Join Kristin Sunanta Walker, counselor Shari Botwin, and Patricia Leary Steuer, all sexual assault survivors as they discuss their experiences and the healing necessary in order to find measures of peace. All three of these women keep it real and very personal as a shared discussion on the trauma, long-term PTSD, anxiety, and depression that we all suffer after these kinds of experiences.Shari Botwin, LCSW has been counseling survivors of trauma and abuse for over 20 years. She has given expert testimony on most major news outlets and will be featured in a documentary later this year on healing from sexual trauma. She is working on her second book, Conquering Trauma. Through the years she has witnessed patients go from surviving to thriving into a full life. Listen to Shari’s first interview here. Shari’s article in the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding the Bill Cosby trial is here.
Patricia Leary Steuer joins us to share her personal story as another survivor of sexual assault. Her interview in New York Magazine can be found here.
Kristin Sunanta Walker is the CEO of MHNR Network and host of Mental Health News Radio. She is a long time advocate and speaker about sexual abuse, incest, and trauma.
Download a full transcript of this show Sexual Assault Survivors 4.25.17 or read below:
Sexual Assault Survivors: Voices of Experience and Healing
Intro Music and Voiceover
KRISTIN: Welcome to Mental Health News Radio, part of MH News Radio Network, your source for information about mental health providers and the work they do in the world, the organizations that support their work, volunteers, and mental health consumers. This show is brought to you by ZenCharts.com, the intelligent EHR for addiction treatment providers; MyGenetx.com MyGenetx is a CLIA-certified lab focused on molecular and advanced diagnostic testing. MyGenetx is a primary resource for transitioning and implementing precision-guided medicine. and EverythingEHR, devoted to helping organizations find the best electronic health records software in behavioral health. Thank you for joining us.
KRISTIN: Hi everyone, this is Kristin Sunanta Walker, host of Mental Health News Radio. I am here with a guest who’s been on before, Shari Botwin. Shari, thank you so much for coming on and co-hosting a show with me today.
SHARI: Thank you for having me back. I’m thrilled.
KRISTIN: Yeah, we had a good time the first time. I want you to go ahead and introduce our guest. This is a special show for me, for personal reasons, as I know it is for you, Shari, and also for our guest. So if you would do that introduction that would be wonderful.
SHARI: I would love to. I’m so excited to introduce Patricia Steuer, whom I connected with about a year and a half ago, right after Dateline NBC interviewed a bunch of the Cosby women. I wrote an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer voicing my feelings and my reactions to the story and all the women who have gotten hurt by Mr. Cosby. I think either the day of or the day after, Patricia had read my article and reached out to me via email. So we’ve had some conversations through email over the last one to one and a half years. It is just such an honor to have her here with us today. I’m so excited.
KRISTIN: Patricia thanks so much for coming on and doing this. You didn’t even know who I am and what our show is about, so this is fantastic that you would take a chance and say, “Yes, I will come talk on this show.”
PATRICIA: Oh, you’re very welcome. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this very special month about National Sexual Assault Awareness. So thank you for that.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. I don’t know your whole background, Shari, but I have a feeling it’s much like Patricia’s and mine. We’ve all experienced what this month is about. So Shari, please tell our listeners, I know they know a little about you from the past show, but for anyone new listening now, give us a little bit about your background and what you do today.
SHARI: I have been counseling trauma survivors of all different sorts. I would say my specialty within my specialty is working with men and women who have been in abusive or domestic violence situations. I’ve been doing that for about twenty years. In addition to providing counseling, I’ve been writing articles; I’m working on my second book right now, Conquering Trauma; and just doing what I can to get out there and try to shed some light and instill hope in the crazy making process of what we might call recovery. I love what I do and was directed into the work after working for several years on my own recovery from an abusive childhood. For me, the work is so much more than a job. It feels like, in some ways, the work that I’m doing has also saved my own life in different ways. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to be here today because I think between the three of us we are going to be able to offer so much education and understanding about what it is to be in an abusive or assaultive situation.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. Patricia, can you share a snippet (which is hard to take what we’ve been through and put it into a snippet,) but just so that we have some context, will you share a little bit about your experience with Mr. Cosby.
