June 28, 2017

Reclaiming Sexuality & Desire

Today, we conclude our series with, Ewa Litauer. In this beautiful post, she encourages survivors to take back their bodies, sexuality, gender identity, sexual orientation, desires and more so that you can live whole and fully.

---



All life is sacred.
Your body is a living temple.
Sex is raw life force; it is connection to all of life.
We are born of sex.
Sexuality is sacred.

What if we had grown up with these life-affirming truths? What if our sexuality was being honored as our birthright? What if the sanctity of our bodies was a core value held by society, mirrored by our family and reflected by our community? What if all consensual explorations of sexuality were seen as part of our human experience? What if diversity was celebrated and all individual choices based on consent respected?

In our society, sex is tricky. The invention of the pill and the sexual revolution of the 60’s have given (foremost white privileged) women much greater control over their sexuality and made sex outside of conventional heterosexual marriage acceptable, yet we cannot escape the commercialization of sex and particularly women as sexual objects and a prevalence of rape culture, reflecting anything but true sexual liberation.

While the equal rights of non-hetero-normative people are threatened or denied, sexual assault perpetrators on college campuses so often walk away free from their violent actions due to a failed justice system and sexual abuse is a leading health risk for children, most often perpetrated by a family member or known person.

Often, children who were abused at a young age were robbed of their natural innocence of exploring their own bodies. An inherent curiosity about their bodies and the bodies of others and a natural desire for pleasure has been taken, twisted, and used through the acts of violence and for the selfish need of the perpetrator. Many who have experienced sexual abuse and the exploitation of their bodies have learned to mistrust their own bodies and emotions, and may feel afraid or disconnected from their own sensuality, desires and experiences of pleasure. Some may have "learned" to hate their bodies or feel disturbed by their sexual turn-ons and fantasies and some take refuge in self-punishing or self-denying behaviors.

As therapists or health practitioners, working with those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, we assist people in the process of uncovering and reclaiming their own sensuality, sexuality, desire and passion.

A sex-affirmative or sex-positive approach to trauma-informed healing encourages and supports survivors to say ‘no’ as much as to say ‘yes’; to set boundaries as much as to welcome intimacy and ultimately to freely choose
ones sexual experiences and expressions from an empowered place and move from coping to thriving in your sexuality as much as in the rest of your life.

Those who are healing from sexual abuse and violence can reclaim their sexuality through the use of hypnotherapy, Reiki or other trauma-informed care so that they may not only be free from flashbacks in intimate situations or enjoy sex free of triggers, but clients can also learn to utilize breathing techniques, guided imagery, dialogue with the body or energy healing techniques to release blockages that may be preventing a full and fulfilling sexual expression of the self.

When we work on reclaiming sex, we work not just with our bodies but also with our minds. Yes, we invite our senses to open to the present moment and we learn to trust ourselves in the exploration of pleasure. AND we work on removing the damaging layers of traumatic memories and experiences as well as societal, cultural and political messages. We help uncover that authentic core self, that core that is whole and complete and alive with vital life force. Clients learn to use the power of their own sexual energy as a positive, creative force in their lives.

To reclaim the sexual self, ones own sexual power, we call sex back from all the places it was taken from us, we call sex back from former lovers or those we wish we would not have been lovers with, we call sex back from those who violated us and those who disappointed, and we call sex back from those who make us feel sexy and those who don’t. Calling sex back means that this is your energy. It is life force energy running through all living things. You can begin to feel this energy up and down through your body connecting you to earth and sky.


Guiding those who have experienced sexual abuse in the process of reclaiming sex, we are assisting them also in releasing shame, guilt and suffering and reclaiming pleasure, passion, power and self-determination. Having access to our own vital life force allows us to use this energy to fuel all our endeavors, weather to dance, create art, garden, work, study, stand up for justice and equal rights or make love with our whole selves.


---
Ewa (pronounced Eva) Litauer works as a Certified Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist (CCHT), Restorative Yoga Teacher and Reiki Master Teacher in the Usui Tradition.

Ewa brings a transpersonal approach to her therapy and teaching work. She draws on various systems of energetic healing, spiritual and meditative practices and a deep foundation in feminist psychology, blending them into a unique model of empowerment to assist everyone in bringing out their best selves. Compassionate, respectful, and caring, she is passionate about guiding people toward greater health and well-being by connecting them to their inner resources. 

Ewa offers workshops, classes, and her one-on-one services to various medical and health clinics in the Bay Area, as well as in private practice in SF and she is available for private sessions worldwide on Zoom or Skype. In 2011, she assisted with a study with the University of California investigating the benefits of stretching and Restorative Yoga for the Metabolic Syndrome and she is bringing Restorative Yoga and Reiki workshops to various studios in the SF Bay Area.

http://sfhypnotherapy.com/

June 21, 2017

A Guided Hypnotherapy Meditation for Accessing Internal Resources

Today, we continue our series with, Ewa Litauer. You'll learn a simple strategy for connecting with self, accessing internal resources, and calming your nervous system.

---


We have learned how traumatic memories and experiences can become stuck and held in the body, manifesting as physical reactivity to triggers, a heightened sense of vigilance, habitual stress or tension in the body and so on. And we also learned that the body has inner resources and an innate tendency toward balance and harmony, which we can tap into and strengthen with the help of Reiki as a trauma informed touch and energy healing practice.

Our subconscious minds also hold resources and wisdom to help us navigate all life circumstances and for those of us who survived trauma, abuse and sexual violence, these resources have already served us well in keeping us safe and alive. 

