Human Trafficking Occurs in Our Neighborhoods

You wouldn’t think that human trafficking happens in your own neighborhood, but it happens everywhere. Galena Rotary Club invited Toni Lucas to speak to our members about human trafficking this week. Ms. Lucas is the chairperson of Rotary District 6420 Task Force Against Human Trafficking. I was surprised to hear that Illinois ranked number 10 in the US for trafficking in 2017. Nearby Rockford, Illinois was ranked second in the state for human trafficking in 2015. I’m grateful to Rotarian Toni Lucas for educating us about this important issue. The statistics in this article are adapted from her presentation.

So what is human trafficking? Labor trafficking is force, fraud, or coercion used to induce a person for labor or services in involuntary servitude, debt bondage, or slavery. Sex trafficking is a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion.

Who are the victims? Trafficking victims can be any gender, age, race, nationality. In the United States, it happens in all 50 States and in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. Individuals who are at risk include people with limited social safety nets, homeless and runaway youth. Or, people who are undocumented or have illegal immigration status, or those with limited English proficiency. However, anyone can become a victim.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally. 81% of them are trapped in forced labor. 25% of them are children. 75% are female. The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide. In fact, the highest days for human trafficking in the US are Super Bowl, Indy 500, and the Kentucky Derby. I will never view these events again without thinking of victims of trafficking.

Here’s what to look for. You might notice that someone is not free to come and go as they wish. They don’t have money even though they work a lot. They owe a large debt and are unable to pay it off. They were recruited through false promises. They don’t have access to their passport or other documentation. There is evidence they are being controlled. They may have a tattoo with the name of a trafficker. They may live with co-workers or their “employer” or there may be secrecy about their whereabouts. For more signs of trafficking perpetrators, refer to the Duluth Model Sex and Labor Trafficking Power and Control Wheel at

Victims can’t escape their situation easily. They might be unaware that what is being done to them is a crime. They may have developed positive feelings or loyalty toward the trafficker. They may fear or distrust law enforcement or social service providers. Many fear for own safety or that of family members or have lack of options. There could easily be fear of deportation or arrest. They may feel shame or fear of what they will face if they come forward.

President Obama made the following remarks to the Clinton Global Initiative on September 25, 2012. “It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.”

If you suspect human trafficking, call 888-373-7888 to reach the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.


What Do You Say at the Funeral of Someone Who Struggled with Opioid Addiction?

I’m reading a Chicago Sun-Times column entitled “What I’ll Tell My Kids Someday About Drug-Addicted Uncle They Never Knew.” Author Stefano Esposito’s brother, James, died in a car accident at age 28. Stefano’s sons are ages six and one. He wonders how he will describe his brother’s death to them when they are older.

James’ death was caused by a collision into a concrete embankment. Stefano believes the accident was influenced, or perhaps caused, by James’ substance abuse. James had a history of heroin abuse. It sounds as if James made a good effort to stop his opiate addiction. He relocated out of state to start a new life, without easy access to drugs. We can’t know by the news story if James had found sobriety. However, the implication is that he had relapsed because he was in contact with his ex-girlfriend and that another presumed drug addict attended the funeral.

James was described as a sweet kid who made friends easily. He was well loved. At the funeral their mother said trembling “He was my son, and I loved him.” Stefano will tell his sons that he loved James, but wonders whether he could have done more to help him. He is angry for the pain James caused. He is also angry that his brother will not be available to help Stefano when he grieves their mother’s death. Stefano will tell his sons that James never met him, never hugged them, and would never know the joys of being a father because of drug addiction. Stefano’s greatest fear is that drugs will take his son’s lives.

Could Stefano have done more to help him? I don’t have knowledge of what efforts were made. I do know that he can do more to honor James’ memory.

So, what could Stefano say of his brother’s death? I would encourage Stefano to say that his brother was a wonderful young man. I’d recommend that Stefano tell the stories they shared as brothers, as is common in a celebration of one’s life. I would say that he was not only sweet, but resourceful, brave and motivated for change. James went to great lengths to find sobriety by moving out of state where he presumably had few friends or family.

I would recommend that he tell his sons that James had a disease, not unlike other diseases like diabetes or cancer. I would explain the nature of addictions and describe an automatic feedback loop in his brain that causes cravings for more drugs, against his better judgment. In fact, addiction impairs judgment, memory and reasoning skills. I would tell them that there are medications to treat opioid addictions, like Methadone and Suboxone. When coupled with counseling, countless people find sobriety.