PATRICIA: Yes, I will. I met Bill Cosby in 1978 at the University of Massachusetts. I was someone who had just graduated with a music degree in voice – that was my instrument. I met Mr. Cosby after he spoke at an educator’s conference. He has a PhD in education, so he was a featured speaker. He said that he would mentor me in a singing career; and I was at a crossroads trying to decide whether I was going to pursue more education or whether I was going to try to launch myself as a professional singer. So it was a big relief to me to have someone that famous and that well respected say that he would mentor me. In 1980 in a hotel in Atlantic City, he drugged me and assaulted me; and I never heard from him again after that event. It took me twenty five years to come forward; and I came forward as a Jane Doe when a very brave woman named Andrea Constand came forward in 2005 to try and have him charged for doing the same to her, exactly the same thing to her, and a year after her assault. I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. She could not manage to get charges filed because the D.A. at the time wouldn’t do it; so she filed a civil suit against Mr. Cosby, and there were thirteen Jane Does who came forward willing to testify. He ultimately chose to settle that lawsuit with Andrea effectively silencing all of us because we were all willing to testify. It was another ten years that went by. In 2015, Andrea came forward again and said that she wanted to get criminal charges filed against him. At that time, I had seen the backlash against us previously – how we were disbelieved, how we were vilified, the lies that were told about us – and I was reluctant to come forward using my full name because I was trying to protect my family. So I came forward first by first name only; if I did an interview as I did on CNN I did it in shadow so people couldn’t see my face. I did an article with a Buzzfeed reporter about my experience with Mr. Cosby using just my first name. But then all of that changed when the New York Magazine article and photo shoot…
KRISTIN: That was such a good article.
PATRICIA: Thirty-five of the forty-five survivors at that point and one empty chair representing all women who’ve been sexually assaulted. In July of 2015, a few months after the photo shoot, Mr. Cosby’s deposition from the civil suit years before was obtained by certain media outlets and in his own words he said that he had obtained Quaaludes to use on the women that he wanted to have sex with. I thought, “Why am I afraid anymore?” He said those things, so that’s when I began using my full name. Not that it stopped the recrimination or being vilified by the public, but that’s when I decided to come forward using my full name. That’s the timeline.
KRISTIN: Yeah, and it’s so prevalent. I’m glad it isn’t so much anymore, but our show especially has done so many shows on exactly this. Women or anyone – including men – are historically disbelieved, especially if it is someone like a pastor or someone on that level, on television, or what have you. People don’t want to believe it because they’ve put this person on such a pedestal; but it even can be someone who just is an athlete, and they aren’t contributing in some way that’s shaping our society in a false way, obviously. Even with that, we are historically not believed and vilified, and I find that absolutely horrifying, but also fascinating. Shari, I want to put this towards you as a clinician, why do people stay silent for so long? I know we know the obviousness of that, but for you and how many people you’ve treated, what is the obviousness of that for you?
SHARI: Patricia was making so many points as she was sharing her story. So many people stay silent because of exactly what she is saying – the aftermath, the risk of speaking, the feeling that you have when not only something horrible is happening to you but then you are being made to feel like you aren’t telling the truth. I was actually just having a conversation the other night with someone who I grew up with, and when we were talking about my own background she was saying to me that people in her family really had a hard time believing what apparently had happened to me; and these are people who aren’t even related to me or had no role in what happened to me. I just kept saying to her over and over, “People don’t want to believe that these things can happen, especially it it’s somebody that we have a connection to, whether it’s a mentor, a family member, in this case for me it would be a family friend; and this is something that we have to grapple with all the time in my office. The hardest part for most people who come into recovery is, “How can someone that is supposed to be in my best interest, someone that’s saying they’re going to help me, how can they hurt me in such a way?” I think part of it too, it’s not only that society can be disbelieving of these types of events, but also people who’ve been through it. I know for myself, it took me years to accept that just because somebody said they cared about me and said they loved me, how could they then hurt me? It took me so long to accept that you can feel both things in a relationship.
KRISTIN: Yes you can.
SHARI: I think that it’s not just the people who are inflicting the harm, it’s not just the bystanders, but it’s all of us trying to make sense of someone who is loved and respected and who, like in Patricia’s case, someone like Cosby who is educated and so well liked – how can that person do such horrible things? How does that come to be? I think we did talk a little bit about this in the first show. One of the most difficult things to understand and make sense of is that someone like this, someone who is sexually assaulting women, abusing children, taking advantage of people, or sexually harassing in the work environment – they have many parts to them…
KRISTIN: …or on a radio show.
SHARI: Yes, because you’ve talked about that a lot. They are able to mask their pathology or the part of them that is so sick. They can mask that. I know in my situation, the people that were most hurtful to me were also very well respected, well known people in my community. Nobody wanted to think that those people were also doing horrible things to me. Again, in my office it is agonizing that I have patients saying to me, “But how could my dad do that to me. He was my dad.” Or, “How could the person who ran the youth group, who knew I was in a horrible situation at home, and says he wants to help me, but within months of the relationship he’s also raping me? How do I accept that? How do I come to terms with that?”
KRISTIN: Absolutely. This moves me into where what’s been difficult for me and for all of us: where do we go from there and how do we move forward with other relationships with other men, or if it’s men who’ve been assaulted with women, but our bodies remember that trauma. Patricia, I want to pass this to you. How did you find yourself dealing with those next relationships that came after in the midst of PTSD, trauma, anxiety – all of the things that you must have been going through?
