Author and Survivor
Episode 7: Healing from Child Abuse, Piece by Piece
Lori Poland is joined by friend and author, Cathy Studer. Cathy endured six years of child abuse at the hands of her stepfather, and shares about her journey to healing.
Visit Cathy Studer’s website
Link to Broken to Beautifully Whole book
Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast
Episode #7: Healing from Child Abuse, Piece by Piece
Transcribed by Adam Soisson
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>> Lori: Thank you for joining us. In this podcast, we are real people, talking about real things. Child abuse and neglect: a topic that is all too often left in the shadows of silence, leaving survivors alone, fearful, and oftentimes without a voice. We’re having conversations to become louder than silence. It is here, where we will invite you to join us and be the change needed to end child abuse and neglect.
>> Lori: Hello everybody and thanks so much for joining us today on our podcast for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. I am elated to have my friend Cathy Studer here. Cathy and I met virtually, she wrote us a letter almost two years ago, a year and a half, I think it was two years ago now.
>> Cathy: Yeah
>> Lori: Asking both myself and Dick Krugman to read a draft of her book and I took it home that night and started reading and I couldn’t put it down. It was so empowering for me to hear somebody else just humbly and authentically share their experience so Cathy I can’t thank you enough for being here. I’m not going to give it all away because I would love for you to tell us all about your experience but I would just love to start with you telling us who you are and what you represent in the world and we’ll go from there.
>> Cathy: well thank you for having me, I’m hono9red and I’m so grateful that you and I both met. It was not by accident that we wee brought together.
>> Cathy: So this is a gift. Myself, I am, my trade job, I’m a hair stylist. I’ve actually been a hair stylist for 35 years and two circumstances compelled me to write my book two years ago and step into the vulnerability and the courage of sharing my experience and in every sense I am on a mission for a purpose, to share a message of healing along with raising awareness because it is within that awareness that every single one of us can take an action to defeat the childhood abuse statistics.
>>Lori: Perfect. Amazing. Alright so can you just tell me, where did your story begin?
>> Cathy: Truly my story began as a child when I was six years old and my mom worked nights and my stepfather at the age of six started waking me up in the middle of the night and sexually abusing me. That went on for six years. The night it ended I will never forget. It was New Years Eve and I had gone to bed and my mom and stepfather had an argument and when he left the bedroom she had a sixth sense to look in his wallet and when she looked in his wallet she saw letters that he forced me to write before he would abuse me, he wanted me to write down what he was going to do to me and he would keep them in his wallet. Little did I know that his sick pleasure would be the catalyst for me to be free of what was a nighttime nightmare for six years. That night, I can’t tell you how grateful I was that night, that my mom responded appropriately and kicked him out of the house. Then the healing journey began. Teen years and early adulthood was not easy. It wasn’t until honestly that I became pregnant with my first child that I knew I had to do more to step into my healing pilgrimage because I wanted better for my kids. It was within that journey, it took years, to be honest and in awareness and mindset and a choice. Then when I was in a great place it led me to a conversation with a client that I never saw coming, that propelled me to the purpose to write my book. That conversation with my client, so as I said I’m a hair stylist by trade, I see clients every four, six, eight weeks and you can develop a close relationship with people that often.
>> Lori: Yeah
>> Cathy: and one of those clients had a very nice smile and a sweet personality yet I knew she struggled with some depressiona and PTSD and I didn’t know why. One day she shared with me the why, that she too had been sexually abused as a child. Then I shared with her what I had never shared with another client and that was my story. We chatted that appointment and she left that day and then when she came back for her next appointment she asked me, she said, “Cathy, did you suffer depression?” I paused. Suffered? No. I had depressed days and I had a tremendous amount of shame and incredibly low self-worth yet I didn’t. “Well what about PTSD?” she asked. Again, I paused. I had the shame, I had anxiety, I had incredibly low self-esteem yet I didn’t. “Well you medicated, right?” she asked. I know it’s beneficial for some but I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I was broken and I had a journey to heal but I didn’t and that day she looked me square in the eye and she said, “you need to write a book girlfriend.”
>> Lori: [laughs]
>> Cathy: Yeah, I laughed it off too that day because I couldn’t see the value and in the days to come I went into serious reflection and deep introspection and started taking notes on index cards. I wrote down attributes I applied, books I loved, quotes that empowered me and scripture I grew strength from. Then, what do I do? I have this unorganized pile of index cards. Dare I write a book? Then I was invited to a United Way women’s leadership talk and that night the speaker was sharing her journey of how she became a victim of human trafficking by a family nanny and then unfortunately later became a victim of domestic violence by a boyfriend. Because unfortunately when we suffer from one form of abuse we are far more likely to suffer another which is exactly why it is so critical for us to move through and out of our traumas. That night I heard every word of her message and at the same time I got my own message and that night I knew I was there for a purpose and that purpose was, it was time to tell my story. I had a story that needed to be told and it was time to share it, write the book. So I started.
