Joyce Kavanagh, Author at The Kavanagh Sisters Skip to content

Author: Joyce Kavanagh

APPEALING TO ABUSERS!

Apologies for the title only I wanted to be sure to draw your attention. Now that I have your attention, relax, this is not an appeal to abusers but rather an appeal to all of us who have been and continue to be affected by sexual abuse. I noticed the comments that followed yesterday’s post, regarding sexual abusers. It was interesting to see how many comments this raised as most of our followers choose to remain silent regardless of the effort June puts into those posts. 

THE INTENTION!

The comments imply that not only were we reaching out to abusers but we are being told we do not have the right to do this on our own page, as some felt it’s not appropriate and certainly not the appropriate place for such an appeal.  As June explained this was not an appeal to abusers but rather an attempt to draw attention to the damage caused by them.  

For victims and survivors of this crime we thought this message was obvious, and we were not targeting the converted, but rather we were once again reaching out to the ignorant. We believe the ignorance is deliberate due to the discomfort of this subject. If we are appealing to anyone, it is to all those who struggle to move past the discomfort. If nothing else, we must all be aware that ignorance is not bliss and holding onto a belief that if you are not aware of an unpleasant fact or situation you cannot be troubled by it, will no longer work.

As uncomfortable as this message may be, we believe it is important that all people in the circle of abuse (abusers, victims and witnesses) need to be brought into the circle if this issue is ever to be dealt with and the crime eliminated.

DISCOMFORT!

We have spent so much time in a struggle to understand why so many people refuse to discuss this issue, and although we are aware of the discomfort caused by sexual abuse, we have come to believe that if we can’t move past the discomfort, we will never succeed in eliminating abuse from our communities and  society in general. 

Although I am aware that the main burden of this crime always falls on the wrong shoulders, e.g. victims, we see them as the strength behind getting this crime into a discussion around the right tables.

Discomfort is not an excuse to put the difficult things away, as all issues relating to sexual abuse must be given time and unfortunately that must include perpetrators.  So many of us want them wiped from the planet, castrated, beaten or killed. Unfortunately, we are also aware that if we do any of these things, we will not get the outcome we desire. Instead we are the ones that will end up in jail serving time and wasting more of our life trying to heal from our abuse, and we will also have to face the fact that there are still so many abusers out there. 

IS THERE JUSTICE?

Some abusers may never be identified, some will never ever pay for what they did.  And due to the lack of understanding of abuse by our judicial system many of the abusers who have been caught will never serve time.  The inconsistency in sentencing is laughable at times, yet, regardless of how many or how often this is expressed nothing changes.  We must do something different.

Now the way I see it, I can waste more of my time wishing abusers dead, disowning them, planning how many ways I want them punished, and thus allowing them to continue to have space in my thoughts. Or I can bring the subject of abusers to the table and work towards eliminating sexual abuse from our culture and ensure no more children have to suffer like we did. 

Unfortunately, this will require us to move through our discomfort, to work towards discussing all aspects of this crime as we would any other crime, and support those in power to do likewise.  As uncomfortable as this is, we believe it is the way forward.  We do believe abusers need to receive treatment, they need to learn how to own and understand their behaviour, they need to learn how to move towards making amends for their actions.

STAYING THE COURSE!

I do not believe it is our job to work out how this is done. Let that lie in the hands of those in power.  I do know that what is happening now is not working, how the issue is being dealt with or ignored is not serving anyone.  Oh yes, some of us will be considered lucky because our abuser was caught and jailed, but if we are honest the only part of that which helped us was knowing that we were believed.

It was still us that had to deal with the crap that followed, it was still us who had to live with the consequences of his actions, as he sat in jail with no pressure to stay in employment or worry about where his next meal would come from, or how he would meet his bills.  So, on top of trying to heal when all we wanted to do was lie down and die, it always felt like we were left with the biggest burden.

I know we are stronger than that, we have moved past only wanting to deal with the issues that appeal to us.  Our goal is to eliminate the world of this crime once and for all. So, thank you to all who took the time to comment or express your repulsion with this post as it made me realise, I was getting lazy.  I was beginning to believe our goal could never be reached but I know we are stronger than that, bigger than our problems, and thank you so much for reminding me that through the power of togetherness, we can change things, and we can protect the children of this world. 

Joyce

The Silver Lining in the Corona Virus

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It’s frightening and surreal to think that we, or those we love could be harmed or even die from this virus and being confined and isolated from those we love only heightens the sense of panic we feel and makes it all the harder to manage our emotions.  The constant reports, news bulletins and all the possible conspiracy theories that are floating around out there is not helpful.  It only succeeds in dragging me into the panic that can shut me down emotionally if I let it. 

SENSE OF COMMUNITY

I watch my neighbours rally around ensuring no one is left alone or stranded and even social media, that can often be negative, is filled with positive stories of people pulling together to support one another. Almost hourly there are posts of communities finding creative ways to demonstrate that no one is alone in this crisis. It is heartening to see people using humour to lift themselves and those around them to stay the course and see the possibilities that can come from hard times.

It’s amazing to see how those that find themselves on the front line (nurses etc) that normally have to fight to be recognised and valued for the work they do, are finally shining through as the real heroes when the chips are down. They not only are on the front line but are willing to put themselves in harm’s way without ever being asked, in order to keep us all safe and cared for.

POSSIBILITIES

I really feel within this crisis we are being handed an opportunity to truly know who we are when all the running and doing we normally fill our days with has been removed.  Some have turned to reading, art, baking, having fun (a thing most of us have forgotten how to do), spending genuine quality time with those they live with. Each day we are finding more and more creative ways to stay in touch with the family members we cannot physically touch at the moment. 

In some ways it has brought me back to my childhood, and aside from the abuse, I do recall the neighbourhood I grew up in, where people looked out for each other, shared what little they had, left doors unlocked and knew without a doubt they had someone to lean on if and when it was needed. 