PATRICIA: Well, at a great cost. There has been a cost in my marriage of thirty-six years. I met the man who would become my husband three months after Mr. Cosby assaulted me. What I’ve noticed is that for all of these years, because I’ve never had what I consider to be critical therapy – which is somatic, body-based therapy about the trauma – I’ve had these somatic ghosts. I have these triggers when I’m touched, and I have to self-talk myself out of what arises first whenever my husband touches me. He’s a loving man, a safe man, a reliable man. But the first place my body goes, even though I was unconscious when I was assaulted, my cells remember what happened. The first place my body goes is into that freezing and fleeing mode, and I have to talk myself out of that. After my experience with Mr. Cosby, I abused alcohol for many years. I developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I had to have a colon resection done. In 2012, I developed a rare form of blood cancer, and after that I developed cervical cancer. Now, I don’t believe Mr. Cosby caused these things; but I’m a strong believer in the mind/body/spirit connection – so I think it is connected. I think this was my body’s response to the trauma that occurred in 1980.
KRISTIN: What’s interesting to me too, that I find for myself – for me it was childhood sexual abuse with my biological father, that was the only attention that I was getting from him: bad sexual attention. So in later years, I had had a few relationships with men where I was getting that bad sexual attention. What I found interesting with other people in that situation is that it doesn’t matter if in your mind, or maybe in some of your actions you participated in this bad
attention, you were not the perpetrator nor did you deserve the abuse just because you participated to some degree in that attention. That is so hard for survivors to get over.
SHARI: You know the other piece that you’re talking about, when it comes to a whole mind/body connection, when I’m working with somebody who’s in recovery from being in an incest situation or being in a domestic partnership and being assaulted by their partner, the thing that so many people struggle with is why did my body respond positively to something that I don’t want? Therefore, if my body is saying, “Oh this feels good,” that means that somehow I wanted it or it’s my fault. Again, what happens in some situations after the abuse ends or after the rape or assault occurs, whenever someone attempts to be in relationships moving forward, it’s the same thing that gets recreated over and over. “If I allow myself to be in a safe relationship and I feel pleasure, that’s not okay. I’m not a clean, good person.” So this is what both of you are commenting on that is so important. In terms of the mind/body connection, one of the things that really connected me to Patricia when we were speaking about a week ago was when she was talking about her relationship with her husband and how the two of them have had to do a lot of work to help her to be able to stay present and really be in the moment. When you, Patricia, were saying, “As soon as he puts his hand on me,” and what you flashback to or how your body responds, the hope that I see in all of this, and the thing that really was very moving to me when she and I spoke, is that she’s able to say all of that in a couple of sentences. So she’s in a situation now where something is triggering the assault, she has words and ways to express what she’s feeling. She can place it, so she can say to herself, “No, I’m in a safe relationship now. He loves me and I want to be here. I deserve to be here.” I think that is hugely important. I think the worst thing about being abused is that the aftermath: the memories that we store in our bodies, like Patricia is saying all the health issues that come up, the turning to things like drinking and eating disorders – all of those things are just ways for us to avoid dealing with our feelings and to try to push away the reminders. One thing I say to people in my personal life all the time, there is not a day that goes by that I am not remembering things: whether it’s a feeling, a body memory, or an image. I can walk into school to drop off my six year old, and the minute I walk into the school I’m being bombarded with memories of knowing what was happening to me, feeling afraid and alone, and remembering what I felt in my body after the abuse. But what I can do with that now is I can place it. I can say, “This is what happened to me. This is where I come from. This is where I started – but look at where I am now. As soon as we can do that, plant our feet on the ground, wiggle our toes – we can name it.
KRISTIN: Yes, wiggling our toes and making sure our feet are on the ground.
SHARI: As much as I love to talk about all this stuff, it is so emotional. We all have so many feelings, and no matter how many years go by and we work through this stuff and we talk about it, it’s really about finding ways to cope with whatever the feelings are. So if I’m sitting here in the podcast, or if someone is listening right now and they can feel themselves kind of flashing back to the beginning of the rape, or the moment that they realized what happened to them – we put our feet on the ground and we say to ourselves, “That did happen and shouldn’t have happened, but I’m here and I’m okay.”
KRISTIN: You didn’t deserve it to happen. You didn’t ask for it to happen. It was not your fault that it happened.
SHARI: Right! And you know what else, when you come across people in the world who don’t want to believe or will still say things like, “Well that was a long time ago, don’t you think you should get past that?”
KRISTIN: Get over it already!
SHARI: Right! That is something that I can understand people who haven’t been through this would say, but anybody who’s been through any type of trauma, not just the types we’re talking about today – watching a baby die, being in war, surviving a terrorist attack. Our brains are made such that the nerve endings and the associations, anything, can trigger the thoughts and the memories. It’s what we do with them. That’s what is so powerful about this show today, and that is what makes me so enamored by Patricia and all these other women. What they have done in terms of
stepping forward, the importance of that picture of you all sitting with the white background – was that the New York Magazine?
