From Survival to Freedom by Lisha Song
"Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you." Jean-Paul Sartre
When I first read this quote by Sartre, my heart sank. It sank because never in my life had I come across one sentence, one quote, which so precisely described my life experience—past, present, and future.
I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
It’s a little strange to write those words down on paper—“I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.” It almost sounds like a job title: “Hello, my name is Lisha Song and I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. How can I help you today?” But behind the strangeness of the words, a crucial question remains: What does it mean to be a survivor of abuse?
I suppose it means that the abuse did not overcome me; that it did not take my life from me; that I did not die because of it.
Oh, but I did. A part of me did die. The part of me that walks the other way when I see a group of men walking in my direction. The part of me that tightens up when I see a father changing his daughter’s diaper or giving her a bath. The part of me that worries about future hyper-vigilant parenting of my own daughter someday. And of course, the part of me that still remembers.
I still remember....
I remember growing up in my family and thinking, “Man, I can’t wait until I turn 18 so I can leave home and be in complete charge of my life.” And at age 18, I did indeed go off to college and begin my journey toward independent living. I immediately discovered that campus life had its own distinct culture—functional and dysfunctional at times—similar to a family’s culture I suppose. Beginning my adult journey was not as easy as I had imagined. I started to break down during my freshman year. I had difficulty sleeping, studying, focusing, and keeping my emotional roller coaster under control. I cried incessantly. I thought I was going to have to admit myself to the psychiatric ward—I felt completely out of control. But then a dorm-mate told me about the campus counseling center and how effective it had been for her. She was a sophomore and could empathize with my state of being.
When you think twice about reaching out to someone in need, don’t. Just do it. Thank God Betty did.
At the time, the campus counseling center offered fifteen free sessions to students. However, after the director of the counseling center read my intake paperwork, he referred me to an off-campus counselor who allowed more than fifteen sessions. Boy, did I feel like a freak! But with his compassionate eyes and sincerity, he looked right through me and said, “Lisha, you’ve been wronged and you deserve to heal.” Never before had I felt so validated, so understood, especially by a man. A seed of hope for man-kind and my soul planted itself in my heart that day.
Thus began my personal journey through counseling and counselors. From ages 18-23 I had three different counselors. Each represented the part of me that I needed to work on at the time. Each challenged me in ways they’ll never know. Debbie was my first. She reminded me of Nancy, my former youth pastor, who approached me with a gentle and compassionate spirit. I needed this. I was intimidated about the whole counseling experience—the not knowing what to expect and feeling as though I had failed in some way, failed in not being able to help myself. Carefully and thoughtfully, Debbie opened the door to my feelings and with her large couch pillows clutched by my white-knuckled hands, I walked through.....we walked through together. Wendy was my second. She worked in the campus counseling center and I admired her. I admired her quiet leadership. I believed she understood me on a soul’s level. I sensed that she knew what I had experienced and felt her connectedness to me. Her quiet assertiveness inspired me to take charge of my life and my relationships. Last but not least, there was Roy. I liked his sense of humor, but hated his style of psychotherapy. He never said a word! I had to do all the talking and this annoyed the hell out of me! In fact, it annoyed me so much I brought it to his attention during a session one day. He then pointed out the fact that I’ve been a good listener my entire life, that maybe it was time others started listening to me—maybe it was time I was heard. Woah. I didn’t know what to do with that. This man read my heart.
Victor Frankl talks about the “I/Thou” encounter the therapist and client have when both are truly present during a counseling session. It is a sacred connection. I had this with Roy. It scared me to death. I was able to be intimate with a man without sex. I was able to disclose to another the ugliest sides of Lisha and still be accepted. And for the first time in my life, I saw myself as lovable.
My counseling experiences with these people were more than the gateway to my journey of healing, they became the catalyst to counsel others as a vocation, as my life-passion. At age 19, 20, 21, 22, 23....30+, it was and still is my calling. I believe it is my calling to change the world....one human relationship at a time. But I’ve come to realize that it is my clients who change me. I discover so many new perspectives of the world when I meet with a client. And I discover the strength and wisdom that comes from people who have lived difficult, traumatic lives. I am honored to share in their journeys, to walk with them through the scary hallways and tunnels of past, present, and future. They give me the courage to continue my own journey of healing.
I don’t believe therapy in and of itself is effective. I don’t believe I would’ve progressed in therapy without the loving support of my friends and my spiritual community. What therapy helped me do was to separate myself from my family, from my upbringing. It opened the door to my authentic self and for the first time, I was able to accept God’s grace in my life. For the first time, I began to live my life as I am supposed to, as I was meant to from the very beginning. As we all are—with passion, meaning, and definitely with awareness.
I stayed asleep in order to survive.
Now I awaken because I choose to live.
And I live, now, with freedom. Freedom to love my husband... Freedom to forgive my family... Freedom to be vulnerable with my friends... Freedom to be authentic with my clients... Freedom to have passion .... Freedom to trust my own inner voice....
... Freedom to let go. Freedom.
And with freedom, comes responsibility. Sartre’s quote reminds us that there is power in freedom. Power to take the ugliness of the world and transform it into its original intended beauty. Power to re-birth oneself from unlovable to beloved. Power to recapture lost souls and guide them home.
I take the experience of having been abused and I turn it everyday into passion, joy, beauty. This is my responsibility. This is what it means to survive.
Lisha Song, M.Ed., is a psychotherapist trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing — www.emdr.com) living in Portland, Oregon. She specializes in empowering adolescents and adults to discover their authentic selves. From a collaborative, relational approach, Lisha helps people uncover their own healing resources and strengths through the connection of mind, body and spirit. You can reach her at [email protected], www.lishasong.com or (503) 309-2175.