That time has been offered again as we watch neighbourhoods find ways to interact within the restricted guidelines, enjoy being playful, being creative with simple everyday household items, turning to arts and crafts and most importantly never forgetting the most vulnerable in our neighbourhoods and society in general. 

Many shops seem to have taken the focus off making money and instead are looking at ways to get people through this rough time.  Their commitment to their staff and customers and making sure everyone is kept safe is reassuring to see.

Celebrities and those in positions of influence are pulling together to lift people’s spirits through music and positive messages, again all with the intention of letting us know we are all in this together.

I think it’s magical and although at times I still struggle thinking I should be doing something more, I acknowledge that I am really enjoying doing the things I like and want to do, rather than simply doing things mechanically because it has become my norm.  I find it interesting to know that when things I previously thought vital to my life like going to work, school pickups etc are removed, my world is not falling apart, and life goes on regardless.

I have returned to listening to music. I almost forgot what enjoyment I get from it. I am now taking time to develop a playlist of music that I loved throughout my childhood and teenage years. For as much as I love listening to music, I had forgotten how it lifts my mood and spirit. Until now it was just another thing I put off because I was too busy with things, I believed were more important.  

THE GIFT OF TIME

I believe this time is an opportunity to live rather than merely function. To relax and realise that regardless of the roles we play i.e. mother, wife, sister, friend we are being given a gift of time. Time that we have all forgotten can be filled with people and things we love. Time to look at how we normally fill our time stressing about what has to be done rather than what is really important.  Time to explore what fills our heart, makes us laugh till our stomachs ache, what moves us to tears, time to recognise how much we love and are loved by those around us.  

We are all so familiar with always being busy that we struggle when that feeling is removed.  If we are lucky, we work really hard throughout the year hoping to afford a two-week holiday. The holiday that we almost always waste the first week trying to relax with doing nothing and re-connecting with ourselves. By the time we have finally relaxed its time to go home.

I believe we deserve more than a life filled with to-do lists and deadlines that must be met. The time we spend running back and forth to work, shops, home all without even being conscious of how we spend our days, weeks and even years. This virus has given us the gift of time to re-evaluate our lives, to look and see what fills your soul and what changes you can make to not only survive but really live, live a life full of possibilities.

I also believe that the gift of time has also been given to our planet. The time to repair the damage we as humans have caused. With less people running around in cars polluting the air, we are reducing the toxins in the air we breathe, especially in our towns and cities. It is also allowing rivers and lakes to heal, for fish and dolphins to swim in the lakes that were so full of pollutants that it wasn’t possible before this outbreak.

RECONNECTING

It is inspiring that throughout this epidemic communities have reconnected with what is important. We are all gaining a better understanding of who we are, what matters in our lives. We are selfless in our volunteering, our support for those in our communities that need more help, like the old and sick. We are seeing the true heroes in our communities come to the front-line on our behalf.

I hope we all learn to appreciate that material things don’t really matter in the end. It is the people in our lives that help us to survive and whom we survive for.  We do so much better when we look out for one another. Our lives are richer, more creative, inspiring, thoughtful when we understand that supporting each other is what brings the most joy and happiness in our lives.

Through these times we are being offered a way of swapping the attitude of every man for himself to a deep understanding that we need each other and looking out for others really feeds our souls.  I hope that when this is all over, we all pull together and ensure that the frontline healthcare workers who are literally risking their lives for us and who in the past were undervalued and totally unsupported financially will finally receive respect and the tangible benefits that they deserve.

The only thing I believe the government are getting right is their constant message of ‘We are all in this together’.

Accountability!

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I was blown away when I heard the announcement of Harvey Weinstein’s sentence.  It felt like a personal win to me and I found myself checking the news, to be sure I wasn’t mistaken and that he had indeed, received a 23-year prison sentence. Even now I have to say WOW.

The women involved in this case may never know how many lives they have saved as their bravery has made an enormous impact across the globe.  This is a victory for all victims of abuse everywhere.

To see someone, previously referred to as a ‘Giant of the Movie Industry’ being held to account for his actions is evidence of real change that will inspire more victims to speak out while putting all predators on notice, with particular emphasis on the rich, famous and powerful ones.

It was remarkable that Judge James Burke, gave no credence to pleas from Weinstein’s legal representatives when asked to consider Weinstein’s personal charitable giving, advanced age, medical issues and lack of criminal history.  This judge demonstrated the wisdom of his position to realise that none of those attributes curtailed his sexual misconduct, so why should they factor at all when considering his sentence.  Wouldn’t it be great if judges worldwide got this message?

Watching this case unfold reminded me of being in court, prosecuting our father for sexually abusing us as children. We were told repeatedly that our fathers age, health and standing in the community are very likely to result in a non-custodial sentence. Thank god it didn’t work out that way as he received a seven-year sentence. 

We continue to be horrified by the number of cases in the Irish courts where these personal attributes that have absolutely nothing to do with the crime, are not only considered but are in some cases the deciding factors when it comes to sentencing of sexual predators. This is shameful. And my only hope is that this case will act as turning point for how things should be done.

AGAINST BEST ADVICE

It was fascinating to hear that not only did Weinstein speak in court, but he did so despite the advice of his very experienced and expensive legal team.  Weinstein practically blamed his legal team for his silence throughout the case whilst continuing to ignore their repeated attempts to hush him as he spoke for about twenty minutes in court.  

Weinstein with no sense of understanding of the lasting harm he had done, expressed his remorse for the situation he found himself in.  He displayed his complete ignorance about consent and lamented about how the allegations had impacted his personal life. He was outspoken about the confusion he felt not only for himself but for all men as he felt he did not understand why this was happening.  He expressed his fear at the lack of due process for men and stated he was really worried about his country.

