Play Review: Ask A Sex Abuse Survivor

Let me start this off by first saying: I love Philly. I moved here last fall and am in awe of the creative vibe. There are truly some talented artists, musicians, writers and poets in this city. I attended a few poetry slams and an event at the Philadelphia Museum where I tried my hand at origami and painted a very elementary picture of a house.

But this past weekend, I checked my Facebook events and noticed Michael Broussard’s play, Ask A Sex Abuse Survivor, was playing in three hours. It was time to make a decision: do I lounge in the bed all day watching my third Game of Thrones marathon or do I venture outside? This past week, my depression had hit pretty heavily so I turned to the perfect distraction – GOT.

This time, though, I decided to get out of bed and go somewhere.

When the GPS indicated that the Adrienne Theater is on Sansom Street, I almost walked back in the house. I hate driving in downtown Philly. But I fought the urge and made my way to the theater. And as luck would have it, I found a parking space just yards from the theater!

As soon as I walked in, I knew I was late. But to make matters worse, I opened the stage door! I shut it quickly as the audience laughed and Michael directed me to the correct door.

Fortunately, I hadn’t missed much. His play is set up where he interacts with the audience, does a scene and breaks again to interact with the audience. I sat down just as he began the opening scene.

Michael described the boy he used to be before the abuse: fun-loving, trusting, innocent. And like most kids, he loved to dance, play outside and crack jokes. He also loved meeting new people and spending time with family, but this was all before the abuse. Like most victims, there’s a distinct disconnect between the person we were before we were raped and the person we become after the incident.

Michael is about ten years older than I and even he hasn’t managed to merge the two. I read once that we’re not supposed to think of the person before the abuse in the third person, but I tell you, it felt right when he referred to the old him in that way.

I don’t want to give the entire play away, but I will tell you that it’s a must-see for survivors. I already knew I wasn’t alone, but upon discovering his coping mechanisms were the same as mine…his pain was the same as mine, it shook me to know that someone else suffered the same as I and is standing before me whole. It can be done.

Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR) counselors were sitting in the audience. If someone rushed out of the theater crying or in a panic, they were there to follow them out and speak with them. Throughout the entire play, I thought it was going to be me. I couldn’t stop crying. I was having flashbacks and being triggered and trying to be strong all in the same moment. I kept staring at the door…I didn’t want to punk out and run. I wanted to hear his story.

And finally…it was over. I made it through. After speaking briefly with Michael, we took a picture and he asked me something that had been on my mind since I relocated to Philadelphia, “have you been back to the place where you were sexually abused?”

I’m crying as I write this…

I haven’t returned although something in me knows that I need to go back. I was first raped at five in Washington, DC. but the bulk of the abuse occurred in Princeton, NJ, less than one hour’s drive from my new town. To be honest, I didn’t even have the courage to cross the NJ state line and planned to never do so. I felt if I did I would be abused all over again. But, during the last two months, circumstances outside of my control led me over the bridge several times and each time I visited, my anxiety attacks lessened.

But to return to Redding Circle, I don’t know…

Before heading home, I stopped at the corner bar for a glass of wine. I needed to erase those thoughts. I didn’t want to drive home with tear-flooded eyes.

Plus, I needed to get back to my Game of Thrones marathon.

 

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Michael Broussard and me.

 


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Book Review: The Path To Wealth

No, this isn’t the typical book review found on this site. The content I reviewed previously touched on some aspect of sexual abuse. But, this year, I want to share reviews of the inspirational books I’ve been reading lately. They’ve helped me immensely and I hope the reviews motivate you to pick up a copy.

Authored by May McCarthy, The Path To Wealth: Seven Spiritual Steps For Financial Abundance was gifted to me by Saba Tekle. Saba is the publisher of the uplifting anthology, 20 Beautiful Women. I first told my story in volume two of the series and ever since, Saba has given me wise counsel. Twice last year we spoke of the hardships I was facing, and she helped point me in the right direction. Calling her feeling lost once more, she ordered the book and I began reading.

And it provided the paradigm shift I desperately needed.

