Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Interviews: Rachael


Getting to Know You

How old are you?
31
What country do you live in?
USA
Are you married and do you have children?
No and No :(
How long have you been sober?
95 days
Anything else you’d like to share about yourself…
I'm a Gemini, who loves to read, do puzzles (word and jigsaw), play games, and make a difference.

The Story

How old were you when your addiction began?
12 to 13
What were the life events and circumstances that led to your addiction?
From the time of my earliest memory (around 2-3 years old), I was sexually abused by my brother and dad until I was 8 or 9 and then again when I was 12sih by another brother.  From a young age my sense of healthy was distorted and skewed from circumstances experienced.  I was left feeling scared, unwanted, bad, lonely and needed something to fill the void.  During my childhood, I escaped through reading and school work. I was exposed to pornography around age 8, but pornography did not truly enter my life until 12 or 13.  I had checked a book out at the library on childhood sexual abuse and it spoke of masturbation and my curiosity was peaked and I began experimenting.  
How did your addiction progress?
The only thing I had access to growing up were the magazines my brothers had.  I first ran across them on accident around age 8, but didn't take interest until I was 12.   Later found myself looking through their stuff for something new. I limited myself to only viewing the pornography at night or weekends and it always paired with engaging in masturbation.  Which in my day and age, no one talked about.  I remember staying up 2-3 hours a night, looking through magazines, which ultimately left me so tired at school.  I always attributed my tiredness to so much school work, which is partly true, but not the only contributor.  I left for college at 18 and a whole new world opened up. With the internet and access to a computer, I had unlimited access and no one watching over me.  I soon found myself everyday looking forward to coming home from class and consuming myself with pictures on the internet. I was exposed to much more than I ever wanted to be and  some images I have seen, I'm not sure will ever be erased from my mind.  I spent the next 7 years fully engaged in porn and masturbation, not involved in anything spiritually.  I plunged deeper into isolation and addiction and shut most people out.  
What experiences did you have that led to your breaking point, or your rock-bottom moment?
My mom passed away in May 2006. I couldn't cope with life, although I really wanted to think I was. I started working 2 jobs (70 hours a week)  and plunged deeper into isolation which fueled my addiction to numb all the feelings I couldn't cope with-anger, sadness, lost, loneliness,  worthless.  I felt alone, sad, and scared for where I was heading in life. September 17, 2006 my life changed forever. I had worked 36 hours in two days and HAD to go to Stake Conference because (as an answer to a prayer that wasn't ever said out loud) I was being released from a calling and was asked to meet with the Stake Presidency prior.  I went and met with them and the whole time they were saying such positive things about me,  I just wanted to run far away.  If they really knew the real me, would they say the same things? I stayed for stake conference, why I don't know but something kept me there, which I am so grateful for the influence of the Holy Ghost, even when I was not in a state of being worthy of receiving inspiration.  My newly called Bishop approached me this same morning and asked me one question, how are you? My face said it all, I wasn't doing well. He invited me to come and meet with him. I left Stake Conference, determined to not ever go back. Why would  he care about me? I am just a number in the ward. I knew I needed to meet with him, but really didn't want to and was not ever going to allow him into my life.  I was sitting at home, so lost and sad and an overwhelming sense of peace came over me and I knew what I needed to do. It was clearly communicated to me, write a letter to your Bishop and let him know what was going on.  I sat down and wrote a letter and put it in the mail, therefore it was out of my hands. I called an made an appointment with my Bishop and the rest is history.
What was your perspective of yourself at this point?
I hated myself. I felt so dirty, gross, abnormal, basically a freak. Women don't struggle with sexual addiction, I really believed this. I felt I was the only woman who struggled and if someone found out I would be labeled and branded a freak.
Where did you turn for help?
I first disclosed to my Bishop who responded with nothing but compassion and concern. He didn't treat me any differently and loved me. Soon after I mustered up the courage to get professional help from a counselor.  
What was the turning point of your addiction?
When I finally realized, with the help of a counselor and the love of my Bishop, I was not a freak, as I had lived so long believing, I was able to step outside of myself and start healing.  It took some time in counseling, for me to realize I turned to pornography and masturbation as my way of coping with childhood trauma.  It was, as I call, my drug of choice. I finally realized that I could have chosen many other paths, much more destructive, and I am grateful I did not.  It was me accepting this as my challenge and being okay with my challenge and realizing I could not ever turn back.  I had to keep moving forward.
How did you experience the Atonement of Christ?
It was not until I humbled myself enough to speak with my Bishop that I allowed the atonement to start working.  Even after my initial disclosure, I was not in a spot where I could fully understand the Atonement and the role it can and will play in my life. I was not willing to forgive myself for my past mistakes and move on.  It has only been the past two years, I have fully been able to embrace the magnitude of the Atonement and all it can offer me as a person. The Atonement has changed me as a person and as a Daughter of God.  I will be forever grateful for the sacrifice of our Savior so I could experience life and trials and come out a better person.  
What difference did Christ's Atonement make in your life?
The Atonement has allowed me to forgive myself, and others who have harmed me. The Atonement has given me the peace and freedom I have longed for. Lastly, I know I don't have to make this journey alone.  
How is life different for you today?
Life, today is great, tomorrow may not be the same story!  Actually, I have so much to be grateful for.  Each day,  I wake up with a renewed hope that I can live in recovery for one more day.  I am blessed to have a job I love and have the opportunity/privilege to work with great employees and clients.  I have recovery time under my belt. I have a great support team.  I love my calling in church. I love my counselor and attending ARP meetings. I have a relationship with my HF that is stronger than ever.  Lastly, I live each day to its fullest and don't take for granted the small things and people who make a difference each day of my life.
What is your perception of yourself?
I am still working on loving myself, but I do not see myself as broken and unlovable. I am a daughter of God and HE loves me as I am.  I now understand myself and this has brought me the most freedom from the labels I have given myself for so long.  I am worthy of living an life in recovery. 