SHARI: Even just that image, I’m someone, and I think Kristin you can relate, because I went through a lot of my abuse with no witnesses or bystanders – when I look at that picture, even though none of them were together when it happened, they are in that picture representing one experience; but they can look to each other and say, “That happened to me too. I felt the same way. You still go through that too?” To me that is hugely important. So anyone out there listening, I hope you feel like we’re grabbing a hold of your hand and saying you are definitely not alone.
KRISTIN: You are not alone. Absolutely – yeah! Patricia, please talk to the listeners about your role in ending the statute of limitations to report rape in California, because that’s my home state.
PATRICIA: I’m happy to. I have to admit at the outset that I came late to the effort to do this, to abolish the statute of limitations, because I was resigned that extending or abolishing the statutes would not make a great difference until the foundation was in place. I consider the foundation to be the Equal Rights Amendment. Until that was finally ratified, women would have no equal rights or protections under the law, so there would be no teeth with which to come forward ten, twenty, thirty years after one was raped and try to get someone prosecuted because things were not equal. So I was reluctant to get involved. I also know how difficult it is if there is no physical evidence or if physical evidence is no longer viable, to prove these things. I just wasn’t sure it would make a difference. But finally, some of my other Cosby survivor sisters said, “Come on! We’re going to be in Sacramento. Come testify with us at an assembly committee.” So I did, though I was reluctant at first, and we were successful. The assembly abolished the statute of limitations. Anyone is free to come forward at any time after they are assaulted or raped. Again, it’s very difficult to prove these cases because of the way the laws currently are on the book, but I hope that will change.
KRISTIN: Yeah, and I have to say, because in a situation where I reported something not too long ago and was completely ignored, I was the only one that spoke up. Because I spoke up, five or six other people spoke out as well and still we were completely ignored. I am such a speaker about this stuff now. The years of me being silent are over, but I found it maddening that they would ignore what multiple people have said. What really hit me in an anger trip, the fact of who has been elected as president of our wonderful United States, to me felt very much like this hit in the gut that all of these men (and I love men, I love my son, all the listeners know that the reason why I’ve had Dan Griffin, as an example who is a men’s trauma specialist, I ran to him to help me understand men and help me understand their pain, which I did as a woman who was abused by men so that I could learn and heal,) but that punch in the gut about someone who says the things that he says about women, has done the things he has done to women. It was so invalidating, that’s how it felt for me. I wanted to get both of your perspectives on that as well.
SHARI: You know, I remember the day after that election. What I felt on that day reminded me of when 9/11 happened. It was such a feeling of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, and despair. Then as I was going through that week, because I work with so many trauma survivors, people were so activated. People were having flashbacks; people were using the symptoms of their eating disorder, drinking more or shutting down because, like you said, Kristin, it’s such an invalidation of where we are at this point in the world. The hope that I see in that is sometimes when things like this happen and it just seems so unbelievable, the power of the voice and so many people speaking, marching, and protesting, to me, that was what I ended up focusing on. After a couple of days of feeling like somebody had died, I started feeling more uplifted. I thought as bad as this could be, look at what people are doing to speak and to fight back, and to be heard. I say that to myself every day since the inauguration. There are so many people out there fighting to try to change things and to try to not let stand what the President of the United States thinks is ok, whether it’s intervening in Planned Parenthood or trying to say that people who’ve been raped are not going to have the right to have an abortion. I feel like there are so many people that are screaming; and for some of them it’s probably really healing, because I imagine that some of these people out there, men and women, they probably haven’t even said anything. They haven’t spoken. His winning the election could be partly contributing to their recovery. So I always try to flip it into something that potentially in the long run could be positive. I don’t know what you think, Patricia? But that is something that really helps me to wake up in the morning and say this is where I live and be okay with it versus packing up my bags…
KRISTIN: …and saying I’m moving to Canada.
PATRICIA: I remember when that video surfaced of Billy Bush and Donald Trump, when he was candidate Trump, I remember thinking, “Finally, people can see who he really is. Surely people will not deny this aspect of his character.” But to me, I think women need to get angry. I don’t mean violent; I mean angry enough, mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore. I think the women’s march is a great symbol of that kind of anger because we haven’t been angry enough. People don’t know that the Equal Rights Amendment is not yet a part of our Constitution – particularly younger women. They believe men and women have equal rights – they don’t! I think women say, “Really? In this day and age with other countries that have women leaders?” They need to get mad as hell about it. People need to wake up, and I think that awakening is occurring in the culture. When it comes to whether one can tolerate living in this country or not, and how one reconciles that someone who we have so little respect for and so little trust in is in such a position of power as the President of the United States, I don’t claim to know why the universe, spirit, whatever you call whatever is larger than us – I don’t claim to know why this situation exists. That’s beyond my comprehension. But I have to believe, otherwise I get very depressed, I have to believe that will be revealed and that maybe in fact someone like that is going to trigger this outcry, this building anger, and this unwillingness to have it be tolerated anymore.
