My 18 Year Old Me

Last week after the kids settled down, my husband and I went to Dairy Queen for a romantic getaway. Now I am revealing how cheap we are, but I do love an Oreo Blizzard; maybe because they come with one of those long handled spoons that make eating ice cream so much fun.

While we were sitting in the booth next to the lit up neon DQ sign, my husband asked me, “What would you tell the 18-year-old Emily?” Without missing a beat, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was, “I would tell her not to invite her abuser to her wedding.” I found it curious that this was my gut reaction, but the more I thought about it, I realized this response was about setting boundaries. Inviting my abuser to my wedding was a decision I let other people make for me.

I hear people talk about setting boundaries all the time, but what does that even mean? I am a sensitive person, so the idea of setting boundaries has always sounded kind of selfish to me because it makes me think of phrases carrying an attitude such as, “I don’t care what you think”, or “Don’t tell me what to do.” I actually do care what the people who love me think, and I want to listen to the guidance given by people I trust. So is it possible to set boundaries with people and still keep an open, loving, and humble heart?

God has boundaries set upon righteousness, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31). Although, this boundary does not restrain His power, wisdom and knowledge. God sets boundaries with His children, they are called commandments. Yet, those boundaries will never limit His limitless love. The only thing that ebbs and flows with our ability to keep those commandments is our own happiness. So, as we are all striving to become closer to God, I would say that it is possible to set loving boundaries.

I have to preface with pointing out that this is something I am terrible at, which is why I have been spending so much time thinking about it, but the conclusion I have come to is that anytime we place our happiness in someone else’s hands, we have just crossed a boundary. Setting boundaries means making faith based decisions and not letting other people dictate your self-worth.

I would tell the 18 year old me, “Do not spend your precious energy on defining yourself upon other people’s limited perspective. Someday you will be whole, but that will come through the effort spent turning to God. He carries the blessing of rescue and healing.”

Emilism #42 

Do not let other people hijack your happiness! 

I talked in previous posts about my desperate need to defend my story to people who will never understand. I have let too much happiness seep through my own hands waiting for other people to save me. I have let my relationships with people, be determined by my insecurities and fears. I have let gossip cause me to doubt the spiritual healing, promptings and answers given me from God. I have spent too much time worrying what other people think when I already know what God thinks of me. I already know He loves me and that He is proud of me. There is none other than the one who can see deep down into my soul—the soul He created, who can give the validation I need.

I’ve wondered if I would be like Job. If everything this world had to offer was taken from me, would I still be happy? Have I put conditions on my happiness? God’s love will never be taken away so if you set the conditions of your happiness upon Him, there will never be a need to fear what men can do. My path will no longer be a treacherous one. I don’t have to be afraid of having my happiness stripped away because it is nourished through an infinite power.

Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you don’t care about people, it means you are filled with Christ like love towards them, knowing the love that nourishes your own happiness extends to others. In every way setting healthy boundaries improves relationships because you can have an open heart without fear.

As I let God into my heart, I find boundaries of freedom, love, hope, and happiness. The world’s opinion of me is cast away and negative influences dwindle into nothingness. Recently I have been learning just how much power I have over my own happiness, and its reward—a greater and more constant sense of peace.

“He teareth me in his wrath, who hateth me: he gnasheth upon me with his teeth; mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me. They have gaped upon me with their mouth; they have smitten me upon the cheek reproachfully; they have gathered themselves together against me…Not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure…Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high. My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God” (Job 16:9-10,17,19-20).

 

 

DEFEATED…

I just began this journey and I am finally defeated! Let me explain.

I have fought the fight for 23 years, my own fight that is. Every one of those 23 years I spent trying to prove myself, trying to defend my story, and trying to show I was worth loving. I always thought I could do it myself. I thought I was strong enough. You could say I have won because my healing process is complete.

As my healing process came to an end, I could see the finish line. I thought that when I made it everyone would be cheering for me. But as I crossed the line, breaking the ribbon across my chest, it was strangely quiet with only a few cheering applause: my parents, my husband (my biggest fan), and my best friend. As I looked around, I was confused. These people had been there from the beginning of the race. Where was the rest of the world?

One of the biggest surprises, or lessons I learned when I got to the end, is that no one else changed. I never proved, defended, or earned anything in the process—at least not from the world. For the people who don’t want to, or don’t have the ability to see the truth, there will never be anything I can do, good or bad, to prove myself in their eyes. Even at the finish line, there are still some people who choose to see me as broken, and others who simply cannot understand the journey.

So…I give up, I surrender, I am defeated. Although,I have not surrendered to any person, I have surrendered to God.

I feel defeated, but in truth it is humility because it is my own pride that keeps me holding onto my story. God has lifted so many burdens from me, but not until I was ready to let them go, not until I was defeated. I cannot follow the path God has provided for me to fight for virtue, to fight for His children, His daughters, while I am still fighting my own battle. I have to put a stamp on my own story and close that chapter of my life. It is just some story that happened to someone, somewhere. There is no longer any need for me to defend it. It is complete. I can let it go with confidence because I know that I am whole. No one can touch me now.