He continued to speak about his total confusion about how he has ended up where he was as he felt he had consensual relationships with these women.  He felt lots of other men would also be confused if they were to be accused of sexual abuse. He wanted the judge to speak to people he felt had greatly benefitted from his charitable work (naming 9/11 in particular). It was clear that he believed he had done nothing wrong and that what was happening to him in the courts was both unfair and an injustice.

SELF INTEREST

To me, all predators when caught, focus their concern on what is happening to them and how they have been personally impacted, without a thought for their victims.  It seems of great importance to them that we understand the pain they are in.  They have no desire to understand the damage they have done to their victims. These similarities tell us something about the type of people we are dealing with.

My father’s only words when receiving his sentence was ‘I hope you are all fucking happy now’.  I have no doubt, he believed we were the ones that caused him great pain while he remained oblivious to the pain he had brought into our lives. 

The closest my father ever came to an apology was on one of his early court appearances. My sisters, brothers and my mother were all huddled in a circle standing in the hallway of the packed courthouse.  My father appeared behind Paula and attempted to push past her to get to my mother. Paula was not moving. He was furious with the veins standing out on his neck. He had no choice but to continue with the speech he had prepared from the outskirts of the group.  He spit his words out. He was so angry that he could no longer intimidate us to move and let him speak to my mother.

He began to mutter some form of apology to my mother. She was not interested in anything he had to say and simply ignored him.  He was furious at our lack of obedience and Paula’s continued obstruction really bothered him.  The audacity of him attempting to act like the leader he believed he was, while spurting out an insincere apology and expecting that to change everything.  The Guards noticed him and walked towards us to remove him, so he had to reluctantly walk off, still enraged, believing we were the problem.

I find it interesting that regardless of what case is taking place in the media, but particularly when it’s a big case, memories of our own experience get triggered. I feel a great sense of pride in the courageous women involved in all sexual abuse cases and hope these women know how amazing they are and what a great service they are doing for the millions of victims out there.

‘THE MORNING SHOW’

Recently I watched an American TV series called ‘The Morning Show’, produced by and starring Jennifer Aniston (Alex) and Reese Witherspoon (Bradley). This show, although fictional, provided some insight into the world of rich and powerful men like Harvey Weinstein.

The programme is based on a news and talk morning television show that is thrown into chaos when Alex’s (Jennifer) on-air partner of 15 years, Mitch Kessler (played by Steve Carell) is fired for allegations of sexual misconduct.  

Mitch is loved by the audience and appears to be admired by all the production team. He presents as charming, funny and charismatic. However, as the plot unravels it becomes clear that Mitch has used his position and influence to make or break careers of ambitious females within his industry, not unlike what Weinstein did.  

What is very interesting throughout the series is seeing the struggle all the characters within the show had with understanding Mitches behaviour, how they had played a role in maintaining his belief that he was entitled to do what he was doing and there was nothing wrong with it. It explores how those around him, especially the heads of the network colluded in allowing him to basically get away with sexual abuse for years as all they focused on was the ratings.

Mitches own struggle with accepting that his behaviour had serious consequences for the women he abused was demonstrated so well.  Even the female colleagues and specifically Alex his co-anchor and friend really didn’t want to see that they had turned a blind eye to what he did accepting that it was just his way and in fact the way of the world of business.

This programme will challenge you to see how easy it is to work in or live in a toxic culture. A culture that allows those with all the power to do what they want to whom they want. It demonstrates how we all can turn a blind eye to injustice as to speak out would mean the chance of losing careers, friends or family members.  But more importantly it shows how powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Jimmy Savile can and did get away with abuse even when it’s in plain sight, they are aware that if you turn away once you are unlikely to every speak out.

Joyce 

YOU ARE YOUR OWN MOTHER

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Mother’s Day is a national celebration enjoyed by many, but for others the day acts as a reminder of the lack of nurturing they received as a child. This often raises unjust feelings of shame and unworthiness in victims.  They can be bombarded with memories of the lack of motherly love and nurturing in their childhood. This can lead to sadness and isolation and in many cases negative self-talk.

Our relationship with our own mother was at times very difficult. She was not available to us emotionally and because she held no value in her own worth, she demonstrated what she was taught culturally about the role of women and how they had nothing of value to contribute other than being selfless and put everyone’s need first.

A Change in Perspective is Needed.

Normally on days like this we provide suggested lists of how to mind yourself.  However, as this year women here in Ireland and across the world have shown such strength in speaking out against injustice, we think this might be a great time to make a stand and realise this is a day to be celebrated. Consider this, we are all here and without a mother that would not have happened. 

A Walk in the Park

We believe that if you have survived sexual abuse, this one-day challenge should be a walk in the park for you.  Celebrating your own life may be a challenge, but one you are more than capable of succeeding in.

Enjoying watching others celebrate this day may in the past has been difficult but let’s change it around and make it YOUR DAY.  If you see this day as sad due to memories of an abusive mother or the loss of your mother, challenge yourself to see it differently with the focus on you as the mother to be celebrated.

Do not let this day of celebration turn into a day of mourning and nostalgia but rather recognise that you deserve to feel really good about yourself. Regardless of how you feel or have felt about your mother, she brought a great gift into the world and that gift is you, so let the celebrations begin.  Even if it is only for one day let’s push ourselves to make that happen.  Use it as day one of acknowledging your own worth and the realisation of just how special you are.

What Can You Do for Yourself?

To help keep you focused try to answer the questions below.

  • When is the last time I told me that I love me?
  • What are the gifts/qualities I bring to this world?
  • Do the people I surround myself with bring value to my life?
  • Do I treat myself with the love and respect I deserve? If not, is that reflected in how others treat me?
  • Where am I on my priority list
  • Do I mind and respect my body?
  • When is the last time I did something nice for myself?
  • How do I feed my soul?
  • Where am I not being honest with myself and why?
  • Am I kind to myself?