ARP Meetings

What was the scariest thing about going to your first ARP Meeting?
The Unknown.  I hate the unknown, who is going to be there, what will it be like, how will I be treated. 
If you could go back in time, what counsel would give to yourself about going to a meeting?
To not be as scared and to go back consistently. I was so scared after the first 3-4 meetings, I did not go back for years.  I also would have liked to realize I needed meetings for support and understanding.  For the longest time, I thought I was too good for meetings.....my pride stopped me from seeking recovery.
Everybody reads the confidentiality statement. What is your experience with confidentiality?
I have not had my confidentiality compromised in any way.  
What is your experience about finding support from others in the meetings?
It's hard when only 2-4 people show up for the meeting I attend.  Generally speaking, there is very little consistency of who, as in participants, returns to the meetings.   However, the Sister Missionaries who facilitate group have been such a blessing in my life.  They offer, love and a renewed hope each time I see them.  It takes a special set of Sister Missionaries to facilitate an ARP PASG Group for women and HF is watching over who is assigned to the meeting.  I am a better person today for the interactions I have had with both participants and missionaries from ARP Meetings.

Experience with Priesthood Leaders

What was the role that your Bishop played in your recovery? 
I tried to tell 2 bishops, prior to the one who did help me, of my struggles and they didn't take it seriously.  It was taken lightly and I was sent on my way.  So part of me was like if they don't see it as a serious issue, why should I.  I knew better, but didn't really care at that point in my life. I have worked with 2 bishops on recovery.  My first Bishop was and still is to this day one of my greatest advocates. He was newly called around the time when my mom passed away and I was determined to have nothing to do with him.  Why would I trust someone 3 years older than me who had no idea of how hard life for me was. (I have since learned, everyone has trials, seen and unseen.  No matter how perfect someone life looks from the outside, you never know what someone may be struggling with.)  My Bishop acted on inspiration and invited me to come speak with him. He didn't know me, but knew enough to know I was struggling. He just didn't know what with. He is the first person I ever trusted enough to share my struggles with. Why him? I don't know other than Heavenly Father made it very clear to me that this was my opportunity to start healing.  I knew if I didn't reach out at this point, I don't think I would ever reach out. I couldn't close this door that had been opened for me.  I feared so much the label or judgment that would be placed on me, and you know, neither happened. He showed nothing but care and concern for me as a person.I  moved to a new ward and luckily got to work with a new Bishop.  He again, was/is an advocate for me. He has counseled with me, gave me assignments  and gave me a renewed hope.  This Bishop was the one who really made me see the value and importance of attending ARP meetings.  He encouraged me and kept after me until I did.  It was one of the best things I have done for myself. 
What advice would you give to a bishop working with somebody with your addiction?
My advice for a Bishop, especially if a he is working with women who are struggling with sexual addiction, it's one of the hardest things we have had to do, come confess sexual matters to a MAN.  Sex is supposed to be an intimate part of our life, yet, it has been taboo for so long and most are ashamed about sex.  I would also want to help Bishops understand, that most women who struggle with sexual addiction, the addiction often stems from trauma experienced in childhood or adolescence.  Often, addiction is not something we choose, but the way we survived as a child, who was experiencing trauma on a daily basis.  Bishops, be gentle and patient with women you are working with. Don't judge and shame them. We already do enough shaming to ourselves.  Know that relapses/slips will occur and confessing relapses/slips will be one of the hardest steps to recovery. Encourage, love and support the person coming to see you.  
What advice would you give somebody who is considering speaking to their bishop? 
Don't wait. I wish I would have spoken with someone sooner, as in my teenage years.  Don't let your Bishop pass this issue off as not big deal. I tried to tell two Bishops prior to the one who took me seriously.  The only person who will hurt if you wait, is you, and those around you. As soon as my struggles were out in the open, it was like giving myself permission to move forward. As long as I was living in secrecy, there was no reason to move forward.

