Can you heal from abuse? What do I do after leaving my narcissist? What does a healthy relationship look like? These concerns cross the minds of over 20 people every minute; over 28,800 people every day. And the sad fact is, we still don’t talk about it enough. Healing from Emotional Abuse isn’t a bandaid situation. But it doesn’t have to take years either. The lives of millions of other survivors around the worlds have been impacted by their narcissist. Yours doesn’t have to. To show you how to live a free, confident and peaceful life, your host and Founder of the Healing From Emotional Abuse Philosophy, Marissa F. Cohen.
Marissa: Welcome back to the healing from emotional abuse philosophy. I'm so excited today to bring on Jennifer. She is the host of a podcast called Living With An Invisible Learning Challenge. She's also a survivor of sexual assault and abuse from Southern California. And she's here today because she wants to support other survivors of sexual abuse and be able to speak for people with learning challenges who are affected by sexual assault. Her mission is to support those who might be afraid to speak out for themselves and fear the consequences and retaliation that they may face. Thank you so much for being here. Jennifer. I'm excited to chat with you today.
Jennifer: I'm excited to do this, too.
Marissa: So first and foremost, would you feel comfortable telling us your story?
Jennifer: Yes, I do. So my story is that I'm a survivor of sexual abuse. Though every survivor story and journey to healing is different. I think we'd all agree it's difficult. It's probably the hardest thing we'll ever go through. But what I know for certain is my journey has made me who I am today. The abuse began when I was about six and ended when I was 12 and disclosed. My cousin was my abuser. He was two years older than me. When it began, I was too young to understand what was happening and when I eventually disclosed, I had no idea what it would do to the rest of my family, or how my life would change. Let me stop here to provide some context first, because my growing up was different. My cousin's family and mine were very close. We lived near each other and my parents and my aunt work together. I have a brother and my cousin had just one sister then. On top of that, we were home schooled at the place where my parents and Aunt worked. Our grandmother was our primary caretaker, and my parents and Aunt would take turns teaching us our classes throughout the work day. We were super close, and were always together. And even after my cousin's family moved to the east coast, my brother and I learned to visit them nine or 10 times in those first years. One more piece of information is relevant for context. I have a learning challenge. I'm not neuro-typical, I didn't know that during the abuse. But in my sophomore year at college, I was diagnosed with NLD, which stands for nonverbal learning disability, it is something I was born with. I'll say more about that later. So about the abuse. I'm not sure if this exactly counts as sexual abuse. But the abuse began with my cousin taking me into a closet and ping me when I was about six years old. Eventually, he began to sexually abused me. I think I was about eight years old the first time, I didn't know what it was at the time. And I don't know how he knew anything about sex. I definitely didn't. But I trusted him because he was my cousin. The age difference made me feel like he had power over me and I was powerless. Because we spent our days together, regular access was easy. And even after they moved away, because we made so many frequent trips to see them the abuse continued at their house. It continued, and I got older, I started to have strong feelings that this was really wrong. The very last time it happened was when my cousin came to California to visit us. He had been giving his parents a lot of grief and my mom wanted to help my aunt out. My mom thought that maybe if he came to visit us in California, it would help. Of course, she didn't know anything at the time about the abuse. I felt scared about the idea of him coming. During that visit, He abused me three more times. His abuse had started with picking on me, and over the years went from that to intercourse, and the last time he tried to put his penis in my bottom. It hurts so badly that I stopped by yelling stop. I decided that was going to be the last time. I asked him what would happen if I told anyone, he said that we would get into trouble. But I knew he was only one that would get into trouble. I don't know why I didn't disclose to my parents sooner, probably because it took a long time before I really understood what was happening. But looking back at it, now, knowing what I know about people with NLD, I think that also influenced it. I was too naive and trusting. People with NLD are prone to being so. I always believed what I was told, and never questioned anyone older than me. Even at 24, I still sometimes struggle thinking that anyone would ever lie to me or try to deceive me. I still tend to believe whatever someone tells me.
