Fighting the Drug that Calls Your Name

Last night, I was scrolling through old documents on my computer and I came across one document titled “Running.” I’m not sure when I wrote it, but it grabbed my attention. It was the start of a blog post but it was unfinished. So maybe now is the time to share.

When healing from trauma, we often find ways to cope with the overwhelming pain. Unfortunately, these attempts can sometimes be incredibly unhealthy. At the time, we often do not realize these efforts to cope are maladaptive and complicate the healing process. They often temporarily numb us to the pain or provide an escape we desperately desire. Something about the behavior produces the results we crave, otherwise, we would not return to it. Despite being provided examples of healthy coping skills when I was in counseling immediately following my final disclosure, some unhealthy coping skills just seemed to work better and quicker. As a result, many times I chose the “drug.” The drug created a new type of pain but the momentary perceived freedom (from the effects of trauma) it produced magnified its allure; however, there was never a time it contributed to my healing and growth.

The drug calls my name so strongly

I hope I can identify my trigger quickly

Do I need attention or to feel loved?

Am I startled by something that could be good?

 

I can predict the outcomes if I run

Even when I try to believe this time will be fun

I know deep down I will wake up feeling broken.

 

After years of sobriety, it can still be hard to choose

Lapses happen quickly and if I don’t bounce back I’ll lose

 

Don’t run, please stay and fight another day.

 

The drug in this poem represents the maladaptive coping skills I employed. When I chose to run to the “drug” I could expect and predict the outcomes. I often told myself, “even though what happens will be bad, at least you know what to expect. It is what you are used to.” Lies seeped through the drug. Lies such as: this is the best it’s going to be, this is “your” normal, this is the only way you can escape the pain you currently feel.

The truth is that the drug can be disempowered. We can learn to choose which way we will cope. It is not easy or quick, but it is possible.

Eventually, I faced the stark reality that if I continued to run to the “drug,” there would be a time that I would not be able to return to the life I most desired. Continued use of unhealthy coping tactics would result in my demise. The “drug” had the power to completely alter the trajectory of my life.

Here are some ways I was able to reach a place of choosing healthy processing and coping over escape, life over drug:

Recognize the reality and power of the drug.

Find a counselor and be honest with him/her.

Learn healthy, adaptive, coping skills and practice them regularly.

Remove all things (reasonably possible) from your life that tempt you to return to the drug (people, places, things)

Stay present with the pain and work through it.

Remind yourself about the reality of the drug and the pain it causes.

Discover God’s truths, His hopes and desires for your life (hint: it isn’t what the drug tells you) and always turn to Him

When you fall, let someone you trust know, and get right back up; commit to learning and adjusting.

You are not alone.

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Goodbye 2010s, Hello 2020

Growing up in the 90s, 2020 seemed distant and futuristic. In many ways, it was and is. At the same time, it seems to have arrived so quickly. The start of a new year is always an exciting time for me as I reflect on the many events of the previous year. It brings anticipation for new experiences and opportunities.

A decade ago, I was preparing to fly to Anchorage, Alaska to spend time with my dad, aunt, and cousin snowboarding on Mount Alyeska. I survived those runs down the mountain and later completed my first year of college at UNC-Chapel Hill. I ventured to New Orleans to serve as a camp counselor at Baptist Friendship House and did not board my flight back to Raleigh. The direction of my life took an intense pivot that brought peace in the midst of uncertainty.

10 years later, I am still a student. I still serve at Baptist Friendship House. I still love New Orleans with the same intensity as the day I moved there. But the personal growth and change in my life has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Over the last 10 years, God has strengthened me, stretched me, molded me, and directed me in ways I never imagined.

2020 will begin with a drive back to New Orleans after finally recovering enough from the flu to make it back safely.

Full time ministry and counseling will resume.

I will start my second semester of the PhD program at NOBTS.

I will continue to grow my blog with more tangible information for readers on how to advocate for victims of sexual abuse.

I look forward to more opportunities to speak/train on topics like human trafficking, childhood sexual abuse, and advocacy for crime victims.

In 2020, I want to be more present for the “everyday-ness” of life- the little moments.

Thank you for reading and supporting me in so many endeavors over this last decade.

Happy New Year!

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Celebrating 15 Years of Freedom

November 10, 2004. The day before Veteran’s Day. The day freedom arrived for me. Freedom from abuse. Even though the years seem to fly by, on November 10 of each year, I am keenly reminded of just how far God has brought me in my healing journey. One month ago, I shared my story of finding my voice after abuse silenced me, with over 500 amazing individuals at a Child Abuse and Neglect Conference in Michigan. Fifteen years ago, I could not see past the day that was before me. My life was filled with uncertainty, fear, and confusion. Fifteen years later, my days look much different. However, I would not be where I am today without the incredible support system God has placed around me.

