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John Tessitore is the Founder of the JCK Foundation, a non-profit devoted to ending the stigma of mental illness.

Disarming Shame - Breaking the Silence

Disarming Shame - Breaking the Silence

“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” ― Brené Brown

Shame ruled most of my life

Shame decreases with acceptance, acceptance that you cannot change what happened to you in your past or who you are.

I am a mental health professional who has also struggled with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and amnesia dissociation throughout my life.

My father sexually abused me for over ten years, from when I was a young child until I was in my mid-teens. Even as a child, I was aware that I was not able to remember hours at a time. I remember feeling like there was nothing but white noise, like when the cable goes out and the TV becomes grey static. I had a feeling that I wasn’t asleep, but I wasn’t awake.

I don’t have access to most of my childhood before I entered fifth grade. Even though I knew that it was odd that I could not remember, I didn’t know why. I knew I didn’t want people to touch me. I knew I felt uneasy around my father, however I was not sure why.

 

  Shame ruled most of my life

Shame ruled most of my life

When I was about 15, my mother kicked my father out of the apartment after he was arrested for an incident unrelated to the abuse. In the months to follow I began to have nightmares that my father was sexually abusing me. At some point, I began to remember pieces more clearly. At first my mother didn’t believe me, and my first therapist told me “I didn’t have any evidence so there was nothing I could do about it.”

As many victims of children sexual abuse and incest do, I internalized shame around what happened to me. I, to the deepest part of my being, believed I was broken because of what happened to me. Part of this shame derived from my body becoming aroused during the abuse. I felt that because of this, I must have played a role in what happened to me.

This feeling of shame and self-blame led to a deep sense that I was not good enough.

This feeling of not being good enough spread through all aspects of my life. When I was not able to do well in school or function at top capacity at a job, I would be filled with anxiety and become depressed.

 

  I internalized shame around what happened to me

I internalized shame around what happened to me

The need to help myself while helping others

There came a point that I could no longer go on carrying the shame of what happened to me. I knew I was starting to fall into a deep depression. I was not able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time due to waking up in full blown panic attacks. I would wake up gasping for breath. I either felt extreme anxiety or a deep sense of sadness. Due to being a mental health provider, I was afraid to ask for the level of help I thought I needed. I thought if I asked for time off from work, then perhaps I would lose my job because mental health providers are supposed to help people, not be the ones who are feeling suicidal. There is this perception that “if I am struggling to help myself, then how can I possibly help others?”

A breaking point came when I was constantly anxious for months and it felt like there was no end in sight. I became suicidal. Fortunately, friends of mine reached out and invited me to their home for the weekend. That weekend was the first time I had received quality sleep in several months. By the end of the weekend, my friends helped me develop a plan to take steps to get myself help. I took a few weeks off from work, with the help of my doctor, found a new therapist, and upped my anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications.

I began EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. If you are not familiar with EMDR, I suggest researching EMDR further. I began to finally believe that being sexually abused was not my fault.

 

  You’ve got this. We’ve got this.

You’ve got this. We’ve got this.

Getting support

My therapist suggested I join a peer support group for survivors of sexual abuse. He thought this could help me see that others shared some of my experiences. However, I knew this could be a challenge. I am a transgender person, who was assigned female at birth, and identifies as neither male or female. I am often perceived as male. I knew that the support groups in my area are separated by gender, and that there were no groups for men. I wish there was a support group that I would attend with people who have shared experiences. If there was a men’s group, I don’t think I would be comfortable as I don’t identify as a man, and did not grow up as one. Even though I knew what the answer would be, I called the local sexual assault agency to see if there was a group I could join. I was told that there were no groups in the region that I could attend. I was crushed because I truly was trying to focus on my healing process and was desperate to connect with others.

This is when I decided to start an Instagram account dedicated to sharing my healing journey. I saw this as an outlet to process my feelings as I continue to heal. I quickly connected with a few other survivors and had one-on-one conversations. I follow many other survivors of various types of abuse, and people who are striving for recovery with mental health and substance use. I am so grateful to have found this outlet to connect with others and help myself heal. My account helps me reduce the shame I feel by talking about what happened to me and my struggles with healing and mental health, and to spread the message to other survivors that they are not alone.

If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse, I would like to say that you did not deserve what happened to you; it shouldn’t have happened. Many of us struggle with different aspects of mental health and shame. You are unbelievably strong and resilient even if it doesn’t feel that way.

You’ve got this. We’ve got this.

To follow along on my own journey, join me on Instagram.

Noah P.

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