Additional Thoughts

Write about your teen years:  
I never was popular. I did not live in the right part of town, wear the right clothes, and my last name definitely was not right. When you live in a small town you are pre-judged and labeled for anything in the past your family has done and are not able to make a name for yourself.  My teen years were a mess.  My parents divorced in 7th grade. Also, in 7th grade, my brother was arrested for sexual abuse of another child. During his investigation, he admitted he had sexually abused me as well.  I was pulled out of class and interrogated at school (the one place I considered safe) by two police officers, who happened to also be my softball coaches.  I was forced to go to counseling with a man and I shut off from the world.  I withdrew, quit participating in class, church, with friends, etc.  My kids were my life saving grace.  I had recently started babysitting for a family everyday after school and my kids helped me cope with life. My focus had to be directed towards them and not on me and my problems.  In High School, I absorbed myself in school work and my kids so I didn't have to feel anything.  This is where my addiction flooded my life. I was pushing all of my feelings away and coped with engaging in pornography and masturbation to make myself feel better.
If a woman came to you and told you she was terrified to share her struggle with her Bishop – what advice would you give her?  
If you are scared of verbally telling your struggles, write a letter to your Bishop and send it.  I know for me, writing a letter was the only way I knew how to express all that was going on.  This will give you a chance to put your own thoughts on paper and be thorough. As hard as it is to be honest, it is better to confess all at once than to save stuff for later.  Also, send it so it is out of your control and make an appointment to see your Bishop.  Trust that your Bishop is a servant called of God to minister to those of us here on earth. He holds the keys to help you begin healing.  If you have any hesitation of trusting you Bishop, make it a matter of prayer with our Heavenly Father.  HF will help you find a trust for you Bishop, for HF does not like to see us suffering when there are people around us to help.
What has helped you shed shame enough to the point that you are willing to share your story here in this interview?  
It has taken seven years to be at this point and it seems each year, tiny steps (talking with my Bishops, not being judged and shamed even more, seeing a counselor, attending ARP meetings, having pornography addiction being talked about in the open from people and professionals from all walks of life, seeing a  CSAT who helped me to see connection between childhood trauma and my addiction, other women sharing their stories) have been taken to help get me to this point.  I now realize the empowerment of sharing my story to help others who are in the same place I was 7 years ago, alone, scared and shamed of my addiction.  I now realize that I am not alone and healing power come through those willing to share their struggles and triumphs.
If you would like to leave a message for Rachael, please do so in the comments.  She is reading! 

15 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. It brings hope to all who struggle with addiction and low self-esteem.

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    1. Thank you. I pray you find hope to continue seeking recovery.

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  2. Awesome story, Rachael. What an inspiration for the rest of us that struggle with sexual addictions! May Heavenly Father comtinue to bless you in your recovery!

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    1. Thank you for your feedback. I pray all of us can be an inspiration for those seeking recovery.

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  3. Bless you for sharing! I cannot imagine the kind of pain you suffered from your abuse that led to addiction but I do understand where you are coming from with your addictions, being a fellow addict. Thank you for your bravery to share and your continuing strength.
    {hugs}

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. Trials have made me stronger and the only way to move is forward. Each one of us can inspire hope as we share and shed the light.

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  4. As a fellow female sexual addict, I think you are just so awesome! If I ever get the chance to meet you, I'd like to give you a huge hug!

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  5. I will send this on to my husband who happens to be a Bishop. I know this is a concern for all our leaders in helping our people heal and recover from life's tragedies and struggles. Thank you for sharing your story. Big hugs to you and anyone else struggling and wondering if they are alone.

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    1. Please do share! The more we can educate everyone the better people can be helped in their journey to recovery.

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  6. You are a courageous woman. Thank you for sharing your story and giving hope to those of us we are going through similar experiences. I admire your faith. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone.

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    1. I gained my courage from other women being willing to share. We are never alone. We are more alike each other than we will ever know. Keep moving forward and striving for recovery. Look for hope each and every day.

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  7. Thank you for sharing! I love all of these interviews. I could definitely feel the spirit. Thank you so much!

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  8. Thank you everyone for your sweet comments. It has been a long journey that has brought me to this point to share and inspire hope in others seeking recovery.

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Thank you for sharing a moment with me:-)

Ezekiel 34:11-12,16

"For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick"