From Despair to Joy
One Survivor’s Journey
Jennie P. is a lawyer, a librarian, and a poet, presently working as a contractor in the biotech industry while completing her first book, “Happy Girl: From the Basements to the Rooftops, A Memoir and Guide to Healing From Trauma.” After years of struggle, she has successfully healed from satanic ritual abuse.
Please use caution while listening to this presentation. It may be very heavy for survivors. All accusations are alleged. The conference is educational and not intended as therapy or treatment.
Hi, I’m using a pseudonym today, the pseudonym I’m using is Jennie P. Jennie P. is the name of my best cat who I had for over seventeen years, she was a very protective and loving presence in my life. She took care of me during all the years when I was having memories. Her full name was Jennie Princess, but for my pseudonym I’ve shortened it to Jennie P. I don’t quite think I can get away with the Princess bit, that would be a bit much!
And this is my cat that I brought with me today. It’s for comfort, but also it’s to keep my hands occupied so that I won’t make a mistake and use my hands in a way that might be triggering. So, you may see me holding onto this cat during my presentation. I hope that’s all right. I sure don’t want to trigger anyone so I’ll be careful.
I’m going to take a moment right now to pray and center myself, if you can please bear with me.
Ok, thank you for your patience.
I’m so honored to be here today to share my story with you. I’d now like to ask your permission to talk with you briefly about some things that are difficult to hear. I’ll give you a moment to consider if you prefer not to listen. If you’d like to leave the room, it’ll be safe to come back in about five minutes or so. This will be the only portion of my talk where I will discuss details of the abuse. We all know more about it than we ever wanted to know. What I want to talk to you about, is my healing and the healing that is possible for you.
I’m a survivor of intergenerational satanic ritual abuse. That does not exactly roll off my tongue! It still sounds strange to me. I guess that’s because it was a long time before I had a name for what had happened to me. It was a long time before I knew I was not the only one. When I first had memories, ritual abuse was not publicly spoken of at all, and what I called it was a war on women. That was my experience. I allege that my father and his cult murdered many girls and some boys. Oftentimes the girls were my friends.
The cult held rituals in the basements of the homes we lived in, and I was abused by the cult from the time I was very young until I got away when I was seventeen. The memories came in a year and a half flood in my early twenties, a period I somehow lived through. I don’t think I have to explain that to you. I couldn’t accept what had happened to me, and I thought about ending my life.
Let me share a poem with you from my upcoming book. The book is called, “Happy Girl, From the Basements to the Rooftops, A Memoir and Guide to Healing from Trauma”. The poem is called, “The Others”:
do not come
from the land of the dark,
they’ve not been hollowed out
Dungeons, to them, are recreation
a Halloween extravaganza.
I want to quiz/the Others –
What was it like to be 3 or 5 or 7,
and not be in a frozen stupor
stumbling trancelike across schoolyards
wondering why the others laugh
do not like
your too old eyes
your crooked gait
your fear of living.
As an adult, after I remembered what I had been through, I felt just the same as I had as a little girl. I felt I didn’t belong in the world, that I would not be able to fit in, that I would always be a stranger, a freak, abnormal. At 19, at 24, at 30, at 36, I didn’t have any more clue about how to live than I had had as a dissociated little girl. And I was still dissociated. I had gotten away from the cult but I hadn’t learned how to live.
I wanted to live, but I didn’t think I would ever find a way to live with what I had been through. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to live a normal life. I didn’t feel safe, I didn’t feel present, and I didn’t feel hope. I desperately wanted another survivor to take me by the hand and tell me they had found a way out, and to show it to me so I could follow in their footsteps. This didn’t happen for me, but I want to be that survivor for you, if you’ll allow me the privilege. I want to tell you, if you think there is not any hope for you, that there is hope, there is a lot of hope for you. Sometimes in my recovery I have wanted to give up, but I have kept going because I wanted to be able to offer hope to other survivors. So that’s why I’m here today.
