June, 2000

Edited selections from the ASCA newsletter.

The original newsletter (pdf)


  1. A Reflective Moment: Approaching Life
  2. ASCA Meeting Ongoing Education Moment: Sharing Basics
  3. Rotation C Topic: Possible ASCA Meeting Topic for June: Sadness

1. A Reflective Moment:
Approaching Life

by George Bilotta

(The following brief article is a continuation of our monthly series focused on pondering some of life’s basic questions.)

Most people appropriate time to think, to strategize, and to make decisions concerning the practical and functional aspects of life—like school, profession, employment, hobbies, friends, relationships, retirement investments, vacations, interest groups, psychotherapy, support groups, etc. We imagine being a teacher or designer; attending a particular school, pursuing a particular career; being in a committed relationship; focusing on recovery; living in a particular geographic location; wearing certain clothes; eating certain foods; involving ourselves in certain kinds of entertainment, activities, etc. On the other hand, most of us seldom allocate time to think and strategize, to make decisions concerning cultivating personal characteristics or dispositions, matters of the heart—like compassion, gentleness, appreciation, kindness, empathy, patience, receptivity, humor, joy, wonder, integrity, courage, etc.

It is the difference between approaching life and proceeding through life with a basic small box of crayons in which to draw and color life’s possibilities, or proceeding with a huge, hundred-plus box of crayons. How we approach life, how we experience life, how we interact with life, I think, has more to do with our personal dispositions, matters of the heart—like compassion, gentleness, appreciation, kindness, etc., than with the practical and functional decisions we make around career, relationships, clothes, etc. I would also say that cultivating matters of the heart for the average person is more powerful than focusing on psychotherapy. Why? Psychotherapy does a wonderful job of assisting people in resolving psychopathological traits such as anxiety, aspects of depression, compulsions, and addictions. Psychotherapy helps us function better, feel better, etc. Psychotherapy, however, does an inadequate job concerning matters of the heart.

For example, gentleness is more core to being a human being than being in a healthy relationship. One cannot have a healthy relationship without cultivating a certain degree of gentleness. You can develop all of the functional and practical communication skills that the world has to offer, but if we lack gentleness, the interaction will remain lacking and unsatisfying. A relational interaction that lacks a sense of gentleness comes across as hard, cool, pragmatic, functional, etc. If I cultivate a sense of gentleness, whereby I try to look upon and interact with people, events, and things in the world in a tender, kind, and soft way, then the way I experience different situations in life will increase in tenderness, kindness, and softness. Because I try to cultivate gentleness in my life, I consequently end up coloring interactions with life in all its complexity and diversity, in all its depth and numerous possibilities. Life becomes brighter, more interesting, fuller, and more enjoyable. The interpersonal interaction is deeper, more satisfying, and more meaningful.

As for how this specifically impacts adult survivors of child abuse, I believe that childhood abuse, in its many forms, with its diverse consequences, influenced our hearts and shaped the core of who we are more profoundly than many people realize. Abuse not only affected us psychologically and emotionally, but it affected our hearts, our core. When a father seduced us, leaving us frightened, alone, confused, in pain—our heart, our core, lost a degree of compassion. When a mother refused to believe or intervene with a family member who was sexually assaulting us, leaving us bewildered, in agony, in despair—we lost a degree of joy and appreciation from within our heart, our core. Childhood abuse and its lingering consequences chipped away at our hearts, the core of who we are. It left us with a little limiting box of crayons to draw and color life.

If we fail to cultivate the matters of the heart, the core of who we are, we will continue to approach life in a pragmatic and functional manner. Though we may be and feel successful in our careers, athletics, hobbies, etc., when you really take the time to sit and ponder, can you imagine living in a world, living your life without matters of the heart, dispositions like compassion, gentleness, appreciation, kindness, empathy, patience, receptivity, humor, joy, wonder, integrity, courage, etc.? Cultivating personal characteristics or dispositions, matters of the heart, is a lifelong process. Dispositions of the heart can be cultivated and will have a profound effect on how we take up the daily tasks of life.

Questions to ponder:
  1. What do you think that you would gain by cultivating matters of the heart?
  2. What would it mean for you to focus on cultivating matters of the heart?
  3. Reviewing your own journey through psychotherapy, how has it helped you to function better, to feel better, and how has it helped you in matters of the heart?
  4. How can you balance being practical and functional, yet still cultivate matters of the heart?