Now, we could even think of those who have experienced trauma as people who have also experienced their ‘super powers’ in action. For example, dissociating (detaching from a sense of self and the present time) during an attack can help someone get through the traumatic event; it proves to be an effective coping mechanism at the time of the event. While in our day to day lives we generally strive to stay present in our bodies and environments, we can use this ability to ‘dissociate’ – or enter a different psychological state - to our advantage in a therapeutic setting to bring about deeper healing to the subconscious mind.

Hypnotherapy is of great assistance in the healing process for those who have experienced trauma and abuse, because it enables the client to enter different psychological and biochemical states at will, reorganizing, mastering and integrating past experiences and gaining a greater sense of control.

As a way of strengthening the ego, we can use a variety of techniques to help someone make direct contact with various parts of themselves that are strong, wise and brave. Techniques like empty chair dialogue help facilitate emotional processing of unresolved feelings toward significant others.

Clients also learn to modulate their physical reactivity. Mindfulness skills, like observing and attending to the breath and the here-and-now sensations of the body are taught to help with emotional containment in case of a flashback. People with traumatic experiences in their past reclaim their own strength, voice and unique talents and virtues and are finding a healthy sense of confidence and pride moving forward into their best selves.

Recent research on the neuroplasticity of the brain (see Norman Doidge’s The Brain’s Way of Healing for an accessible account of discoveries in neuroplasticity) shows that the brain has the capacity to change and heal itself. 

Hypnotherapy offers an effective way to directly speak to the subconscious mind and rapidly and creatively engage the clients’ internal resources.

When I use hypnotherapy and teach clients self-hypnosis to address recurring nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or feelings of shame, guilt or worthlessness, we generally start with establishing a safe place and a grounded way of being in the body.

I invite you to follow these suggestions – or adapt them to your own liking – to connect to yourself right now.

1. Invite in a sense of calm and relaxation into the breath and body and some ease into your posture and the space around you . . .

Breathing out . . . releasing tension and anything not needed, breathing in . . . taking in nourishment and a sense of peace and spaciousness.

2. Feeling yourself breathe and relax . . . and welcoming those pleasant sensations spreading all the way from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet, feeling your face relax, your shoulders, your heart, your hips relax.

3. And as you continue to enjoy this easeful flow creating a unique inner state of peace and well-being . . . you know there is this core center within you, knowledgeable and wise . . . this core center that’s always been there, since you were born. It has helped you survive . . .

4. And your core center is connected all the way down to the core center of the earth, the place of all resources, as you are a child of the earth.  And you can sense into this connection or imagine it as a root, going down from your core center to the core center of the earth . . .

5. And if there’s anything right now that prevents you from being here and in your body right now, simply send it out and down through your root – for the earth to compost and transform into new energy . . . releasing, with your outbreath and down and out into the earth. Make some sounds if you wish.
And we know all our emotions are simply energy for the earth . . . she receives whatever it is you’re letting go off as pure energy – transforming it back into new energy for you and I to take in . . .

6. And as you create space, take some moments to feel into that space and whenever you’re ready beginning to draw in and up from the earth anything you need at this moment to become more present in your body . . . in your heart . . . in your day right now. Drinking in whatever nourishment, element, mineral brings you back here and now.

Breathing in being present . . . breathing out being present.

Welcome back to yourself!

TIP: Record yourself reading through these steps so you can play it back any time you need it!


In the course of Hypnotherapy we not only emphasize the client’s internal resources but we assist the client in learning to direct those resources toward correcting, reorganizing and integrating experiences from the past. Supporting the client’s ego strength, we assist in trauma resolution by helping release feelings of shame and guilt and transforming those into healthy confidence, pride and an integrated sense of self.


In addition, I also like to encourage and support everyone in seeking out and establishing community and a social support network, so that trauma survivors have opportunities to form healthy connections with others and learn to reach out in appropriate ways.



---
Ewa (pronounced Eva) Litauer works as a Certified Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist (CCHT), Restorative Yoga Teacher and Reiki Master Teacher in the Usui Tradition.

Ewa brings a transpersonal approach to her therapy and teaching work. She draws on various systems of energetic healing, spiritual and meditative practices and a deep foundation in feminist psychology, blending them into a unique model of empowerment to assist everyone in bringing out their best selves. Compassionate, respectful, and caring, she is passionate about guiding people toward greater health and well-being by connecting them to their inner resources. 

Ewa offers workshops, classes, and her one-on-one services to various medical and health clinics in the Bay Area, as well as in private practice in SF and she is available for private sessions worldwide on Zoom or Skype. In 2011, she assisted with a study with the University of California investigating the benefits of stretching and Restorative Yoga for the Metabolic Syndrome and she is bringing Restorative Yoga and Reiki workshops to various studios in the SF Bay Area.

http://sfhypnotherapy.com/

June 14, 2017

Your Breathing Body: The Healing Power of Breath

Today, we continue our series with, Ewa Litauer. In this post she shares how the use of breathing techniques can help us calm our nervous system and reconnect with our bodies.

