Crossing the Jordan: Where Women Heal  

The group’s purpose and intentTo engage adult women survivors of childhood sexual abuse through a survivor authored and led curriculum. The group and its curriculum creates the foundation where survivors reclaim, reintegrate, and re-author their sexual trauma narratives while reconnecting them back to their body through a mind & body somatic experiencing approach. Members will gain an understanding on how their childhood sexual abuse experiences have directly impacted their personal construct about self, others, and self in relation to others. Lived out beliefs and choices will be assessed for its direct relationship to the childhood sexual trauma. Together members will honor and support one another in the process of redefining their story by courageously delving into their individual sexual trauma histories, and how their meaning making skills at the time of the sexual abuse has impacted their intimate interpersonal functioning. Members will identify well adapted coping mechanisms that were developed for the sole purpose of survival and protection, as well as identify daily display of the abuse consequences, such as distorted, negative and/or toxic thoughts, self-destructive behaviors, polarizing relationships, challenges with being present(dissociation),internalized shame, learned powerlessness, self-contempt and chaotic/tumultuous relationships, learning to feel safe and trust. Each member will learn how to map out the impact the abuse has had in every area of their lives: physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and most saliently, relationally; members will learn to stand against the narrative that has been debilitating and damaging to the development of the preferred self ( White & Epston, 1990). As each member feels empowered to share her sexual trauma narrative, members will be guided to do so in a relaxed muscle tone(Gentry, 2016), safe environment that supports and holds each members’ processing space. Simultaneously, the clinician will lead members to identify somatic markers in their body that holds blocked energy, pain and/or is calling one’s attention (Levine, 2016); moreover, since we now understand that “our bodies keep the score” of our traumas (van der Kolk, 2014), we therefore know, that there is an internal activation that keeps survivors feeling as though the trauma is still very present today even though the trauma is no longer happening (van der Kolk, 2015). Participants will develop awareness on the bidirectional communication of their mind and body in its innate wisdom(Canali, 2015) and learn to trust it's natural flow. Resilience, strength and unique outcomes will be identified and highlighted as each member ascribes new meaning to their  trauma narrative in a calm body. As the member processes and renews the meaning of their narrative in a safe relational space, the member will be accessing their social engagement nervous system(Porges, 2016), which will enable them to recontexualize internalized horrors that have had no safe room to be processed. In the midst of that sacred experience the member re-authors their story with the guidance and support of the clinician's ability to identify unique outcomes (White, 2001) that do not meet the members' distorted perception of herself. The survivor redefines herself. Exercises such as tapping, diaphragmatic breathing, grounding, and visual techniques will be utilized to enable members to modulate the sympathetic dominance in their body and activate their parasympathetic nervous system in a harmonious interweaving of the two(mind & body)to get to a social engagement nervous system(Porges, 2016). Van der Kolk(2014) discusses “how there are only two ways of changing the threat detection system which stays dysregualted as a result of our autonomic nervous system(ANS) staying overridden by our sympathetic dominance: he states, from the top down, via modulating messages from the medial prefrontal cortex, or from the bottom up via the reptilian brain, through breathing, movement and touch.” In doing so, the member is learning to self-regulate and modulate her own physiological state to support her emotions and thoughts and gain more control over them. Since neuroscience now reveals that the activity in the medial prefrontal cortex is often decreased as a result of the over activation of the subcortical brain regions(brainstem)individuals are often repeating automatic responses by being hijacked by their amygdala(limbic area), therefore, rewiring of the automatic circuitry is a focal point (van der Kolk, 2009) the two ways were stated in the aforementioned.  