Therapists' Acclaim for REPAIR Your Life
"Thank you Marjorie and God bless you for adapting this program for our survivors to follow. You have given survivors hope to continue on their healing journey."
-Donna Gustafson, Executive Director,
Sunrise Center Against Sexual Abuse
"Anyone wanting to recover from the life-long trauma of childhood sexual abuse will benefit from this book."
-Marcelle B. Taylor, MFT
"This program just has to work, because whether intuitively or through research, Marjorie McKinnon has assembled a highly effective program of recovery."
-Bob Rich, PhD
Please visit www.TheLampLighters.org for more information or to find a group in your area.
Another life-changing title from Loving Healing Press
Read an Excerpt
I'm going to begin this book with a story. Mine. Hopefully, everyone reading will identify with parts of it and realize they're in the right place. We all have stories that are different. We all have stories that are the same. Repercussions in the life of an incest victim ripple like waves in a body of water, ones that eventually turn into riptides, undercurrents and sometimes tidal waves.
My story is a classic example.
In July of 1988, I walked into the office of therapist Marci Taylor, a specialist in the field of childhood sexual abuse. The damage done by my incest had accelerated to the point of despair. It was six months before my third marriage and I had a long history of relationships with alcoholics and abusers, two of them former husbands. Suicidal since my early teens, I had been hospitalized for two nervous breakdowns in my twenties, one the result of a failed suicide attempt. I had hidden my pain behind too much alcohol, promiscuity, compulsive behavior, obsessive relationships and extremes of emotional highs and lows. Only medication, intermittently taken, had kept me functioning for almost twenty-five years.
Two years earlier, I had been engaged to my daughter's father-in-law. Chuck was the first healthy male in my life, a man whose primary aim was making me happy. He became convinced that something traumatizing had happened in my childhood that I didn't remember. His comment, "How could someone as wonderful as you wind up with so many abusive men," not only went right over my head, but irritated me as he began a personal crusade to find out what had happened. I retaliated with anger, tried to end the engagement, and when he refused, began an affair outside the relationship. His response was, "I'll never leave you except through death." Within months, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Filled with shame and fear for Chuck, I ended the affair and took care of him while he was ill. Even then, a few days before he died, still unable to control my own sexual addiction, I slept not only with another man, but a married one. After Chuck's death my guilt and shame at what I had done caused despair so great I wished only that I had never failed in my many suicide attempts.
Within a few weeks, I was living with the man who would ultimately set off a trail of such severe abuse that I had to choose between death and entering recovery. I had hit bottom. Having read my private journals without permission, he used my descriptions of previous lovers and infidelities as a whip to taunt me, especially the night I had spent in bed with a married man while Chuck lay dying. Like Pavlov's dog, every time he rang the bell by shaming me about my past, I obeyed whatever his current demand was, for I learned quickly that giving in caused the torment to cease. Subject to his whims, I lived like a prisoner, crippled by his several-times-a-day sexual addiction — which quickly turned into brutal rapes — his need to control what I wore, who I spoke with, what I said, and even whether I laughed or not.
Within months, my beautiful home looked like a battleground, with bathroom doors he had split in half when I cowered behind them hiding from his rages and sexual obsessions, broken furniture and holes in walls, all evidence of my out-of-control emotions from the terror of his rapes. Once he forced me into making sex videotapes by taunting me about previous infidelities. In the process, I lost my mind as I lay in a fetal position on the floor calling for my mother. Before we'd been together a year, his need for frequent middle-of-the-night sex was causing painful and confusing flashbacks.
One time, years earlier, in the office of a therapist, I had spied a cartoon. It was of a woman standing in a cage with her hands clenched on the bars, looking outward with terror. The cage had only three sides. That cartoon was so painful that I averted my eyes every time I saw it. It haunted me for years, and became one of the spurs to my entering recovery, for now I could see that I was that woman.
My self-image was so poor that once, in a department store, I saw a woman on the other side of the room and thought desperately, I would give anything if only I looked like her. As I walked closer, I realized that her body movements matched mine. I'd been staring in a mirror! Even then, I waved my arms and made faces, then finally touched the glass before I became convinced it was me. You'd think it would have caused me to look at myself in a different light. It didn't. I wasn't ready to believe that there was anything beautiful about me. Even my frequent quip over the years, "If you took sex out of my life, I'd be a near-perfect person," did not encourage me to see that although I had a dark side, there were many gems beneath my surface.
Despite the use of various therapists over the years who had probed my life, none had ever identified incest as the culprit. In my early thirties, my father had admitted to his wrongdoing, making the comment, "It really wasn't so bad, kiddo, they do it in the Appalachian district all the time." Shortly before he died, he again brought it up, then abruptly dropped it. Both times I buried the reality, the pain too monumental to consider. I was not even sure what the word "incest" meant and other than a nightmare I'd had when I was younger, one where a steamroller was suffocating me as I lay in my bottom bunk, I had no memory of such things happening. I had relived the "nightmare" hundreds of times throughout my life, on each occasion waking up screaming as I felt the paralyzing terror of being overpowered by an unknown force. The nightmares didn't cease until after my father's death in 1985.
