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Rape, Sexual Abuse, Loss, and Grief -
Guest Speaker Chat Transcript

The Pandora's Aquarium chat room welcomed Allyson Maida as a guest speaker on May 13, 2009.   Allyson S. Maida, CSW, Therapist, Consultant and Speaker, is the CEO of ACM Resources, Inc. with offices in Westport, Connecticut. Her clinical practice includes the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other modalities that fit the specific needs of her clients. Consulting focuses are Business Development, Evaluation and Grant Writing for a variety of non-profit, government and corporate organizations. Speaking engagements include large and small groups, panels and interactive workshops.

Additionally, Allyson is known as Professor Maida at St. John's University in New York. Teaching 2 different courses, Criminological Theory and Victimology, she describes this portion of her career as "Simply magical".

Sexual violation leads its victims down a path that is filled with clashing emotions. For most people, there is an enormous void – an indescribable gap – that hangs in the center of life. This empty space is the result of trauma, disbelief and a wide variety of thoughts that are extremely hard to manage. In this chat, Allyson Maida discusses causes of this "void" and reasoning to helps participants heal from the overwhelming grip of unspeakable loss and grief.

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Jennifer: Hi everyone, thank you for coming tonight! Our guest speaker is Allyson Maida, CSW, and she is a therapist, consultant, and speaker. She has received a variety of award and acclamations and we are very lucky to have her some and speak with us tonight. Allyson will discuss the grief we feel as survivors, and how to heal from it.

Hello everyone. Thank you for letting me share this time with you.

Jennifer: For the first half of the chat, Katy and Melinda will ask pre-selected questions. During that time, you can submit questions into the questions into the queue, which will be asked during the second half. Are you ready, Allyson?

AllysonMaida: Yes, thanks!

Member question: Why do so many people feel like they are completely lost after surviving SA?

AllysonMaida: Everyone is born with a basic sense of trust. This is why bonding and early impressions are discussed so often in studies. When the basic level of trust that is firmly planted in the core of who we are is violated. It is in direct opposition to what we believe. This leads to us feeling lost and out of synch.

Member question: That makes sense Allyson. I have always heard that grief is limited to experiencing someone else’s death. Why do I feel so filled with grief?

AllysonMaida: First, trauma is trauma no matter how you look at it. When your core beliefs have been compromised, you are left alone to consider the situation. It sits in your mind. SA is one of the few crimes that has social consequences that are unfavorable. This is a lonely place. Lost and alone, we are separated from the world we have known - it is a place of sadness and grief.

Member question: How do I know that I am healing as I grieve?

AllysonMaida: First, let's understand that grieving is very important. It is your mind's recognition that something irreconcilable has occurred. Grieving is a means of working things through. It is about going through a process of understanding in a place where things may not be easy to understand at all. As you move through the different emotions that you feel while grieving, you are working your way towards health on your own terms - I have told many people that time doesn't heal anything. But time does give you more time to figure out how to cope.

Member question: What is happening when I have a few gooddays and then out of the blue, I have a really bad day?

AllysonMaida: It is our mind's job - actually your brain's job - to keep you healthy. If you spend all of your time thinking about upsetting information you will become unwell. Your mind seeks distractions that remove you from the problem - temporarily - so that you can progress with living. The time where someone is triggered - and recall brings them back to the trauma - it is your signal that you can manage some of the information - no matter how horrible. This is when it is best to reach out for support. I should add that this is your mind's mechanism to create balance.

Member question: I see so many posts talking about sadness and grief. Are there any specific stages to this and what does that have to do with sexual abuse?

AllysonMaida: Yes, the most famous are those created by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross many years ago. If you can remember the term "DABDA" it will help you to know the stages. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. SA is many things, one of which, is a formula for someone feeling intense loss. These stages help to process the trauma and come to terms with how we want to live life. Many people have said that SA is a form of inner death. Many people have also come to a place where the denial, anger, depression and bargaining have passes and they have come to accept that this happened and are determined to heal.

Member question: If one more person tells me that I should "just move on," I am going to scream. I would love to but no matter what I have done, or what I have tried to listen to I can't seem to do it. Why is that?

AllysonMaida: Move on is such a bad term. It is usually used by people who cannot understand your trauma. Most people would love to "move on", but that is not realistic. Basically, your mind has been "blown away" by something that is literally unimaginable. The only time someone just moves on is when they cannot, or decide not, to deal with the trauma - at which point they may ignore it. The bad news is that it follows them as it is irreconcilable. When you can get your thoughts in order and create a life that you can feel comfortable with, then and only then, can you progress forward. "Move on" simply shows that the other person doesn't understand.