Answer these questions as honestly as you can, by answering them truthfully warts and all you will see what you know about yourself, what you like and want to keep and which of those beliefs you may need to let go of.

Hopefully this will help you identify your thoughts be they negative or positive. It is only with awareness that we can decide to let go of things that no longer serve us and make the changes needed in our lives.

The main thing to remember is that you deserve to be loved and the best person to do this is YOU.  In loving yourself you are setting a trend; you are relaying to others just how you expect to be treated and you learn how to truly respect yourself.

Focus on yourself for this day, regardless of if or how many children you have, or whether you have pleasant or negative memories of your mother. Use this as a day to begin putting yourself first, recognising all the things you place of more importance before your needs.

Let’s make Mother’s Day a day to remember positively. 

The Price Of Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Besides the sexual abuse that went on in my childhood home, the physical, emotional and mental abuse was also an everyday occurrence.  Thinking about how I survived and the coping mechanisms I used, has been triggered by the questions arising while creating our podcasts.  Although somewhere inside, it is clear to me how I survived, I still struggle to understand or explain it.    

Was I Blind to the Truth?  

How could I be so blind to all that was happening around me?  How can I say with any degree of honesty or certainty that I really didn’t know what was happening to others in my home?  In order to understand and explain this, I have found myself for some time now really looking back and reliving memories from my childhood.

Now I can see, not only did I know my father was abusing my sisters and beating my brothers, I had actually witnessed it.  That’s not easy to understand or explain, even for me.  So, here’s the contradiction, although I witnessed a lot, I also genuinely believed that I knew nothing about the abuse taking place in my home.  I had to really examine my ability to disassociate and compartmentalise what was happening in my home. Only now, at this stage in my healing, can I see why and how I was able to remove myself from any situation that I read as unsafe and convince myself it never happened.  I will attempt to explain how I did that in the hope it will help other victims of childhood sexual abuse understand themselves.

Escaping the Fear

Imagine your home as just one very large room and all of your family are in that room. When I close my eyes and go back in time, I can clearly see my brothers sitting at the table eating their dinner, my mother is cleaning the kitchen, my younger sisters and brother are playing a card game on the floor and my dad is shouting at the TV as he watches a football match.  Everything seems fine on the surface as I sit and try do some homework on my lap. 

My father suddenly stands up and click’s his fingers. I freeze. It feels like I’ve momentarily lost my sight, as everything goes blank and very quiet. I can hear nothing.  When I realise, he is not directing his attention towards me, I focus on getting out of that room. I can see the door and I know exactly how many steps I have to take to reach it. Everything else around me disappears, except for a few sounds in the room that somehow, I can still hear. I focus on getting to the door, nothing else matters. I am still aware of my father’s movements and hear the sound of him smacking one of my brothers as he passes him. I can hear him shouting obscenities at one of my other brothers.   I am aware of his movements as he nods for my sister to go upstairs where he will rape her. 

My attention goes to my heart, it’s beating so fast. My throat feels dry, and I’m aware I’m shaking. I’m terrified and I know I have to get out. It’s not safe here and I cannot allow myself to see what’s happening around me.

I have to get out, but everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion. It takes forever to reach the door. I can’t breathe and all I can think is, I have to get out.

What was the cost?

Based on my present understanding of how I survived on a daily basis, this is a fair description of how I handled the trauma. Once outside, I managed to completely block out what was happening inside my home.  I usually joined some friends that were playing on the road and immersed myself in whatever they were doing. Slowly, my heart would calm. The dissociation allowed me to leave my fear behind and carry on playing like I was normal, the compartmentalisation allowed me to hold onto the belief that I saw, heard and knew nothing as by now what I witnessed was already stored somewhere in the back of my head. The weight of what was happening was far too heavy for me as a child to comprehend or deal with and both of these coping mechanisms allowed me to live in a bubble where I was the only one that my father was abusing. I also believed I deserved his abuse and it happened because of who I was or something I had done or said.

Understanding Myself

It is obvious to me now that the guilt and shame remained with me even though I dissociated and compartmentalised memories, which was even more confusing because I had no known reason to explain these feelings. I could only conclude I was inherently bad.

I understand the power of the body to protect us from what is perceived as imminent danger and our minds ability to deny and hide away traumatic events that it feels will harm us.  That was what I did, but never consciously.  I also believe what I did to survive is exactly what happens to most victims of childhood abuse.

As a child all I ever wanted was to be loved. Sadly, for me, regardless of how badly my father abused me, I still was able to convince myself that he did love me.  I was so innocent and naive and believed every word he said.  I didn’t know till much later in my life that he deliberately isolated me from my family so we would never sit and have conversations or confide in each other. 

I feel such a deep sadness at times because the tools I used to protect myself became the biggest obstacles in getting to know myself and heal from my past. Even now I have to consciously check in with myself in order to know if I am hungry, tired or feeling anything at all.

While sex no longer brings back painful memories and is something that I can feel good about, the effort involved in staying connected to my body often leads me to believe it’s simply not worth the hassle.  Now while I do not wish to sound negative, nor do I want others to think my daily existence is consumed with this stuff, as although the fight for me continues and is part of my everyday life I am blessed to have support from those around me who understand and love me and I have now developed mechanisms to help me connect.  The main point is that knowing myself does not come naturally to me due to my background and the learning never ends.

Joyce

Let’s Tell Our Stories of Abuse

I have spent the best part of my life holding onto this huge secret and if I’m to be completely honest I am not sure if I would have ever spoken out, if it wasn’t forced on me.  When my father abused a grandniece, her bravery along with her mother’s drive is what forced the truth to finally come out.  Before I spoke about the abuse I believed it was over and couldn’t see why visiting something that happened when I was a child would help anyone. In my mind I had no visible scars, so why make a big deal about it.

