Archive for Child Sexual Abuse

Children Who Numb the Pain with Alcohol

a fall day

This is the second in a series about the connection between child sexual abuse and alcohol.  Recently, I’ve been surprised to realize how even young children learn that alcohol is effective in relieving their shame, their fear and their anger over what abusing adults are doing to them. It works – at least in the short term.

In Drinking: the Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, Ann Dowsett Johnston interviews Laura who, as a grade twelve student, is already a recovering alcoholic. Laura started drinking at age nine. She’s quoted as saying, “I felt like I could lift buildings…..I thought; I’ll never love anything the way I love alcohol.” (p. 74.)

The love affair lasted several years. Sexually abused as a child, ‘debilitatingly anxious and bulimic,’ ‘Laura shuffled homes, from her mother’s to her father’s to various aunts and uncles.’ Alcohol was a daily constant, often pilfered from relatives’ liquor cabinets. (p. 75.)

I learned a lot more about children and alcohol dependence by reading Nancy Brown’s memoir of addiction, Facing Life.  The author tells her story of years of sexual enslavement by the father of a family that moved in across the street from her own caring home. Before long, little Nancy was terrified into serving as a sexual prize for the horrible father’s card playing buddies. She felt   trapped and helpless to escape her situation. The only thing that made it bearable was alcohol.

Before she discovered alcohol, she stuffed candy into her mouth, ‘chewing frantically, juice running down my chin.” (p. 16.)

“Soon I started stealing candy from the little corner stores in my neighbourhood…. I’d stuff my pockets and run home to hide it in the back of the closet. … There in the almost dark I made a connection that would last a lifetime. As the sweetness slid down my throat and sleep tugged at my eyelids, I found that I wasn’t afraid any more.” (p. 16 & 17.)

I was startled to relate to this personally. When I was a fat little girl being used sexually by my father and his father, I stuffed my face with spoonfuls of butter and brown sugar. I learned that this dulled the pain. I don’t remember discovering alcohol although, in my adult life, I’ve always been aware of the seductive power of wine and spirits.  It would be so easy to become addicted.

Brown’s description of her first experience with alcohol’s effectiveness is a moving tribute to the power of alcohol as a mood altering substance. She was at a school dance when a male friend offered her his flask of spirits:

“When I swallowed, the liquid burned its way down like a hot, lazy snake, and soon the most wonderful thing happened. It felt as though my fairy godmother had finally noticed my needing her and, in one swift act of pity and kindness, flicked her wand. I forgot that I was the fattest girl in the room. I forgot about the despicable things I’d done in the house across the street. And I forgot the bad-man smell that followed me everywhere. My world hardly pinched at all.” (p.25.)

Nancy Brown was one of those children who never dissociated her trauma. She remembered it all, unlike the daughter of the new neighbours, who was Nancy’s age.

In my next blog post I’ll discuss the experience of children who don’t remember their abuse as well as children whose brains somehow didn’t block them from remembering what was intolerable and inescapable.

Alcoholism and Child Sexual Abuse – They’re Connected


This is the first in a series about childhood trauma and alcohol.

I’ve been re-reading Ann Dowsett Johnston’s book Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, but the correlation between childhood trauma and adult alcoholism is staggering. Here’s what Ann says:

“The strongest single predictor for both alcoholism and depression is having been sexually abused or traumatized in childhood. …Sexual trauma is the strongest predictor.” (page 81)

The women Johnston interviewed had this to say:

“I drink to numb, I drink to forget, I drink not to feel, I drink not to be me.” (page 107)

Anyone who has ever felt the soft hum of alcohol going down her throat, blurring pain and depression, knows that alcohol works. You feel more relaxed as the alcohol triggers the reward spot in your brain. All’s well with the world, you’re wittier and wiser than you were before the drink. It’s quick and effective. It’s your best friend. … Until you want it to let go … And it won’t.

The trouble with wine, spirits and beer is this: by the time you realize you’re dependent on them, that your sleep is shallow and your body is suffering, it demands that you drink more and more before it will bless you with its nice warm feelings.

There’s another association with alcohol abuse and childhood trauma. In my personal experience and in all the people I’ve met who suffered abuse at the hands of an adult they trusted, that perpetrator was almost always fueled by alcohol.