In increasing the activity of the anterior cingulated in the brain which is dysregulated as a result of adverse childhood experiences of trauma (Gentry, 2016) which shows itself as cognitive diminishing/capacity and emotional dysregulation, the rewiring of the brain response is an imperative component in addressing the mind & body integration.  Prolonged states of stress wires the brain in a certain way that is forever changed, the good news is we can develop new pathways and rewire our brain to support our preferred self(van der Kolk, 2015).  In order to decrease the accelerated neurobiological responses (the hijack of emotions) while members share their experiences, exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing, tapping and simply holding the hand of a safe person who is bearing witness to the personal testimony, will be facilitated. One of the ways the group leader will encourage the members to engage in the deconstruction process is by asking the member to reflect back on her experiences (which ever part she chooses to share or not, or perhaps without words and instead process somatically) as an observer looking in. The hope is to develop self-empathy/compassion for the child who endured the abuse (the inner child), in that, the member will gain some distance from the trauma, and be able to process what she recognizes now about then (Siegel, 2015) from a more logical distance. This recontexualizing process enables the member to transform their understanding of the event which impacts their affect and emotions in response to their story. As each member remembers aspects of their trauma narrative, bilateral stimulation to the left and right hemisphere will be simulated: by touch, tapping, drumming; hence, increasing the inter-hemispheric activity INTEGRATION by putting words to images and sensory memory (Gentry, 2016). A process often used in EMDR (Shapiro, 2001). The bilateral stimulation will either be exercised by the member, the group leader and/or other members; this process will lay the foundation for integration to occur while decreasing the member from the intensity often associated with remembering the trauma narrative. The recipient (member) gains control over the construction of the narrative (the re-authoring process) rather than the narrative having control over their self definition, meaning and informed truths(Kelly, 2009).  Members will develop a new sense of self and identity, and a renewed sense of power, hope, and control over their own stories. The re-authoring process (White & Epston, 1990) will encourage each member to find a creative medium in which to share their new narrative with whom they choose (family, friends, community, country, internationally). By voicing, writing, drawing and/or acting out the birth of the new self, the preferred self, the act of reclamation is boldly declared in the life of the survivor; they regain the power over their own bodies and mind that was once taken away from them. Members will integrate what was once avoided, repressed and in fragments that still played itself out in every facet of their lives, especially relationships. They become aware of the personhood that was superimposed on them by the willful act of violence expressed through a skewed sense of power and control and sexual abuse; with courage, they write the narrative that better serves them (White, 2010). Members agree to stop underestimating, rationalizing, dissociating and/or making excuses for the criminal act which overpowered them as children and/or adolescents; survivors will no longer avoid or dissociate from its entrenched entanglement in every area of their lives, and the development of their personality (Herman, 2010). Members come to terms with the reality that relational exchanges from that point on were informed by the traumatic sexual abuse. Reclamation of their mind and body, feeling safe in their own body, knowing what they know and feeling what they feel(van der Kolk, 2014),knowing who they are, their greater intent/purpose, and value for being on this universe, gives them a renewed sense of empowerment, hope, shalom, and freedom to be all that they were meant to be. In the spirit of this truth, members develop a new story for their past, present, and future life. The past is not expunged by denying, or dissociating, but rather by listening for “other truths,” found in unique outcomes that are often overlooked by our subjugated memory (White & Epston, 1990). Survivors will highlight the unique outcomes of their narratives that do not fit their problem saturated perspective of who they are (Kelly, 1996) and bring forth that which has helped them survive and keep them alive up until this point, while scanning their bodies for evidence of the debris left inside which plays a monumental role in a survivors emotional expressions and responses. Over adaptive coping and defense mechanisms that sustain debilitating narratives will be challenged and replaced.