I’m here to tell you that I found a way to live and, more than that, to be happy. I’m successful in my career, engaged to be married to a wonderful man, and I’m even living my dream of being a writer. But most importantly, deep inside where I always felt I was never going to be all right, I now have a feeling that I am safe and will be taken care of no matter what. It is the best thing in the world, that feeling, I want you to have it.
So how did I go from hopeless to happy?
Before I take you to the happy part, let me tell you some about the pain I was in for so many years before I healed. My pain was severe and constant.
My dream was to have one day in my life – just one – where I would wake up in the morning, feel present, and feel that way all day, all the way until I went to bed at night. Rarely I would have a brief moment where I felt present, and it was so exquisite, but in a flash it would be gone and I would feel even more deeply hopeless. It almost felt worse to have those glimpes; it reminded me what I was missing.
I didn’t actually believe I could ever feel better; I thought I deserved to suffer. If people suggested I could heal I was appalled, I thought, “they have no idea what I’ve been through, or they would never suggest I could heal”.
I hurt so badly, all the time. Often I didn’t want to be alive because it hurt so much. I was afraid of everything and everybody. I had a law degree, had passed the bar exam, and was working as a secretary. I was too afraid to drive, was afraid to leave the house, afraid of going into restaurants, afraid of being in the world, period. I wanted to hide, be small, invisible.
I was extremely isolated. As I’m sure you can understand, I didn’t have any family in my life (and still don’t). But I also had no friends. I didn’t have anyone to call up and say “do you want to go to a movie?”. How I longed for even a single friend. Every year as the New Year approached, I would wistfully think, “Maybe this year I’ll make a friend”. But it never happened, and year after year I had the same hope every time the New Year approached.
I spent most of my time alone, dissociated, reliving the traumas, curled up in the fetal position or rocking myself back and forth. I was baffled that other people had energy to live their lives. I couldn’t even manage to take my clothes to the dry cleaner. I wore my clothes until they were stained and ruined, and then threw them away. People had to give me shoes; I didn’t know how to buy them and I was afraid to go into stores.
I didn’t understand that the trauma was in the past. For me, it wasn’t over. While I was having memories and sleeping perhaps one full night a week, I forced myself to work full-time while going to school full-time, and earned nearly perfect grades. Fourteen years after recovering memories, I had frequent flashbacks, had chronic insomnia, and still thought it would be a sign of weakness to ask for help.
I cried a lot and was irritable, angry, overwhelmed and bitter. I had trouble being outside of my house. My shoulders were all hunched over and I hardly ever held my head up. When I started to heal and starting lifting up my head while I walked, instead of staring down at the sidewalk, I was pretty amazed by the world, by all that there was to see!
I was successful as a student because I had long used reading and writing to keep me “in my head” so I couldn’t feel anything. But because I lacked social skills, I was not very good at working. I was terrified of people. When I was thirty-one years old, I can remember sitting at my desk in a financial services company, and watching my boss approach my desk. He reached over my desk to hand me a packet of papers, and I recoiled in fear, because I felt like he was going to come at me with a knife.
When I was at that job, I spent a lot of time in the restroom having flashbacks, sometimes for 20 minutes at a time. It never once occurred to me to go on disability so I could have time to heal. That would have made me feel like a failure. I just kept pushing myself, driving myself, being stoic. I wish I hadn’t done that to myself.
The only relationship I had in my life was with my abusive spouse, and I didn’t even know I was abused. Someone was putting me down, discounting my feelings, controlling me with their anger, isolating me? Seemed pretty normal to me. Also, I wasn’t getting hit so I thought everything was fine. I was comfortable in that marriage, it gave me someone to blame for how bad I felt. Being in constant crisis kept me from having to face the pain that was still inside of me from my childhood. I had recovered memories, but I hadn’t healed.
I might have continued on this way for another thirty years, but something happened that woke me up. My spouse did something terrible to intentionally trigger my survivor guilt, my feeling that I was responsible for whether other people lived or died. That was my deepest vulnerability. Now I could endure a lot of pain, but the fact is I knew very well I could not survive someone pushing my survivor guilt buttons in order to control me. And I did want to survive. So I left that relationship, got a restraining order, and was alone in the world but for my cats and my therapist. I was devastated.