---


I am often asked for a simple way to describe how a Reiki treatment makes everyone feel better. And one of the first things that come to mind is the breath – and coming back to the awareness of your own breathing body. 
After a Reiki treatment people leave breathing easier and lighter, often walking lighter, feeling calmer, brighter and refreshed. Many of my clients come in for a first Reiki session after having experienced trauma and report that receiving safe healing touch allows them to become present with the body and their emotions in a non-judgmental way. The Reiki touch induces a relaxation response in the body allowing the receiver to come back to their own natural breath.
Our breath is our most direct connection with the world – we enter the world and we start to breathe. Breath is life force in the body; breath brings life to the body. And the way we breathe affects our nervous system, our heart, our brain, our concentration, our digestion and our sleep. 
Even at times when we feel isolated or disconnected from the world we are in, we are fundamentally connected to and sustained by the world at every moment through our breathing. Our breath can help us cultivate a sense of being in the world and in present time.
For survivors of trauma and sexual abuse certain experiences or stimuli, like smells or sounds or being yelled at for example can trigger memories and involuntary stress responses in the body that connect back to the past and the time of the traumatic experience. 
Those who are affected by PTSD (Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder) can use the breath as a first tool of self-regulation to directly impact their physiological responses to internal or external triggers. Over time we can cultivate a deeper relationship with our breath and notice when we need to make adjustments, take a cleansing or refreshing breath and bring ourselves back to the present moment, free and safe.
A quick breathing technique to use when you are triggered or experiencing a flashback:
  1. Breathe in for a count of 4.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
  3. Breathe out to a count of 4.
  4. Hold your breath to a count of 4.
  5. Repeat this sequence 2-3 more times.

This helps interrupt the fight, flight or freeze response of the autonomic nervous system and allows you to get grounded to the present moment.
But apart from triggers, when we generally experience ongoing stress or pain in our daily lives, physical or emotional, our breathing is easily affected, becoming habitually restrained or blocked, shallower and barely moving the chest or nourishing our cells. When we become disconnected from our bodies, the breath is a great tool to bring us back to the present and to our felt experience, back into our bodies.
  1. So, start by noticing your breath right now. We always begin where we are. Just observe.
  2. Become present, even curious, to the movement and sensation of your body breathing in - and out.
  3. When you watch your breath you are giving your mind a focus to become still.
  4. Notice if you are judging and come back to the breath.
  5. Breathe in and notice the sensation in your nose, mouth, throat, chest, . . . notice if you’ve felt some judgment in response to judging yourself earlier. You may even say to yourself ‘how interesting‘ and come back to your breath and the rhythm and sensations moving through your body.
  6. Now, invite in some deeper breath all the way down into your belly.


Abdominal breathing has a calming and relaxing effect and can help us add more life energy. We absorb more oxygen and release more waste products with fewer but more effective breaths.
In fact, our breath doesn’t actually need our attention, as it is controlled through our autonomic (involuntary) nervous system, which means it happens independent of the conscious mind. But since we can also use our voluntary system to influence our breath, we can think of the breath as a connecting bridge between the conscious and the unconscious mind. 
Of all the various functions of our autonomic nervous systems, from heart beat to hormonal release, the breath stands alone as the only subsystem the conscious mind can put into ‘manual override’.
So imagine, since breathing in and out is something we do on average 17,000 – 30,000 a day, we have all these opportunities to bring our presence to the breathing body and an invitation to take in the nourishment that the oxygen provides with a conscious awareness. And so it is through manipulation of the breath that we can recalibrate the entire system.
  1. Turn your attention back to your breath now. Take a moment to adjust your posture so you are comfortable or take up a familiar meditation posture.
  2. Breathing in, become aware of your face. Breathing out, become aware of your face.
  3. Stay with your breath as you scan and move through your whole body this way.
  4. Stay with each area until you feel you have made some contact with that part of the body.
  5. Notice what is happening on a physical level and on a feeling level.
  6. As thoughts come up, notice that and recognize them as distractions and come back to the breathing body.
  7. Once you’ve scanned your entire body, become aware of any areas that feel tight or tense; notice, be curious maybe and come back to the flow and the rhythm of your breath as you bring a gentle attention to any sensitive areas.
  8. Listen for any parts that may have something to say.
  9. Breathing in, you can encourage a sense of spaciousness or softening. Sense your breath moving in, creating space, breathing out, releasing toxins.
  10. Feel what areas need more attention and enjoy making contact.
  11. Come back to a general awareness of the whole body and the rhythm of the breath and expand your attention to the space and room around you. Become aware of the street or trees, your environment, sounds, smells and just sit for a few moments, feeling yourself part of this, here, now.


During a Reiki session, you come back to your own most natural breath by becoming aware of your breathing body. And whether you have experienced a Reiki treatment before, are new to Reiki or are a Reiki practitioner yourself, you can place your hands one on your chest and one on your lower belly, enjoying your conscious breath and it’s nourishing and cleansing effects that are already happening thanks to the body wisdom, your innate intelligence; breathing in oxygen and out carbon dioxide for the plants to absorb and transform back into oxygen for you to breathe in and so forth, participating in life around you, in and off this world and time.

Enjoy your breathing body!
Ewa (pronounced Eva) Litauer works as a Certified Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist (CCHT), Restorative Yoga Teacher and Reiki Master Teacher in the Usui Tradition.

Ewa brings a transpersonal approach to her therapy and teaching work. She draws on various systems of energetic healing, spiritual and meditative practices and a deep foundation in feminist psychology, blending them into a unique model of empowerment to assist everyone in bringing out their best selves. Compassionate, respectful, and caring, she is passionate about guiding people toward greater health and well-being by connecting them to their inner resources. 