 Through means of psychoeducation, corrective emotional experiences, personal spiritual insights, Eriksonian’s stages of development/Life Span(used only as a perspective on developmental processes), as well as acknowledging and integrating the inner child, coined by Bradshaw (1979) inner child work; and encouraging each member to be the parent they never had to themselves; identification of complex traumatic symptoms( van der Kolk, 2009, 2014)and what that may look like on a day to day basis; as well as identify very specific secondary symptomatology associated with survivors of sexual abuse; sexual health & behaviors; intimate & relational challenges; stages of perpetrator grooming and its effects on the mind, body and personality; power/control and sexual intimacy, sexual compulsion and body dysmorphia, mind and body connection; discussions/group member exchanges; safety; encouragement; support; and unconditional regard will create a foundation for each member to delve into their own personal healing process that’s incited and sustained by the member’s own intrinsic resilience, as well as the group’s curriculum and members.

I am working off of the assumption that the self that emerged after the abuse is not the authentic self in its entirety, much of what was aggregated both implicitly and explicitly has been informed by the assaultive experiences(hyperaroused nervous system, relational mistrust, skewed understanding of power/control, sexual intimacy, and many other attributes that dim your life light out). God can and will use a survivor's wounds for good; however, each individual has to make their own personal decision to celebrate(Porges,2015) the self that survived the abuse with all of its highly adaptive coping mechanisms (regardless of their destructive nature), and be open to invite the preferred self-- the authentic self with all of its strength, resilience and courage: the self that is free from the insidiousness of the abuse consequences that continue to inform and narrate the person you are now, and the person you want to become. In response to a survivor owning their own story without any more shame or self-loathing, but rather mercy and grace toward self, undoubtedly, this act of courage will inspire other victims of CSA to re-author their trauma narrative. The designer of all human life, almighty God, desires for all to be set free, be released from all mental and psychological oppression's that come in the form of lies that survivors have believed about themselves, others and the world. Everyone deserves to live disentangled from the continued dominance of their childhood sexual abuse.

God is difficult to reconcile, reckon or grasp, for some, therefore, please feel free to redirect my comments about God to a higher power. With that said, it is important that participants in this group understand that there will be times that group leaders and/or members will desire to pray and /or invite the healing power of the Holy Spirit in group sessions. Members who do not share the same belief system are welcome to bring an object that symbolizes comfort and safety or simply rely on their own higher power for strength and support. The group leader will begin every group by asking God’s Holy Spirit to guide and heal all of us through this journey. By asking for God’s guidance and presence, the group leader is making a clear admission that supernatural discernment is needed at times in order to gain an accurate understanding of what God wants to reveal individually and/or collectively. The ravishes of childhood sexual abuse run deep, and sometimes, only the supernatural power of God can uproot lies that have held survivors' captive for far too long, under a false sense of internalized shame and guilt. Some self-perceptions are so anchored in a lie about who the survivor thinks they are, that nothing that I say or do, for that matter anything anybody might say or do, can change the lie. That is when something greater than oneself needs to intervene to access what is not accessible to man. The healing begins when the survivor acknowledges that what is-- should not be, and at that moment, makes a personal decision that they are worthy of so much more. 

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). As members “Cross the Jordan” together, my desire is that each woman's authentic self, the person she was always meant to be before the abuse occurred, will outshine the self that was informed by traumatic events; and if a member cannot remember a time the abuse did not occur, then that member will be encouraged to create a self that she has always wanted to be...free and in peace living a life free from compromising her integrity to self.

A quick comment: Although I speak of God and the power of his Holy Spirit liberally, I will never judge you for not believing in God. Whether you share the same faith or beliefs that I do, is not of importance, anybody who shares the trauma of childhood sexual abuse is invited and embraced wherever you may be in your spiritual trajectory. I desire to meet you right where you are: believing in God and Jesus Christ is not a stipulation to be part of this group, however, being open and accepting of my faith and invitation of the Holy Spirit in the group process is necessary because I do not want you to feel uncomfortable with the expression of my faith and/or the expression of another member's faith. I invite all women of all faiths to join with me in putting aside our differences of faith, and allow our common experience to bind us with unconditional regard, hope and the self-determination to heal . If you choose to be part of the group, the only requirement is that you make a commitment to attend the whole 12 weeks and honor the Confidentiality rule.