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at how traumatized children tend to start drinking early and I’ll introduce another author you may find useful.

Disclosing Incest to Your Family

writing a letter

Before I published my memoir “Confessions of a Trauma Therapist,” I wrote a letter to everyone in my family disclosing sexual abuse at the hands of my father and grandfather.

The letter that follows was Patricia Singleton’s way of finally disclosing her own incest to her family members. I publish it in the expectation that it will prove helpful to many of you who read this post.

Dear Family Member – Notification About Incest Happening In Family

April 24, 1992
Dear Family Member: It is nice to feel that I have a family and roots again after so many years of feeling alone and empty.  For years, I cut myself off from any attachment to my “Caldwell” side of the family.  I now know that this was the only way I could deal with the pain of Dad’s betrayal of me as a child.  To survive and try to lead a nearly normal adult life I had to disconnect from my painful past and any reminders of it.  My family was a very strong reminder of that past.

For over three years I have been dealing with that painful past—working through my anger and grief—and learning to let go of it.  For what I am about to tell you, I don’t want your pity or your anger.  I don’t need you to react at all.  I am doing this for me and for no one else.  I do hope that I can have your support in my working through this.

I know that some of you may be disbelieving and some of you may be angry that I am just now revealing this and you want to know why after all these years of being quiet that I am now stirring up all this trouble.  I am not doing this to cause trouble or to seek revenge.  I am doing this as a further step in my recovery.  I am refusing to keep silent and to carry the burden of this secret anymore.  It has become too heavy.  Too much of my life has been harmed by it.  I still have a lot of anger to deal with over this and to deal with it, the reasons have to brought out into the open.  I don’t want another generation of children to suffer because of our silence and it will continue to happen unless we speak out and others have the awareness to deal with it.  Secrecy hurts too many people.

Most of you know that Daddy has a drinking problem.  For my own self, I choose to give it a name—alcoholism.  No one else has to agree with me.  I won’t argue over this point.  It is strictly my opinion.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

I thought about talking about this to some of you at the recent Family Reunion, but I decided to just enjoy the day instead.  I have worked hard this year and deserved to have that day to savor the pleasant memories and feelings of love that I felt from each of you.  This was an important day for me.

I don’t make any apology to anyone for the feelings that you have as you read this.  This is a family secret that must be exposed for what it is—dangerous and deadly to our children and their self-esteem.

Some of you wonder why [my sister], [my brother] and I aren’t close to the family anymore.  I can’t speak for [my brother].  I don’t know his reasons.  [My sister] is afraid of Daddy and refuses to be around him or to allow her children contact with him.  I don’t want him in my life or in my children’s lives.  I won’t let him continue to abuse me.

I won’t tell you [my brother’s] or [my sister’s] story.  I will only tell you mine.  I won’t go into details here.  That would take to long.  I’ve already written more than I thought I would.

Starting at least by the age of eleven years old, I was sexually abused by Daddy.  I don’t have memories of it starting earlier than that, but it may have.  Some of the work that I have done leads me to believe that I may have been as young as eight or nine years old.  You can’t imagine the emotional pain I have gone through because of this.  Do you know what it is like to hate the parent that you also love and have to depend upon for your very survival?  When I was seventeen years old, I reached the point of having the courage to say no to Daddy.  If the abuse had continued, I would have lost my sanity.  I knew that.  I never again let Daddy abuse me.  I think he was afraid I would tell if he continued to push me.  He left me alone physically, but the emotional abuse continued until I left home at the age of nineteen.  I knew that was my one and only chance to get out from under his control. Living with Dad was like having a dictator tell you everything you could do or not do.  I never learned to make decisions or to think for myself until I was a Junior in college.  I know that God was with me and keeping me sane.  He gave me the courage to do what I had to do.  He allowed me to find the people that I needed to guide me in the right direction at each crucial point in my life.  I have a husband who loves me and has tried to be understanding of all that I have gone through.  That hasn’t always been easy.  Dan has allowed me the space to find out who I am.  For me, the process has been both painful and joyful.

