Monthly Archives: March 2010

A colleague discloses….what would you do?

(a repost )

Today I spent time contemplating some of my actions and behaviours in the workplace a few years ago.  I never told anyone about my abuse and held on to the secret for over 40 years.  Carrying that secret and suffering through more abuse and self destructive behaviours certainly took its toll.  It impacted other people as well as myself.  How could it not?  I will not detail the harmful things I did to myself but they were significant and lasted a very, very long time.

One of the things I was most proud of was the day I left an abusive marriage and began to carve out a healthy life for myself and my sons.   One day I was the corporate wife of an executive, member of a prestigious private club and the next day I was standing in line to get legal aid.  From soirees with the rich and famous  to getting my sons’ snowsuits from a social agency. It was one of the happiest times of my life even though I had no car, a part time job and no support.  I was FREE and I was creating the life I wanted for my sons….and myself.  Long story short – I went from virtually nothing to self supporting with a good job in one year.

Life went on.  I remarried and was blessed with twin girls.  With no formal education but a genius IQ and a TON of streetsmarts, I decided to work in the hightech industry which was booming at the time.  I needed to generate a good income and I have always really enjoyed working.  There were some amazing years.  I moved up the ladder quickly and eventually found myself in the perfect job.  I was so happy.  I was told and could see that I was an inspiration to others.  I was so passionate and was the person that others’ reached out to for help.  I LOVED helping them…guiding them…going out of my way to put a smile on others’ faces.  And then….the world crashed in around me.

My father died in September of 2004.  He was only 70 years old and I had bought him a plane ticket to come visit in November.    We had only recently begun to  reconcile decades of hurt from his decision to move to New Zealand when I was only 13. I was SO looking forward to his visit.  His sudden and unexpected death was too much for me to bear at that time.  Other things were going on in my life at that time….a sick child, a new boss and a stressful job.  I hit the wall.  I did my best but I felt my world was falling apart all around me.  I struggled to stay upright and continued to push through but it was obvious that I was not well.

In the fall of 2005 I decided to get help.  I knew that this was bigger than me.  Where the biggest change came was in the workplace.  I went from being a competent and cheerful employee who was respected and considerate of others to a withdrawn and nasty person.  I could not handle my boss…I lashed out at people…I got sucked into the negative stuff.  I did not know which way was up.  I was wounded, confused and isolating.  I was starting to hurt myself again and it got to the point where I considered suicide.   The death of my father had opened up the floodgates and I was getting sucked into a downward spiral. (It is important to note here that my father was not my abuser.)

December of 2005, at the age of 48….I finally told someone about the abuse.  That admission was the beginning of the healing journey.

Today I am thinking about my behaviour in the workplace from the fall of 2004 til 2006.  I feel such sorrrow and remorse for my self centredness and actions.  I take responsibility for those actions and now forgive myself for how I behaved.  There are some who will probably never understand or want to forgive me and I have to accept that.  I am sure it was difficult for them as I went just a little bit crazy at times…crying and disclosing and talking about it in the workplace.  That was a huge mistake. I was out of control.  It was an unfair burden on them and they did not know what to do.  If only I had felt supported by the organization…if only someone had gently led me to help.  But how could they?  They did not know what to do.

One of the things I want to do with Voice Found is to help others to understand the fallout from childhood sexual abuse.  Today I am focused on my experience in the workplace and so I will ask this of you.  If you notice a significant change in behaviour in a colleague, stop and consider what might be the cause.  If they are disclosing, help them to do it appropriately with a professional.  Lead them to the help.   Think about this…1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.  Someone you work with is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  Someone you work with may be carrying this secret and someday it just MAY come bursting forth.   What will YOU do if they disclose this to you?

Minimizing

It’s no big deal.  I can handle it.  It’s not that bad.  I just shove it away and pretend it never happened.  I get on with my life.

Those are some of the words I have repeated to myself and to others through the years.  It’s been my response to what has happened.  Smacked upside the head with a gun while being raped – ‘no biggie, it could have been worse.’  Sexually abused at the age of 5 – ‘I can handle it’…I close my eyes and pretend it’s not happening.    Father leaves the country when I am 13 – ‘ At least my mom’s around’.   Three family members commit suicide – I squish down the pain of loss and pretend it never happened.  Two failed marriages….drug addiction…..self destructive behaviours….loss of feeling…disconnection from self…disconnected from life.

I’ve spent my life minimizing what has transpired in my life.   I refuse to wallow in self pity.  I refuse to spend time in the pain of loss.  I choose instead to focus my attention to the beautiful and good things that life brings.  Okay.  That’s good BUT I have learned that I need to face what has happened in order to heal.   When I do not face them they sneak back and haunt me.  An unrelated event will trigger a memory.  An emotional response that is disproportionate to the event.  A  ‘friend’ makes a decision to no longer have me in her life and it sends me back to being 5 years old.  I grieve and beat myself up over it for weeks on end.

Starting today I am going to be honest with myself about what happened.  I am going to revisit significant trauma and acknowledge that it happened.  I am going to allow myself to grieve.

Minimizing what happened does not heal.  It is a coping mechanism.  I choose to heal.  I choose to  thrive.  I choose to do more than simply cope.

allowing sadness

While sadness is not an emotion most would choose,  I am allowing myself to feel it today.   For too long I have forced myself to feel, act, respond or behave in ways that others have deemed appropriate.  I did not ‘own’ the feelings or actions….they were someone else’s script.   I find I can not longer live with that  incongruency.  Authenticity is really important to me and to my healing.

Today I am sad.  I am allowing myself to grieve loss.  I am acknowledging the years I ‘lost’.  I am honouring my inner child.  I am feeling her sadness and confusion.  I am not going to make light of her pain.  I will cry and do so with no apology.  Doing this will allow me to move through without getting stuck.

If you are feeling cut off from yourself I encourage you to find a quiet place and simply ‘be’.  Allow whatever you feel to come up.  Don’t force it any which way.  Express it, feel it, move through it.  If you need someone with you because you are afraid of what might come up – then call a friend to be with you.  Help them to understand how to help you.   My friends know that if they get this call it means I need physical presence only.  No questions, no platitudes, no answers….simply come and sit with me.  Hold me if I ask you to.  Just ‘be’ with me.

My personal sad journey today will be short-lived as I have professional obligations to tend to.  But for now I am allowing sadness.  It will allow me to emerge stronger and happier.  Give yourself the gift of allowing emotions and thoughts and behaviours that are authentically yours.