>> Lori: Yeah and tell us about your book, what’s it called?
>> Cathy: My book is called Broken to Beautifully Whole. It is a compelling crusade to break the silence, move through our traumas and heal the pain. In my book I share briefly, not descriptive, but what happened to me in that six year journey as a child. Then, why tell my story now? It was 40 years. What I would learn is there is extreme value in the gift as I started to write my book and I did research, by the time I finish my book I could fully explain why I healed my brokenness. I became whole again, pulling my pieces back together, piece by piece, and reduce my chances for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It’s not because I’m a phenomenon. It was the six attributes that I applied that I talk about. 1) Perspective. I kept my good perspective. 2) I continued and built my resilience 3) I added gratitude 4) I added self-compassion which I did not have at all because unfortunately when we’re victims of abuse that’s a tough one because of the shame and humiliation that we carry for so long. I found my faith which provided me with love, compassion and strength. Then the biggest gift with my faith is it allowed me to then consider my last attribute that I added and that was forgiveness. Forgiveness by far was the hardest for me and by far took the longest. Yet it was the last piece pulling me back together and allowing me to fully become whole and become kintsugi.
>> Lori: Beautiful. Tell us about kintsugi because that’s one of my favorite things and it’s funny because I’ve used that for years and years and years in my practice and then to see it on the first page inside your book, and on your cover, it just fills my heart.
>> Cathy: Well when I was writing my book I didn’t know for sure what my cover would be until I was doing research and I came across the story and I knew this had to be it because it’s the perfect metaphor for all of us who have gone through the healing process. Kintsugi Is a Japanese artform where they take broken pottery and they put it back together piece by piece with lacquered silver, platinum or gold. It comes with the belief that once something’s been broken it can be repaired and become stronger and more beautiful. Then the cracks are made to be highlighted, not hidden. A means to become whole again and embrace our imperfections.
>> Lori: You just say it so well, I love it [laughs]
>> Cathy: [laughs] thank you
>> Lori: Listening to you is like reading poetry
>> Cathy: [laughs] Aww, well good.
>> Lori: Ok. So you know part of what we’re doing here at EndCAN is recognizing and becoming a little bit more aware that talking about child abuse is just hard and sharing our story is hard as well. There’s a reason people don’t share their story is because it causes such a ripple effect and as victims the very last thing we want to do is cause more harm or cause any harm let alone more harm to something that already feels like it’s weighted on our shoulders. We are carrying it and as you said that lack of self-love and all the pain that we have inside, that outweighs everything. Then to realize that we could potentially be the cause of somebody’s else’s “that” feel horrible right? So people don’t talk about it. They don’t share their story, they don’t talk about it, they won’t identify with it and I understand that, golly. There are still parts of my story that very, very few people know because I know it will cause so much harm so I’m just working at being okay with telling my own story and if other people want to be harmed with that, it’s up to them, you know. But I’m not sharing my story SO that I can cause harm, I’m sharing my story so that I can get OUT of the harm, you know? So I’m curious for you, you know, publishing a book is the Academy Award of coming out and speaking out. It’s one thing to go to your parents house and have a conversation or to confront your offender or to tell your spouse or whatever, that’s one thing. But it’s another thing to write it down, get a publisher, make thousands of copies, sell those copies, that’s a different story. But I’m just curious, what has it been like for you? Good bad, indifferent, since you’ve done that?
>> Cathy: Yes, it’s been all of those things at once. The very good news is I can say the majority has been incredibly well-received and the people who have spoken out, for being a voice for those who don’t have a voice or for those who are afraid to yet use their voice has made it worthwhile but it’s scary. I was petrified, I knew when the book came out my life would forever be different. Let’s be honest that’s frightening. Right before my book published I had to go talk to my dad. My dad did not know my story. My mom did and we didn’t tell my dad for a couple of reasons but one of the biggest was when the abuse ended I knew I needed my mom to heal and I knew if I told my dad he would try to take me away. I also knew if I told my dad we would have to prosecute and when I stepped into forgiveness one of the first things I had to do was forgive myself because we didn’t prosecute right away and here’s why. Unfortunately back in 1978 the laws were very different. The child’s name was plastered in the newspaper and at 12 years old I knew I was strong enough to talk on the stand but I was so petrified of what people would think of me and I was so petrified of having my name in the paper and unfortunately for those reasons we didn’t prosecute. Then later into adulthood I did call children’s services and unfortunately the statute of limitations was over and we couldn’t prosecute but at least I did my job and my due diligence to let them know they had a perpetrator in their county. There are some family members who are uncomfortable with me putting my book out there. They believe it’s airing dirty laundry and you don’t do that. Yet here’s what I can say. That is exactly what perpetrators and abusers want. Lies and silence. We feed into that if we don’t air these stories, if we don’t break the silence, if we’re not louder than silence, if we don’t step into these uncomfortable conversations the abuse continues and they thrive. We’ve got to stop that. It’s time for the survivors to thrive. It’s time to prevent survivors and as scary as it was I’m grateful I stepped forward but it was hard. I’m grateful and honored to say that the majority has been very positive.