2. ASCA Meeting Ongoing Education Moment:
Sharing Basics

Occasionally, members inquire into the parameters surrounding what can or cannot be shared in an ASCA meeting. Although we have clear Meeting Guidelines, especially Guideline #6, which prohibits any type of discussion or disclosure of past or present perpetrator-type behavior, and Guideline #7, which prohibits derogatory language concerning minority groups, etc.; and the share guidelines, which encourage us to speak about our feelings and to share in a way that others can “take in” what we are saying, additional clarification may be helpful for some participants.

First, sharing is a two-way street. We share and disclose for the purpose of liberating ourselves from our secrets, our shame, our humiliation, our painful stories of childhood abuse, and the negative effects on our lives. We also share to relate our successes, our strategies, our growth, and unfolding as human beings, who have been impacted by childhood abuse.

Yet, we share in the context of a community of ASCA members—people who have been through similar experiences. Thus, our sharing is intended not only as a catharsis and an opportunity to gain insight and support for ourselves, but also to connect with others. We all know how various shares impact us—how we nod in empathy, how we squirm with discomfort, how our agitation oozes out, how our sadness releases tears as we listen to others share.

Some people think they should be permitted to share anything they want and in any manner they want. When our ASCA guidelines and spirit of sharing are crossed and not observed, a meeting can quickly descend into chaos. Most of us have had experiences of this happening in a meeting. We feel unsafe, confused, and frightened. At this point, a meeting ceases to be helpful and has turned counterproductive. Share guidelines are not meant to control. Rather, share guidelines have the purpose of providing the conditions for the optimal healing experience for everyone—sharers and listeners.

Second, outside of Meeting Guidelines #6 and #7 mentioned above, there is no restriction concerning the content of our shares. Some people sense that their shares may be too intense for others or that others may feel uncomfortable with what they want to say. When this thought arises, we might begin our share by stating to the co-facilitators that we want to share something but are concerned that it may be too intense or that it may make others feel uncomfortable, and that we may need some help to stay within the guidelines.

What this introduction to a share does is free us up. We disclose our need to share something that feels potentially overwhelming and a stretch of the guidelines. At the same time, we open ourselves up to support and assistance by the co-facilitators to keep us on track. Everyone in the room—sharers, co-facilitators, and listening members—is all rooting for us, wanting us to succeed. We are all doing the best we can with difficult material.

Third, sometimes sharers are intervened upon by the co-facilitators, not so much for the content of a share but rather for the manner, the tone, or the flavor in which the share is being presented. For example, if I start shouting and screaming, standing up and moving about in an agitated way, the manner of my share, the style of my share, its tone has turned destructive. The share is no longer productive and helpful. Though it may feel cathartic for me, it has destroyed the sense of safety and soundness of the meeting. When a share veers off course and impinges on the integrity of the meeting, its safety or its predictability, then the share must come to an immediate halt, usually by the intervention of a co-facilitator.

Another example to illustrate the manner, flavor, style, and nuance of a destructive share is how a sharer goes about disclosing explicit sexually abusive behavior of their perpetrator. Most survivors, at some point in their recovery, find it helpful to relate what concretely happened—the rape, the seduction, the assault, the badgering, the threats, etc. However, some survivors, who may be unaware or lacking insight into this particular aspect of their lives, might describe the situation in a way that comes across as sexually arousing, as sleazy and slimy, in a manner meant to provoke others within the meeting. We can all probably recall one or two past situations in a meeting when a share moved from describing and relating something from a wrenching heart to describing and relating material that comes more from the unhealthy part, from the out-of-control part, or from the pathological part of self.

This type of sharing usually seems okay in content, but rather the way, the manner, and the flavor of the presentation definitely feels and is experienced by the meeting members as inappropriate, unhelpful, not within the spirit of sharing. The reality is that some people who attend ASCA meetings are hurt so much that they are often unaware of the way they come across. Though they may not consciously intend to be provocative, they inadvertently are. Provocation of any kind is always inappropriate and is unhelpful in our meetings. Often, the intensity of a sharer’s rebuttal to a co-facilitator’s intervention is an indication of his or her inappropriateness.