Ewa offers workshops, classes, and her one-on-one services to various medical and health clinics in the Bay Area, as well as in private practice in SF and she is available for private sessions worldwide on Zoom or Skype. In 2011, she assisted with a study with the University of California investigating the benefits of stretching and Restorative Yoga for the Metabolic Syndrome and she is bringing Restorative Yoga and Reiki workshops to various studios in the SF Bay Area.

http://sfhypnotherapy.com/

June 7, 2017

The Healing & Safe Touch of Reiki

This month, we begin our series with, Ewa Litauer, an amazing healer and advocate for survivors of abuse. She is also a Reiki practitioner and shares with us in this first post about how this modality can be of benefit for healing trauma.

---


Our life experiences are stored and remembered in our bodies. When we experience trauma, our bodies may hold the memory as tension, chronic pain, or in form of other symptoms or blockages even if our conscious minds don’t remember. This is true for all experiences of emotional, sexual and physical violence or abuse, and especially when the trauma happened at a young age, repeatedly or at the hands of a relative, care taker or a similarly close person. Even witnessing a traumatic event can have long lasting effects that are held in the body.

The impact of trauma can manifest in a more sensitive nervous system, which means that automatic, primitive survival responses like fight, flight, or freeze, might be triggered easily by certain sensory input that others may experience as more neutral or pleasant. 

For example, some survivors of sexual trauma cannot receive massages or chiropractic care as that kind of touch is experienced as overly stimulating to the nervous system, making it impossible to receive any restorative and healing benefits.

I had worked as a psychotherapist with sexual abuse and other trauma survivors for several years when I felt that I needed to have another way of addressing and relieving some of the stored painful memories many of my clients were holding in their bodies. 

When I was introduced to Reiki (pronounced RAY-key), I not only experienced how calming and re-balancing it was on the nervous system but I could also feel the releasing, healing and empowering effects of a Reiki treatment on past traumas, both as I received Reiki as well as practicing on others as a student. 

At that time I was recovering from lower abdominal surgery, an area of my body that had experienced several previous surgeries and traumas. During my first few treatments I felt a sense of simple presence with my body and with all the emotions that came along with the past traumas. It was much easier to be present with my body’s painful memories during the sessions and to find a sense of peace through integrating them into a larger whole. 

After almost two decades of practicing and teaching Reiki and hearing many people who suffered sexual abuse share their stories of finding healing in their relationships to their own bodies, I believe that the quiet co-presence of the Reiki practitioners with the body memory of the trauma acts as a deep witnessing, acknowledging of the pain and holding space for grief, and helps integrate and allow the body to activate its own healing resources. 


Reiki means universal life energy in Japanese; life force energy that resides within and around all living things. The art of Reiki practice is a system of gentle vibrational healing that was established by Dr. Usui from Japan in the late 19th century.

Reiki is most commonly facilitated by light touch and is practiced while you are lying on a table wearing loose, comfortable clothing. You may perceive a pulsing or tingling sensation, a feeling of warmth and comfort, or a sense of release.

Reiki can also be practiced several inches or more off the body. And this is one of the great benefits in making Reiki very safe for people highly sensitive to touch and giving the client great control over the process. 

As a trauma-informed care provider, the Reiki practitioner stays non-judgmental of the client’s ways of coping and sensitive to the client’s natural responses and needs of comfort in regards to touch. 

Some survivors of trauma may want to start out without any actual direct contact at all with the practitioner ‘holding’ the space around the client’s feet, for example. With one client I had a first Reiki session while she was lying on the treatment table and I simply held my hands at a distance from her body, standing about 2-3 feet away at her side. After a while I proceeded at the same distance to her feet and then to her head. By the end of the session the client asked me to touch her feet firmly but gently and in subsequent sessions I followed her lead in guiding the Reiki touch closer to her physical body. She later learned Reiki to treat herself as well as others, and brought Reiki into domestic violence shelters, facilitating safe touch opportunities for women recovering from the impacts of physical emotional or sexual trauma.

As trauma-informed Reiki practitioners, we invite the client to have control over the process and provide opportunities for them to practice making clear choices and setting boundaries. We also pay close attention to non-verbal communication and encourage our clients to provide feedback. One client asked that I softly announce where I would next move my hands along her body while another actively directed my hands to follow her lead.

Reiki treats the whole person and is used to reduce physical and emotional pain, to calm the mind and experience deep relaxation, to assist in times of transition, grief and life style changes. 

Reiki can help with insomnia, digestive or menstrual disorders, assist in preparing for and recovering from surgeries and medical procedures and is safe to use in conjunction with any other therapy or treatment. Many people also find a deepening connection to themselves and a greater connection to all life.

You can also learn Reiki self practice. Many of my clients have learned to practice Reiki on themselves – as well as others – finding themselves in greater control and better able to respond to any triggers and stressors in their daily lives.

The balancing effects of Reiki on the biofield (a term coined by the NIH describing the field of energy and information surrounding human beings and all living organisms) and the central nervous system are believed to strengthen the body’s ability to heal itself, i.e. the natural process of releasing physical and emotional toxins and blockages is activated.

While Reiki is always non-invasive and encouraging the system toward balance (rather than an act of “sending” healing), we can maybe think of our safe Reiki touch practice as a way to simply witness trauma and its effects, to be co-present with our clients as they may tap into and release past abuse or violence. 

At the same time we become aware of the blueprint underlying our client’s body, it’s innate wisdom of wholeness and its capacity to heal. At times we can sense the torn and abused areas maybe resting back down into the underlying healthy blue print as the individual develops clear practices and tools to connect to the present, cultivating a growing inner sense of safety in the outer world.