This was not the way I had expected my life to turn out. As a little girl I said to myself, I will grow up and get out of here and have a happy life with people who love me. I never said, I’ll grow up, hang around people who hurt me, and end up all alone! That was not the plan.
I was crushed that I had failed to create for myself the life I had always dreamt of. I considered drinking myself to death. Why didn’t I? Because someone gave me an alternative, and I leapt at it.
The truth is I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t know how to live. By this time I had been going to al-anon meetings for about four years because my ex had been an alcoholic. In case you are not familiar with it, Al-anon is a twelve step program based on alcoholics anonymous that is designed to help families and friends of alcoholics. I went to meetings and talked about my childhood and my abusive relationship, but my life wasn’t getting any better, I certainly didn’t have any peace inside.
Someone in al-anon offered to help me. It was a man. Yikes! What did he want from me, I wondered? Turns out that all he wanted was to help me so I wouldn’t be in so much pain all the time. He said “We’re going to make the hurt less”. It took me a long time to believe that, but I let him help me because he seemed so peaceful and happy, and I really wanted to feel that way, too.
In twelve step programs, a person who agrees to offer you one on one help is called a sponsor. A sponsor is a teacher and a mentor who teaches you how to practice the twelve steps in your life. My sponsor was an alcoholic and he sponsored people out of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. That was fine with me. After sixteen years in therapy, and four years in al-anon, I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere at all, and I was quite desperate. I hadn’t admitted to myself at that point that I was an alcoholic, but I was willing try anything to feel better. So I began a program of working the twelve steps that is called Big Book Step Study. [NOTE: If you are interested in learning more about Big Book Step Study you can visit the web site, big book step study.com.]
My sponsor got me started on Step one, which is to accept that you’re powerless and your life is unmanageable. Well, I had tried everything to fix my life and it hadn’t worked. I knew I could try again but I also knew it was futile. I had already tried everything! And I didn’t have it in me to try anymore and to fail again. I knew I would just go around in a circle and land in the same place.
There are so many things I had tried. Drinking, trying to look like a boy, starving myself, trying to be invisible, fantasizing about suicide and other forms of self-injury, going to therapy and therapy groups, calling my therapist constantly with all of my crises, being an overachievement addict, denial/trying to forget, reliving the trauma 24/7, wishing I were crazy, raging at men, reading self-help books, researching the origins of violence in human behavior, moving a lot, joining protest movements, staying in the house, staying in destructive relationships, and most of all, waiting. Oh, I did an awful lot of waiting – waiting for my life to get better.
Here’s how I described my sense of hopelessness in a journal entry:
“I’m always on the outside, looking in – on the perimeter, watching. I am not included and I do not belong. The world is going on around me, sun rising and setting, and I’m waiting. Lost, empty, everything spinning around me. People can tell something is not right with me… After all the al-anon meetings, therapists – the same despair and loneliness of not belonging in the world, remains. What can touch that?”
I was smart, but with all my intelligence, planning and thinking, I had not been able to improve my life. All my stoicism, courage, sleepless nights, advanced degrees, historical knowledge, and concern about social justice – had done nothing but keep me – at best – running in place.
Here’s how I described it to my therapist:
“I don’ t feel any hope, just a continuation of this long darkness… Life is this long circle that I’m walking around, forever landing exactly at the point where I began… I wake up every day, with everything I remember and everything I forget, and I’m lonely, and I cannot get away from it… I’ve tried, I’ve really tried, but I can’t beat this. You and I are just keeping me alive. We’re getting me nowhere”.
I was ready to accept that I needed more help.
Next was Step Two, where my sponsor asked me if I was willing to believe that the power that could help me was going to come from outside of me. Whoa, I did not like the sound of that at all. I was so afraid of outside influences, especially spiritual influences. I had survived by walling off the world and refusing to accept any of the cult’s warped beliefs. I did not want to take that wall down.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to take down the whole wall at once. All I had to do was shift one brick a tiny bit, just loosen it. That’s all, nothing more. That’s all it took to make a beginning. That seemed manageable to me. I didn’t like the idea of believing I needed a spiritual power to help me, but I trusted my sponsor and I was desperate enough to give it a try.