SHARI: I definitely agree. What I also remind myself of and I talk to colleagues and patients about: he’s one person, and yes, there are people who support him and back up his causes, but there are so many more people who don’t. The power that comes in numbers, watching the march and just being able to participate in the way that I could. Looking at pictures of people, therapists, many of the Cosby women were at those marches, different media people that I know, friends – I said to myself, as Patricia was saying, I do believe something good in the end will come out of all of this.
KRISTIN: I do too.
SHARI: The other night I was talking about how do I live with knowing what has happened to me? I believe, and not in an angry way but in a hopeful way, that what comes around goes around. There is a reason why I am who I am and there’s something important that comes out of that. When you’re in that spot where you wonder how can this be so, like Patricia was saying about what she’s doing so she’s not feeling depressed, I think it’s an amazing and wonderful thing that there are so many people posting things, signing petitions, and marching; because if you think about what happened to each of us, nobody was doing that after we went through what we went through. If I had had fifty people behind me saying, “Go tell the teacher; go do this; go do that” – I wouldn’t have been quiet. To me, even though we haven’t been able to anything in the sense that we still have the same president, I really do believe that the more we keep speaking, voicing our anger, and finding appropriate ways to express it – something important and something good will come out of this.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. I agree. Even though I am riled up and feeling angry, I do want to talk about the benefit of us moving past it – not that we get rid of it. That fire that is in my belly – I have had many men that I love and are my good friends – they don’t want me to discontinue to feel any pain, because they love me. I understand where they are coming from. I am proud today to have so many male friends, because men were the enemy, for good reason, for a long, long time. They are not at all any more. I don’t want to get into the mindset that you just need to move past your anger. That
isn’t what this is about. But there is a way, understanding and feeling compassion for perpetrators – I think there was a statement one of you wrote that we can forgive and not forget. Patricia, I’d love for you to take that first and then, Shari, you take that from there.
PATRICIA: Well I had to do this as part of my spiritual healing, and what I mean by that is not religious as much as it is mending and healing my own spirit regarding what happened with Mr. Cosby. The way that I’ve done that is resenting and being angry about him is like a toxic thing in my body and in my psyche, and it’s not something that’s good for me. It doesn’t hurt him at all, but it hurts me. So I had to figure out how to work with it and see him as a flawed human being, and I realized that he is probably – I’m not going to speculate because I’m not a credentialed therapist or someone who is capable of making a diagnosis – but he is probably very ill if he has a compulsion to do this over decades to many women. When I think about that, I know lots of people who are ill, including myself, physically ill – I have cancer. I wouldn’t get angry with someone for having cancer. That doesn’t make his actions in the world right. It doesn’t mean he shouldn’t answer for them. It doesn’t mean we should forget about it. But I was able to get to a place where I thought, “I have compassion for him. He must be very sick. I don’t know what kind of sick, but he must be very sick, and I forgive him. Not for him – but for me, because I’m not willing to hang onto that anymore!
KRISTIN: I just did this. I spent a weekend with a very good friend who wrote a wonderful book. He was abused sexually by his father, and he wrote very eloquently about it in his book. He’s been working with me on this forgiveness piece. My recent experience (that I’ve alluded to, and my listeners know all about) just a couple of days ago, I was sitting on my porch and I said the person’s name out loud and said, “Yeah, I forgive you. I can forgive you. I can feel for what brought you to this place where you objectify, are a misogynist, and are grossly inappropriate and horrifying with women; but I do forgive you.” That took a lot for me.
PATRICIA: And that’s so good for you.
KRISTIN: Yes, exactly. He’s still doing what he’s doing, and I’m not a part of it, thank God. I feel for any woman that comes within three feet of it; but for me, yes it was really good for me.
SHARI: You know what I’m thinking as we discuss the anger piece, this is something that can be very difficult. A lot of the people that I work with are in intimate relationships with their abusers, so for many people, they won’t let themselves get angry which means that they are disconnected, dissociated, shut down, and again resorting to things like anorexia, bulimia…
KRISTIN: …overeating, that’s my problem.
