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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fierce Heart Talk

"We become what we think about." –Earl Nightingale

Some Wedding Music...
I may have gotten married over a week ago, but it feels like just yesterday.  It's wonderful to start seeing some videos surfacing of that magical night.
You can hear me singing two of my favorite songs, On My Way to You by Michel Legrand and The Story by Brandi Carlile to my (now) husband here...
A wedding serenade...
Fierce Heart Talk...

Healing involves storytelling, expressing, speaking from the heart.  Sometimes the words from your heart might not even be conscious speech.  For a long time after I was sexually abused, I became very numb.

I was told later on, when trying to piece together fragmented memories, that in the face of trauma, you can flee, freeze, or fight.  I froze.  Only years later did memories start to consciously surface.  I wrote about my reaction to my abuse for Dropped Keys and Some Talk of You and Me.  You can read it here.

From Frozen to Free
by Amy Oestreicher 

It took me a very long time to speak the words, “I was sexually abused.”

It took me an even longer time to believe it.
And what took so much longer than I ever could have predicted was to believe that I was sexually abused…and it wasn’t my fault.
I had heard this dozens and dozens of times.  Many victims of abuse, molestation, and domestic violence often feel a guilt that they are not deserving of.
For months I had beaten myself up thinking, “why did I do that?”  wondering,  “what was I thinking?”  and assuming, “something must be wrong with me.”
It also took me a very long time to accept that a mentor and father figure in my life had violated our trusting relationship. I kept replaying the events that had occurred in my mind, telling myself,
“I must have done something wrong—why else would he have done this?  I must have instigated something.”
I blamed myself, convinced that no one could take advantage of me if I had not invited it.
I couldn’t shake off this “shame” I felt no matter how hard I tried to forget what had happened. The more I tried to block my memories, the more anxious and confused I became.
I became a space cadet—hardly feeling at all. It was how I protected myself.
This way, I couldn’t feel the sense of loss and betrayal. I couldn’t feel the shame of still thinking this was all “my fault.” My numbness started to alarm my friends and family, to whom I insisted that nothing was wrong at all.

I kept this secret hidden inside, burning in my gut, hidden from those I loved.

The more I tried to repress what had happened, the more anxious I became, until I couldn’t handle keeping these secrets locked up so tightly. When I turned 18, I finally spilled everything to my mother. I was so afraid of what she might say or if she would judge my actions. I was embarrassed to say these kind of words out loud, let alone with my mother.
My mother was shocked, upset, and as overwhelmed as I was. But she still provided me with the one solid anchor that I needed.
She told me it was not my fault.
No matter what I told her, how I explained what I could remember, or what I confided in her, she reassured me with the certainty only a mother can have:  it was not my fault.
Reaching out to someone I knew loved me unconditionally calmed my anxiety. Telling someone what had happened made my “dark” secret come to light. I became open to viewing my abuse in a different way—I was willing to take some of the responsibility off of myself.
My mother and I started reading about “trauma.” I learned that in the face of trauma, you can have three responses: You can fight, flee, or freeze. I could have immediately fought back against my abuser, yelling “no” or defying him in some way. I could have just ran in the other direction as fast as I could.

But I was so shocked by everything that happened that I froze. Like a deer in the headlights, I couldn’t come to terms with the idea that a man that I trusted as my mentor could turn into such a monster in the blink of an eye. I mentally left the situation, disassociated from my body, and became a passive bystander to a trauma that my body was directly involved in.

I learned that the physical sensations of “guilt” register in the same way that “shame” and “helplessness” do in your body—so when a person feels helpless in a situation, the body automatically pairs that sensation with “guilt.”  When you undergo any kind of trauma it causes a disturbance in your energy flow. Suddenly, you are unable to feel those emotions that once came so naturally at a time.
My body stopped breathing the same way it used to—a big knot of tension evolved in my chest and remained there like a cocoon.
My thoughts became rigid—frightened to wander into past memories. I put up a daze like four safe walls that protected me from being consciously present in the abuse, and that daze stayed with me with or without him.
I lived in a world separate from everyone else.

I wanted to see my world in color again. I wanted to feel brave enough to feel again.

I protected myself in a traumatic situation by becoming numb to my emotions, but now the danger was gone, my abuser left the picture long ago. Now, the work was up to me. I told myself “it wasn’t my fault” until I believed it.  And once I felt these words resonate in my body, in my soul—I liberated myself.
I had nothing to be ashamed of.  And I had every right to reclaim my life, my aliveness, move on, and experience the world in all of its radiant colors once again.
I was sexually abused.  It was not my fault.
In a traumatizing situation, I froze, while others might have fled or fought back. But with time and with confiding in those I trust, I have unthawed and faced what I’ve tried to forget. And with nothing to hide, nothing to regret or redo, and everything to look forward to in the future, I’ve allowed myself to move on.

Before I Go...

Share with me your fierce heart talk today... 

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore, Dream, Discover. –Mark Twain 


  1. Congratulations on your wedding! Your art is beautiful. I too took a long time to believe that the date rape I incurred as a teen was in fact rape and sexual abuse. Thank you for sharing!