Emilism #41

It is finished! And only God knows it all.

Letting go of my own will is something I have learned many times over, but recent experiences have solidified this in my heart. My Savior is the only one that can fight the fight for me, and He has. Now I will fight the fight for Him, hoping to help others experience the healing power of the Atonement.

“Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father; and it is his good will to give you the kingdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:5).

This song, “Marching On” by One Republic, was obviously written for a different purpose, but I feel as though it was written just for me. I haven’t asked permission, but this is my unofficial theme song. It speaks to me about coming together as survivors to fight against sexual abuse. Also about picking ourselves up and moving forward. We may be far from perfect, but God will carry us and make us whole. I love the line “I’d sink us to swim” in unison with my testimony of letting go. For me it says, you must know the suffering to find the joy.

For those days we felt like a mistake, Those times when loves what you hate. 

For those doubts that swirl all around us, For those lives that tear at the seams, 

We know, We’re not what we’ve seen. 

We’ll have the days we break, And we’ll have the scars to prove it, 

There’s so many wars we fought, There’s so many things we’re not,

But with what we have, I promise you that, We’re marching on. 

Shepherd’s Care Forum

“I am learning how hard it is to build the bridge from the idea of taking on a cause, to actively doing it.” ~Emily

Today I had the privilege of attending the first organized Shepherd’s Care Forum, dedicated to helping church leaders and clergy members address and respond to the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault in their congregations. With close to 45 various faith-based organizations and/or resource agencies coming together to discuss these issues, I am overwhelmed with information, but mostly with how many people of all faiths and backgrounds are serving in our community, working together as God’s hands to save His children! The Spirit was with us in the conference room at the Criminal Justice Lab today. Being able to connect with my community was a reminder of how often I let myself get caught up in my own little bubble of understanding.

Richard Irwin, Chairman for CDVSA and Executive Director of Anchorage City Church, opened the seminar with his vision of a brighter future for our state, “My dream is that there wouldn’t be little children hiding in the dark. That they would be able to maintain the innocence they were born with, and they would grow up to be healthy adults, raising healthy children”. Sadly, our states staggering statistics would say this dream is still far from being realized.

Presenter Brad Myrstol, Director of Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center for UAA, provided those statistics stating, “Domestic violence and sexual assault are the most important crime and justice issue in our state”. Richard Irwin (CDVSA) added, “This is one of the most crippling issues of our state.” Almost half of all Alaskan women (117,685) have experienced intimate partner violence, and more than one in three (91,725) have experienced sexual violence during their lifetime. (For more research and stats, visit UAA Justice Center)

With these alarming statistics you may be wondering “What can I do?” Virginia McCaslin, the program manager at AWAIC said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something!”

Covering a wealth of topics today, it is impossible for me to share all of the information discussed in this forum. I will try to include some important points of the day within the three goals of CDVSA, safety, prevention, and accountability.

1) Safety, be trustworthy. Know how to respond to victims. Virginia McCaslin (AWAIC) advised to first, believe them! It takes a lot of courage and strength for a victim to come forward knowing they are in danger, and not knowing what kind of help will be available. In order for a victim to feel safe in taking the necessary steps towards healing, they must be validated.

Second, reassure that they are not to blame. If we recognize sexual assault as trauma, we can know how to respond appropriately. Participants talked about some of the words associated with trauma: pain, fear, lasting impact, unexpected, injury, horror, helplessness, confusion, etc. There are many different types of reactions to trauma, any of which are perfectly normal. Presenter, Joshua Arvidson, Director Alaska Child Trauma Center at Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, encouraged us to work with victims, helping them reset their trauma triggers by understanding the world as a safe place.

The third thing advised was to get victims in touch with resources. No two experiences are the same, nor are two journeys to healing. Getting victims in touch with resources will help them to decide what are the best steps for themselves. But the one thing every victim has in common, is the need to feel safe throughout the healing process.

2) Prevention, be proactive, be part of the solution. These are some statewide prevention programs:

The 4thR is for relationships. This program focuses on reducing violence in schools.

The Green Dot Campaign teaches bystanders how to safely intervene. This program offers on site training for elementary age school children up to adults in the workplace.

The Talk Now, Talk Often campaign was developed by parents and caregivers in the state to encourage communication and healthy relationships that can be carried into adulthood.

Girls on the Run integrates running to develop self-respect, healthy lifestyles, responsibility, optimism, and other core values.

The Stand, Up Speak Up offers tools for teens to develop healthy relationships.

Alaska Men Choose Respect is a media campaign that offers information, networking, and tools for men to work together to end violence.

Coaching Boys into Men offers a program to train coaches, school administrators, parent or other community leaders in raising the next generation of boys to understand respect.

COMPASS: A Guide for Men was created by ANDVSA as part of the AK Men Choose Respect campaign. This training is for adult men mentoring young men ages 13-18, teaching them through example how to live respectfully.

Look for training opportunities in your area. There are some great events coming up in October for Domestic Violence Action month. Know what resources are in your community, or at least know someone who knows the resources.