Now, shaking with continuous tremors, I turned once more to therapy. This time it was at the insistence of my family doctor, who had been convinced for many years that incest was the source of my problems.
Marci began my treatment with several sessions of discussions concerning my childhood. I gave her the same story I had given the others. I was the oldest daughter in a Midwestern Catholic family. My father had delivered me in the middle of a blizzard in northern Minnesota. As the years went by, his interest in me became obsessive. My mother, worn down from having four children in as many years, turned her fifth child, a daughter, over to me to raise. At the age of eight, I had become the family housekeeper and at the age of nine, a mother. When I was thirteen I had the "nightmare" that was to haunt me for so many years.
For reasons I didn't understand at the time, during this period our family life changed dramatically. Mom and Dad discarded any semblance of love and togetherness. My siblings and I became like mutilated soldiers in the midst of a war, as we wandered through our days in a continual state of anxiety and terror of Dad. He began a crusade to prove me no good, referring to me as "unclean." Most of the time Mom lay in bed sobbing or in an alcoholic-like stupor where she had me shave her legs, bathe her, and care for her as if she were in the midst of a debilitating illness. I spiraled into despair, becoming not only manic depressive, but suicidal.
I had come from a long line of patriarchal families with fathers who had a strong sense of their own importance and mothers who subjugated their needs to those of the head of the family. We walked on eggs if Dad was in the house, lest we offend in some way. His word was not only law, but any opinions contrary to his were punishable. This way of life duplicated my father's growing-up years as well as my mother's. It felt normal to me. My mother's motto was: Even when your father is wrong, he's right. A few years later she developed breast cancer, and Dad convinced her that all doctors were quacks, depriving her of the medical care that might have saved her life. She died angry, resentful, and confused about her own value system.
At the age of 18, after a beating from my father that almost killed me, I stuffed a few belongings into a pillowcase and ran. Once on my own, I entered what was to become more than thirty years of unhealthy choices and abusive relationships.
After hearing the story of my life and descriptions of my current victimization, Marci gave me an assignment. I was to draw pictures at various intervals of my life with my left hand, depicting emotions in different colors. I found the exercise rather silly until I sat at the kitchen table and began drawing. There, memories I had forgotten surfaced. When I got to the age of 13, I drew a picture of a young girl lying on a bottom bunk bed. A gray haired man stood in the doorway. I grabbed a red crayon and wrote: Help me! Help me! across the face of it, before bursting into tears.
Within days, I entered a twelve-step program, and through hypnosis and more therapy sessions with Marci, began to see the truth, not only of what had happened to me, but the impact it had on my life and the kind of decisions I had made. At the age of thirteen, I had become my father's unwilling mistress. Eventually, my mother discovered Dad's middle-of-the-night rapes while I slept with a rosary clutched in my hand. Unable to deal with the thought that her husband was the perpetrator of such a crime, she made me the scapegoat, frequently taunting my father into beating me with a belt. Even those memories were never defined in my head as child abuse, only as strict parenting.
Recovery, prolonged by my decision to stay with my abuser, lasted for almost five years. It was like trying to swim upstream with heavy chains hanging around my neck. I worked a rigorous and honest twelve-step program, attended seminars on child abuse and self-esteem, read recovery books, listened to recovery CDs, chronicled my life story, journalized on a regular basis, constructed a "Magic Mirror" (you will find out more about this later), and traveled out of state to meet my father's relatives, then pieced together the family history that had set me up for self-destruction. In short, I did all the things that I later utilized in developing REPAIR.
As I traveled across what I had begun calling the Bridge of Recovery, tools were periodically placed in my path, to not only see the truth, but to empower me. Later on in the program, I will more fully describe this bridge. I recall the day my daughter gave me a workbook entitled I Never Knew I had a Choice. The title alone set off gratifying leaps in behavior changes. Another time, while shopping at a swap meet, I found a sweatshirt that proclaimed "What part of NO don't you understand?" Whenever I wore it, I felt stronger. A brochure in a pharmacist's office stated, "Losing your freedom of choice is a bitter pill to swallow." It caused me to sob for days until I finally tapped into a new truth. It was all the start, at first in baby steps, to not only saying no when an unhealthy choice was offered, but realizing that I could make my own healthy choices.
In the middle of my recovery, my youngest daughter inadvertently commented on what had happened sexually to her sisters when they were little. I froze with terror and within minutes, after calling my two older daughters, discovered that they too had been "incested" by my second husband while we were married. Grief strangled me as my need to become totally healthy accelerated in the hope that it would change the lives of my children. As I thought of my grandchildren and their children, a sense of urgency overwhelmed me. It was only later that I found out that children of an untreated incest victim stand a five times greater chance of being incested themselves, because incest is a multigenerational illness. This knowledge compounded my guilt.
My eldest daughter, alcoholic and bulimic, had already duplicated my penchant for going from man to man. One of her sisters had spent ten years in a nightmare marriage to a violent and unstable man. To add to the burden was my despair that I may have contributed in some way to my youngest daughter, at seventeen, being raped at gunpoint by a masked bandit. She too, was currently married to a man who was so abusive that one time he pointed a gun to her head and forced her to relive her rape.