When I spoke in Michigan, I listed all of the people who have advocated for me in various ways, identifying them by the role they played. Teacher. Guidance Counselor. Social Workers. SBI Agents. Coaches. Youth Pastor/Leaders. Professors. Friends. Family. The list goes on. I have never had to walk this healing journey alone.

I do not believe healing from childhood sexual abuse simply ends one day. I do not believe it is something we can just check off our to-do list. My body and my mind will always remember what happened. But, living in freedom, I have a choice.

Daily, I get to choose to keep pursuing a life of light, renewal, healing, and learning. I refuse to fall back into the place of silence where shame and fear once held me captive.

I am committing my 15th year of freedom to the continued fight for reform of the NC sex offender registry legislation. It is a fight for survivor’s voices to be honored and heard a decade after a court case is closed when abusers are provided the opportunity to petition for removal from the registry. Until all voices are heard and honored, I will fight.

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One Room Where It Happened

The room that haunts me. The room where I spent hours upon hours with my abuser as he used me for his sexual pleasure. The bed where I laid during so many episodes of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

The drawing that you see below is a recreated image of a task I had to complete during the forensic interviews when I was thirteen years old. When my disclosure of sexual abuse was reported to the local authorities by my middle school, the local police department decided not to investigate because of a conflict of interest. The case was passed to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation; a move that, in hindsight, I am so grateful occurred. Through the SBI, I met two of my biggest advocates, the agents who were responsible for gathering all the details of what had transpired over the previous six or seven years. In my longest interview with K, one of the agents, she asked me to draw the locations where the abuse had occurred in our house. I meticulously placed every single detail of that room and that trailer on a piece of paper. It was a task I was able to complete with ease. So many nights I had looked around that room just waiting for the episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to end so that I could retreat to the safety of my own bedroom. I struggled to understand how I could remember what seemed to be such unimportant information when I absolutely could not answer how many times I was abused.

What do I remember?

I can remember that there were almost always three blankets on the bed- a sheet, a light blanket, and the comforter. I can remember how the tv sat on top of the tall bureau filled with my abuser’s clothes. I can remember which direction the doors opened to the bathroom, closet, and bedroom. I can remember there was a gun in the desk; though I was told it was just a “scare gun,” I believed it could kill. I can remember the two framed pictures hanging on the wall by the bathroom door. I know there was pepper spray in the top drawer of the dresser. I can map out, not to scale, every room of that trailer even though it has been nearly fifteen years since I stepped foot in it.

I spent hours with K and S as they asked me questions and allowed me to share my story. In each of my interviews with the agents, K and S, I felt safe, heard, validated, and supported. Though I often wondered what they were doing with the pages of notes they wrote, I knew, without a doubt, they were fighting for me. They were advocating for me.

The way our brain encodes experiences of trauma can be extremely frustrating- at least it was for me. As a young teenager, I could not understand why and how I could remember every detail of that trailer, but I had absolutely no idea how many times the abuse occurred. I could remember all the emotions I felt and the words my abuser spoke, but I couldn’t recall what year my abuser confronted me about my first disclosure.

For years, I struggled with feeling like my brain had failed me. I thought something had to be wrong with my brain because I could not recall what I believed were the answers to the simplest of questions. I believed the criminal case against my abuser wasn’t “strong” because my brain was not cooperating. Through counseling and education, I have learned how the brain works and why some memories are easily accessed and crystal clear; whereas, other details of the abuse, I will never know. I discovered that my brain actually worked really hard to protect me as much as it could from the impacts of the abuse. With this knowledge, I was able to stop blaming myself for not remembering. I rest knowing that God designed our brains to work in this manner, it is no mistake.

If you want a quick overview of how trauma impacts the brain, I encourage you to watch this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-tcKYx24aA&t=290s

If you want one of the best resources on how trauma impacts the brain and the body, I suggest you read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

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The purple marks indicate the places where the abuse occurred

The Power in Truth (updated)

It is so hard to believe that I have been blogging for 3.5 years now. In many ways, it seems like just yesterday I nervously clicked publish to share my first post. I initially shared this piece in July 2016; however, as I have been preparing for upcoming presentations I have reread many of my posts and I felt this one needs to be reshared. One aspect of my abuse experience that I think is important for people to understand is how perpetrators destroy a child’s system of beliefs, often through horrific forms of manipulation. While it often takes repetition over a long period of time to rewire our brains with new, healthy beliefs; it is a form of healing that occurs following trauma.

In a previous post, I discussed how abusers are master manipulators. Initially, abusers may use threats of violence or death to the victim or a loved one; however, they eventually incorporate attacks on the child’s belief system regarding “right” and “wrong.” They normalize the abusive behavior so the child no longer questions the acts the abuser imposes.