I remember vividly the day I disclosed to my mother. It was a Saturday morning, my cousin was still visiting us on that trip. My mom was getting ready for the day and I told her I needed to talk to her. I felt nervous about telling her. When I got up the courage to disclose, I said something like mom, he is putting his pee-pee in my pee-pee. Clearly I didn't even have the words. She was shocked. At first she couldn't believe that, because we hadn't had the talk about sex yet. So she grabbed one of those facts of life books with some very basic pictures, and asked me to describe and show her what I meant by what I said. I showed her and then she completely lost it. She broke down sobbing reassuring, that she believed me and repeatedly saying, “How could this have happened? I'm so sorry. I failed you.” She immediately called my dad and told him to come home. Right away. It was urgent. She met him in the driveway and told him what I had just disclosed.
There was a whole cascade of events that have followed my disclosure. My aunt flew out. My grandparents got involved. A detective was called to take a report, Child Protective Services came, I had a physical exam, which was frightening and painful. There were lots of tears all around, my cousin and Aunt flew back east and we were left figuring out what to do. We decided not to press charges at that time since my cousin no longer lived near us.
I began therapy which I continued for five years. I had triggers all through high school, but it lessened as I learned more coping skills in therapy. Therapy helped a lot. I learned several really valuable coping skills like lucid dreaming, using affirmations to make myself feel safe and journaling, to name a few. Meanwhile, things between our families were getting very bad. The other side was minimizing what happened, calling it merely show ant tell. They did not believe it had gone as far as it had. They felt my cousin and I were equally responsible. Things got very ugly with my aunt and uncle and grandfather pushing hard for us to forgive, and blaming, shaming and faulting us when we weren't ready. How could we be no acknowledgment of what happened from my cousin or his family had ever been given. I don't think it ever will. Our two families are estranged to this day. It was sometime after I had disclosed that we learned that there had been another incident of my cousin abusing another cousin. That cousin's parents decided to press charges. My family and I even flew out to the east coast to sit in the courtroom to support her. It was a difficult but powerful experience. And the judge found my cousin guilty and he was put on probation.
He was required to go into counseling and he was forbidden to have any contact with the other family. There were more parts to his sentencing, but I don't remember them all. When I learned about the other girl and their families decisions to press charges, I decided that I want to press charges too. I told my parents and I had their full support. We began that process. We had a hearing in front of the judge. We would have been gone to trial. But in the end the outcome would not have been any different since we were both minors. Originally, I thought I wanted to go to trial because not doing so felt like the abuse would be minimized. But then I knew what that was like for my other cousin, the other girl, he abused. And I decided we'd all had gone through enough. Two traumas really, the sexual abuse and the breakup of our families. I was able to present a victim impact statement, as did several other family members who were with me. I was the last one to read mine. And in doing so I was able to describe how the abuse has affected my life and my family.
Marissa: Thank you so much for sharing all that. I'm so sorry for what you went through. How are you feeling now, after talking about it?
Jennifer: Well, I feel much better. Because each time I share it with somebody, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And it gets easier to say it. So, it does get easier to share it each time.
Marissa: Thank you. I definitely agree with that. I think that the more you talk about it, the more it just kind of flows. The less impact it has on you. So you wrote that just to be prepared. Right? So you wrote your story, which was great. Thank you so much for sharing all that. I'm so sorry for what you experienced in the actual abuse, but then even, especially the aftermath with your family. How do you feel now having gone through that process? Did it make you feel better at the time and now?
Jennifer: Yeah, going through the process with the hearing and the judge? It did make me feel better, because it made me feel like my cousin, I guess you could say, got punished for what he did. And the judge made me feel hurt because I remember during that time when I was 12, I felt like really nobody except for my immediate family believed me and believed my story. And I remember trying to understand why is all this happening. And just trying to wrap my head around all the family drama and interactions. And just trying to understand what was going on. And it was almost like it was kinda a tornado. And just like, what is happening around me?