Next was Step Three, which is where my sponsor asked me to make a decision that I was willing to give God a chance to heal me. I didn’t like this at all. I thought God hated me, I didn’t believe one bit that God wanted to help me. Plus, it felt cult-like to me to make any kind of commitment to a power outside myself. But my sponsor assured me that twelve steps programs were not cults, and I believed him. I didn’t think that God wanted to heal me, that’s for sure, but I was willing to believe there was a one in a zillion chance that I was wrong. Again, it took only the littlest bit of willingness for me to get started.
Making the decision to try and let God help me gave me feel some relief. I didn’t feel so alone because I had my sponsor to help me, and I had hope – something I had not had before.
Next came the real work. My sponsor got me started on my fourth step. A fourth step is a written inventory about your life. I wrote a very intensive fourth step as part of the Big Book Step Study program; my sponsor provided me with detailed writing instructions and gave me prayers to say every time before I wrote. I wrote every day – sometimes for only a few minutes, sometimes for an hour or more – for sixteen months. I wrote about everything in my life I was angry about and afraid of, I wrote about my family and the cult, and I wrote about my intimate relationships.
As I wrote, I relived each period of my life and each trauma, and as you can imagine, this was pretty excruciating. But I kept writing, because I was in just as much pain whether I wrote or not, so I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. I knew that if I wrote, I might get some relief from the pain.
And over time, I did get this relief. I didn’t even know how it was happening, but I was beginning to feel better. All I was doing was writing, right? Why should that have changed anything for me? After all, I had been writing poems and journals for years, had talked and talked for many very expensive hours in therapy, and this hadn’t given me any peace. So why should this writing have been any different?
One reason it was different, was because I was praying before I wrote. In this way I was opening my heart to God, inviting God into my life, and allowing God the chance to begin healing me. I certainly didn’t understand it this way at the time!
Another reason it was different, is that I was following a structured course of spiritual writing that had helped other people before me. I wasn’t trying to figure out how to get well, I was following a proven method. This spiritual writing helped me develop a relationship with God, and this relationship with God has completely transformed my life.
After I had been writing for a while, here are some of the changes I began to experience:
I began to feel I had a right to live just for myself, not just to provide testimony about the crimes I had witnessed. This was inexplicable to me, this wasn’t even something I had wanted.
I came across a photo of my Dad and I wasn’t even triggered by seeing his photo. When I told my psychiatrist about this, her mouth just about dropped to the floor.
I was able to look at artwork I had drawn of the rituals and not feel triggered, not get dissociated at all, just feel sort of neutral like, “oh yeah, there it is”, like it was something from the past that was contained. I felt grounded. What was that?
I heard the song “Over the Rainbow” and I thought, maybe dreams can come true for me. I began thinking life was going to be really good. And when I thought that, I found it so amazing – me, thinking life was going to be not just good, but really good? Hello? What was that!
I began thinking school doesn’t matter and a job doesn’t matter, all that matters is getting well. For a lifelong achievement addict, for someone who had thought she’d better kill herself if she didn’t get into law school, this was something, let me tell you.
And perhaps in the most significant shift of all, I found myself thanking God for carrying me through the ritual abuse, instead of raging at God for allowing it to happen to me.
So I didn’t much mind how much it hurt to do the writing, because I had never before experienced the relief and peace that I was beginning to have. I was amazed. I didn’t know why it was working and I didn’t care; I liked it.
As I continued writing I noticed other changes in myself. When I had obsessive thoughts that someone hated me, I would quickly think “that’s stupid”. I even began to feel I had not deserved the abuse. After about five months of writing, one day I began to feel that each tragedy in my life – if I released it – would be transformed into something beautiful, providing possibilities for my life which were way beyond my imagination. I felt as if each released tragedy would become a flower, making of my life a wonderful garden. And this has occurred.