I would educate his sons on opioids, which include heroin, as a class of drugs that are different from other substances. Other substances, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, are easier to stop. Those drugs are primarily psychologically addictive, whereas opiates are physically addictive. Withdrawal from opiates can be so severe that the user will do just about anything to avoid the symptoms. I would explain the swift progression of opiate dependence, in that someone can quickly become addicted from medically prescribed pain killers. I would tell them that if a patient is abruptly cut off from their prescription, they may turn to heroin which is cheaper and easier to access.

I would tell the story of the expansion of opiate use in the US when drug manufacturers heavily marketed pain killers to the medical system, falsely claiming that they are not addictive. I would say that 115 people a day are dying of an opioid overdose, partly due to this false misrepresentation.

I would talk about sadness over the loss but I would not be quick to express anger. No one sets out to become addicted. I would also tell his sons that sometimes accidents are just accidents, and correlation is not causation, and we’ll never really know what happened to cause James’ death.

I would ameliorate the stigma of addiction and celebrate a life that was more than one dimension. There was much, much more to this young man than a substance abuse problem. He deserves the same respect at death as one who dies of diabetes or cancer.

I would talk about James’ death with love and respect and utilize it as a learning tool for his sons.

Divorce: Fault or No Fault?

I was surprised to read of a woman in England who was denied a divorce by the Supreme Court. She sought a divorce after 40 years of marriage at age 68. Her 80-year-old husband refused the divorce. She must remain married until 2020, after having lived apart for at least five years. At that time the divorce is granted, even if your spouse disagrees. A Parliament judge stated that being in a “wretchedly unhappy marriage” was not a ground for divorce.

Grounds for divorce in England and Wales are subject to a “fault-based” finding. You must prove that your marriage has broken down irretrievably and cite one of the following reasons; adultery, unreasonable behavior, desertion, you have lived apart for more than two years and both agree to the divorce, or you have lived apart for at least five years, even if your partner contests it.

At-fault divorces may create unnecessary antagonism in an already emotional situation. In England and Wales 70% of couples said that using fault made the process more “bitter”; twenty-one percent said it made it harder to sort out arrangements for children; thirty-one percent said it made it harder to sort out finances; sixty percent of divorces used fault-based grounds. A law professor in Scotland believes that “the judicial system doesn’t have time to question the allegations or demand any real proof, meaning that accusations go unquestioned, even if the accused deny they have behaved unreasonably or had an affair.” This leads to manipulation of the system.

This story made the news headlines in the U.S. perhaps because this is a surprise to Americans. Every U.S. state offers the option of no-fault divorce in which they are not required to show wrongdoing by either party. In many states, no-fault is the only option. California was the first US state to pass a no-fault divorce law. New York was the last state to pass it. Prior to no-fault divorces, there was an adversarial system, demonstrating the fault of one, and only one, party. Traditional fault grounds are cruelty, adultery, desertion, confinement in prison, and a physical inability to engage in sexual intercourse, if it was not disclosed before marriage. One study showed that domestic violence and female suicides declined in states that legalize no-fault divorce. One spouse cannot stop a no-fault divorce.

In Illinois, a divorce can be based on either fault, or no-fault grounds. Reasons that one might claim at-fault grounds are to gain an advantage in child custody cases or a dispute about division of property. For more information, see Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce by Emily Doskow.

Some believe that a no-fault divorce system undermines the institution of marriage. This may be from religious beliefs, or from civic arguments that our society is damaged from failed marriages. They prefer a long waiting period before a divorce is granted. It allows couples to change their minds and helps a person who does not agree to the divorce make adjustments to this profound and life-changing event.

Divorces that are kinder serve both parties as well the children. If you cannot remain married, the best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to take the high road whenever possible. This means trying to compromise, consider your partner’s feelings, seek to negotiate a solution that works for everyone, not just you. Don’t create or escalate conflict. Although this is not always possible, you will feel better about your handling of this painful event.

Opioid Overdose Epidemic is Getting Worse

Just when you thought the opioid overdose epidemic couldn’t get any worse, it has. It spread. Now, more people are dying of fentanyl laced methamphetamine and cocaine.

Deaths in Philadelphia involving cocaine and methamphetamine are increasing in combination with fentanyl. According to a study by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health From 2016 to 2017, the number of cocaine deaths involving fentanyl increased by more than 130%, and the number of methamphetamine deaths involving fentanyl increased by more than 200%. It has spread to other states.