Marissa: Totally understand. It's just very chaotic. Do you think having an invisible learning challenge, amplified the abuse or made the chaos of everything even worse?
Jennifer: So yes, I do think nonverbal learning disability, the acronym is NLD and NVLD played a part, which I learned about in my sophomore year of college. That's when I was diagnosed, I think it played a part because those people tend to be like I said, in my story, they tend to be more naive and trusting of people. And that's because they tend to have less life experience. And they tend to be more trusting even strangers. And because of them trying to catch up on the life experience that usually affects their trust issues. And even with the trauma that has made my trust issues more amplified, you can say,
Marissa: That makes a really good point, you made a really good point. I think another reason people with NLD are victimized more often because of the stigma and mental health. Right? So when when you have a mental health or a learning challenge, it's less likely that people like professionals will believe you. Or even, just anyone will believe you and you said that's kind of what you experienced. Right?
Jennifer: Right. Exactly. Less people will believe you when you just have a story. You have really no evidence to go with your it's just a he said she said thing. And really because also with my learning challenge, I don't like the word learning disability, So I use challenge instead, is not on the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, which is a manual that helps people get accommodations. Because it's not on there People think you're making something up, which is not true.
Marissa: And even if the diagnosis is in the DSM, right, people will still kind of think you're making it up because there's a stigma attached to mental health and learning challenges. And I think that's disgusting. That's something that I want to focus on. So thank you for bringing that up. So what coping skills aside from therapy did you use to help you heal from your abuse?
Jennifer: So the other coping skills I used is, obviously I got a dog. That was the whole reason we got Truffles. She's a Dijon, Shishu mix. We got her, actually 10, actually going on 11 years ago. And I never had a dog growing up so this was the first animal we had our pet in the house. And they kind of proposed idea to me, and they were like, do you want to get a pet? I'm like, What kind of question is that, of course, I want to get a pet.
Marissa: Do I have a pulse. Of course, I want a pet.
Jennifer: Yeah. And at first, we were wanting a cat because we travel a lot. But we wanted to add like a dog, we started looking at dogs. And then with Truffles, we got the opposite. Because she does act like a cat, she can jump really high, she loves to lay on our couch cushions like cats do. My dad has a pickup truck. And if it's parked by the curb, she can jump into the passenger seat without any help. So she has springs on her legs. And other coping skills would be I got into long distance running in high school and that was kind of a way for me to just get rid of stress. And sometimes when I was running, I would imagine my cousin's face and just kind of punch at his face to let off anger. That kind of worked. And I was kind of imagining like I was running towards my freedom of being free of all the emotions and just letting them go. And travel, my family did world traveling to at least one new country during the summertime and during non school breaks. That started when I was six years old, and when my brother was 11 years old. And it was kind of an escape for me from the sexual abuse that I experienced. Because when we were away from the family, I was away from my cousin. And the other coping skill I used to use was overeating. I did that in high school and college but I don't do that anymore. I used to use that to absorb emotions. And I got over that habit by realizing what I was doing and I decided to stop doing that. And try to express my emotions more by talking about them to my friends, my close friends, and my family.
Marissa: So I want to go back to one of the things that you said before, when you were talking about your story was that you use journaling, and that journaling really helped you. Journaling also really helped me so would you mind maybe talking about some of the things that you write about when you're journaling?
Jennifer: Sure. So yeah, one of the things I would talk about is, I would often like journal the dreams that I would have, which kind of helped get them out of my mind, because I found if they were still, in my mind, I would keep thinking about them. And so I kind of created a dream journal that I would use. I don't use it anymore, because I found when I was able to lucid dream, As soon as I mastered it, I did it on autopilot, basically. And I didn't need to journal about the dreams anymore.
Marissa: That's awesome. And you learned how to lucid dream from therapy?
Jennifer: Yes, I did. Very first therapist taught me that.
Marissa: That's awesome. That's a great technique. I wish I knew how to teach people how to do that.
Jennifer: Yeah, I wish I did too, because it's really helpful.