There were many nights when I feared that if “we” (no longer ‘he’) got caught, “I” (not him) would be in so much trouble. The script was no longer “little Kendall” and “mean abuser,” but now “bad Kendall” and “stepdad.” The impacts of this script change did not become evident until I started working through things in therapy. It was not until more recently that I realized how a completely separate incident cemented this view. This is what abusers strive to do- to make the victim believe they are to blame and they are no longer valued.

Once again, I cannot recall the year this particular incident occurred but it had to have been a year or longer after the ongoing abuse began. My younger siblings and I were swimming in a pool at a hotel. Just like I can take you back to the exact location on Hwy. 903 in Magnolia in a previous post, I can also take you back to the exact hotel and could likely still draw a near perfect blueprint of the pool and sauna area. Initially, my siblings and I were bursting with excitement because we had the entire hotel pool all to ourselves. After a few minutes of swimming, I noticed through the clear door of the sauna that there was a man in there alone. This man moved to a separate bench in the sauna where it became evident that he only had a towel wrapped around his waist and he began to masturbate. My immediate thought was to protect my siblings by distracting them in the pool. However, I quickly began wrestling thoughts in my mind trying to determine whether I was supposed to go in there and do what my abuser made me do. It was like two conflicting identities were trying to operate at the same time “big sister” and “bad Kendall.” I just remember thinking, “maybe this is what I’m really supposed to do.” Thankfully, before a decision could be made, a family came into the pool area and the man in the sauna quickly left. However, that thought radiated through the years and turned into “maybe this is all I’m going to be worth.” I am forever grateful for the people that pour truth into me and help me fight against this lie I was taught.

A child should never, under any circumstance, feel obligated to sexually service a stranger in a sauna because he has exposed himself to her.

But that is what abuse and a manipulating abuser can do to a child’s mind. My heart aches for the children and adults that are currently facing this battle. I believe so strongly in speaking truth. Truth is the only thing that can combat an abuser’s lies. We need to tell the children in our lives how precious, loved, valued, and important they are simply for being who they are as children of God. We need to tell them that it is not okay for someone to make them feel icky or scared or like they are bad. We need to educate them about abusers and how to tell an adult if someone hurts them or makes them think they will be hurt. We need to explain sexual abuse and teach them healthy sexuality so they aren’t left questioning what is right and what is wrong. These should not be one time conversations- they should happen over and over and over. The conversations should grow in depth and complexity as a child’s mind grows and as they are exposed to new situations. The abuser tells lies over and over to the point that in the mind of the victim, they become truth. The frequency we speak truth to children should exponentially outweigh the frequency of the lies abusers say. 

Children need to know, believe, and feel truths about their identity as a beloved child of God, worthy of respect, love, dignity, and deserving of safety.  And nothing can take those truths away.

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Life: 1 Year After Facing My Abuser in Court

It is so hard to believe that an entire year has passed since I returned home to North Carolina to face my abuser in court for the second time. Hearing the judge grant my abuser’s petition for removal from the sex offender was absolutely devastating. It is still infuriating and feels like a major injustice. It is terrifying to think about how he now attends little league baseball games as he stated in court that was one of his primary motivators for wanting to be removed from the registry. However, with time and healing, I have been able to turn those emotions into motivation and fuel to advocate for change. In this last year, God has opened doors for me that I believe are a direct result of my time spent in court a year ago.

I have had the incredible opportunity to begin speaking with a senator’s office in North Carolina. One of the primary goals I have set in advocacy is for victim notification of petition hearings. If I had not communicated with the District Attorney’s office in the years leading up to my abuser’s petition, I would not have been notified when my abuser was returning to court. North Carolina has an extremely helpful victim notification system that informs those who are registered to receive updates when the status of a sex offender changes. However, it does have a flaw. I received an update once when my abuser’s address changed. Then, I did not receive another update until I got the automated phone call letting me know my abuser was removed from the sex offender registry. There was no automated call to inform me of my abuser’s scheduled court date. I believe this will be a fairly simple “fix” to ensure that victims who want to be notified when his/her abuser petitions the court to be removed from the registry, he/she is informed in a timely manner. I fully support individuals who never want to be notified by a court again once a case is closed. However, I will stand firm in my beliefs that if a victim wants to be notified, he/she should be guaranteed timely notification. I will be forever grateful for the Assistant District Attorneys who listened to my concerns and promised to notify me as soon as my abuser was granted a court date for his petition. Even though the ruling was devastating, I will always rest knowing that I had the opportunity to speak truth in that courtroom.

The Lord has continued to ignite a passion in me to share my story so others can learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of victim services I received through the years. God has opened doors for me to engage with individuals on the national level. This October I will travel to Ann Arbor, MI to lead a breakout session and give a keynote speech for a statewide child abuse and neglect conference. In December, I will have the opportunity to lead a breakout session for the Center for Victims of Crime’s National Training Institute. I first attended this specific conference in New Orleans eight years ago. I never imagined that I would be given that same platform to educate people from across the nation about the impact petition hearings have on individuals who have experienced childhood sexual abuse.

In the days following the judge’s ruling, I flew back home to New Orleans and tried to launch back into my routine. Life did not fall back into place gracefully. I did not feel like the same person I was prior to the judge’s ruling. I felt like I had lost myself. Those feelings were a symptom of the trauma of reliving the abuse as I looked at my abuser from the witness stand. I was changed through that experience. Some of the plans I had for my life had to be delayed while I took some time to heal. God is so faithful and His timeline is always much better than any we can ever imagine. Six months after I appeared in court, I began seeing clients for counseling as a provisional licensed professional counselor. A couple of months after that, I was accepted into the Ph.D. program at the same school where I received my master’s degree. Later this month I will attend my first course as a Ph.D. student.

I know I have mentioned this before, but I believe it is worth mentioning again. If you had told 13-year-old Kendall who had just talked with a social worker at school about the abuse she was experiencing at home that one day she would be standing where I am now- I would never have believed you. Abuse teaches us that we are unworthy, ruined, dirty, and shameful, among other things. You don’t grow up believing you have a voice because it has been silenced by an abuser.

God redeems. God heals. God loves. God will lift the voice of those who have been silenced.

For those of you who have joined me on this blogging journey, your support means the world to me. For those of you who have prayed for me over the years, I can not thank you enough. For those of you who think no one will hear your voice, I am listening.

This journey continues. Stay tuned for more blog posts, updates on legislative activities, and future speaking engagements. If you ever have any questions or want to know how you can advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse in your own community, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Master Manipulator

**Trigger Warning**

When I was a young girl, I would have to ride with my abuser on Sunday nights to take my friend home after sleepovers. I dreaded these rides so much that I would often offer my younger siblings any good I had that I thought they may want- from toys to candy to my allowance- if they would simply prevent me from being alone in a car with my abuser. They hated being stuck in the car and to a kid, 30 minutes is a LONG time; so I rode alone. Most of these rides were quiet and benign; however, one night my abuser executed his art of manipulation and made my fears become a reality.

I can’t tell you the month, much less the year this particular ride home occurred; however, my guess would be that I was in the 5th or 6th grade. Although I can’t tell you the date, I can still take you to the exact location on Hwy 903 in Magnolia, just after you passed the apartments on the left, that these words came out of his mouth; “so why’d you tell?” As quickly as he said those words, tears began pouring from my eyes. I knew my silence indicated to him that I had told someone about our secret. I did the one thing he told me to never do. Because nothing in my life had changed since my first disclosure, my abuser now knew that he could continue to get away with using me for his sexual pleasure. 

Rather than ending the conversation there, he continued. As tears poured from my eyes and fear that he would kill me before I could get home overwhelmed me, he continued his manipulative tactics. He calmly proceeded to explain to me that “that was our little secret” and that he “was only trying to help me out because he knew how curious little girls are.” He was telling me that he was doing me a favor, that me sexually servicing him was beneficial for me- a child… I was “learning.” For an already confused sexual abuse victim, this wreaked havoc in my mind. As if that was not enough manipulation for him, he continued before we could reach our driveway.

As he was driving down Hwy. 903, he exposed his genitals and asked/told me “if you want to touch or see it again you can, I’ll let you.” I clutched the passenger door and slid myself as far from him as possible. As soon as we reached the house, I barreled out the door and to my room and did not come out again until the next morning. Then, things went back to “normal.” 

I recall this experience so vividly. As you can see through this encounter, my abuser continued to implant the beliefs that what was happening to me was normal and okay. An abuser strives to do this. If they can manipulate the mind of a victim into believing they (the abuser) are actually helping the child out and doing him/her a favor, they gain significant control and the likelihood of disclosure lessens. An abuser may first use threats, such as “you better not tell anyone or else,” to gain the submission of the victim. If abuse is ongoing, the abuser is going to continue to manipulate their victim because eventually, the threats do not carry the weight they once did. At some point, injury or death may begin to appear more desirable than continued abuse. This is why the abuser works to normalize the criminal behavior and make the victim feel “special” because the abuser is “doing him/her a favor.” Once a victim begins believing the abuse is normal, it takes a major breakthrough for them to realize that what is happening to them is not normal.

We need to do more to equip our children with the education of normal behaviors and abusive behaviors. We need to create a better dialogue with them so they can come to us as soon as something feels uncomfortable even when someone tells them what they are doing is okay. Most importantly, we must hold those who choose to abuse children accountable for their actions in a manner that will deter future child victimization. 

 

This is an updated version of a post I first published in 2016.

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