SHARI: Yep, overeating. All of that is so that they do not feel the anger. I know for myself, I was known in my childhood as being the peacemaker – the outgoing, lovable Shari Botwin who cheers everybody up. So it took me a long time to let myself feel it. I would say my therapist would probably say, “Shari, that’s something you need to keep working on.” It is so uncomfortable to feel these types of feelings even in the worst of situations that we’ve all been through, but there is something so powerful and important about actually owning our anger. Again, what you and Patricia are saying is when we can get to a point where we can take a step back and look at this person or these people who have hurt us we can see there is something not right about them. They are sick or flawed in a way that, while we can’t comprehend it we can maybe on some level understand it. It really wasn’t until I became a parent six years ago that I could actually start to look at the person that was doing things to me, or look at the pathology of some of my patients and their parents or perpetrators and do what Patricia was saying – actually feel bad for them and think, “They can’t be living a good life. How can you be living a good life when you’re doing these awful things to people?” When we were talking earlier about the mind/body connection, I’ve heard a lot of stories through the years and this is something that resonates with me personally where the perpetrators end up getting very sick at younger ages, whether it’s heart issues, cancer, whatever the issues are. One of the things that I strongly believe, and I could never prove this, if you have this kind of pathology and if you’re going around and spending forty years of your life committing crimes like this, or even somebody like a Donald Trump or Bill O’Reilly who’s making comments or being inappropriate, I believe that when you wake up in the morning and you know how you’re treating people, eventually it is going to take a toll on your well-being. It’s going to come out in some way. I don’t have proof that that is the way it is; but I think as survivors we have to find a way to own our anger without hurting ourselves with it because that’s the challenge that hits both angles. We don’t want to feel it, but then what do you do when you cannot contain it. What do you do when you are in the bathroom throwing your guts up because you just are so fricking mad …
KRISTIN: … or eating everything in the refrigerator.
SHARI: Right, because you are so mad that you cannot be in your body. What you do is what you both are saying – you sit on the steps, you close your eyes, you take a step back, and you think, “I’m sorry that you are so sick. I will never forget what you did to me. It is not okay; but I’m sorry you’re so sick.” Doing things like that allows us to name the feelings and say it’s not okay, but also feel some type of peace. I know when I first became a parent, and I looked into my little man’s eyes when he was a tiny little kid, there was something so amazing for me because I could just be his parent and be feeling the love that I feel for him, which is hard to explain. It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to love a child. But that’s how you be in the moment, by owning the feeling and placing it. That is something all three of us have done in different ways, and that’s what people do when they’re in treatment. This is some of what I hope that people are working on.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. Patricia, I’m wondering, what is it today that you’re doing or how is this affecting your life today in terms of what you do next?
PATRICIA: The criminal trial for Mr. Cosby starts on June 5th, in Philadelphia – actually in Montgomery County. I will not be there. I was willing to testify, there were thirteen of us who were picked to testify, but the judge decided that it would be prejudicial if too many of us were to testify; so one woman will testify in support of Andrea Constand regarding prior bad acts. My best friend, actually, is a former judge; and I’ve had long conversations with her about this. She said, “I think it would be best if you have very low expectations about the outcome. I’ve thought that was true all along. I could not get attached to anything beyond telling the truth about what happened, because I haven’t been trying to take this in a particular direction. I just came forward to tell a truth. I don’t have a conviction in mind as the appropriate justice; that’s not my call. But for my own sake, I’m setting my expectations very low, and preparing myself for the possibility that he will be acquitted, because these cases are very difficult to prove. I’m sort of guarding against the backlash that will come against those of us who came forward if that occurs. We will probably hear all kinds of things about how we were liars and how it wasn’t true from the public, from the media sources, and from the defendant himself. So I’m preparing myself for that kind of an assault if you will: a verbal assault, psychological assault, and an emotional assault. But I know that it’s true, so I am just staying grounded in that, and I don’t feel like I have to defend my life.
SHARI: How will you cope with that though when we get to that date and there is all this media attention and people are starting to make these awful comments? What will you do at that point to just stay in your shoes and be who you are?
PATRICIA: I have a meditation practice. I meditate five days a week. I have a spiritual program. I have lots of friends who know who I am and know what happened. I probably won’t watch too much TV because there’s just too much rehashing of this all the time; there has been for the last couple of years and it will surface again around the time of the trial. That’s how I’m going to take care of myself.
SHARI: Good. What Patricia is saying right now is the whole idea of being re-traumatized. When someone is speaking up or going to court or in this case deeply affected by the story, there are so many ways that we can be re-traumatized that it is so important that we have a gazillion different coping mechanisms that we can pull out when things start to getreally triggered. I’m so glad that you just said that, Patricia, because I think it is so important. Trauma survivors who haven’t really worked through the abuse or really made sense of it will often find themselves in situations where they are re-traumatized because they don’t know how else to stay connected to what happened to them. They inadvertently put themselves in situations where they are going to be triggered or be in PTSD mode. I work with a few people who really struggle with that. I think it’s so important that we touch on that.
KRISTIN: Yeah, I want to say this piece too, even just for me. After I complained about someone who is in the behavioral health industry and was ignored as well as the other people that complained were ignored, I could have, knowing the fire in the belly I am, I could have forced my way to venues where he would be speaking. I really had to sit back and make a decision for myself as a human being if that was in the best interest of my, Kristin’s, personal health. Did I really need to do that? I made the decision, no, I’m going to avoid those venues like the plague. I’m not going to support those venues because they know. They’ve been told, and they choose to support this person. But that doesn’t mean that I need to be there, that I need to do my show there, I need to have anything to do with that particular venue. I don’t look at what’s going on with this person and their life. I absolutely avoid it, not out of fear, but out of my personal self-care. It doesn’t talk about this and that I don’t talk about it with my friends. What I want our listeners to get is that talking about it until you are done talking about it is your personal choice. How long that is going to take you is up to you. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you you should stop talking about it now. That is absolutely not helpful in any way. But I can choose to not be involved or be anywhere near him. It’s why I have full time security in my company now, because I just feel safe being protected in that way just in case there is a venue where this person might be there and I didn’t know about it first. That’s what we do to take care of ourselves.
