Talking Trees, Inc. seeks to empower survivors to live openly and find their voice in order to heal. In an ideal world, childhood sexual abuse would not exist at all. In the real world of America, where there are over 60 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, most survivors feel very isolated and alone in their trauma. The vision of Talking Trees, Inc. is to mainstream advocacy for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and release the stigma because the way to healing is through living with transparency and authenticity.
Writing is a well-accepted practice for emotional relief. Therapists use a variety of writing techniques to address issues with clients. Some survivors use writing on their own as a cathartic practice. However, not all writing has the same benefit. Some survivors identify the writing process as “telling their story”, modeled after AA recovery from addiction. The story has a beginning, middle, and end with a focus on details of the person’s behavior. “I” statements are important and encouraged in order for the person to take responsibility for their actions. This is contrary to what researchers identify as helpful for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Survivors who frequently write “I” statements and use words like “should” and “could”, which distances them from reality, experience far fewer therapeutic benefits.
Therapeutic writing focuses on how the past influences the present rather than writing about the details of the past. Writing about the details of the past increases the use of “I” sentences and keep survivors more distant from the present. You might imagine that if a survivor writes out the details of the abuse from beginning to end and hold that close to their heart as “their story” then their past is always speaking for them. A survivor may feel a sense of relief early on by simply finding acceptance. However, once they have shared their “story” and have absorbed the acceptance from their listeners there is no direction for them to take and depression is likely to return.
Writing for therapy requires the survivor to make connections within, so, self-exploration is required. A therapist is sometimes necessary because self-exploration is an interpersonal skill that many survivors lack early in the healing process. It requires a person to ignore what is happening in front of them and feel what is happening within them. For example, I could write “the feeling of abandonment is triggered when my friends go out without telling me.” I can focus on that feeling of abandonment in my writing by looking at my present relationships and how I deal with that feeling. I already know that the feeling comes from my past. So, I do not have to keep going back to write about the past. Instead, I focus on the present, where I am with the feeling now. Otherwise, I could write about the detail of abuse for ten years and never mention a fear of abandonment if I do not look within.
Therapeutic writing is not necessarily the same as speaking to live openly. The details that you offer should depend on the context of the disclosure. Disclosing the detail about the abuse may take place all at once to one or more people, or it may occur gradually to people you meet along the healing path. There is no template for disclosure. But, if you practice telling a rehearsed story, you lose the opportunity of using authenticity to engage people.
Nevertheless, always remember and never forget that the healing path is individual. It works by trial and error and by trusting the process. Still, Talking Trees, Inc. will continue to share how research informs the practice of healing for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Safe Space Day, April 15, is a day to recognize and celebrate the resilience of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and incest. It was created in Ankeny, Iowa as a Talking Trees, Inc initiative in 2010. Every April 15, survivors around the world are encouraged to hold or attend a public event which recognizes and addresses healing issues and celebrate how far they have come on the healing path.
Having a day for adult survivors is a statement about our willingness to live openly. We know the freedom that comes when we let go of the fear of our experience and honor the capacity of our strength. We celebrate our choice to stop hiding, running away and avoiding. We stand with other survivors who are walking in their truth when we celebrate face-to-face.
Talking Trees, Inc. has sponsored a Safe Space Day every year since 2010. The types of events have varied each year, but have included workshops, full-day conference, a theatrical production, musical performance and survivors’ only talk sessions. Except for the survivors’ talk session, all events are open to the public in order to raise awareness of adult survivors. Having public events also works as an important outreach for survivors who are still struggling in isolation and have not yet identified as a survivor.
Some Talking Trees, Inc. members make arrangements to fellowship before and after the main event, especially since many of them only see each other during this time because they come from all over the United States. Members may also volunteer to help out at the event. There is no required identification of survivors at Safe Space Day. Since professionals, supporters, and community members are invited to celebrate with us, attending an event does not identify anyone as a survivor. If survivors choose to identify themselves, they can do so in their own way.
We would love to see you at the 2018 Safe Space Day in Colorado Springs, CO. Check this website for updates.