After about six months of writing, one day I noticed that I was talking about the past but was firmly grounded in the present. I could not believe this, it was so amazing to me, just unfathomable, that I could be in the present and be talking about the past, instead of just feeling stuck in the past. I actually knew the difference between the past and present!!! And I was actually in the present. Remarkable.
When somebody criticized me, I started to feel I didn’t have to take it personally, because what the other person said might not have anything to do with me, they might just be having a bad day. I was learning boundaries, that another person was separate from me. The cult had intentionally destroyed my sense of myself as a person with a right to myself, but now my sense of wholeness was being restored.
And then came a day when I woke up in the morning and I felt present. I felt present all day, all the way until I went to bed at night. I’ll never forget it, it was February 21, 2002. This was all I had ever wanted in my life, to have one day where I could really be in my life, not just be existing, dissociated, while the day passed me by. A week later I made a note in my fourth step notebook, “I feel deliriously happy to be alive. Woke up with sweet, peaceful feeling.” When I woke up in the mornings, as soon as my feet hit the floor I would start to sing “It’s a great day to be alive”. This was a big improvement over my favorite line from another song “you bleed just to know you’re alive”. For once in my life, I felt glad to be alive, not guilty.
All I was doing was praying and writing and following my sponsor’s suggestions as best I could, and I was changing. I didn’t change myself. It was so easy – I mean, yes, the writing was painful – but it was easy because finally I didn’t have to figure anything out. I just kept noticing myself feeling differently without knowing how it had happened. I would be able to do something I’d never been able to do before – like go into a restaurant – and I would just find this so cool!
When I finished writing it was Christmastime. I was sitting in a coffee shop and as I set my pen down for the last time a song began to play “Hallelujah I have laid my burden down”. Christmas lights shone on the street outside, and I was filled with peace and awe. When I saw my sponsor that evening I told him I was done, and that I had gotten what I wanted out of the work – I was able to breath in and out without feeling pain.
After I had finished the writing the next step was to real aloud to my sponsor everything I had written. In twelve step programs this is called the fifth step. Even though my sponsor had frequently looked at my writing during the prior months, the idea of reading it all aloud was pretty intimidating.
But it turned out to be an incredible experience to have this man sit and listen attentively to my whole life story. As I read, I began to accept what had happened to me, I began to let go. My intellectual defenses began to fail me. Before, I had constantly analyzed my memories to see if I thought they were real or not, because I did not want to accept the truth. But now my ability to intellectualize about the abuse dropped away, and my memories went straight from my head to my heart. I was devastated by the weight of my sadness. I had to go to the hospital for a little while while I learned how to cope with my feelings.
It was such a relief to be in the hospital where I could allow myself to be sad. To not have to function, to just be sad. And to learn that it was ok to be sad. I learned skills for managing my feelings, and I found out that no matter how sad I was, I could get through it. I found out the importance of being gentle with myself and giving myself some room to be human.
After I left the hospital I continued reading to my sponsor. When I was finally done with the reading, I had reached a turning point. I was ready to place myself in God’s hands without reservation. I said, ok God, I’ve had enough, I’ve suffered long enough, I’ve seen the healing you’ve already given me, and I want more. I don’t want to live anymore in the past.
To place myself fully in God’s hands felt like a huge step to me, it was such an unknown and a little scary. But I was sure it could not be worse than the way I had lived with self-hatred, with the desire to die, with loneliness, with hopelessness. I literally couldn’t stand even one more minute of suffering. If placing myself in God’s hands would allow me to live in a completely different way, then I was ready to do it. I said a prayer to offer myself to God, and I meant every word.
During this tme I felt God’s presence; I felt a warmth, safety, friendship and love that was very powerful and intensely comforting. For the first time, I felt deep peace. The feeling in the gut that I was going to have to do something self-destructive in order to be ok was gone. In it’s place was the feeling that I was safe and would always be safe and taken care of of. That feeling has ebbed and waned in the five years since then, but has never left me.