SHARI: That is a huge piece too because when we’re younger, whether we are kids or we are in our twenties or …
KRISTIN: We don’t have the wherewithal to see those things at those ages.
SHARI: And I would say that is one of the benefits of having gone through some of what we’ve gone through. It allows us to learn what it really means to have our backs and make sure that we are protecting ourselves. I was talking with a patient the other day who is attending a funeral today, and the focus of our session was not on the funeral and how sad this person’s loss is, but the idea that her, at the time four year boyfriend (four years of being sexually assaulted and abused) was probably going to be there. So we spent the session mostly talking about what she was going to do to protect herself? How would she feel if she sees him? Does she want to go to this funeral? Does she feel it will be okay for her? That’s what we did in the session because she needs to be able to go – she wants to go – so we spent the session trying to figure out how she can keep herself safe and how she cannot allow what this man did to her stop her from being exactly where she needs to be today. This is something that is so hard for so many trauma survivors to learn. How do we really take care of ourselves? A lot of us tend to be care takers. It’s hard for some of us to say no. In recovering from what happened to us, it actually helps us to learn how to have better boundaries and to really look out for ourselves.
KRISTIN: Yeah, as we need to come to a close, I really want to talk about that important piece. Patricia, I know the boundaries piece is so key after something like this happens to you and you are in that trauma. What has that been like for you in establishing those boundaries? I know that you’ve had your work with your husband and that’s a very different conversation about boundaries because he’s a loving man as you said. But out in the world with other people that could re-traumatize you, maybe even not meaning to, what has that journey been like for you up until today?
PATRICIA: Well, it’s only in the last decade that self-care has become a priority for me because I really didn’t have a sense of healthy boundaries in my life. I grew up in a house where there was mental illness and alcoholism. It was a family where emotions were not allowed or discussed. The family motto was, “I’m fine; I’m fine; I’m fine!” I have a suspicion that a lot of survivors of assault don’t come forward sooner because of this “I’m fine; I’m fine; I’m fine,” which
is basically a denial of what happened, a denial of our worthy and a denial of our feelings. So I had to learn what healthy boundaries were and it’s taken me decades to do that. I would say I only feel really competent about that in the last ten years. I’ve done a lot of reading about it. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about it, and that’s what it’s been for me. But self-care really is a priority for me now. In fact I have that conversation with friends all the time: what are you going to do to take care of yourself in this situation?
KRISTIN: It becomes such a priority. I’ve learned, and I’ve said this on other shows, there are people that I have cut out of my life even with a sword. That just became necessary and I’m sure it was more forceful than it needed to be. But I’ll tell you, with how much love and respect that I receive without even having to state my boundaries, I am treated that way because I made those cuts from people that were behaving in a toxic manner and not good for me.
SHARI: I would say, when it comes to boundaries, this has been one of the hardest things for me. But as I’m going through my recovery, like you were saying about having to cut people out of your life, I had to do a lot of that. A lot of people were saying things to me like, “Why do you have to talk about all that stuff? Why can’t you just think of it like this?” It would stir up so much shame and guilt that in order for me to be okay with what I was doing and who I was, I had to do the same thing. In the long run, there’s a lot of loss there but it was also necessary. Sometimes we talk about that.
KRISTIN: Yes, there was loss there, but you know what? I found me! And I have my back and I hope, Patricia, from the way that you are the donor of your voice, I know this without even needing to ask you, all three of us have our own back. That’s probably who needed to have our own back from one hundred years ago.
PATRICIA: I agree.
SHARI: Well, it’s like I say to patients, we need to teach ourselves how to be our own parent. Many of us were not parented. There is nothing more important than being in this world and feeling like I’ve got myself covered, and when I feel like something is not right here or this isn’t the way I want it to be, I’m going to step in and take care of that smaller part of me that nobody helped. I’m going to knock ‘em dead out there. That is hugely empowering to feel like we can do that for ourselves and also that we can help other friends and your viewers, because that’s what is most important. We need to be able to take good care of ourselves and it’s not up to anyone to tell you, me, or Patricia what our own boundaries should be. I get to decide that – it’s up to me.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. Shari, can you share with our listeners what people can do to take that important “putting one foot in front of the other” to get help for themselves.
SHARI: Yes, definitely. There is no right or wrong way to work through trauma, and like Patricia was talking about, there are many different types of therapies. Do your homework. Look up different types of trauma therapies. Try to find clinicians in your area. Make sure when you talk to therapists that before you make a commitment to work with this person you have a conversation with this person. Ask them what kind of trauma they have worked on with people. Make sure that you don’t decide after one or two sessions who you are going to work with – meet with other people. Meet with three or four therapists.