The Danger of Keeping the Secret

Back then, I didn’t realise that my secrecy around the abuse I suffered had shaped who I became in the world. I was left with feelings of anxiety, defensiveness, depression, self-loathing and self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours. In my eyes it was easier to deny what happened than to destroy the myth of a life I had created. I had built up an image of a large, happy close family that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Whether or not you consciously keep something secret, the keeping and maintaining the secrecy, uses a lot of energy.  I had to eventually face up to my past and make the decision that my energy would be better spent on healing my pain.

I was a mess inside and nothing I did changed that. The anxiety of holding on to the lie was eating me alive. I was trapped in my mind and doing more damage to myself than the abuse ever could.

Time to Speak Out!

With our current Count Me In! Campaign I know a lot of you will be scared at the very thought of sharing your story. However, the campaign does not require you to share details unless you are comfortable doing so.  It also does not require you to go public with your story. No one, other than the politicians will either see or read what you have written and even then, you can make it clear you do not want your name to go public.

This is about you taking your power back. You are in control of this process. You make the decisions on how much you tell, to whom, and what they are allowed to use.

More importantly, it is not your shame or guilt to hold, you have held yourself responsible for far to long. It is now time to place the responsibility for what happened on the person/persons responsible.

Reasons for Telling Your Story

Victims of Abuse

For victims of abuse telling your story as part of a larger group of survivors will be more powerful. Some victims making the brave decision to report their abuse have had an extremely negative and distressing experience with the judicial system. So, we want to encourage you to share your experience so that politicians will understand real people stories making it more difficult for them to ignore our demands. You can mention that you are supporting this campaign because you are a member of a group or that you are alone with this pain.

Within your letter you could include any or all of the following:

  • I feel so bad for something I didn’t do, and I am tired of holding the pain simply because this country refuses to acknowledge the truth.
  • I am unable to access or pay for the necessary supports that would improve my life. Include examples of just how difficult it has been for you to get and pay for support.
  • As a result of being abused I suffer with depression, CPTSD, anger management, disassociation etc.  You can focus on one or more issues.
  • I am still unable to let family and friends know about my past because I am afraid of what they will say, or how they will act towards me.
  • You could talk about relationships and how they get impacted by your experience of abuse.

Family Members of Victims of Abuse

This campaign offers an opportunity for all family members and friends of abuse victims to be involved, we can highlight the fact that support is needed for supporters as we are aware it is not only victims of abuse that suffer.

Family members often feel they do not have the right to ask for help as they were not the ones raped or abused. But that is simply not true. No one escapes the impacts of this crime. It is important that family members access supports to help them understand what they are dealing with and how it is affecting them personally.

Within your letter you could include any or all of the following:

  • You could talk about who you are providing support to and how that affects you emotionally, physical and mentally.
  • If your sibling was abused by a parent how are you dealing with that.
  • If it was your parent who suffered abuse how has that affected you. Their experience of abuse will most definitely have impacted on their parenting.

Secondary Victims of Abuse

There are many secondary victims out there and it is really important that they see this campaign as an opportunity for them to use their voice.  There are family members, mothers of abused and mother of abusers.  Although we are aware there are always exceptions to the rules we are also aware that there is a large number of innocent mothers out there with nowhere to turn.

My mother could not grasp the idea that she was also a victim. She believed she had no right to look for support. This belief was easy for her to maintain as it was supported by societal behaviours and the media.  Everyone focused on her rather than my father, the abuser. She like other non-abusing parents have the added burden of being judged by the world. We would love to have them onboard with us. They could make a substantial contribution to this whole area and bring a deeper understanding for everyone of us.

What a non-abusing parent could include in their letter

  • The reason I am joining this campaign is my child abused someone when he/she was only (add age) old and a child him/herself.
  • Following all the help received we find ourselves ostracised in our community and within our family.  This is borne out of the complete lack of understanding about abuse and the many types of abuse there is. Instead people seem too quick to label my child as a paedophile.
  • Discuss what if any type of support was offered to you the parent.
  • Discuss how other family members have been impacted by the abuse.
  • Talk about how you have personally been impacted by your child’s behaviour.

Telling Your Story Helps Everyone

I am under no illusion that speaking about the abuse you suffered will be easy. Sexual abuse continues to be a subject few can handle, most avoid, and everyone is stuck as to how to respond when someone discloses to them.

For me, it wasn’t until I spoke out about the abuse that I experienced the power of keeping the secret diminishing.  It allowed me to face the negative effects the abuse had on me, most of them I was unaware of.  It also allowed me to see how my silence was protecting the abuser and not me.

I am sure my older children would have no problem describing the pain they experienced in their life due to my smothering them. I believed that my job was to protect them from everything.  I know now I deprived them of their freedom and instilled fear in them.  I also know they witnessed me wanting to end my own life and how really difficult that was for them.

My children, like all children, took responsibility for what was happening around them and probably believed they were lacking in whatever was needed to make me want to be here.  I feel sick about that, but I cannot take it back. I have done everything in my power to reassure them that my thoughts had nothing to do with them. Open and honest conversations is what helped us all to heal.  Telling your story is the only way to rid yourself and those around you or the pain you are carrying.

Speaking out might not be the cure, but let’s face, it if we don’t begin speaking about it how can we expect the world to wake up.  Take comfort in the fact there are so many of us out there.  Discussing sexual abuse can feel awkward, scary and I have no doubt at times it can feel like you are confessing rather than disclosing the facts of a crime.  If it was any other crime we would have no problem telling everyone, we must examine why that is.

The main reason for not telling about abuse is the deep belief that all victims of this crime hold about personal guilt and responsibility for what was done to them. On a logical level we know this is bullshit. However, we are not dealing with logic here what we are dealing with is the embedded belief planted by the abuser.  Speaking out about our abuse can and will create change in the silence that surrounds this crime.  The more of us that speak out, the more difficult it will be to be ignored.