Fourth, in turn, not every share that a listener may experience as uncomfortable is inappropriate. There are many things that people might share that are appropriate but that some people may feel uncomfortable with. Just because I may feel uncomfortable, uneasy, or agitated by a share does not make the share inappropriate or unhelpful. A feeling is a feeling, is a feeling, neither right nor wrong, neither good nor bad. But to make a judgment about the inappropriateness of a share, one must move from feeling to thinking. Does the share violate any of the guidelines? Is the share being presented in a manner that is provocative? If in a concrete way we can not affirm the specifics of the violation, then the share is probably stirring up our own unresolved stuff around the material of the share. Therefore, we feel uncomfortable, uneasy, agitated, etc. Though uncomfortable, the share is still appropriate.

Finally, as stated at the beginning of every ASCA meeting, “by participating in this meeting we all agree to honor and abide by … any interventions made by the co-facilitators.” Again, sharing is a two-way street. To maintain the integrity of a meeting, it is helpful to approach a meeting in the spirit of trusting the co-facilitators and of trustingly deferring to the difficult decisions that co-facilitators sometimes have to make during a meeting.

Again, interventions are made not to control or humiliate, but rather to maintain the integrity of the meeting. Co-facilitators do the very best that they can. One reason we have two co-facilitators is for a check and balance. If you think that you will feel controlled if a co-facilitator, in all honesty and sincerity, thinks that he/she needs to intervene on your share, then you might not be ready to participate in ASCA meetings. A measure of goodwill is helpful when participating in ASCA meetings.

Discussing “Sharing Basics” might take several meetings to fully explore. Hopefully, genuine discussion about sharing will lead to more helpful sharing for sharers and listener alike, as well as less need for intervention by the co-facilitators.

3. Rotation C Topic:
Possible ASCA Meeting Topic for June:

When we pause and reflect back upon our childhood abuse, sadness usually fills our hearts. A heavy sense of sorrow and a kind of weighted fatigue seem to envelop us. Sadness is possibly the boiled-down, reduced sticky essence of the effects of childhood abuse. No matter how much work we spend on our recovery, no matter how much growth and rejuvenation we experience, when we sit and ponder what happened to us as children of abuse, we will always experience a certain sadness, heavy-heartedness, and lowness of spirit. Sadness is a type of mourning that comes in waves and diminishes with time, but never totally disappears. In a sense, there is a part of our hearts that will always be fractured due to the betrayal, due to the pain that we experienced in our youth.

There are other life experiences that might also weigh on our hearts, leaving us feeling sad. The death of a loved one, the loss of a significant relationship, the destruction to our lives and bodies caused by chemical dependency, a life-threatening illness or a catastrophic accident are but a few examples of life experiences that leave us saddened, heartbroken, and downcast.

There are two aspects of sadness that require investigation. One thing is not to fight the sadness. Allowing the sadness to wash over us like a wave, feeling its heaviness, and simply allowing ourselves to feel the sadness is helpful. Why? Because what happened is sad and we probably did not have sufficient opportunity to experience the sadness when we were children or teenagers. When we try to fight sadness, we waste considerable energy. We only deceive ourselves, trying to trick ourselves into thinking that we are not sad when we are sad. It’s a waste of energy. A good cry is much more rejuvenating than trying to convince ourselves that we are not sad.

A second aspect of sadness is that the object of our sadness needs to be placed into perspective within our entire life. Sadness will always be a part of our heart’s ache. Yet, our heart, which has infinite capacity, is also full of many happy, fulfilling, energizing experiences and memories. In a sense, balancing the sadness is to celebrate all that is going well, all that we have accomplished, all that we cherish. It is not denial to say something like, “Yes, it is sad what happened to me. I do feel sad. Yet, there are many things going well for me. I have many wonderful experiences and memories that sustain me, that encourage me, that help me through the day.”

This is balancing our lives, giving full measure to the sadness, but also full measure to the celebration of what is going well. The antidote to sadness and other feelings that may seem negative or uncomfortable is not to deny them, but rather to cultivate and to balance the other side of the feeling spectrum. We can sometimes become lost in the forest of recovery. When our lives focus only or mostly on the past, the negative, the pain, then we lose our balance. We lose perspective. We end up denying the other valuable aspects of our lives.

  1. What are your experiences of sadness as related to your childhood abuse recovery?
  2. When do you see yourself denying your sadness?
  3. What is a helpful way for you to allow sadness to wash over you?
  4. What is your experience of trying to balance the sadness with the celebration of what is going well for you in your life?

Selection editing note

Above, for clarity, the word “co-secretary” was replaced by “co-facilitator” as the current title used in ASCA meetings for the same role.