Member question: I am so angry. I mean really angry. Not only with the perpetrator, but with something I just can’t put my finger on. Can this be explained?

AllysonMaida: The word violated is a very strong part of our language. The opposite of "violated" is "pure". If you have been violated someone has dishonored your innocence - your purity. This innocence is a part of our core. Even as we grow, we maintain portions of ourselves that are "pure". When violated, this pureness is removed without your consent. It is in conflict with the depth of who you are. The natural response to this is anger.

Jennifer: Thank you, Allyson! Now we're going to move to the second part of our chat, where the chatters have and will continue to submit questions that they have. I remind everyone that we might not get to your questions, as I already have several queued up, and you always come up with really thoughtful questions!

Member question: If being triggered means I can "manage" some of the information, why do flashbacks feel so overwhelming?

AllysonMaida: The experience of being triggered is a bit different than flashbacks. Flashbacks are a moment of recall, where triggers are the thing that sets you off. When triggered, your mind is letting some information through. Flashbacks, recall, memories...no matter what you call them can be extremely overwhelming. Which is why I suggested to reach out for help. It may seem unmanageable, but you can do it - even if takes a while. Just be sure to get support. Pandy's is great for that, by the way. These memories have a powerful impact - this is an emotionally charged issue. This is why it is so overwhelming.

Member question: How do you deal with the grief without it totally overwhelming you especially since a lot of us have trouble with depression and maybe don't have the coping mechanisms that an individual without this type of past has?

This is why I like these steps. No matter who you are or what has happened, if you have something to hold onto, something that you can refer to you will be more secure. Depression certainly muddies the waters, as does anxiety. If you can look at something like these steps and recognize where you are in your process it can be very helpful. It is grounding to have insight to your progress.

Member question: I have two children as a result of the SA I went through as a child/teen. How do I make my husband see that the children are not just part of my father, but part of me as well so that he does not take out what I went through on my children?

AllysonMaida: One way is to align them with your personal characteristics. "She looks just like me when I was young." show a photo. Recall stores of your life that the children remind you of. The more important thing is to remind your husband that these children are like any other children. They are not here to suffer for someone else's cruelty. They are individuals and it is your husband's job - as much as yours - to provide them with guidance that is healthy. You cannot do this if his focus is negative. They will tune into that "feeling". Children are more perceptive than we think.

Member question: Being "triggered" seems more like a loss of control, not a sign I can "manage". It feels to me like I'm falling more apart then managing anything, is this just me?

AllysonMaida: No, it is not just you. When I say that you can "manage" the information, I literally mean just that. When our mind allows trauma to register it can be very out of control. When we feel out of control - we certainly can feel as if we are falling apart. This is more than reasonable. Managing basically means trying to make sense of something to create order. Emotions can be horrible to manage, but we can do it little by little.

Member question: How does one know when they are ready for help?

AllysonMaida: Sometimes other people know before we do. Getting help is scary and makes us that much more vulnerable. Asking for help also allows someone else to "speak into our lives" It is a gut feeling at times. When you have an slight feeling that maybe help is a good idea - even if you then begin to argue with yourself about it - generally speaking, you are ready to extend your hand towards someone else.

Jennifer: Okay, we have time for just one more question. I'm sorry that we won't be able to get to all of the questions; they were all really thoughtful!

Member question: The void we're trying to fill, it seems so easy to fill it temporarily with negative things such as drugs or sex. How can I stop doing that?

Filling this void, which is negative space, with other negativity only causes negativity to remain. your quest is to become healthy. Drugs, being out of control, etc. is only a deterrent. When you decide that you want permanency - you are tired of fighting try something healthy. You do not have to substitute bad with bad. Fill the gap with something good. It is hard because it is out of the "norm" when everything seems so wrong. This will help to make it right.

Thank you so much, Allyson! This was really interesting, and we appreciate your time that you were able to spend with us tonight. A transcript of this chat will be available later on (with all names removed) and we will provide a link so that anyone can go back and reread what was said tonight!

AllysonMaida: Thank you to everyone for facilitating and spending time here in this very positive place!

: Thank you again!

Thank you for sharing with us, Allyson!


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