Well, I didn’t just read it; I did the work, a seven-step process to gain clarity and direction for your personal and professional life. The information is nothing new. They’re directives found in the Bible and advised by thousands of self-help gurus. But for some reason, the way it’s explained here was a turning point for me. Although I believed I was doing everything right: attending church, praying, reading the Bible, volunteering, etc. I didn’t see any real change in my spirit…or my situation.

What was I missing? Gratitude. Each day should begin writing a gratitude letter to the Creator. Once we recognize that He is the center of it all, we should go to Him everyday with an attitude of thanks. May explains when we do, the ideas we receive are directions He’s given to us. And we should follow them explicitly. Before, we were making decisions from our point of view and often times, not seeking God’s help. This way, we’re seeking God’s guidance before we start our day.

I’ve implemented this practice over the last few months and I’ve already seen a difference. Even during my most recent hardship, I kept a gracious attitude. In the midst of it, opportunities arose improving my situation until finally, I was able to see my way out. In the past, I would have sought vengeance, cussed people out and held onto the anger, telling everyone how I was betrayed. However, I simply walked away. Writing those gratitude letters in the morning gave me a new perspective. I couldn’t hold onto the hurt and anger long because I started my day with thanks. I’m unsure whether my situation would have improved if I hadn’t improved my attitude.

As a survivor, I’ve held onto so much anger for years. Much of it has been released after confronting some people, but still, it remained. With this new perspective however, I’ve learned to spend more time focusing on the good and much of the lingering anger withered away.

Because this book was gifted to me, I paid it forward and bought it for a friend. If you do decide to order the book, I invite you to pay it forward to a friend too.

(If you’re interested in sharing your story in 20 Beautiful Women or 20 Beautiful Men, click here.)

Book Review: Debbie

**Trigger Warning**

It’s taken me a while to finish this book. Not only because I’ve been dealing with personal issues, but because her story his heart wrenching. I cried throughout many parts of the book and constantly wondered why her story went on for so long? There were moments where it seemed as if there was gonna be some resolution, some peace, but people continuously failed at their job of parent, police officer, social worker, husband, etc. I am amazed and inspired by Debbie’s courage. Years ago when a friend read my story, he asked why wasn’t I on drugs…or still dancing. Reading her story, I asked the same questions. There’s so much resiliency and strength and hope in Debbie. I love her for it.

Hope has aided in my survival, but it has also aided in my torment. I know I am not alone in thinking that hope is a bitch, but without it, what else is there? Nothing.

Overall, the book is well-written. There were times where it was a little hard to follow, but that’s because she was looking to protect herself and her family. It reads like a friend was sitting next to me on the couch telling her story. There were times I wanted to give her a high five, yell at her to drive faster or sit with her after she recalled every instance of sexual and physical abuse.

The story opens with Debbie being interviewed by an intake officer. She’s purposely haggard, her breasts are hidden in an oversized sweater and she even admits she hadn’t showered that day. If you’re a survivor, you understand why. I’ve had days like that myself. But it’s apparent she’s still stuck. The counselor makes a pass at her but instead of standing up for herself, she let’s him continue. She uncomfortable and guilt-ridden. And it broke my heart.

Soon after, she delves in the incest and physical abuse she endured at the hands of her father. The father is just as cruel and vicious to her mom and it bonds mother and daughter in ways we’d never imagine. Her brothers never sexually abuse her, but they’re just as physically abusive, cruel and demeaning.

I had no idea what to do with a Barbie doll except to dress it, undress it, dress it again, undress it, and make it punch or have sex with other dolls.

She eventually grows up and works a myriad of jobs including an exotic dancer. She marries and has children early. It’s apparent and she admits that she’s yearning for love, healthy love, but she doesn’t receive it with any of her husbands. She travels from state to state to state to escape domestic violence, pursue job opportunities, to be near or away from family. Her adult life is just as traumatic has her childhood.

I already knew God wasn’t going to protect me from men.

I didn’t want to have sex for food, but I was hungry and had to find a way to eat. I had already been sexually exploited so often in my life it wasn’t really a big deal, until after when I would feel wothless, abandoned and used. I was just a worthless teenage slut, I guess.

I don’t want to give the entire story away, but believe me, you’ve never read anything like it. If you can endure the triggers, I suggest you order a copy today. You can also follow her Twitter on @redtaperesidue.

