Using the Past to Fuel a New Present
Much of our present life can feel overtaken over by our past. When we think about it, why wouldn’t it? Past pain and traumas can rear their ugly heads at any moment, with seemingly no warning. A trigger during the holiday season, second guessing someone else’s goodwill as possible grooming, or even maintaining hyper-vigilance long after the danger in our lives is gone, is nothing short of suffocation. We understand why feeling “stuck” in the wake of trauma can feel like drowning. We also know that choosing to kick and claw to the surface and making choices can alter the present as we know it.
I don’t mean choosing to get better, or just choosing to live life differently. Anyone who has had to heal knows you cannot just flip a switch after something like sexual abuse and all of a sudden you’re “better”. No, what I am talking about is choosing to get help.
Help can look different to each individual survivor. For one survivor, asking for a therapist is the help they choose. Someone else’s help may be disclosing for the first time with someone they trust, freeing themselves the burden on their shoulders. For Deanna and Victor, it was choosing to stop living in the pain from the past. It is one thing to live with pain, to experience hurt and heartache. To feel that is to be human. It is quite another thing to live in the present and carry past pain all on your own, with shame and grief running things.
Victor feels strongly that the life he lives now is directly related to a decision he made. At 19, he made the choice to stop living with the secret that he was abused. He told his family that 11 years prior, he was silenced by someone he trusted.
“Ultimately I had to choose speaking up over staying silent. Carrying that around for 11 years was taking its toll. I’ve shared before that the isolation from my family in college pushed me to tell. And I will always be thankful to how my family responded. But in order to live my life differently, the only way I could possibly stop my past from taking over my present was to make a choice. I chose helping myself. I chose to pick up the phone and reach out to my family. Because of that choice I am here today.”
Deanna’s experience isn’t much different than Victor’s. During a summer break in college, she found herself with her boyfriend. Though she had chosen to flee from her abusers two years prior, Deanna help her secret close. Disclosing wasn’t on her radar. Believing she would bury the secret of incest with her when she died, Deanna didn’t think asking for help was an option.
“I pushed on in college with my trauma symptoms plaguing me. Nightmares would keep me up and night and flashbacks filled my days. The childhood that was but never should have been was starting to overwhelm me…but I felt trapped. How could I possibly ask for help with these problems without talking about the abuse?”
“I made the choice in June of 2012. I’ll never forget the moment I finally told him (my boyfriend). I was terrified. But I was also done with my abuse acting as some horrifying soundtrack on my present…a soundtrack that never changed, never quieted, and never helped me be the best me. I didn’t choose to have PTSD, or anxiety, or this belief that somehow all of this was my fault. But I chose to speak up and ask for help. I chose a new way to live with my pain, rather than in my pain.”
Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted (Source 1). For that one person, the course of their life, how they interact with their loved ones, and how they make choices is permanently altered. They now have to find a new way to navigate a reality that no longer seems familiar. To transform from “victim to survivor” is indeed a journey; It’s a process that takes time, determination…and making choices. Well, so many of us are now choosing ourselves. We are choosing to use our pain to help others, which in turn helps us along the way. We are choosing healing, with our pain and the stain of trauma, to fuel a new present.
Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2018 (2019).
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor. Welcome to another Be Seen and Journey©. Thank you for taking the time to be with me today. The key word today is transformation. I love this word because I’ve lived this word many times in my life from abuse, to my father’s alcoholism, to losing my sister to domestic violence. I mean life is about ups and downs. Life is life.
And I’m here today to talk about transformation in the sense of how we deal with past pain. And do we keep it in the present and it forms who we are at that moment, or do we take that past pain and allow it to fuel a bigger future? Now, I am not an expert on suicide by any means, but I want to share this quick story. My brother-in-law took his own life in 2001. I have no idea why he did it.
And then took my sister’s life as well. And, and again, I talk very confidently about this right now, but it’s an ongoing struggle that I have in terms of number one, my sister is not here, and number two that my brother-in-law would do such a thing. At an elementary level because I’m not a psychologist, I believe that my brother-in-law spent a lot of his present moments stuck in something that was going on in his life at one time in his life. And again, I don’t know what that was…and we also talked a lot about how he might’ve been depressed or bipolar. I believe what happens is in our minds, we create our past (all the negative stuff), not the positive stuff. You keep that. But the negative stuff, we allow it to consume us, meaning all the blame and all the shame — and it forms our thoughts and then it turns into our feelings and then it becomes our actions.
And then our futures. If you were to draw a timeline, our futures are shorter in the sense that we’re not thinking about what we want for a future. We don’t have goals. We don’t have dreams that we want to accomplish. And in my brother-in-law’s case, he literally cut his future short. And again, I don’t want to get into why he did this, but I believe he had not future goals and dreams.
Do you have something that you want to accomplish? And I think it’s really important that we learn to transform our past pain and we use it to fuel our future. And I learned this from one of my mentors, Dan Sullivan. He talks about having a bigger future that is greater than your past and he really stresses that you want to utilize your past and don’t pretend that it didn’t happen.
You want to embrace it. You want to go back to it and go find all the negative stuff that can serve you. Now use it as raw material to build upon it. And I like to say create out of it. And that’s what I’ve done. I am passionate about creating curriculum that helps children stay safe no matter what it is. I’m, I’m passionate about helping children to be seen and heard. That is it. Again, when I was a child, I was reinforced over and over again, “Victor, you should be seen and NOT heard.” And I tell students all the time, even though I don’t know them very well, I give them permission to be seen and heard. And I think that is powerful and we need to reinforce that with our children.
And so that’s the message today. It’s like, well, you go, you take your past pain and you use it — you use it as raw material to see where you are now, and build a greater future — and create out of your pain so that you can set goals and worthy dreams that you want to accomplish in your life.
Why not? We live this life, enjoy it, embrace it, love it. And with that being said, please share this video. I’m so excited to keep these messages coming. Share the video with family and friends and remember, every child, no matter how old they are, deserves to be seen and heard. Have an amazing day.