussed with my mentors my longing to be safe. Through their spiritual and personal reflection with me, I found safety not in a physical sense, but more in a spiritual sense. My world is safe because I have created a "safe place" within myself. When we can experience and realize this on the inside, the condition of our lives and our world will change and improve on the outside. But first, we must "go home."
My counselors never treated me as a victim, or that I was "less than" even though my traumas had left me shaken in a world I did not know or understand. They treated me as an equal, always, and it was with the respect they resonated toward me, that I was nurtured, not just back to health, but to an evolved and spiritual woman.
My breakdown and collapse in 1993 was truly a "reset button." This painful time was a catalyst to my spirit waking up and learning how to function beautifully. I learned to love, respect and honor myself. I found the center of my universe---my own balance and harmony. Relationships based on respect create a sacred place for the unhealed places of our hearts and souls to heal. I understood and trusted that this place would be protected, not violated, in my association with my trusted counselors, mentors and friends. This fact was the foundation of my healing and is a RARE find.
Many victims move on without realizing that a part of them is missing. They compensate or cover for the part that's gone. They know something is wrong but they don't know what. To heal properly, I discovered it was important to pick up the pieces I had left behind. This process is different for everyone, but the result is the same: you will once again, discover your true essence.
Your trauma is not who you are, it is just what happened to you. In so many cases, and this is not to be judged, many people will not or cannot "arrive on the other side." This is the place I use to refer to as "living in the present moment, our now," apart from our traumas.
As we live on the "other side" of our traumas, we can, for the most part, function well in society. The chains and haunting of our past, which often rob us of our present joys, our very life, do not control us. I believe our task in life is to live with all that is hard in our lives without being able to know why it happens and still find a way to fully choose life, every day.
In his book, Five things We Cannot Change, David Richo writes about the unfairness of life as a given and that is certainly true. He also has a lengthy comment about victims.
"To be human is to be vulnerable, and an ego that cannot accommodate that and move through it is a hazard to spiritual development. If everything collapses, I will deal with it by staying with the pieces and then picking up the pieces. That piecework practice helps us distinguish two kinds of victims:
"Some victims lay themselves open for pain and contempt. They may wait for someone to come along and set them free. They become more and more open to being preyed upon as they lose their boundaries.
"Other victims, however are simply vulnerable in an open, healthy way and let themselves experience the betrayals that life and relationship sometimes bring. They are hurt, but they have a spiritual technology to deal with their hurt. They do not hurt back. They do not let themselves be hurt more.
"They stand up for themselves and wish enlightenment for those who hurt them. This is how they let their hearts open more than ever and become strong against predators while still penetrable to the slings and arrows of love. They may be victims but the are not casualties.
"Thus, the adult challenge is to believe that there is a design that wants to come through in our lives despite the random and untidy display."
It is my hope and prayer that individuals facing insurmountable crisis and tragedies will be blessed with compassionate friends and advocates extraordinaire such as the individuals who have shown up in my life. Their compassion was always equally balanced by a healthy sense of humor, which to this day, I appreciate.
In my quiet times, I still feel moments of raw pain from my past. I look at it for what it is, a catalyst for me to find the sacredness of my inner being---to realize more of myself and who I truly am. I believe how we think and act and how beautifully our spirit responds to our challenges is all that matters. My counselors and friends agree with this truth "that the only thing man cannot take from you is your attitude in any given set of circumstances."
Alice Walker's wise words have become my personal mantra, "Resistance is the secret of joy, we should challenge whatever oppresses us, anything we love can be saved, the way forward is with a broken heart, we should lead and not project on others what they should do for us, and we are the ones we have been waiting for."
Recommended websites for trauma and abuse survivors: abusesanctuary.blogspot.com
advocateweb.com provides information and resources to promote awareness and understanding of the issues involved in the exploitation of persons by trusted helping professionals.
Coral Anika Theill’s published book, BONSHEA, has been used as a college text for nursing students at Linfield College. Coral received a “Writer’s Award” in 2002 from iUniverse Publishing, Inc. BONSHEA is also recommended as a “survivor” story by the National Domestic Violence Resource Center in Pennyslvania. You can also find BONSHEA: Making Light of the Dark by Coral Anika Theill at the Salem, Corvallis, Albany, Independence, Monmouth and Linn Benton and Chemeketa Community Colleges. Copies are also available at Borders Bookstore in Corvallis, Oregon.
TO ORDER ONLINE: BONSHEA: Making Light of the Dark by Coral Anika Theill: iuniverse.com, barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com. Read 12 five star reviews at: barnesandnoble.com Toll free: 1-877-823-9235 iUniverse Publishing, Inc. or firstname.lastname@example.org ISBN: 0-595-25658-9 (pbk) ISBN: 0-595-65240-9 (cloth) Copyright 2003
To see part one in this special two part report by Coral Theill, visit: Marital Rape and Abuse Victim Seeks Justice From Oregon's Governor
This is the original Salem-News.com article by Tim King on Coral Theill's plight: Abuse Under the Watch of Oregon's Justice System
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