The Return of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”

I was met with a rush of emotions as I watched a preview for a newer version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (WWTBAM). I have not kept up with the show since the first few seasons with Regis Philbin as host. I figured it had found its place on Game Show Network. I nostalgically reflected on the same excitement I felt as an eight-year-old eagerly awaiting the show’s premiere. I still love a good trivia game show. A little over two decades from the original air date, the current preview still brought sadness, anger, and confusion.

At eight years old, my excitement met my worst nightmare as my abuser destroyed my enjoyment of the original WWTBAM. The episodes of WWTBAM morphed into regularly scheduled abuse sessions at the hands of my abuser. My abuse revolved largely, but not solely, around this gameshow that so many grew to love. Despite how much I hated this show on the inside, if you had asked me when I was eight or nine years old, what is your favorite television show; I would have readily answered with certainty, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I had no choice but to adhere to the façade my abuser created. So, I felt sadness, when the new preview aired, for the little Kendall that simply wanted to watch a new tv show with anyone who would watch it with her, competing to see if we too could “win” a million dollars.    

Next, came a pang of anger because, for this new season of WWTBAM, my abuser is no longer a registered sex offender. I immediately began thinking- what if there is another little girl who wants to watch this show with him. Will he abuse her too? My anger at the justice system was reignited as I questioned- why was his punishment not greater? Why did they let him off the registry? Who is going to protect the next little girl? In my prefrontal cortex, the logical part of my brain, I have somewhat satisfactory answers to those questions that help me maintain a level of peace with the past. However, in this moment, my limbic system, the emotional part of my brain, was triggered and these are the questions it generates in that state. If you think about the fight, flight, or freeze response, I was definitely experiencing a desire to fight.

The most troubling emotional response I experienced was confusion. I questioned how I could feel excitement now for a show that has been associated with so much pain in my life. Am I allowed to watch this newer version and maybe even enjoy it? If I can watch it now, what does that say about my childhood abuse? If I refuse to watch the new show, does that give my abuser power over my present and future?

A child is completely powerless when he/she is abused. The child has no voice in those moments. The powerlessness is created through the threats abusers often use, reliance on the relationship for basic needs and survival, strength differentials, a desire for cohesiveness and stability in the family unit, and disbelief when we do tell another person. Part of the counseling process for trauma, particularly abuse, is recognizing our powerlessness as children and reclaiming that power, where we can, as adults.

Continuing this healing journey, I walked through these steps this week. Where I did not have the power to choose whether or not to watch WWTBAM when I was a child, I could choose now if I wanted to watch the show, where I wanted to watch it, how I wanted to watch it, who I wanted to watch it with, and when I wanted to watch it.

Not only did I allow myself to watch the show, I allowed myself to feel everything that emerged as I watched it. I am choosing to create new associations with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to replace those that immediately take me back to my abuser’s bed. The show did not abuse me. My abuser used the show as bait for his heinous acts.

Will I watch the next episode that airs this coming week? Maybe I will or maybe I will not. It is a decision I get to make.

That is the power of healing that God allows us to engage. He created our brains in a way that allows us to form new associations and connections. Those things that used to conjure nightmares can once again be enjoyed or at minimum, tolerated. Realistically, there are going to be many more times when the familiar sounds of the show take me back to a place of pain, but leaning into God’s truth and using the power I have to choose my thoughts, I do not have to remain in that painful place. And as time goes on, those familiar sounds may one day bring a joyful smile to my face as I think about new memories the show generates. Healing is real, ya’ll. Let your final answer be, keep on the journey.

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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An Unexpected GPS Route

I don’t make the drive to NC often enough to be confident enough not to use GPS. There have been a few times I had a little too much confidence in my capacity for directions and the trips took much longer than they should. On my most recent trip to NC, I realized my GPS was taking me a different route than usual; however, it was not until I was miles off the exit that I recognized the road I would travel down.

The new route would take me right by the place I called home for several years.