And today, as health practitioners we are particularly responsible to stay educated and recognize and attend to how sexual violence intersects with other forms of violence and systems of oppression and we do not use our clients as resources but find appropriate sources, courses or workshops to work on our own blind spots. 

With compassion, awareness, integrity and actions we strive to stay engaged in self-care and self-education as essential practices so we may be our best selves as we guide and witness our clients become their best selves!



Read Part 2: Your Breathing Body - The Healing Power of Breath


---
Ewa (pronounced Eva) Litauer works as a Certified Clinical and Medical Hypnotherapist (CCHT), Restorative Yoga Teacher and Reiki Master Teacher in the Usui Tradition.

Ewa brings a transpersonal approach to her therapy and teaching work. She draws on various systems of energetic healing, spiritual and meditative practices and a deep foundation in feminist psychology, blending them into a unique model of empowerment to assist everyone in bringing out their best selves. Compassionate, respectful, and caring, she is passionate about guiding people toward greater health and well-being by connecting them to their inner resources. 

Ewa offers workshops, classes, and her one-on-one services to various medical and health clinics in the Bay Area, as well as in private practice in SF and she is available for private sessions worldwide on Zoom or Skype. In 2011, she assisted with a study with the University of California investigating the benefits of stretching and Restorative Yoga for the Metabolic Syndrome and she is bringing Restorative Yoga and Reiki workshops to various studios in the SF Bay Area.

http://sfhypnotherapy.com/

May 30, 2017

It's Not What You Eat, It's What Is Eating You

This week, we conclude our series with Adena Bank Lees, and she wraps up her series by sharing a bit about how she overcame her struggles with binge eating, distorted body image, and more.


---



“It is not what and/or how you are eating, it is what is eating you.” Hearing this changed my life. I began to explore the emotions connected to my compulsive eating behaviors and beliefs about food and body image. From there I learned about how these behaviors and beliefs were related to the sexual abuse I experienced as a child and how they served to manage, control and/or express the feelings I had about the abuse.

I realized that restricting and starving, shut down anger and sexual feelings for a while. Binging and purging only temporarily relieved the rage, shame, guilt, and loneliness I felt. Being fat, thin or somewhere in between didn’t cure the fact that I had been covertly and overtly sexually abused. No food behavior or body size protected me from comments, stares, or advances.

“Three balanced meals a day with two snacks is what your body needs to be healthy.” When I heard this from the nutritionist I reluctantly hired, I almost fell out of my seat. Parts of me entrenched in the eating disordered behaviors screamed inside my head, “You want me to eat that much food? Are you kidding me? My body doesn’t NEED all that! You don’t know what you are talking about!” What came out of my mouth was, ”Oh, that’s a lot. How do I do that?” The part of me that was desperate showed up because she knew what I had been doing was definitely not working. This part of me wanted freedom from food and body image obsession and compulsion.


In the days and months that followed, I continued working with my therapist, attended 12 step meetings focused on food recovery, and practiced the discipline of the food plan suggested. It included servings of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, vegetables and fruit. I limited my intake of processed foods. 


Emotions definitely surfaced and it was critical for me to have the guidance and support in learning new skills to deal with them. I began to breathe deeply, practiced what I was taught about feelings being like waves, lasting only 30-90 seconds. I rode the waves, sometimes with myself and other times with another person present, even if it was by phone. The parts of me that protected me from memories and difficult feelings by using food in unhealthy ways, began to settle and not be so prominent. I was replacing them and their “survival” skills with the “thriving” skills mentioned above. I journaled, got out in nature, and focused on having fun.

It has been years since I have engaged in drastic food or body obsession and compulsive behaviors. “Healthy choices” is my motto when it comes to food. I travel a great deal and treasure the flexibility I have cultivated. I am now comfortable with what I eat no matter where I am.

Feeling free around my food and body image is a gift I receive moment to moment, meal to meal and day to day. I do not take it for granted. I am certain that if I cease to adhere to the guidelines of my food plan or cease to pay attention to my emotional and spiritual life, I will be back in prison very quickly.

Each and every one of us has the right to determine what is best for them. That is the beauty of recovery from childhood sexual abuse. You have choices today. If you are struggling or simply curious about how food and food behaviors impacts your healing and ability to thrive, I support you in getting professional guidance, always paying attention to your intuition about what is right and not right for you. Enjoy the ride!





---

Adena Bank Lees, LCSW, LISAC, BCETS, CP, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, trainer and consultant, providing a fresh and important look at addiction treatment, traumatic stress and recovery. She has been providing premiere clinical and consulting services for over 25 years. Adena is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed independent substance abuse counselor, board certified expert in traumatic stress, and a certified psychodramatist. She is the author of “The 12 Healing Steps for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse; A Practical Guide” and is currently penning an educational memoir on covert emotional incest due out in late 2017. Most importantly, Adena is a thriver, enjoying travel, hiking in the Arizona desert, and filling her days with laughter.

May 23, 2017

Riding the Wave of Emotions (Especially Anger!)

This week, we continue our series with Adena Bank Lees. In this post, she talks about the power of emotions, how to be with our emotions (particularly anger), and how she was able to restore her spiritual life through the expression of this powerful emotion.


---



Feelings are simply energy that show up in body sensations often with thoughts attached. “Don’t talk, Don’t trust, Don’t feel” can be some of those thoughts. They are classic alcoholic family messages but are also common in family systems where sexual abuse happens. 

Being sexually abused, either covertly or overtly can create body experiences that feel good, icky, scary and/or shameful. Because of the confusion and overwhelm this causes, we learn to shut off feelings and disconnect from our bodies. This is a survival strategy that loses its potency as we grow into adulthood and wish to enter and engage in intimate relationships. Not having a voice or a safe place to express it, locks feelings inside and greatly their impact.