KRISTIN: Yes, be a consumer.
SHARI: Yes, absolutely. If you feel safe in that room and you feel like that person you’re working with is going to be able to give you what you need, if you have a good feeling, then go back and see what happens. But don’t go in your first session and tell them everything that happened to you. Go in; meet the person; ask yourself if you can see yourself opening up to them; assess if they seem to know what they are talking about or has an understanding of what trauma is – those are all important things. Be respectful of your time. Give yourself as much time as you need. If you decide to go
into therapy, make sure that you are healthy enough to work through your trauma before you begin that work. If you are in a deep depression or in a raging eating disorder, work on those first.
KRISTIN: Yes, peel the layers of the onion. Don’t go straight to the center of the onion.
SHARI: Right, I’ve had people walk in on their first session trying to tell me their history and I’ll try gently to say to them, “Let’s talk about where you are right now. Let’s work on where you are in your life today. Once we know all of that is going well, and you are able to manage the feelings that come with the trauma, we need to make sure you feel like you can be in your body and take care of yourself today.” So that is also very important.
KRISTIN: Absolutely. Patricia, do you have any last words that you want to share with our listeners?
PATRICIA: I’m just very grateful for having been asked to be a part of this podcast by two women I really admire and respect for what you’re doing in the world. I hope this will reach other people who have experienced sexual assault so that they know that they are not alone, that they have the opportunity to come forward especially now. The culture is changing; as Beverly Johnson, one of the Cosby survivors said, “We’re moving the needle.” I’m not saying that we can take credit for the cultural change but we have a part in that, and we’re changing the culture. It’s going to be slow work, but you don’t have to be alone any more. You can come forward; you can tell the truth about what happened. We can be here together supporting you in that, whether you’re a man or a woman. I hope listening to us talk about this today has made some difference in your lives.
KRISTIN: Thank you. Yes, this is such an honor for me and that was so perfect there is nothing I can add to that, Patricia. That was succinct and perfect. How can our listeners find out more about you, Shari?
SHARI: The best way to find out more about me is to go to my website (www.sharibotwin.com.) All of my contact information and a lot of the publications, information about my second book, and quotes from my first book all are there. Please feel free to reach out to me or go to the page that has resources. On that page there are different organizations that specialize in abuse, eating disorders, depression – all those things that many people may be looking for after listening to the show today.
KRISTIN: Fantastic. Patricia, do you prefer people to reach out to you through Shari, or is there a place you want to share for people to find out more about you or the resources you’d like to share with them.
PATRICIA: I hadn’t anticipated this question. I’m happy to give my email address if someone feels the need to write to me about having heard the podcast. I’d be happy to respond to them. It is firstname.lastname@example.org and I have a Facebook page under my full name, Patricia Steuer, and I have heard from people through Facebook. Either one would be fine.
KRISTIN: Wonderful, again, thank you both so much. I want to make sure our listeners know that one of the things I said from the beginning, and I’ll do this without crying because I’m grounded.
SHARI: You sound like you’re crying over there. You need tissues?
KRISTIN: No, I’m grounded. No tissues. One of the things I wanted to make sure Patricia knew and Shari knew from her first interview was that while advocacy is exceedingly important and at the core of why I ever even created this podcast, there is a very fine line between advocacy and sensationalism. One of the things I wanted to make sure Patricia knew, and that Shari knew, was that we are going to certainly put this out in a way that as many people as possible can hear it; but we are not going to do it in a way that is disrespectful to the experience of the three of us. That’s the core of our show and as all of you listeners know, when you’ve been through the journey with me of hearing me in an active situation where you were hearing me being gaslighted, abused and so on, what did I do? I took every single show down because that’s how little I care about sensationalism. I just wanted to make sure that for those of us listening in that still stands today with how we move forward. I want to say one last thank you to you, Patricia, for coming on the show.
PATRICIA: You’re welcome. Thank you again for being invited, you and Shari.
KRISTIN: Shari and Patricia, thank you for thinking of me to do this with you.
SHARI: Thank you so much for having me back; and Patricia, thank you so much for accepting the invitation. I knew when Kristin and I were talking after the first show; I knew exactly who I was going to ask, probably the day after we did the first podcast. And I’m so glad we did.
KRISTIN: We’re in 170 plus countries now, so I can’t wait to get this on the air. Lastly I want to say, thank you so much to the listeners that have been through our journey and the journey of all of our guests for the last three years. Thank you so much for continuing to tune in and support Mental Health News Radio.
Please join us next time on Blogtalk Radio. Visit MentalHealthNewsRadio.com for a list of upcoming and past shows. If you’d like to be a guest on our show, please visit EverythingEHR.com or email me at hello@everythingEHR.com.