As I got closer to the place I used to live, my heartbeat quickened, and I got that feeling of unease in the pit of my stomach. Those feelings calmed as I remembered that the house was not always a house of horror. My mind was flooded with memories of both the good times and the times of greatest pain. When I think about that place, I first remember the abuse that took place within those walls. But then I remember the huge backyard, fields, and woods where I spent hours playing on the weekends with my siblings. I remember the twenty-something cats that were all named and loved. I remember my pet potbelly pig, Petunia, and how excited I was to get her. One of the things that makes disclosures even more complicated than they already are is that there are going to be a lot of painful losses.

I can recall my very first disclosure when my hope was that my abuser would simply stop abusing me. I didn’t want to have to leave my home. I just wanted the abuse to stop.

I know I have touched on this subject in previous blog posts, but I think it deserves being revisited. Disclosure is HARD.

Abusers aren’t always going to be the “bad” person committing crimes. An abuser is often personable, caring, loving even, and he/she creates positive memories with his/her victim too. My abuser attended my sporting events, he took my family out to eat on occasion, he played baseball in the backyard with us, we went to the lake and beach sometimes. He was there for holidays and birthdays. This dichotomy further confuses the victim and keeps him/her silent- how can this person be bad and good at the same time. It is a lot for a child’s brain to comprehend and the child often assumes the “bad person” role, thinking he/she must somehow be causing the bad things to happen.

When a child discloses sexual abuse and is believed, the common response by others is sadness over what has happened but thankfulness and joy that the child will not be abused by that person again. This response is completely appropriate. There is a focus on this newfound freedom. However, we often overlook the many losses the child will grieve in this new freedom. Don’t get me wrong, that freedom is EVERYTHING. It is the only way the healing process can truly begin.

I grieved deeply following my disclosure that resulted in my freedom. I never saw my sweet Petunia again. I missed my bed and my room. I missed a big backyard. I missed my pool. I missed riding the four-wheelers through fields. I missed my cats. I missed everything as it was except for the abuse. These things may seem trivial to an adult, but they are the important things in a child’s life.

If you are a trusted adult in a child’s circle following the disclosure of sexual abuse. Remember to make space for the grieving process of those losses the child has experienced.  Encourage him/her to talk about the things he/she misses about his/her “old life.” Remind the child that it is okay to have positive memories that involve the abuser (though it does not in any way make that person safe or justify the abuse). Doing these things will have long-term impacts on the child’s healing process. Doing these things will allow that child to one day drive past that house and be able to remember the good times and bad without feeling guilty, ashamed, or overwhelmed.

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This was home.

A Roller Coaster Year- 2018

2018- where do I even begin?! This year I have felt like I was riding one of the fastest, scariest, most exhilarating, and most breath-taking roller coasters ever invented. It has been filled with twists, turns, ups, and downs. But as this year comes to an end, I am left with excitement about the future. I am walking into 2019 with the “feel goods.” It is not because I anticipate great things happening in 2019; instead, it is because of who I have grown to be in 2018. My spirit is stronger, and my hope is greater. I have seen God’s promises fulfilled. I have experienced the renewal of strength that comes only through Him. I have rested in His comfort and goodness.

At the beginning of 2018, I found out I would become an aunt for the first time. Pure elation is the only way I can describe my feelings following that phone call. My excitement grew each month we got closer to welcoming my sweet nephew into the world. Though Emerson’s arrival was a whirlwind, he has brought nothing but sweetness and joy to my life. I take the role of aunt very seriously and I am grateful that in 2018 it became a part of my identity.

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Early in 2018, I started playing volleyball for a club in the city. It has been the best form of self-care I have afforded myself in many years. I am so thankful for the friendships that have formed on the court. Being back on the court allows me to connect with some of the best memories of my teenage years. Though I can’t jump as high or dig as quickly as I could at 16, playing volleyball again has been so much fun.

After 5 years of balancing graduate school and full-time employment, I finally graduated with my MA in Counseling in May. There is no feeling like graduating with a degree that will enable you to do exactly what you are called to do. Getting to walk across the stage with friends by my side and in front of family and professors who supported me through this journey was certainly one of the biggest moments of 2018. While I have definitely enjoyed my last 6 months of “no school work” and I will certainly enjoy the next 8 months of “no school work,” I am eager to begin the next phase of my education and hope to begin working on my Ph.D. in August.