Fentanyl is a prescription opioid painkiller. It’s primary use is as an adjunct to anethsia. It is a narcotic painkiller that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is used to treat severe pain such as in patients who have terminal cancer. A euphoric high or death can occur if a person takes too much of it. Many overdose deaths are caused by unknowingly ingesting this drug with what they think is heroin.

Methamphetamine is referred to as “meth.” It is a stimulant. Meth is often confused with Methadone. Say it out loud, “Meth is not the same as Methadone” and commit it to memory. Meth is an illicit substance of abuse. Methadone is a helpful medication to treat opioid addiction.

Meth can cause hallucinations and violent behavior and take a toll on medical health. Meth surged in the 2000’s because it was easy to produce in labs set up in homes or abandoned buildings. Congress cracked down on the sale of Sudafed, used in cooking meth, by requiring a prescription. Much of the meth comes from Mexico now, rather than being produced locally. It is popular, plentiful and more lethal than ever. Although it is harder to overdose on meth than opioids, meth related overdose deaths are increasing. Both meth and heroin can cause heart failure.

Cocaine is a stimulant known as a party drug. Fentanyl-laced cocaine can be a deadly drug mixture. The DEA reports 7 percent of cocaine seized in New England in 2017 included fentanyl, which is a 4 percent increase from 2016. And in Connecticut, the number of fatal overdoses involving cocaine and fentanyl together has increased 420 percent in the past three years. Law enforcement officials speculate that dealers are adding fentanyl to cocaine because it is more cost-effective for them, and it makes the drug more addictive.

The gold standard of opioid dependence treatment is Methadone, Buprenorphine (a.k.a. Suboxone), and Naltrexone (a.k.a. Vivitrol). The properties of these medications are threefold. First, Methadone and Suboxone stop withdrawal symptoms. Second, when on a therapeutic dose, these medications block euphoria. Third, they reduce cravings.

There is no equivalent medication for meth or cocaine. Non-opioid substances are primarily psychological in nature, whereas opiates are biologically and psychologically addictive. Therefore, opiate addicts can undergo severe and intense withdrawal symptoms when the opioids are ceased. People in late stage opioid addiction are no longer getting high. They are simply trying to avoid withdrawal symptoms. They may turn to meth or cocaine to get through the sickness.

While we’ve been watching one epidemic, another has sprouted. Rather than say that we have an opioid epidemic, we should now admit we have a polysubstance problem.

What can we do? This is a complicated and multifaceted problem. But one thing that can help is Naltrexone (a.k.a. Narcan) that reverses an opioid overdose. It is effective to combat fentanyl that is mixed with other substances. Naloxone is available from many pharmacies now. Treatment providers should be ready for this new, potent, and deadly wave of addiction. If you or someone you know takes these substances, be careful.

Where’s the Line Between Normal and Abnormal?

Perhaps you read the trending news of the man with the world’s longest fingernails who recently cut them off after sixty-six years. Yes, that’s right. Shridhar Chillal, 82, let his nails grow for more than six decades. Apparently, at age 14 he accidentally broke his teacher’s nail, and was scolded for it. The teacher said that Mr. Chillal would never understand the importance of breaking his teacher’s nail because Mr. Chillal had never committed to anything. He took this as a challenge to himself and let his nails grow six ½ feet long. They are now on display in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum in New York City. Mr. Chillal is described as making an “unusual choice” but it didn’t stop him from leading a “normal” life. He married, had two children and worked professionally as a photographer. Now that his fingernails have been clipped, he is left with a permanent disability. He cannot open his left hand from a closed position or flex his fingers.

Mr. Chillal is also listed in the Guiness Book of World Records. Once the application is approved, his feat will be immortalized in the book. I had to ask why on earth would anyone want to do that? What does this get him? There is no financial gain and it is dubious that this feat will garner respectful fame.

Ian Robertson, professor of psychology in Dublin, states that the thing that motivates a person to win a race or an athletic performance is a mix of motivations. He cites the “three needs” theory which breaks down motivation in needs for achievement, power, and belonging. If you can’t achieve in more conventional means, a bizarre feat will do. That feat will be officially recognized as something that is measurable, superlative, breakable, and interesting. It is a human desire to stand out of the crowd. We want to be unique and to be a winner.

Having the longest fingernails will enliven any conversation. But is it normal behavior? It is difficult to determine where normal behavior leaves off and abnormal behavior begins. However, four “D”s can help conceptualize abnormality.

Deviance identifies the degree of deviation from the norm. A behavior is abnormal if it occurs infrequently among the members of a society or culture.