At that time a friend asked me how it felt to have completed my spiritual work. Here’s what I told her:
“Yes, I finished reading. My sponsor and I read my fears up on his roof deck, which is quite a long way from the basements of my childhood – just awesome… How does it feel? It feels as if the gates of heaven have opened and let me in. It feels as if, the thing I saw in my sponsor when we first met, I now have. It feels as if my life is just beginning. It feels as if there is no more darkness, just light. And that’s just the part of it that I’m able to put into words.”.
I felt I was getting a second chance at life. I had to learn how to live a life that didn’t revolve around fear. I was so used to being afraid that it was actually quite scary to learn how to live in a different way; it was uncomfortable and overwhelming at times. But my anxiety was so mild compared to the terror I had lived in before – anything was better than that. I lived in a brand new, exciting world, a world full of possibilities. It was no longer a world I needed to run away and hide from, it was a world I could embrace.
I was then thirty-seven; a little old, I thought, to be learning how to talk to people, make friends, and navigate life. It was an uncomfortable, sometimes messy, sometimes graceless process, but I was ok with that. I began to have fun, painted my fingernails whatever color I wanted, and even learned how to go shopping for clothes and shoes. I learned how to drive, which to me was as exciting as flying a plane, I couldn’t believe I could do it! I got a job with a lot of responsibility and travelled all over the world without fear – me, who had been afraid to leave the house!
At one point, I even had a little lavender house with a purple car in the driveway to match. Does it get any better? I had my happy childhood after all. I got so I had a bounce in my step. A bounce! Can you stand it? Me, chronically suicidal me, was happy.
I’m now forty-three. I continue to work hard every day to follow the twelve steps and stay close to God. My life, even when things are harder, continues to get better and better. While I once was dissociated all the time, I’m now very rarely dissociated, and when it happens it’s really brief. I have a prayer I say when it happens, I say “I belong to God, leave me alone”. It works, and then I’m able to return to my norm of feeling present, content and peaceful.
I have a blueprint for life, the one I had needed when I left home at seventeen. I feel so lucky. God is a friend who is always with me; if I’m struggling, I pray and ask God to help me. Life is so simple for me now. Even when bad things happen and I feel really hurt, I know I’m safe and loved and that I’m going to be all right. I always know I’m ok. I struggle now to recall the terrible anguish I lived in for so long; I’m no longer haunted by the past and it seems so far away now.
It hasn’t been easy for me to come here and speak, I am way outside my comfort zone. But I believe so strongly in the importance of forming connections with each other, telling our stories, helping each other heal, and creating a place for ourselves in the world where we can be completely ourselves and be loved and respected for our profound courage and bravery. I want to do my part to educate the world about how much recognition we deserve.
I’d like to invite you to stop by my table, Jennie P. Consulting, if you’d like a business card or just to say hello. You can also visit my website www.jenniep.org. I’m offering writing workshops for survivors as well as book coaching. I want to help other survivors write their stories, I want to create spaces where we can safely tell our stories to each other, I want us to grow strong and proud of who we are. I want this more than anything.
I’m also available to speak at other conferences, including trainings for treatment professionals.
A year ago I left a successful career in order to write my book and to pursue my dream of helping other survivors to heal. I’m committed to letting other survivors know that there is a way out. I once felt entirely hopeless, and now I feel entirely happy. If I can do it, anyone can do it.
I believe that if God can heal me, God can heal anyone. It’s just a matter of asking God for help, and accepting the help that arrives. I want you to know how much hope there is for you and what a beautiful, peaceful life you can have. If it was possible for me – and I’ve told you some of my story, it isn’t pretty – why can’t it be possible for you?
I want to thank all of you for being here and for listening to me. It takes so much courage to be here. And I especially want to thank Neil for his incredible dedication to our community. What a tremendous service he provides to us by coordinating this conference, and what a huge job it is.
I’d also like to thank my fiance – can you wave, dear, so they’ll know who you are? Thanks. He is a great and nurturing spirit and without his support, I would not have been able to write the book, nor would I be here speaking to you today. I’ve heard it said, “nothing we can do, however virtuous, can be done alone, therefore we are saved by love”. I have found this to be true.