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In late 2017, I took a leap of faith and submitted my first abstract to present at a national conference. In June 2018, I had the honor of presenting at the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children 25th Annual National Colloquium in New Orleans. It was an incredible opportunity which allowed me to connect with people who are devoted to protecting children from abuse.

July is the month that still feels like it’s a puzzle piece that doesn’t belong. But, it does belong and the events of July are a major component of what made me stronger this year. At the start of 2018, I had finally found rest and comfort in the belief that maybe my abuser simply was not going to petition for removal from the sex offender registry. It had been nearly 2 years since he became eligible so there was evidence to support my belief. In July, I got the phone call that crushed that belief. Over two days, I walked in and out of a courtroom multiple times. I spoke the truth of what happened and the ways the abuse impacted me. I was able to do exactly what my blog title encourages, “Brave Girl, Speak.” It was traumatic to go through the “courtroom scene” again. There was no outcome that could be in my “favor.” Either way the judge ruled, there would be pain. Had the law prevented my abuser from being removed from the registry, I would have had 365 days of respite before potentially reliving the scene again. The pain of hearing the judge grant my abuser’s petition for removal was indescribable. I am finding greater freedom in the judge’s ruling than I ever believed possible. I have now gone through the legal proceedings I desire to change. Though I never wanted to face my abuser in court again or experience that type of hearing, I needed to so that I would know what HAS to change. In 2019, I am determined to make progress towards seeing that change happen.

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During the fall months, I was privileged to focus fully on working and healing. I needed the time to heal the wounds that had been reopened in court and to rediscover my identity after it felt so lost following court. In November, I submitted my application for a provisional license as a professional counselor. In December, I received my approval and will now begin the journey towards being a Licensed Professional Counselor. I am excited to resume something I love and to continue growing in my counseling skills.

2019 will be here in just a few hours. I want to thank each of you who have followed my blog this year and who have supported me through the year’s ups and downs. I am excited for the journey that will continue in this new year.

Living the Serenity Prayer

ac· cep· tance | \ik-ˈsep-tən(t)s

Over the last few months, I have been learning what it means to live in acceptance of things that can’t be changed. I don’t like not being able to change things. I don’t like that my abuser is no longer a registered sex offender. But, I have to accept it. So, what does that mean? What does that look like?

Most of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer- whether you have heard it in some form of media or at a recovery support group. You can find it plastered on magnets for a refrigerator or on paperweights for an office desk. I can recall my first time hearing the Serenity Prayer recited when I was a very young girl attending one of my Papa’s anniversary chip meetings/celebrations for his recovery from alcoholism.

“God, grant me the serenity to

accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Merriam-Webster’s definition for accept: to endure without protest or reaction; to give acceptance or approval to.

“To endure without protest or reaction.”

Living in acceptance of the court’s decision to remove my abuser from the sex offender registry has involved choosing not to protest or react. The idea of appealing the court’s decision was incredibly tempting at some points in this healing process. However, it became unmistakably clear that if I chose to “protest” the decision, my growth and progress toward healing would be stunted. Appealing the case would give me, at most, 3 years before my abuser would inevitably be removed from the sex offender registry.

I have learned that living in acceptance of the decision the court made has granted me a freedom that I would not have otherwise. I no longer have to worry about the “day my abuser might petition” or how I would have the strength to face him in court year after year. It is by no means easy to live in acceptance, but choosing acceptance allows me to work towards the second part of the serenity prayer.

While I am living in acceptance of the court’s decision on my case, I am NOT living in acceptance of this being the outcome in future court cases.

“God, grant me the courage to change the things I can.”

Legislation CAN change. Because I am living in acceptance of my case outcome, I can pour my energy into seeking change. Fighting things that cannot change will result in fatigue, discouragement, and hopelessness. I don’t know what change will look like regarding legislation, but I know that my experience in the courtroom has provided me with the insight needed to fight for change. God continues to grant me the courage I need to reach out to lawmakers and to take steps toward ensuring survivors’ rights in the courtroom.

“God, grant me the wisdom to know the difference” of when things can be changed and when they cannot.