I like who I am today.  I am at a good place in my life.  I have told Mom about the abuse just this month.  She says she didn’t know or she would have stopped it.  She was as much under Dad’s control as I was.  I have made my peace with her.  I haven’t confronted Dad yet, because when I try to contact him person to person he disappears.  I have written a letter to him giving him back responsibility for his actions.  This step will close a chapter in my life.  This is a positive step for me.  It has been a long journey to reach this healthy point in my life.

I hope that each of you can still welcome me to future Family Reunions with the same enthusiasm as you did this year.  Family means a lot to me.  I love everyone of you.  Please help me to bring awareness to our next generation of children so the hurt and the abuse can be stopped at least for this family.  I love you all.

Patricia Caldwell SingletonI didn’t use my brother or my sister’s names here as I did in the original letters.  I have been searching for my copy of this letter for over a year and could not find it.  My sister a few weeks ago called me and asked me if I would like to have her copy of the letter.  She didn’t know that I had been looking for my copy.  Thanks, Sis for giving me your copy.  She also gave me her copy of the copy letter written to her and my brother telling them that they were getting their copy of the “Dear Family Member” letter two weeks before I mailed them out to everyone else.  I wrote the above letter on April 24, 1992 but my sister’s letter was written on June 10, 1992 so I apparently took a few months after writing the “Dear Family Member” letter before I mailed them out to my dad’s brothers and sisters.  I chose not to send a copy to my grandmother because she was elderly and in poor health.  I didn’t want to hurt her with the knowledge of her sons actions.  I told each of my aunts and uncles that it was their choice as to whether or not they shared the contents of my letter with their children, most of whom are my age and older.  I don’t know if they did or not.  No one ever said anything to me about it.  One of my nephews recently told me he had read his dad’s letter when he was a teenager.  My youngest niece recently read her mom’s copy before my sister gave the letter to me.I look forward to hearing from you letting me know what you think about my letter.

Story of a Memory Making Itself Known medical images

Over the last week, my mouth has spontaneously fallen open and my head has begun to shake / tremour very rapidly from left to right, generating an odd noise within both of my ears.

I wonder if my recent head and jaw tremouring is helping me to finally get to the bottom of what happened to me?

I wonder if it’s possible that this happened ‘just’ once? Or more than once … ???

Hard to believe that it’s possible that my tiny, possibly toothless, gummy one year old mouth cavity may have had to deal with an adult sized penis AND possibly cum as well …

Suffocating and drowning all at once …

“Not actually sex” …

Horrid, horrid, horrid, horrid …

Vomitous …

Nauseating …

Sickening …

Disgusting …

Vile …

Evil …

Cowardly …

Weak …

Greedy …

One-sided …

So selfish …

Sick …

Overpowering …




I’m regularly retching now when I wake up in the morning too … coughing up flem.

I’ve felt the urge and need to cough, burp, sneeze and vomit (all means of ejection from my throat and from deep down in my innards) …

I’ve always felt a tightness in my throat too … I once described this sensation to a former therapist as like “swallowing a golf ball with several razorblades sticking out of it, burning and cutting the inner walls of my throat”.

And difficulty with getting my words out …

Possible that my authentic voice was literally physically repressed, buried, drowned, killed before it barely even had time to surface and develop …

Ingestion …

Ingression, rather than expression …

Implosion …

Internalisation …

Withdrawal …

Literally swallowing myself …

Desperately gulping for air …

Desperately gulping for life …

A series of multiple ‘mini’ deaths

Loss of self

So hard to believe.

So hard to fathom.

My body is giving me clues.

Re-enacting my infant nightmare …

Just as I have witnessed others re-enact their own past trauma experiences at trauma workshops

I hand my head over to my body …

My analytical mind bows down in reverance to my body’s superior, unshakeable knowing.

My head gives way to my body’s greater wisdom …

My head relents …

My exhausted,  over used mind gladly ‘steps’ aside …

Could this be the absolute worst that I have to learn about my past? My early childhood?

Is it possible that there are no further hidden ‘surprises’ in my past??

Is it possible that I can now cease my lengthy, comprehensive search for missing fragments of memory, for the unknown?

Is it possible that my lifelong search for answers is now over??

Is it possible that I can now finally stop wondering and looking and ‘simply’ move on to focusing exclusively on my inner healing and recovery???

Is it possible that I can finally drop my consuming compulsive need to know and need to search?