Movie Review: Spotlight

I’m probably one of the last people on earth to see this movie, but I’m glad I finally did. It was my intention to see it in the theaters, but plans suddenly changed and due to personal circumstances over the past few months, it completely slipped my mind. So shout out to Netflix for making it possible.

If you don’t already know, Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting into the sexual abuse allegations of Boston’s Catholic priests. Spotlight was the  name of the Globe’s investigative reporting division. For more than thirty years, law enforcement, lawyers, judges and even reporters of the Globe and Herald had conspired to cover it up. But when the Globe hires Martin “Marty” Baron, an editor from Florida, Marty insists on delving into and exposing the conspiracy. The movie relays some stories of abuse and how victims were affected but it’s mostly an in-depth look into the challenges the journalists faced as they attempted to expose the abuse and the widespread cover up.

Overall, I thought the movie was outstanding. It was well written and the actors were phenomenal. The movie first opens in the late 1970s where a priest sits in the precinct while officers discuss his possible punishment. One officer is astounded when told of the possibility that he’ll never go to trial. His jaw drops when later, the priest strolls casually out of the police station. The next scene is thirty years later and talks of Marty’s impending arrival.

The movie then details how Globe journalists exposed almost 90 priests and over 1,000 victims from Boston. Because they also uncovered the Catholic church’s pattern of transferring abusive priests, the church’s global cover up scandal eventually erupted. Watching the truth was agonizing and infuriating.

I was hesitant to watch it because I was afraid of suffering from triggers and flashbacks. I didn’t want to have an anxiety attack or cry uncontrollably throughout the movie especially since I had planned to see it with a friend. But for me, the movie didn’t have that effect on me at all.

The victims described their grooming processes and the subsequent effects it had on their lives. One eventually asserted that he wasn’t just sexually abused; he was spiritually abused because the priest robbed him of his faith. And he was right. Most of the victims never returned to church, were under educated and working dead end jobs. It was sadder once I realized those boys were targeted because they were poor and/or from single family homes and the abuse robbed them of the chance to rise above their parents’ economic condition. Some spiraled downward even further and turned to drinking and drugs with many eventually committing suicide.

As I was watching, I was also reminded of the Sandusky scandal. He too preyed upon the poor boys in his community using the same escalation of grooming techniques: dirty jokes, porn, oral then intercourse. And in both circumstances, the mothers were honored that their sons were chosen as their mentee.

It wasn’t just the victims’ stories these journalists sought. They attempted to speak to the defending attorneys, priests and archdiocese as well. Most refused but when one journalist attempted to extract a confession from a preacher, she was astounded that he readily admitted to his crime. But he kept asserting that what he did was ‘alright’ because he never received satisfaction from it. And then it hit me.

The Catholic church may be reap with vampires.

Vampire is the term used for sexual abuse victims who turn around and abuse other victims. While most never portray this behavior, the Journal of Criminal Psychology estimates approximately 29% of victims become perpetrators. If that’s the case, it would stand to reason that some victims never tell, remain in the church and even conspire rise to priesthood due to the accessibility of victims and lack of punishment from the church. To me, it appeared as if this priest did just that. I’d love to see this idea further explored.

The only scene that brought me to tears was when one victim asked to be anonymous before telling the journalist his story. After he finished and as he rose to leave, he turned around and said, “you can use my name if you want.” I bawled.

I was reduced to tears because I empathized with why he wanted to remain anonymous and how, through telling his story, he eventually found the courage to add his name to it. As time goes on, some of us start to see the abuse from an adult’s perspective and not from the viewpoint of our wounded inner child. It takes decades for many of us to reach this stage and that’s why it takes so long for us to come forward. But when we finally do, it usually comes with unwavering resolve. We recognize how damaging it was to ourselves, our families and our communities to remain silent for so long. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still perfectly understandable why we remained so; but once we reach the paradigm shift from inner child to adult, we finally lift the weight off our chest. We experience the feeling of freedom — liberated from the judgment, guilt and shame of what others did to us. And we want to use our voice to help others who may be bound by victimization.

This is why the movie Spotlight is vital. It showed the world where the guilt truly belonged and enabled thousands of men and women to free their inner child from the bondage of emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, grooming and sexual abuse. Even if you weren’t a victim or never knew a victim, you must see this movie.