It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the things I desire to see changed and the what-ifs. I strive to seek wisdom from God in knowing where to pour my energy. Recently, I learned my abuser now has an active Facebook page, which was formerly prohibited when he was listed as a sex offender. While it frightens me to think about the children he now has access to through social media, that is not something I can change. I can raise awareness about sex offenders and social media; however, I cannot waste energy worrying about the people he may “friend.”

These days, I am learning the Serenity Prayer is becoming a way of life. Each time something “new” happens as a result of my abuser’s removal from the sex offender registry, I turn to God to determine whether I need to find acceptance or courage while always seeking wisdom.

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God grant me the serenity to

accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardships as a pathway to peace;

taking, as He did, this sinful world

as it is, not as I would have it;

trusting that He will make all things right

if I surrender to His will;

that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him

forever in the next.

Amen.


The Most Difficult Words to Hear in Court

They were the most difficult words in the entire court hearing to hear. I literally gasped for air and I fought with all my might to hold back the sobs, the tears were already falling. My advocate from the District Attorney’s office reminded me to take slow, deep breaths. Inhale … Exhale … A week later I had to ask two people who were in court with me if what I remembered hearing was spoken or had I experienced a nightmare. In retrospect, the answer was yes and yes.

Unlike some petition hearings, the judge in my case called for witnesses rather than simply relying on “lawyer speak” to assist in the findings for his decision. The first person called to the stand was my abuser. As he sat on the stand just twenty feet away from me, directly in my sight, I became overwhelmed with emotions. This was the first time and last time I saw him take the stand.

After some initial introductory questions, my abuser’s lawyer had the opportunity to portray his client as an upstanding citizen, no longer posing a threat to public safety. Then, the Assistant District Attorney had the opportunity to cross-examine my abuser. Below is part of that dialogue:

 

transcript 1_LI

“Not to my knowledge.” -My Abuser.

Earlier in the cross-examination, my abuser acknowledged that he was charged with 6 counts of indecent liberties with a minor which was ultimately pled down to 3 counts of the same charge. However, when asked about the specific allegations regarding his actions, he was unwilling to admit his guilt.

transcript 2 (2)

“I feel like it’s in the past, and we should all move forward.” -My Abuser

This was the statement that I questioned whether I had heard correctly. I still struggle to read those words. It rings eerily similar to a cliché I will never live by- “forgive and forget.” I will advocate 100% for a person to find healing and keep moving forward with his or her life. But when one has experienced sexual abuse or any other type of trauma, it is impossible to forget. Not only does our mind remember the horrors, but as science proves, our bodies remember too. When a person believes that it’s okay to leave unrepentant sin “in the past,” the person sets themselves up to repeat old patterns. This should be a red flag regarding a sex offender’s likelihood of reoffending.

transcript 3_LI

“Well, I — I — anything I’ve ever done to anyone, especially a child, if I’ve done anything to harm them, I have great remorse…” -My Abuser

These are the words that took my breath. These are the words that felt like a knife being thrust into my heart. These are the words that won’t soon leave my mind. These are the words that told me, my abuser is still a threat to society.

At first glance, these words may seem like a decent apology for a child abuser. However, in context, these words only came after a considerably defensive response from my abuser about feeling like he was on trial again, which only continued after this exchange.

Because my abuser was not permitted to have any type of contact with me following court in 2006, for which I am thankful, he had not had the opportunity to apologize. What greater opportunity did he have than in that moment in the courtroom to issue a public apology to his victims. Instead, he took a road of generalizations and impersonal descriptions of remorse. Would I have felt different if my abuser had sincerely apologized for abusing me? I like to think I would have, however, I will be the first to admit that I likely would have viewed it as suspect because I came to know him as a master manipulator. But I do believe that when a person is willing to admit their specific sins, apologizes, and seeks forgiveness- it is more indicative of repentance and transformation than what my abuser displayed.

Why am I sharing this with you all today? Because these are the words from a person who is no longer listed on the sex offender registry. They are the words from a person who swore to tell the truth on the stand. This is the attitude of a person who abused more than one child who now wants to attend your child’s sporting events. I don’t know how many more offenders have been removed from the registry just like my abuser. This is why I am committed to fighting for strengthened laws and raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse. And I will not stop until we see change.