Marissa: Awesome. So tell me about what you're doing now. Tell me about your full time job.
Jennifer: So yeah, I work with my mom, who is a minister. She's been a minister for more than 40 years. She was ordained when she was 23. So near my age. And she is a unity minister in unity. It's Christian based, but it's not very religious. It's more spiritual for people who don't know what unity is. And the church is called the Unity Center. If people want to look it up. Basically what I do there is I'm an assistant for her, but I also am the manager of the website and the app that they have and her podcast that I helped with. And that was easier to do because I have my own podcast. The tech stuff I find so easy because I'm a millennial. So that helps. Oh, and I am our COVID janitor for our small in-person services that we do virtually on Sundays, Which is just our musical band, and my mom, and the staff, which is just me and my parents. So I just clean up after us when everybody leaves so that it's sanitized.
Marissa: So having grown up with a parent, who's a minister, do you use the scripture as any way to heal from abuse?
Jennifer: That's a good question. Yes, I definitely do use the faith that we have to help healing with abuse, I tend to meditate and actually, I'm wearing prayer beads. So that helps with healing. And I try to meditate a little bit also and when I exercise, I find that meditative because sometimes I can't sit very still. So sometimes I use more of a moving meditation as a coping skill.
Marissa: Awesome, guided meditation for healing and guided meditation for overcoming abuse are really really common tools. Is there any resource specifically you use for meditation? Are you just what do you do?
Jennifer: Usually, I just use deep breathing, or I can listen to one of the meditations that my mom has come up with, she has a lot of them on YouTube. She has her own YouTube channel for the church, so I can listen to the ones that she has on there.
Marissa: Awesome. Is there any particular part of the Scripture any passage that identifies with you or that, that you feel like has comforted you? You can say no, if you haven’t.
Jennifer: I would say something that I do identify with would be the saying that we have many paths, that many paths meaning many religions that exist in the world. And, you know, there's many gods that those religions have. And people follow all of them differently. I'm paraphrasing it. But that's basically what it means. And I like it because it's very welcoming. And, in Unity, we were very non judgmental of the past religion that you used, you can still practice it when you come to a Unity Church, and you can be who you are.
Marissa: That's beautiful. And I think that non judgment and that complete acceptance is really helpful for people, especially people who have endured abuse. I know that from speaking to people who are devout, devout Christians, that they see a lot of hesitation, with feeling comfortable leaving their abuser because of the way that they read and understand and comprehend the different scripture. So I think that being accepting and loving and knowing that people come from different backgrounds is really important. So thank you and your mom and Unity for doing that. Do you have a piece of advice for survivors of sexual assault with NLD?
Jennifer: Yes, I do. I think the ones who have NLD or other invisible learning challenges like autism or ADHD, or Asperger's, that they should be willing to speak up for themselves.
That if they've been abused sexually, or emotionally or physically in other ways that they should speak up for themselves and be able to say, “Hey, this happened to me, and it wasn't right,” and that they need to advocate for what they need. And they need to basically spread the word to others and be like, no, like the #MeToo movement. This is what I experienced, and I want to help others who are like me,
Marissa: I love that it's forming a community within a community and the sexual assault survivor community, we need to be better at advocating for people with NLD and invisible learning challenges, because they are a part of our community, people from all walks of life who have experienced sexual assault, and we need to be more inclusive and believe survivors. So thank you so much, Jennifer, for that piece of advice and for coming on the show and speaking out for survivors of abuse with invisible learning challenges and NLD because it's so commonplace in that community.
Jennifer: Thank you for having me. And thank you for letting me tell my story and talk about who I am.
If you enjoyed this podcast, you have to check out www.MarissaFayeCohen.com/Private-Coaching. Marissa would love to develop a made-for-you healing plan to heal from emotional abuse. She does all the work, and you just show up. Stop feeling stuck, alone, and hurt, and live a free, confident, and peaceful life. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Healing From Emotional Abuse podcast, and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marissafcohen, and instagram @Marissa.Faye.Cohen. We’d love to see you there!
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