I hope so!!

Cathy’s Dark Night of the Soul

Guest blogger Cathy is going through the dark night of the soul, having decided to try neurofeedback in her search for relief from the pain of childhood trauma. Here is her letter about those terrible struggles. Since receiving this message, Cathy has gone in search of a new practitioner, one who will offer her more compassion. We eagerly await her next report and send her our love and our prayers.

Dear Mary,

The truth is that the last 4-6 weeks have been really, really, really tough for me.

The truth is that I’ve had suicidal thoughts of my own over the last 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I haven’t wanted to die, instead I’ve felt overwhelmed by the relentless ‘invisible’, incomprehensible, unexplainable, unbelievable, apparently boundless pain that I have felt inside, so much so that I have felt utterly desperate for some relief, some peace and some calm.

I’ve felt so tired of feeling broken. I’ve felt so tired of feeling wounded beyond belief in my inner core. I’ve felt so tired of trying to heal. I’ve felt so tired of feeling as though my psyche is fragmented resulting in my inner sense that I have to expend enormous amounts of energy every moment binding my fragmented psyche / self together, to ensure that all of these vital fragments of me remain somewhere within me, together yet not bonded, somehow remaining clumped together through the sheer moment to moment, constant force of my will, to ensure that all of the pieces of my fragmented psyche stay together within me, to ensure that none, not even the teeniest, tiniest fragment of my inner core comes adrift, flying freely, drifting aimlessly away from me into nowhere (my darkest fear).

The truth is that I was unable to attend my 13 year old cousin’s funeral following her recent suicide because, for me, this would have been like ‘looking into the mirror of what could have been’ … or at times, over recent weeks … ‘what still may be for me’ … just way too close ‘to the bone’.

I couldn’t go to my 13 year old cousin’s funeral and stare into the eyes of my stunned and grieving family members knowing that I have tiptoed on the precipice of causing them a similar degree of shock, pain, grief, hurt, gutwrenching sadness, disbelief, confusion, guilt and utter bewilderment.

The truth is that I have been living in a fog of overwhelm and inner pain for the past 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I have willed myself through many, many extremely heavy, dark, gruelling seconds, minutes, hours and moments in the days of the last 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I have experienced almost zero joy in the past 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I have experienced almost zero lightness, zero clarity, zero calm and zero peace during the past 4-6 weeks.

I have felt intensely agitated, overwhelmed, confused, exhausted, dejected, hopeless, helpless, battle weary and completely defeated over the last 4-6 weeks.

How is it possible that I have committed myself tenaciously and steadfastly to my healing journey for almost 20 years, only to find that I still experience such mammoth depths, widths and lengths of darkness, heaviness and despair?!!!

How can I pick myself up, yet again, from the extent and depths of my own internal darkness?

How can I keep going?

Where can I find the strength?

Where can I find the solutions?

After using a wide range of conventional and unconventional healing modalities to address my deep inner wounds, where do I go next to heal further?

Where is the next upward rung on my ladder?

Where is the next upward knot on my rope?

Where is the next upward step on my apparently never-ending ‘staircase’ of healing?

As always, the answers to all of these questions lie in imagining myself staring into the eyes of my husband and our two young daughters (aged 9 and 6). They are my three utmost reasons for continuing to fight my way through my own thick and thorny inner wilderness and my unwavering commitment to breaking the cycle of intergenerational pain and trauma in my family.

The truth is that I’ve felt that I’ve been drowning in my own internal historical lingering terror over the past 4-6 weeks.

The truth is that I’ve set my sights soley and firmly on finding ways to reduce my overwhelming, utterly consuming historical lingering inner terror.

And here I am.


Experiencing a sense of flickering hope on my horizon.

A spark.

A light.

A life raft.

A sense of relief from the drowning sense of my overwhelming, utterly consuming, paralysing, life draining, almost completely defeating inner historical lingering terror.

My eternal dream of deep and complete healing still alive somehow, somewhere within me.

Here I am now.

Experiencing the joy and lightness that comes with full disclosure in a place of utter safety, non-judgment, understanding and acceptance.

Thank you Mary for this priceless gift, this wonderful privilege.

My heartfelt gratitude to you now and always,

Cathy xx