Speaking out will help you shed the shame that is not yours to begin with. It will support and inspire others to do the same.  If our speaking out helps even one victim it is a good thing, it will help them understand they are not alone and there is no need to live in isolation.

Sexual abuse flourishes in secrecy and silence, but together we are growing stronger. Speaking out will help us change the myths held around sexual crimes by society. Myths such as, ‘it’s only really bad sex’, ‘it happened so long ago, why don’t you just move on with your life’, there is nothing to be gained by revisiting the past’.  Remember your words have power, the power to bring about change on a scale that we cannot even imagine. We have an opportunity to finally bring this generational cycle of abuse to an end.

I am asking you to become part of the force that finally puts an end to abuse and send a very strong message that this crime is no longer acceptable. It can be so empowering to transform your experience of abuse into something positive.

The is a great quote by a comedian called Hannah Godsby that sums up what we as survivors of abuse are.

“There is nothing more powerful than a broken woman that has rebuilt herself”

Joyce Kavanagh- 24th June 2018

Father’s Day – A Survivors Guide

For some the approaching Father’s Day is a happy occasion and one where the opportunity to demonstrate how much our fathers mean to us, is a cause to celebrate. For others this can be a very emotional and difficult time and be a reminder of a father that has passed away or was never present to begin with.

Those of us who have suffered abuse at the hands of our father, will not welcome this celebration. This time of the year can be highly triggering and unsettling. Even when you feel you have dealt with your abuse and moved on, the media bombarding us with messages of what we could and should be feeling, can make it seem that our abuser still has control over our emotions.

Absent Fathers

The absence of a father on Father’s Day can bring up feelings of loss, hurt, anger and resentment. A father’s love is supposed to be special and as much as you may want to, you cannot replace the love he should have given to you.

Don’t waste your time with questioning what your life would have been if he was a different man. A father who nurtured and cared for you, protected you from those that would hurt you. I wasted a lot of years mourning the father I never had. I’d find myself day-dreaming of how our relationship should have been and longed for a father like those I watched in the movies. The father who would move mountains to help me, the father who didn’t judge, one that I could count on to help me no matter what trouble I landed myself in.

Unrealistic Images of Fathers

Even today on TV and movies, fathers are painted as being strong, funny, comforting and protective. This is not reflective of my experience and only reminds me of the lack in my life and the longing I had growing up.  The media will never acknowledge that this day can be fraught with pain and trauma for many women.  Father’s Day is about making money for the retailers, nothing more.

Secondary Victims

If you father was your abuser and is no longer living but you have not disclosed your abuse to other family members, the day will still be difficult as they are likely to reminisce about their positive experience and the good times they had. Remember all siblings experience will be unique to them, try not to take it personal.

If you are a mother of an abused child, who was abused by your partner, you may also struggle at this time of the year. Feelings of guilt, responsibility, anger and hurt will rise to the surface. Be mindful not to direct these feeling inwards, they belong with the abuser.

Mothers of abusers are also likely to find this time extremely difficult as they struggle to see what they could have done differently. They may ask questions like; how could I have stopped the abuse? How could I have helped my child to not hurt another a child? Why didn’t I see something? Why did they do this?

Confusion and pain can make this time of the year impossible to ignore. Remind yourself you are innocent and feeling anything other than that is not helping. Understanding how difficult it is for you to leave guilt where it belongs can allow you to understand and support your child as they try to do the same.

Tips for Minding Yourself

  • It is important that you mind yourself at this time. Acknowledging what you are feeling is important and will help you manage the difficult days ahead. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with those you trust and allow them to support you.
  • If you do not have anyone in your life that you feel can support you, call a helpline or reach out to a support group. Others with similar experiences are likely to be best placed to support and understand what you are going through.
  • Join a support group (Survivors Side by Side) is a great resource. It is a Closed group on face-book so you will feel safe sharing with others.
  • Don’t feel guilty or be guilted by other family members to join in celebrations and if you don’t wish to discuss your reasons with them don’t feel pressurised to do so.
  • Writing can help you gain access to your pain and help you to move past the anger that may arise.  So, take some time to yourself and write how your life has changed positively without your father.
  • Celebrate those fathers that you respect and admire. We all know someone that we feel is doing a good job.
  • Finally, it is important to acknowledge that against all odds you have turned into an amazing woman, doing the best you can with what you know at any given time.

Moving Forward

Today I barely acknowledge Father’s Day and am grateful not to have the stress of buying gifts and pretending everything is normal.  This came with time for me and I can honestly say it is because I no longer carry around the burden of hating and despising my father.  Letting him go meant he no longer had space in my thoughts and I was free to live my life at last

Pain can be overwhelming but may be disguised under the umbrella of anger.  Each time you remember something your father did or didn’t do can bring your hurt to the surface. In the sharing of these stories we can become locked into the pain of the past and end up giving our power away.

You are the one in control, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Make a choice to turn this day into a positive experience. Go wild, try something new, you just might surprise yourself.

Joyce – 15th June 2018

Mother’s Day- A Survivors Guide

As Mother’s Day approaches there is no doubt we are all being bombarded by the media with strong messages of what we should be feeling and doing for our mothers. For some this is a happy occasion and one where the opportunity to demonstrate how much our mothers mean to us is clearly celebrated through the giving of sentimental cards, gifts or outings for lunch or dinner.

For others this can be a very emotional and difficult time. This time of the year can serve as a reminder of a mother that has passed away. You could choose to use this as an opportunity to celebrate and focus on how your mother lived her life, share happy memories and remember just why you loved her so much.

If you are lucky enough to be a mother yourself that is a very good reason to celebrate this day.  Remind yourself that against all odds you have become a good mother.  You can acknowledge just how much you willingly sacrifice for your children, the love you feel for them and the joy and happiness they bring to your life.