I staggered at the realization that four out of five of my family members were victims of sexual abuse. To make the statistics more ironic, my son was an officer on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He had never been sexually abused and was happily married, stable, and disciplined. He not only made healthy choices on a regular basis, it was difficult for him to understand why others didn't. On the day he graduated from the LAPD, he had hugged me and said, "I think I can make a difference, Mom." His words placed a balance in the midst of my torment. I could only hope that his career choice would one day save others from perpetrators.
In October of 1992, I journeyed back to the small town where I had been molested and raped by my father. There, armed with the courage of four and a half years of recovery, I confronted the ghosts from my past by going into my former bedroom. Although it was the hardest thing I have ever done, it empowered me. I came home, forced my abuser out of the house, got a restraining order against him, filed for a divorce, and spent the next six months doing post-recovery work.
Today, I can hardly remember what it feels like to be suicidal. Periodically, and with a certain wry humor, I ask my Higher Power to "please disregard previous instructions." Today I make healthy choices and am filled with a sense of wonder and enchantment. I am strong, centered, stable, joyful, disciplined, and self-sufficient. My shame is a thing of the past, and despair and hopelessness are no longer a part of my life. I still experience sad times and stress, but now I have the right tools to handle any problems that arise. Today the motto above my desk reads: If I had known life was going to turn out this good, I would have started it earlier.
No matter how painful your past, how filled with shame your life has been, it is never too late to change. Fifty years ago, "incest" was a word few people knew. Those who did thought it was biblical in origin and certainly had nothing to do with what Dad or grandpa or Uncle Willy was doing to us in the middle of the night. Today, so much help is available that no one needs to suffer. All it takes is the right program and the commitment to follow it. It won't be easy. Most things of value have a price. But the price is small compared to the waiting reward. The journey itself, arduous though it may be, will awaken your frightened inner child. It will teach her (or him) emotionally healthy behavior and validate lost treasures, those parts to ourselves we've been unable to see.
When I was in recovery, I heard a lot about the "inner child." It was not an unknown expression. In 1963, Dr. W. Hugh Missildine had written a best seller entitled Your Inner Child of the Past. I had read it in the '70s but, of course, it had nothing to do with me. Even then, the inner child concept was not as deeply explored as it became later, primarily by John Bradshaw.
As I progressed across my Bridge of Recovery, I thought more and more about my inner child. Was there actually such a creature? Since my early teens, I had heard a screaming voice within. I assumed that everyone had this screaming voice. Now I wondered. Could that be my inner child? About two years before I entered recovery, I purchased a doll with no face. I had no way of knowing that my desire to have one without a face was because I couldn't see the real me. Halfway through recovery, as the light at the end of that bridge became visible, I searched for a doll with a face. I found her at an arts and crafts festival. Not only did she have a face, it was a happy one. When I turned her over and wound the key on her back, she played, "We've only just begun." I'd found the symbol I needed to begin exploring my inner self for that child.
One day as I sat on a swing in a nearby park, I spoke out loud to my imaginary child. I wasn't sure I believed in her but the doll on my bed haunted me. What if there was a child? What if she was waiting for me to reach out and comfort her? Hesitantly, I continued speaking. I told her I was sorry I had put her through so much. I apologized for not listening to the screaming voice. I said, in almost a whisper, that I was working on getting well and I promised that one day she would no longer scream, she would no longer cry, she would be the happy face. All of a sudden, I felt as if a little girl had stepped out of the shadows, her tearstained face staring up at me. I began sobbing and literally reached down and wrapped my arms around her as we both wept.
During the next few months, I spent many mornings at that park while we swung together. She told me about the time the bullies in the school yard had thrown rocks at her for what she was wearing. I consoled her about the loss of her first love in the fifth grade, a boy named Jerry Bennett. From there we grieved over the loss of her mother, the loneliness and despair of her teen years, the scars of her siblings and the early and tragic death of her baby sister. Together we explored all the moments, and as the months continued to pass, she stopped crying, stopped wearing a mournful look, and after my recovery ended, laughed and played. Today, my inner child and I connect immediately whenever I am involved in activities she likes best — swinging on swings, sliding down slides, climbing trees and hiking in the woods, all activities that, despite being the grandmother of fourteen and the great- grandmother of two, I do with relish.
Excerpted from "Repair Your Life"
Copyright © 2010 Marjorie McKinnon.
Excerpted by permission of Loving Healing Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Table of Figures,
Chapter 1 – Marjorie's Story,
A Program called R.E.P.A.I.R.,
Chapter 2 – Overview,
The Rewards for Completing REPAIR,
Chapter 3 – Recognition,
Chapter 4 – Entry,
Chapter 5 – Process,
Tips To Help You In The Midst Of Your Journey,
Chapter 6 – Awareness,
Chapter 7 – Insight,
Chapter 8 – Rhythm,
Chapter 9 – Post-Recovery,
Appendix – Resources,
The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann,
The Twelve Steps,
The Serenity Prayer,
The Optimist's Creed,
About the Author,