“Feelings and sensations will rise and fall unless we assign danger to them.” -Recovery Inc.

This tells me that if I believe feelings are scary, they will get stuck and not move through my body. I won’t “ride the wave” so to speak, and I will pay the consequences. Feelings last between 30-90 seconds. Therefore, if this is a part of recovery and healing, I can do this for 30-90 seconds, right?

A feeling that I have struggled with, and sometimes still do, is anger. I witness this with clients all the time. I have learned many important lessons from and about anger. I would like to share a few with you.



1. Anger, like all feelings is simply energy I experience in my body. It does not mean anything about me as a person. It is simply energy in my body. I do not have to be afraid of it.

2. Anger is not a “negative” feeling. There are neither positive nor negative feelings. There are just feelings.

3. It is okay and healthy to feel angry despite negative cultural and gender stereotype messages. (a woman who is angry is often called a “b#$%^)

4. The gift of anger is the energy and motivation to take care of myself.

5. It is important to get help in how to be with and ride the wave of anger because it is such a powerful energy.

6. As a young child, experiencing my caregiver’s anger felt like the love was cut off and I was cast into space by myself. This can be a universal experience that causes the fear and suppression of anger.

7. Anger is a feeling of protest; that my boundaries have been violated.

8. As a person who experienced sexual abuse, I probably have anger towards the “abuser”, and more importantly, the person, people or institutions that did not protect me.

9. It is okay for me to be angry with “God.”

“God?” Why did I just bring “God” into the conversation? Because many abuse victims spent and/or spend hours praying to an entity asking for the abuse to stop. They pray for their pain to be removed, for someone to listen to and believe them, and for the removal of the symptoms that are plaguing them. They wait for something to happen. What happens? Nothing. The abuse continues. The pain continues. No one has rescued them. The post traumatic symptoms continue. “God must not love me. I must be bad or have done something bad. I am being punished,” are just some of the messages a child gets with this scenario.

The crux of my healing from CEI and CSA has been the nurturing of my spirituality. I have explored and discovered many facets of this. One facet being this entity called “God.” When I started 12 step programs many years ago, I was challenged to confront my beliefs and feelings about “God.” I carried distorted ideas such as “it is not okay to be angry with 'God'”. If I am angry, I will be punished.” 

My mentor in the program suggested that it was acceptable to be angry with this power greater than myself and it was necessary for me to directly express it. I took the suggestion and began to speak about, raise my voice and even curse at “God”. This is how I expressed my anger for “God” not listening to me, for forsaking me, and for allowing the abuse to happen to me and others like me. I had these monologues for about two years. 

Something surprising happened. I began to soften, and realized that nothing bad had occurred because of my yelling, cursing, etc. I actually felt relief and began to trust that there might be something out there that is loving and that I can plug into for strength and courage to continue my healing journey. 

Obviously, this concept was very different from what I had thought “God” was previously. This was the whole point. I got to experience my concept of “God”; the one that worked for me. This “God” or Higher Power was a force of love vs. an omnipotent being that controls people’s actions and decisions. I could not have had this pivotal experience if I had not been given permission, guidance and had the willingness to own and be forthright with my anger.

I share this story with you to acknowledge that anger towards “God” may be an important issue for you to address in your healing. I also share it with you as an example of how honest and straightforward expression of anger can have a much needed positive and empowering outcome.

It would take a book to discuss all the ways I aid clients in identifying, labeling and expressing their feelings, anger, in particular. Due to limited time, space and the purpose of this blog, I will stop here.

What I do wish to close with is for us to remember that anger is simply energy in our body. We have the choice of what to believe and say to ourselves about this energy. Asking for and receiving guidance on how to experience and communicate anger in a healthy way is a crucial part of the healing from childhood sexual abuse.



Read Part 4: It's Now What You Eat, It's What's Eating You

---

Adena Bank Lees, LCSW, LISAC, BCETS, CP, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, trainer and consultant, providing a fresh and important look at addiction treatment, traumatic stress and recovery. She has been providing premiere clinical and consulting services for over 25 years. Adena is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed independent substance abuse counselor, board certified expert in traumatic stress, and a certified psychodramatist. She is the author of “The 12 Healing Steps for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse; A Practical Guide” and is currently penning an educational memoir on covert emotional incest due out in late 2017. Most importantly, Adena is a thriver, enjoying travel, hiking in the Arizona desert, and filling her days with laughter.

May 16, 2017

Reclaiming Our Sexual Energy As Life Energy

This week, we continue our series with Adena Bank Lees. In this post she explores the journey from objectification to sexual empowerment and full embodiment of all aspects of her self.


---


A young boy of seven just lost his father to a heart attack. You are at the funeral and overhear an adult shake his hand and say, “I am so sorry about your dad, Johnny, but you are the man of the house now, take care of your mom and your sisters.” 


Do you notice anything disturbing here? Or, are we so acculturated to this dynamic that we do not recognize the message(s) we are sending to Johnny?

After the funeral, his mother starts relying on him to soothe and comfort her, calling him “my little man.” Is he a man? Is he developmentally capable of taking care of his mother and sisters? What does “take care of” his mother and sisters entail?

Sadly, Johnny is expected to be an adult when he is a child. He becomes a substitute spouse to his mother and substitute father to his siblings. That is quite a heavy burden for a little seven year old boy.