Lack of Nurturing

The media will never acknowledge that this day can be fraught with pain and trauma for many women.  For those of us whose childhood were filled with abuse, this time of the year can bring up the hurt and pain for a mother’s love you never got to experience.  The day can act as a painful reminder of living without nurturing and support.

If you are a mother that for any number of reasons is no longer living with your children and won’t get to spend this day with them Mother’s Day can be lonely and filled with regret and sadness. If you are a woman who has chosen to not have children, you may feel a failure as society tells women that being a mother is what all women should want.

A mother of a child who has experienced abuse may feel undeserving of their love and find any show of affection or gratitude from them, as painful reminders of what they may see as their failings. Most mothers are victims themselves and we firmly believe that in the majority of cases when there is an abuser in the home there is only one parent and one in control and that is the abuser themselves.

Mothers of an abusers are likely to find this time extremely difficult as they struggle to see what they could have done differently, how could they have stopped the abuse, helped their child. All the while feeling shame and hurt for the child that was abused. The confusion and pain will make this time of the year impossible to ignore.

If your mother was the one who abused you then this will be a particularly difficult time. Because the world sends clear messages that mothers are not capable of hurting their own children, speaking your truth becomes all the more difficult.

Changing this day into something to celebrate will help you with your healing. Gaining a full understanding of abuse and its impacts will help you navigate the emotional turmoil that all mothers feel when abuse enters their lives.

*If you would like more information in our book ‘Why Go Back? 7 Steps to Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse’ we explore the role of mothers in much more detail.

Finding the Positive

Pain can be overwhelming but may be disguised under the umbrella of anger.  Each time you remember something your mother did or didn’t do can bring your hurt to the surface. In the sharing of these stories we can become locked into the pain of the past and end up giving our power away to the past.

Try use this time to focus on what is working in your life. It is an opportunity to find a more positive meaning to this day.  As this is the year of the woman make the day about you and recognise those women that inspire you to do and be a better version of yourself.

It requires time and effort on your part, but it is worth reclaiming your life and saying no to allowing the past to control your present day. Like Christmas this too is only one day, and it too will pass quickly.

Tips for Minding Yourself

If thinking about Mother’s Day triggers bad memories do something positive with them.  Do not allow the negative feelings to ruin your day.

  • Writing can help you gain access to your pain and help you to move past the anger it may raise.  So, take some time to yourself and write how you are feeling about motherhood and its role in your life.
  • Make a list of all what you feel a mother should be and see how realistic it really is. Is it possible for anyone to be the mother you described?
  • Be prepared to explore your own experience of motherhood. The deeper an understanding you gain, the more compassion you will have for yourself and others in your life.
  • Try celebrating those mothers that you respect and admire. We all know someone that we feel is doing a good job for that is usually how we measure our own abilities.
  • If you are a mother yourself celebrate that.
  • Try sitting with your children and sharing stories about how they were as children. We are all curious about our childhood and how others seen us, so this will be a great way to spend time together.
  • Remember children want to know about you and see you as more than just a mother. Explore your life with them and how it was before you became their mother.
  • If you are brave enough ask they also share things they would like to change about you or things they struggle with. Your relationship can only become more enriched through this experience.
  • Finally, it is important to acknowledge that against all odds you have turned into a great mother, doing the best you can with what you know at any given time.

 Pamper Yourself

  • Allow your children to spoil you.
  • Have a family meal cooked by your children.
  • If you need a break, then go out with friends and have a child free day.
  • Learn how to have fun, as we often forget as adults how to relax.
  • Play a game you remember from your childhood, it may rehash more positive feelings.

Moving On

I do not wish to minimise anyone’s pain on this day I am simply letting you know that you have always got a choice. You can turn what may have been a negative day into a celebration. The choice is yours

Although it is great to be able to share, rehashing negative feelings and sharing bad memories will only ensure this day will always be a painful one for you. It might be time to use your energy to reclaim it for yourself.

11th March 2018 – Joyce

Dear 16-year-old me

Dear Joyce, this may seem strange, but this letter is from the future you.  As hard as that is to believe it is true.  I know you are going through a rough time now, and my wish is that this information may help you.

Advice

Firstly, stop all the worrying and self-hatred. I know it has become your norm but make a new habit and realise just how perfect you are. Start eating healthy and when Rose offers you a cigarette say no. You know you don’t like them, and they will not make you any more part of the group than you are right now. No more fasting or starving yourself, you are punishing the wrong person.

Dad

You need to understand that dad is not the big brave man you see him as. He is in fact, small, fat and always worried that you will find the strength to say NO or tell on him.  I also know you believe you have no control. I would love to tell you that you can say no, but I also know you have no way of connecting with your inner strength at this moment, that too will come believe me.  In time you will get control and the abuse is coming to an end for you.  Next year you will get your periods and Dad will stop abusing you.

Dad is wrong to do what he is doing to you and your sisters.  It is his shame to carry so leave that with him and focus on your innocence with pride.

Self-abuse

After the abuse stops you must be more careful than ever because when he stops with the sexual abuse, you will start to punish yourself and go over all the ‘what if’s’ and ‘why’s’ of your past.  It is essential that you use this space to become more mindful and know that you are completely innocent.  You had nothing to do with the abuse, you held no power and had no choice but to do as you were told. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is the truth you need to hold onto to get through the next few years.

I am so sorry this happened to you, but you need to know you are 100% innocent this is all down to him.  He is sick and needs help but that is not your problem. Don’t be ashamed or afraid that people may find out.  He will suffer a lot more than you and the story will come out eventually.

Boys

Boys are no more special than girls. Treat them all with respect and demand respect back.  Boys won’t love you if you let them touch you and sex is not love.