Dysfunction identifies that which is significant enough to interfere with the individual’s life in some major way such as in a person’s occupational and social life. It is an inability to perform daily functioning or everyday activities.

Distress is identified as the extent to which the behavior distresses the individual, not the observer. A person can experience a great deal of dysfunction and very little distress or vice versa. Distress may appear as anxiety, insomnia, various pains and aches or emotional upset.

Danger consists of danger to self and/or danger to others.

Some researchers add a fifth D, Duration. Chronic, problematic behaviors that are of longer duration are more typical of abnormality.

Mr. Chillal’s long fingernails fits several criteria of abnormality. It is safe to say that a refusal to trim one’s nails deviates greatly from the norm. His nails created dysfunction in that he needed assistance to perform daily tasks such as dressing himself, as seen in videos of him. It is unknown if he was distressed by his nails, but it likely caused stress or embarrassment to his family who had to care for him. The length of his nails presented a danger to himself in that he knowingly and willfully caused himself a permanent disability. Sixty-six years is the duration of his adult life. He deprived himself of freedom of movement until the age of 82.

Do you have behaviors or habits that are abnormal? Use the four D’s to check yourself.

Are You in Death Denial?

End of life planning can seem morose, depressing and maybe scary. This is why only 42 percent of US adults have a will or trust. Only one in three people have advanced life directives. Many Americans avoid setting up a will because they don’t want to think about their death and because of procrastination. They may subconsciously think “I’m going to live forever.” Everyone wants to believe they will live into their 80s, 90s or longer. Average life expectancy has climbed steadily but it is not endless. Longevity seems to have topped out around 120 years. Jeanne Calment of France died in 1997 at age 122. But it is certain that we will all die.

Considering the fact that everyone dies serves as a reality check and a challenge. Contemplating the end of life can make the time we’re here longer, healthier, and happier. Life will end, yet many of us avoid thinking of it, put off end-of-life planning, and are at a loss of words at a funeral. There are benefits of pondering our mortality. It may cause an improved diet, attention to exercise, and more time with people we love. It may cause us to examine our values and ensure that we are living in accord with those values. Talking about death helps us prepare emotionally or financially for the future.

Have you heard of the “death positivity movement”? Caitlin Doughty first used the term death positivity and a movement was formed. The following is a list of what the movement sees as important:

  1. By hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society. They aim to open up discussions of grief and death and believe that discussing the end of life can improve our choices and our mental health.
  2. The culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.
  3. Talking about and engaging with death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.
  4. The dead body is not dangerous, and everyone should be empowered (should they wish to be) to be involved in care for their own dead.
  5. The laws that govern death, dying and end-of-life care should ensure that a person’s wishes are honored, regardless of sexual, gender, racial or religious identity.
  6. Death should be handled in a way that does not do great harm to the environment.
  7. Our family and friends should know our end-of-life wishes, and that we should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.
  8. Open, honest advocacy around death can make a difference, and can change culture.

Participants of this movement create actual “death café” events in which people meet specifically for these purposes. At a Death Café people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. To date they’ve held 6605 Death Cafes in 56 countries. By talking about grief, others can feel a sense of togetherness and support. It is not just talking about a loss, but also about death, dying, corpses, and funerals. They want to eliminate the silence around death-related topics, decrease anxiety surrounding death, and encourage more diversity in end of life care options available to the public. These never involve agendas, advertising or set conclusions. For more information, see

In 2011, artist Candy Chang painted the side of an abandoned house in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with the statement “Before I die I want to _________.” Within 24 hours, people had filled the wall with their wishes. Since then, more than 3,000 “Before I Die” walls have been created in more than 70 countries.

It doesn’t have to be morose, depressing or scary. Death acceptance can serve as a reminder to get busy living. “I’m not anticipating dying tomorrow or in the near future, but I do consider what will be important to me at the end of my life,” says Kortes-Miller. “Then I ask, ‘Why is it not important today?’”

So, I challenge you to finish the sentence: “Before I die ___________” and get to it.

When Is Grief Counseling Warranted?

As a psychotherapist, I am sometimes called upon to help someone who is grieving. They may feel overwhelmed with intense emotions that cause them to function poorly. Sometimes their friends recommend they seek grief counseling. Their friends might be concerned about depression, social withdrawal and uncontrollable crying that have gone on too long.