The above is another way that Covert Emotional Incest manifests. It, in my belief and professional experience, has been woven into the fabric of our society.

Objectification is one more aspect of Covert Emotional Incest that is important to identify and explain.

Objectification is when one feels like an object -- a thing -- created to please others, (often sexually) rather than a human being in their own right. I know I felt this way as early as the age of five. I knew I was expected to welcome stares and comments from others about my body. Both my parents, my mother in particular, kept a keen focus on my physical appearance, directing me to diet when I was eight. There was also unwanted touch that made me cringe -- kissing on the lips, hugs that were a bit too tight and too long. They were uncomfortable but my family believed these things happened in a close-knit family. So I denied my feelings of fear, anger, humiliation and revulsion. I was ever the good girl and I never said no.

As I have seen with clients, being objectified taught me the following:

1. I was only worth something if I was sexually attractive to a man and provided him with what he wanted.

2. I was only sexually attractive to a man if I had the perfect body. Who defined the perfect body? My father.


One of the most profound experiences in my recovery from CEI and CSA happened in a professional training group back in 1996. “My hope for you is to be able to hold your competence, your sexuality and your spirituality all at the same time,” said my mentor. 


He voiced in that short sentence what I had been trying to accomplish for many years. This integration was exactly what Covert Emotional Incest (CEI) robbed me of. Being objectified and made a surrogate spouse led to compartmentalization of my sexual and sensual self. I believed, because of my experience, that being female meant being a victim to sexual violence. Therefore, identifying as female and feeling sexual was scary and bound with shame and guilt. What I know and teach today is that whatever gender identity you claim, it, in and of itself, does not mandate you to victimhood. 

What I also know and teach today is that sexual energy is literally our life energy. If I split that off or suppress it, I will find myself down and depressed.

Spirituality is about our essence, our soul. Spiritual, soul energy, and sexuality, sexual/sensual energy, are joint forces that can create one heck of a powerful and joy-filled human being. They are worth fighting for!

Without these two resources, I would not enjoy nor be successful at what I do, be it hobbies or professional endeavors. I would be a talking head and the experience empty. Because of embodying and allowing room for my life and soul energy, I have great fulfillment in what I accomplish.

I am excited to say that I have been thriving because of the integration of my sexuality/sensuality, competence and spirituality for quite a number of years now. How did I get there, you ask?

I have to be honest. For me there was no one right way. I had many teachers, guides and supports.

Somatically focused work was essential in allowing me to get in touch with and really listen to my body. It taught me to not just tolerate sexual and other feelings and sensations, but to revel in them. It helped me feel free to express them in a safe way with safe people in the present moment. Being with my wife, who celebrates my sexuality, competence and spirit daily, has been the main reinforcer that this freedom is possible and here for the taking.





Adena Bank Lees, LCSW, LISAC, BCETS, CP, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, trainer and consultant, providing a fresh and important look at addiction treatment, traumatic stress and recovery. She has been providing premiere clinical and consulting services for over 25 years. Adena is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed independent substance abuse counselor, board certified expert in traumatic stress, and a certified psychodramatist. She is the author of “The 12 Healing Steps for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse; A Practical Guide” and is currently penning an educational memoir on covert emotional incest due out in late 2017. Most importantly, Adena is a thriver, enjoying travel, hiking in the Arizona desert, and filling her days with laughter.

May 9, 2017

Surrogate Spouse: Another Form of Abuse

This week, I'm excited to introduce you to Adena Bank Lees. Not only is she a survivor of abuse, but she's a dear colleague and advocate for survivors. In this post, Adena defines and shares about her experience with Covert Emotional Incest.


---


“I can’t talk to your mother like this…you father doesn’t understand me the way you do. You are such a good listener. I always feel so much better when I talk to you. How do you know so much, you are so young?” 


These were common statements made by my parents as I was growing up.

How did I feel in response to these statements?

I felt special, privileged, and chosen. I was trusted with very adult information and I could keep such secrets. Powerful? Yes, I felt powerful also. My parents told me I could MAKE them feel better.

So, then why did I, at the same time, feel helpless and like a failure?

Because I couldn’t fix or change either my mother or father and I definitely couldn’t fix or save their marriage. I tried, believe me I tried. It never happened. I felt torn between the two of them. I didn’t know how to be loyal to both. I was just a kid. I felt confused and overwhelmed with a knot in my stomach most of the time.

This is totally inappropriate to ask of a child but I thought I could handle it. I knew it was my job.

I can tell you all this today. It took me until I was in my late 20’s-early 30’s to have the words and awareness of this dynamic and how it negatively impacted me.

What I am describing here is called Covert Emotional Incest.

CEI happens when a parent or caregiver uses their child as a substitute spouse or confidant. 


Parents/caregivers are supposed to be there to meet their children’s needs, children are not there to meet their parents or caregivers needs. With CEI this is turned upside down.

Why do we call it incest and put the sexual spin on it? Because the spousal role is a sexual role whether there is physical sex happening or not. Sexual energy and sexual messages are implicitly communicated through the spousal or confidant role. No actual physical sexual contact is made. This can be and usually is crazy-making for the child.

Covert Emotional Incest survivors have very similar behaviors, feelings and

beliefs as those who have been overtly or physically sexually abused. Things like difficulty in establishing and maintaining healthy intimate relationships (both sexual and otherwise), not trusting your own reality/intuition, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse are common.

There is a way out. There is a solution. The first step is to have a name and context for what happened to you. Being aware of this provides the foundation for the next step which is to ask for help.

