My innocence was taken, sending me into a spiral of self-blame and shame.
I was 12 years old, walking home after school from ballet class with visions of becoming a prima ballerina and classical music swirling around in my head ... when I was sexually assaulted. My childhood dream, the music, details of the assault, and feelings of guilt and shame became secrets I buried deep inside me.
Fear, humiliation, and the belief that what happened was my somehow my fault—consequences shared by many who experience the trauma of sexual violence—prevented me from sharing what happened with anyone.
Are you like me and the other 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 71 men, who have experienced this? Did you do what I did and bury that experience and those feelings deep inside, hoping no one would ever find out?
If I'd known and believed then what I know and believe now, I'm convinced addiction would not have become such an insidious part of my life.
Although Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is now on the forefront of social awareness, things were very different back then for a young girl experiencing PTSD as a result of sexual violence.
Smoking cigarettes became my autopilot coping strategy and an addiction for many years. Smoking was just one of many adaptive behaviors I used to distract myself and take my mind away from the recurring images, thoughts, and feelings I didn't want (or know) how to process.
I wish I knew back then that shame is a feeling experienced by almost everyone, and not just those who experience sexual trauma. And that shame is the one specific emotion almost everyone stuffs inside themselves and hopes no one ever discovers.
You know what I'm talking about, right? It's that feeling after we experience divorce, betrayal by a spouse, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or bankruptcy. It's those gut-wrenching, life-defining moments that happen to everyone.
It's those shame and self-blame ("Why didn't I ... ?") thoughts, and stuffing-your-feelings behaviors that became my lens for viewing the world, my way to cope, and an unfortunate habit as addictive as the cigarettes I smoked.
Does that pattern sound or feel familiar?
Do you struggle with shame-blame moments of epic proportions that make you want to grab a bottle of wine, go shopping, eat something, or light up a smoke?
Who do you turn to when you're stuck in that pattern?
Unlike so many women I've worked with over the years, who have unconsciously created a similar shame-blame pattern, I've had an amazing tribe of compassionate women (and a few great men) in my family and circle of friends. They've loved and supported me in my moments of vulnerability and are my resilience network.
They've listened to me, believed in me, and reminded me of my greatness at times when I didn't believe in myself. Their gift is and was unconditional love and acceptance. They modeled what I then slowly learned to give myself.
It's because of their unconditional love, acceptance, and support that I was able to eventually open up and share my secret with them, work with amazing trauma resources, and release my non-empowering beliefs.
I discovered how to tap in, transform, and utilize my emotions and my experience to create a powerful, purposeful life. I transformed the meaning of my experience and now help others transform the meaning of theirs.
How different would your life be if you and everyone else around you knew how to become emotionally intelligent and consciously choose to feel and express their emotions responsibly?
Imagine what it would be like if our schools and communities, starting in preschool, required children to complete an age appropriate emotional self-regulation program in grades K-12.
What if every school had a peer resilience network to support kids dealing with a school bully or tough issues at home? Wouldn't that provide a better return on investment than the return we get in the addiction recovery programs we're investing in as a nation?
What would happen if we closed the gap between what we know and instead, do what we know is possible for us to achieve?