Please believe me when I say none of it matters.  Stress, self-hatred, homework, how stupid you feel, boys and sex.  I am not saying don’t try everything, after all that is where all your learning comes from. Don’t judge yourself harshly. Know you have done the best with the cards you have been dealt, so be proud.

Love yourself

Be proud of yourself as you have been through a lot more than any 16-year-old should ever have to go through. This alone is an indication of your strength.  Don’t worry if you don’t feel that yet, it will come to you.

Spend time building yourself up and get a job outside the home. Be a good friend and don’t be afraid to be honest.  Dad is right about one thing, family is very important and believe it or not your sisters will be your best friends when you are a little older.

Mam

Help mum by doing little things that will make her life easier. Have her tea ready when she comes in from work. Tidy up the house so she can sit and relax at the end of the day. Tell her you love her. She is going through a rough time right now.

Mam learned a long time ago that closeness to her children only gives dad a weapon to further control her. She doesn’t know how to reverse that decision. Have real conversations with her and get to know as much as you can about her.  There will come a time when you would give anything to be able to speak with her for although she lives well into her eighties, you will lose her long before then as she develops Alzheimer’s.

What others think

Don’t be overly concerned about what others think of you.  Your gifts are unique to you and you will help a lot of people by being steadfast and honest.  It’s up to you what way you go and remember there is no right or wrong way.  You will have some uncomfortable moments in your life but none of them will kill you and all of them leave good learning for you to build up your strength. Just know you’ll come through it all. All hurt is temporary and is always followed by healing so enjoy the process and don’t get hung up on the outcome.

Spirituality

Stay spiritually connected as angels are always at hand. Speak to them as you would to your friends, cause they are friends and will get you through some dark moments. Worry less, love lots, and don’t be afraid to get hurt or be left alone. Hurt is temporary and being alone is cool. Don’t be concerned it’s not going to happen.

Your future

What if I told you, you made it, and all you wanted you got.

By the age of 21 you will meet your husband and he will give you the family you want.  This relationship won’t last but you get beautiful children from it and your husband will remain a good friend for life.  Like mam you don’t know when or how to stop as you will have six children, two boys and four girls. All of them will know they are loved by you and they will love you in return.

You will have many ups and downs but believe me when I tell you it will all work out and you will be fine.  Please hold onto the knowledge that you are a very special person and no matter what happened to you it will not take away from that.

Trust me when I say that you will not only survive this process but will excel from the lessons in this experience. Keep up the writing as you are good at it and will go on to have two books published later in life. You will go on to help millions of people who have had the same experience.

Joyce

Relationships after Abuse – a Personal Journey

Many people ask if it is possible to have a relationship after you have been abused and the answer is yes. It does however, depend on you.

RELATIONSHIPS

I had a rough time building any form of relationships after the sexual abuse. The idea of sex made me cringe at times. Other times I wanted sex so bad it physically hurt.  Either way, no matter what was going on I always felt guilty and ashamed of myself. It was difficult for me as I really didn’t understand how I was feeling or why.  I never really gave credit to the fact the abuse I had suffered as a child had any effect on me. I was convinced when the abuse stopped its effects were over.

I did have a couple of long term relationships, but sex was always an issue for me unless I was drinking.  Because I didn’t connect the dots in relation to my past, I sometimes took it that there was something wrong with me and on the other hand I felt it was normal to not want sex on a regular basis.

IMPACTS OF THERAPY

When I began therapy I lost all interest in sex. I was getting multiple flash backs daily.  I didn’t even like to be touched, I could not determine if the feelings I had about sex were related to the past or the present. Everything I felt seem to trigger a memory from my abuse. I was consumed by my past and spent a lot of time crying without ever really understanding why.

I devoted myself to my therapy in an effort to identify and understand my feelings. In between sessions, work and my family I was kept busy enough. I was concerned however, that I was incapable of committing to any relationship and did resign myself to the fact I may always be alone. At the time I didn’t really see that as a problem.

When I finished therapy, I didn’t really feel any better about myself. I had learned so much but had no way of connecting it to my present situation.  I laughed a lot with my sisters about being cured and that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

It was only when we wrote our first book that I finally integrated my learning and was able to apply what I knew.  I treated myself with a lot more compassion and really saw my innocence, which up to then I had read as stupidity.  I began to like myself and my own company.

I can’t really put my finger on the moment it happened, but I do know I felt very content with myself.  I didn’t give much thought to a relationship even then, but I know I no longer held any fear around it.

Because of my role in the family I had never been able to reach out for help. I always seen it as my job to mind others. Now I found I could confide in my sisters and express my feelings and together we were able to give and receive support.  It was the first time any of us ever knew what unconditional love was. We were there for each other like never before, we challenged, supported and never judged and there is such comfort in that which led to each of us growing more confident.

WRITING AND LEARNING

It was writing our first book that saved my life. It helped me see things much clearer. I was able to own my life good and bad alike. I saw my innocence and let go of the guilt and shame that was rightfully my father’s.

I am sure I wouldn’t have had so much difficulty with relationships if I had this understanding at the beginning of my journey.  I could have made better choices, embraced my learning and improved my life. Furthermore, I could have entered into relationships where I mattered instead of spending so much time trying to fit in with other’s needs.

Our second book was like the icing on the cake. I was able to see further into what I considered my imperfections and gain a much deeper understanding of myself and my behaviour.

Things are constantly improving in my life and I am under no illusion that I am finished as life is like an onion and all we can do is continuously peel away at the layers.

FUTURE RELATIONSHIP

I am now in a good satisfying relationship and it is good because I have learned to share my thoughts.  I honestly believe communication is the most important element of any relationship. I can be strong and weak but no matter which one I feel on any day it is okay.

So yes, relationships are possible after abuse. To be honest the best relationship you can aim for is the one you have with yourself, after that everything will fall into place.

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