By asking for and receiving help in many forms and modalities, I have gone from the role of victim to the role of survivor, to today, identifying as a thriver with a covert emotional incest history. The abuse no longer defines who I am. I do respect, however, its impact on me and that it is a crucial part of my story.

There is much more to say about Covert Emotional Incest, both the components of it and the healing process from it. More will be discussed in next week’s blog entry. For now, know this: Covert Emotional Incest is enough for someone to experience the aftermath of what has been described above.



Read Part 2: Reclaiming Our Sexual Energy As Life Energy

---

Adena Bank Lees, LCSW, LISAC, BCETS, CP, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, trainer and consultant, providing a fresh and important look at addiction treatment, traumatic stress and recovery. She has been providing premiere clinical and consulting services for over 25 years. Adena is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed independent substance abuse counselor, board certified expert in traumatic stress, and a certified psychodramatist. She is the author of “The 12 Healing Steps for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse; A Practical Guide” and is currently penning an educational memoir on covert emotional incest due out in late 2017. Most importantly, Adena is a thriver, enjoying travel, hiking in the Arizona desert, and filling her days with laughter.

April 25, 2017

Do you feel safe enough to trust? These 4 Keys will change you forever...

This week, we conclude our series with guest blogger Ruby Usman, who teaches some great strategies for feeling safe.


---

During the past few months, the idea of safety has been coming up in many ways. I realize more and more that women (especially those who have been abused) don't feel safe at their very core. And this sense of "feeling unsafe" gets worse by things no one else would think twice of.

When we are feeling unsafe, the trust goes out the window. Our lives then become a survival battle to try and keep safety in whatever ways we can. Some of these ways are:
  1. We control ourselves - we keep it in and become self-sufficient (if no one else sees how vulnerable we are then nothing bad will happen to us)
  2. We control others - if we can keep a tap on others then nothing bad will happen
  3. We don't trust ourselves and we don't trust others. After all, trusting means letting go and how can we if we are feeling unsafe?
  4. We avoid living life, taking risks and doing things that we could have dreamt of. What if something goes wrong?
As I am writing about this, I can't help but get connected with that sense of insecurity inside me. In the past, this sense of vulnerability and feeling unsafe was so strong that I became the queen of control. I controlled myself and I controlled others; I kept it all in but nothing helped of course. I was trying to fill this vacuum inside of me and no matter what I did, it kept sucking more and more out of my life.

At the end of it all, I had to confront it; I had to explore and investigate and finally resolve. Since then, I have helped others work with their sense of safety too and have found that the 4 keys described below play a crucial role in regaining that sense of safety.


Key#1 - Recognizing when you are feeling unsafe

The thing with safety is that it doesn't show up as "feeling unsafe" - it always hides behind other forms of emotions like control, anger and anxiety etc. So the first key to recognizing "feeling unsafe" is to be aware of how it shows up for you.

For me personally, the biggest sign for feeling unsafe is that I start acting like a man - meaning I become more masculine, more goal oriented and more rational. With time and practice, I have been able to catch myself when I am behaving in this manner and make different choices (mostly this means staying true to my needs and my femininity).


Key#2: Congratulate yourself

The mere fact that your defense mechanism is working - is amazing!! Yayyyyyyy... Your system (though hyperactive) is active meaning that you can rely on it that it will let you know when any danger presents itself.

Imagine if your defense mechanisms stopped working. You wouldn't know how to defend yourself when the real threat presents itself.

The only issue is that you might not need it and it's getting triggered unnecessarily. Well! that's an easier problem to solve compared to if it didn't get triggered at all, right?


Key#3: Evaluate and Relax with affirmations

Of course, if the situation is dangerous then do whatever you can to remove yourself from that situation.

If that's not the case then, it's critical that we remind ourselves that

* "there is nothing to be afraid of"

* "we are safe"
* "this feeling of unsafety is coming from the past and it's not needed"
It would be a great idea to do a simple meditation or slow deep belly breathing to bring yourself back to feeling ok again. The affirmations above are crucial because your mind needs to realize that it's being hyperactive and hyper vigilant.

With time, your brain will start to re-calibrate when to trigger your defense mechanism and when to stay calm.


Key#4: Find Assurance in love

We are born for love and it's critical to end with love whenever your feeling of unsafety gets triggered. Gary Chapman talks about 5 love languages, which I have found to be very helpful. If you know your love language, you can ask friends or romantic partner to provide that assurance in your love language.

The ending in "love" will help you feel safe again. It will rebuild your trust in yourself and others and with time, you will be able to find that safety and that trust within yourself

Good luck and Blessings

---


Hi, I am Ruby Usman, Founder of Healing Wounds Together – A Platform for Female Adults who have experienced sexual abuse in their childhood.

I have lived with abuse for many years of my life. And I have spent many more decades in understanding, recovering and becoming whole again. From my own journey, I have learned valuable lessons not only for myself but for others that were around me and now I have made it my mission to:

* Help the abused take charge of their own healing

* Empower partners of the female survivors

* Help prevent sexual childhood abuse


If this resonates with you, check out my website at www.healingwoundstogether.com, sign up for my blogs and connect with me on these social media sites.

FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/rubiversity/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIYk6qCCvWERbGHR9UQgAkg

Google+: https://plus.google.com/+RubyUsman

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ruby_usman

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rubyusman/

Sign up for my free guide so you can stop spinning your wheels and instead navigate your way through each stage of recovery with ease and clarity. Get the support you need today

GET YOUR COPY