While a student, I was taught not to pathologize a normal grief process. I was also taught that there is not a correct way to grieve. The person who talks openly about their sadness is not more or less healthy than the person who keeps their sadness to themselves. The expression of grief is as much a learned and cultural behavior as it is personal.

There is an assumption that the person who grieves well is facing the loss head on. They are able to talk about the loss, have gained insight into its meaning, and have a sense of resolution. J.William Worden, psychologist, established four tasks of grieving: to accept the reality of the loss, to experience the pain of grief, to adjust to the environment in which the deceased is missing, and to withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in another relationship. Most people who experience a loss are resilient.

Although psychotherapy (talk therapy) is commonly recommended for grief, not everyone needs to seek counseling or grief groups to find relief. Counseling is not necessarily the right way, or the only way. There are many healthy ways to cope with grief. When a person feels stuck, overwhelmed, or confused they may benefit from journaling or reading. Reading other people’s experiences helps to normalize grief, put it into perspective, and create a sense of universality. Artistic expression such as drawing or painting offers another means of showing how you feel, or the importance of the person you lost. Connecting with your faith, gratitude journaling, volunteering, and advocacy related to your loved one’s death may help.

So when is grief counseling warranted? Grief symptoms are elevated when people lose their loved ones under particularly violent or horrific circumstances. Even then, Bessel Van der Kolk, psychiatrist, believes that one crucial stage in bereavement is to allow the body to calm down. Probing questions to people who have freshly experienced a traumatic loss induces physical stress, which interferes with the natural grieving process. Encouraging people to discuss their pain over and over following a traumatic event can be counterproductive. Let the bereaved person choose if and when they might want counseling. Additionally, George Bonanno, psychologist, says counseling is most helpful for people who had psychological troubles before the loss, and which were exacerbated by their grief. Only about 10 percent of bereaved people have severe grief symptoms of prolonged, dramatic, high-level depression which persists for several years. This figure is higher for people whose loss is extreme or violent. Complicated bereavement might exist for people who had a troubled relationship with the departed before they died.

No amount of counseling will end grief. It is a universal human experience. However, if you need help, your goal is to shore up your psychological resources, whether it is through self-help or counseling.

Are You a Home Body or a Traveler?

I was asked to provide transportation between Galena and Rockford, IL yesterday for a couple of young men. I had the pleasure of meeting a 15-year-old who was going back to the Chicago area after visiting family friends. We talked about our travels. For a fifteen-year-old, he has traveled quite a bit including Hawaii and Honduras. He was to leave today for Montreal and intends to study in Berlin for a short time during his high school years. He would’ve preferred to study in Spain to improve his Spanish language skills.

The other young man is a 17-year-old Rotary foreign exchange student from Slovakia who has been here for almost a year. He just spent two weeks with other foreign exchange students on the US east coast. He described his trips to Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston, and Washington, D.C. as the best two weeks of his life.

This reminded me of a wonderful opportunity I had when in my early thirties. I volunteered to provide evaluations of American Airlines flights from booking to departing. I was expected to fly in the US twelve times within six months. I became accustomed to traveling to cities alone and learned to prefer it. If I had limited time to enjoy a new place, I didn’t want to be slowed by having to accommodate to another’s habits (sleeping late) or preferences (I want to see this, not that). At the conclusion of the six months I was given a free flight to use as I chose. I was surprised that this experience broadened my world view in dramatic ways. I gained an experience of the variety, depth and breadth of the United States and Hawaii. In short, I loved it and did it again for an additional six months.

Why do some people travel and others are home bodies? People who enjoy trying new things and engaging in new experiences are high in Openness to Experience. Others who choose to remain in familiar environments are low in Openness to Experience. One study found that students who chose to study abroad were generally higher in Extroversion, Conscientiousness (a need to follow rules and to complete tasks) and Openness to Experience than students that did not travel.

Motivation for travel is complex and reflex factors such as age, gender, emotions and experience. Older people tend to be less adventurous in their choices, preferring to use modes and visit destinations that are familiar. Perceptions of danger and safety strongly affect the destinations we choose.

What are the benefits of travel? When we are away from our problems, we’re more likely to see new ways of dealing with problems at home. Geographic distance leads to more creative and expansive problem solving. Our thinking gets more expansive and we are less tied to assumptions. We develop new skills from navigating our way in an unfamiliar setting. We become accustomed to doing new and unfamiliar things.

Travel affects our brains and personality. A 2013 study of Chinese travelers found that people who traveled regularly saw a long-term impact in terms of sense of direction in life and well-being. Another study of under-grads who had studied abroad for months found that they often experienced significant personality shifts, making them more open to new things and to fulfill tasks.