3) Accountability, be responsible. CDVSA funds eight and oversees fifteen batterer intervention programs that focus on accountability for perpetrators, but we can all take accountability collectively for our community. The consequences of what is happening in our families and communities would prove that abuse is a serious problem. Expose the problem because abuse thrives on silence. In the forum we were asked to think about what each of us can do in our own sphere of influence.

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There are many things we do to protect ourselves and prepare for a healthy future. We have medical insurance for injuries, college degrees to ensure a well paying job, food storage and savings plans, we even have fire escape plans for our homes and workplaces, but how many of us take the necessary steps to protect our families from sexual assault? Talk to your kids about the signs and dangers. Help them identify trustworthy adults they can talk to if they find themselves in a threatening situation. Know who to call and where to get help.

STAR Crisis Line 907-276-7273

AWAIC Crisis Line 907-272-0100

Although this was an amazing opportunity, and extremely educational, all I wanted to do when I got home was cry. Halfway through the day Richard Irwin asked me if I was overwhelmed and I cheerfully said, “No, this is great!” But by the end of the day my anxiety level was high to say the least.

I definitely experienced some of my own triggers during the day, which is a reminder that I need to stay in constant prayer that God will protect me along this journey. Talking about responding to victims I thought of all the times I reached out for help and was shut down, or found people’s reactions to be more damaging than helpful. When the OCS case worker, Travis Erickson, talked about the seven cases of infant deaths due to child abuse or neglect that crossed his desk during a one month period, all I could think is what God must be feeling when He looks upon His suffering children in this world. I am learning how hard it is to build the bridge from the idea of taking on a cause, to actively doing it.

When I knelt to pray with my husband and three beautiful children tonight, the words of gratitude held more weight. I often express gratitude for my family, my home, my testimony, and the experiences I’ve had with the Atonement, but today those blessings seem more valuable than all the riches in the world.

“There is no wrong time to start the healing process.” Keeley Olson, STAR

Facing the Monster

When I was a little girl, I was convinced there was a monster living under my white wrought iron daybed. Lying in wait, I imagined it grabbing my feet as soon as they touched the ground. So my escape plan was to crouch on the edge of the bed and take the biggest leap possible off the side to avoid whatever terrible thing was lurking where I could not see.

It took me 15 years (from the time I told my secret) to heal from the effects of sexual abuse. There were times it consumed me, nights of insomnia, and moments I felt my heart crumbling. But through it all, God has been there to hold my hand. He taught me to believe that I could be made whole. The day finally came when I felt like I could live out the rest of my life and never talk about the abuse ever again. I just never expected the day I was ready to move forward, would be the day I was ready to face the monster—without fear, to put my feet solidly on the ground.

The monster I am referring to is our society’s epidemic—our sickness, the infinitely layered problem of sexual violence. There is a part of me that is overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the monster and I am not just speaking of the statistics which, in Alaska, include 37% of women who have experienced sexual violence (andvsa.org). I am also speaking to those endless layers that cause so much debate; pornography and how we view sex and violence; the magnitude of the effects that ripple out across generations and communities; the blame and shame game that shuts down the healing process; the misunderstood victim that becomes an addict, an anorexic, a prostitute, a suicide—just to skim the surface.

All of this started one year ago, well, actually 23 years ago, but let’s fast forward to the end. Using journaling as a source of healing and release, I was able to find a connection with God. Examining my life through writing opened my heart to experience love, hope, and finally forgiveness. Because a journal is a private place, this is where I did most of my healing, in private. I kept these spiritual moments to myself, but these same experiences that brought my healing process to an end, put me on a whole new path. One where upon I am just taking my first steps. It was one year ago that I opened my journals for others to read and began to shed light on my healing process. Doing so changed all of my relationships and the way I interact with the world.

Now, as a whole person, I am ready to share what I have learned. I can face the monster with the right armor; with a strong and abiding love for my Savior and a testimony of His Atonement. David killed Goliath with a single stone (1 Samuel 17). I do not expect history to repeat itself here.  A single stone will not be sufficient to defeat this monster, but I do believe that working together with God on our side, we can be victorious.

As I stepped onto this path, I became more aware of just how big a monster I am taking on. Feeling overwhelmed, I quickly realized I need to pace myself and narrow my focus. Looking back on my personal experience, the things I needed the most were answers and support for my spiritual healing. Having a support system is key in the healing process, so after much thought, this blog will be dedicated to two goals. First, providing a place for victims of sexual violence to find answers, understanding, and experience healing. Second, providing information and connecting people with resources so they can better respond to victims in crisis.  I hope that I can be part of the support system whether you are a victim, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a church member, or just a bystander.

I view this blog as a journal, a window into my life, and how I experience healing. Starting this blog will allow me to use this journal as a tool to fight the monster.  Journaling brought me to this point, so I believe journaling will continue to impact my spiritual growth and hopefully along the way, provide light for other victims. It is still a work in progress, but so am I! And like me, I anticipate this blog will grow day after day, year after year, reaching out to those who need it.