>> Lori: That is great. That makes me really happy to hear and that isn’t the case for everybody but I also think that we don’t know until we know so wouldn’t it be worth trying and be right where we are and not trying and being right where we are. Either way we can end up right where we are but the possibility of these, of the freedom and the help, just in having somebody else be in it with you and the help you can provide like you shared to other people just by way of having a voice. Sometimes you are their voice for a long, long time. I think that’s just so beautiful. So let me just ask my last question today is what are your hopes for the future of child abuse and neglect?
>> Cathy: My dream would be to eradicate everywhere and I would do everything within my power to be the person who breaks the silence, to be the person who empowers others to use their voice. I believe every single person can take an action, everyone, even if it’s just as simple as teaching your children they have boundaries, teaching your children they can say “no”, teaching your children what does consent mean. What does it sound like. Looking at, I love what EndCAN is doing. How do we stop it before it happens? How do we get to the abusers so they’re not a repeat offender? There’s so many different wants we can attack this and approach it and if we can talk to our children and have those uncomfortable conversations, if we can step in, what do we do for the abused children so they don’t abuse again and having that uncomfortable conversation and the conversation of “Okay now let’s take the survivors and now let’s heal. Let’s empower all survivors. Let’s not treat survivors like a victim.” They were already a victim, let’s not continue the victimhood. There’s so many things we can put into place to help and empower survivors and I hope we can step into that. The fact we are now having these conversations now with EndCAN and through my book and through others’ books I hope and pray that it leads to defeating [abuse] and empowering [survivors].
>> Lori: I have no doubt. I have no doubt we are at the time where people are willing to have conversation. I’ve never met anybody that is against ending child abuse and neglect. We have been able to on so many other issues that people are against we’ve been able to change – policy and rights and community and conversation. People back it, people get behind it and there’s so many people that disagree with it. On this topic nobody disagrees with it. I think it’s cool. We are on our way and we are doing something great, right? Abuse happens in shame, abuse happens in cycles. Where do we intervene? Where do we step in? Where on that spectrum do we intervene in terms of prevention and I said, “let’s just intervene on the whole thing. There’s enough of us that are against it that you get that section, I’ll get this section, you guys get that other section. Let’s just do that. It doesn’t have to be a first-things-first. Just do it all, hand in hand.
>> Cathy: Amen
>> Lori: So I’m just grateful. This is only the beginning of us and I can’t wait for where we’re headed, where you’re headed. I’m so proud of you, I’m so grateful for you. You’ve inspired me in more ways than you even know and I want to thank you for being here with us and sharing your experience and your story.
>> Cathy: Well thank you and I can’t thank you and Dick enough for what you’re doing because this is how we change the world. This is how we defeat abuse and I’m honored to know both of you and it’s awesome. It’s going to change, I agree with you, it’s going to change it’s going to keep propelling forward so thank you, thank you.
>> Lori: It sure is. Yeah, let’s do it. So alright well that wraps up our podcast for today. Thank you all so much for being a part of the conversation, Louder Than Silence, for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. You can check out Cathy’s book on Amazon, right? I bought 25 copies of it a couple weeks ago on Amazon. Broken to Beautifully Whole, it’s an amazing read. She is an amazing author and obviously an incredible woman so thanks so much my friend, we’ll be in touch soon.
>> Cathy: Thank you my friend.
>>Lori: I want to thank each of you again for joining us today and listening in. If you or someone you know is being abused, please call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. To learn more about EndCAN, visit www.endcan.org or find us on all social media platforms. Join us in being Louder than Silence and being a part of the change. Please leave a comment, like our podcast, or share with your friends. The more the word spreads, the more of a collective impact we can have. If you have a question or you know someone who would want to be a guest on our podcast, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again, and have a great day.