Extended foreign travel takes people outside of their comfort zone. Travelers have to adapt to new people and different cultures. Mahatma Gandhi called travel “the language of peace.” Extensive immersion in a culture over a significant period may increase compassion and tolerance, expanding a “boundary of empathy.”

Where is your next trip?

Suicides Are Increasing

Unfortunately, death by suicide is making headlines this week. Celebrities, Kate Spade, fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, CNN host and chef, were both found dead. It was reported that Kate Spade suffered from manic-depression and was upset regarding a pending divorce. Anthony Bourdain had been open about his drug addiction and depression.

Suicides are increasing according to the CDC. Since 1999, suicide rates in the US have risen nearly 30%. In 2016 there were more than twice as many suicides than homicides. Both Spade and Bourdain were known to have mental health disorders, but not everyone who kills themselves has had a mental illness. As these two successful persons have demonstrated, it can happen to anyone, no matter how comfortable their life. Mental illness and suicide do not discriminate.

How can you help? Sometimes, in spite of your best intentions, you can’t always help. However, you should make an effort to be aware. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a list of warning signs.
1. Pay attention to how they speak. Someone who is contemplating suicide might express a desire to kill themselves. Or, they have no reason to live, experience unbearable pain and feel trapped. They may say they feel they are a burden to others.
2.What is their behavior? They may sleep too little or too much, withdraw from activities and isolate from friends and family. They may increase their use of alcohol or drugs, act recklessly or be more aggressive. They may look for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means. They may give away prized possessions, visit or contact people to say goodbye.
3. What is their mood? They may have depression, anxiety, rage, loss of interest, irritability, or feel humiliation.

A friend of mine said “We should brush away the stigma of mental illness. We should check on each other. We should be kind.” A wise quote I saw is “Many people are hanging by the thinnest of threads. If you treat them well, without knowing, you may very well be that thread.” (Author unknown).

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK(8255). It is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of more than 150 crisis centers.

That Which We Resist, Persists

I had the privilege of hearing Elizabeth Smart as the keynote speaker at the Riverview Center fund-raising event last week. Riverview Center provides help to victims of sexual and domestic violence. Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom at the age of 14 in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. She was kidnaped at knife point and held by a couple for nine months. She was tied up, raped daily and threatened with death if she didn’t comply.

In recounting her story, she spoke of feeling that she was damaged and no longer of value. She initially chose not to speak about her trauma. She could have retained this view of herself as forever flawed. However, her father became an advocate for victims and encouraged her to join him. It was there that she learned the power of sharing her story. As she listened to other victim’s share their experience, she realized that although the details were different, they all shared a similar pain. This helped her heal. As she opened up, she found her voice and became a victim advocate. She has been instrumental in passing legislation, received numerous awards, and founded a task force to educate children about violent and sexual crime.

Carl Jung contended that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” Today this viewpoint is generally abbreviated to “What you resist persists.” Many trauma victims have never spoken their story out loud. To recall the event is to relive it and to re-live the horror. It is an understandable choice to keep it private but it comes at a cost. Your negative beliefs are frozen in time. You likely have out-of-date thoughts and feelings about yourself, which are usually exaggerated and negatively distorted. When these thoughts are shared, they become malleable rather than fixed. A supportive person or group can help you feel less lonely, isolated or judged. You may gain a sense of empowerment. You may learn new coping skills to reduce depression, distress and anxiety. You may get practical advice or information about treatment options. You may learn to love yourself and trust others again.

I agree with Ms. Smart who said that pain is pain. Whether you suffered kidnaping and rape by a stranger, or sexual abuse from a family member, or some other offense, they are all painful events. Even Ms. Smart minimized her suffering by hearing of others who had, by her judgment, more severe forms of abuse. She felt the strength to survive because she knew her family loved her, would welcome her return, and would keep her safe. She has sympathy for victims of abuse by a family member and the resultant shattered trust. However, there is no need to judge whether your situation is better or worse than another’s. It is painful to you.

Issues that have not been emotionally resolved don’t just disappear. They may lie dormant for a while, but they may show up as low self-esteem, ill health or impaired relationships. Ms. Smart was helped by sharing her story and by becoming an advocate for all child victims. She turned an unforgivable horror into prevention and support for others.

If you have an unspeakable source of emotional pain, I encourage you to tell your story to a trusted person. Find someone who is kind, compassionate or wise to talk to. You might feel a new sense of lightness.