Abiola’s Love Class! Healing from Sexual Abuse and Reducing Stigmas with Sheena LaShay
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Love Lesson: You Can Rise and Shine After Sexual Abuse
Today, we are joined by courageous writer and talented artist Sheena LaShay to have a powerful conversation about healing. Let’s shine a light on the dark spaces. Let’s open the windows on shame. Please note that there may be triggering topics and stories here for those in some types of recovery. If we are ever to protect our children it begins with us supporting each other and ourselves.
We get together in person and virtually to discuss many things: the latest Real Housewives fiasco, ‘who wore it better’, celebrity hookups and fights, and what our men are or aren’t doing. However, there are far too many conversations that we are not having. We are not talking about mental health issues like depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, self-harm, body image, and eating disorders. We are not discussing emotionally and physically abusive relationships. We are not open about why the numbers of AIDS and HIV infections in our communities are stratospheric. We do not have candid, non-judgmental conversations about sexuality. We also are most certainly not discussing sexual abuse.
A very key part of my job with this column, “Abiola’s Love Class,” is to be of service to you and in service to us as a community. We have fun and informative conversations about love, dating, marriage, sex and divorce. It is also critical that we speak frankly about the taboo topics that are a part of our lives.
Sheena LaShay is a “pole activist,” keynote speaker, writer, creative artist, and portrait and boudoir photographer. She is also a member of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) Speakers Bureau. Find Sheena courageously sharing her story on her blockbuster namesake blog.
Sheena, if I didn’t know your personal history I would think, “This empowered woman obviously had a great life the whole time that she’s been alive.” Please share your story.
I am the survivor of childhood sexual abuse that began when I was seven years old, and it continued for seven years by my ex-stepfather. So while I had on one hand a pretty normal childhood – school, playing Barbie, and friends – for most of my childhood I was also being sexually abused. This was within the bubble of a church that knew about it and demanded my silence. Once I went into high school I tried to pursue a court case. He confessed and never served a day in jail. That made things even worse because I had trust issues with family, with church, and with the justice system.
By the time I went to college I was depressed, suicidal. I had an eating disorder. I couldn’t emotionally connect with people. I was very controlling and manipulative and had PTSD and I was paranoid. After I graduated from college I realized I was either going to die because of alcoholism or depression or I could try something different. I reached rock bottom. I’d gone even further than bottom and I went on a personal journey to change myself.
In the direct aftermath of this abuse, during your teen years, did you have any adult advocates?
When my mother found out about the abuse she stood by me. She never questioned the validity of my story. When things were at their worst and we were shunned by our community, my mother packed up me and my other siblings. She didn’t have a dollar to her name because she was a stay-at-home mom. She left him and we were living in someone’s one-room attic until she could get back on her feet.
All power to great mothers. Why was the church so adamant about protecting your stepfather?
He was a deacon. He was also my Sunday School teacher. He was a leader in a number of different ministries. I found out years later that I wasn’t the only one where the church kind of kept all the bad things that were happening quiet.
When you were trying to just lean toward the light, how did you do that, Sheena?
I believe, whether it’s the small voice inside of you or whatever it is, it’s something in your gut, your intuition. Sometimes that voice is very, very tiny and it’s like when a kitten can’t fully meow because it’s such a baby versus a lion that can growl. That voice within us, for each person, is at a different level. At that point when I was at my worst, it was barely there. But it was still there.
I went to a conservative religious school. After graduation was the first time I could make all of my choices. Even at school, I had to sign a covenant which outlined behavior and what I believed about the world. This was the first real time I could make my decisions [about] what I wanted to believe. I could choose what I wanted to think.
The other part was that around that time my ex-stepfather had bought a house. And he’d gone on vacation. He was living his life. And it pissed me off that I was at bars every night hovering over Jack Daniels, sobbing and depressed, and he was in Jamaica on the beach having a great time. I was so sick of crying and giving him the responsibility for my life. Yes, he victimized me as a child but at this point I was choosing to stay a victim. And I just didn’t want to do that anymore.
I knew that it wasn’t going to be one thing that would “fix me.” I also knew it was going to be painful. I think sometimes people believe “when I get my empowerment and claim my life again, it’s going to be amazing. I’m going to feel good.”
First, to remove whatever it is that harmed you, there’s going to be some pain in that process. When you heal from a crash and you’re going through rehabilitation, it’s painful, too. But the difference is that it’s a healing thing, and it’s not a dying thing. I went to therapy. I would journal. I found support groups online and in person. Whatever felt good, whatever made me feel more alive, I moved more toward it.
That’s such beautiful advice. It’s not like suddenly you just wake and up feel great, because you don’t have access to that. It’s trying to feel a just a smidge better than you felt yesterday. Sometimes it’s in five-minute increments, feeling a little bit better than you just felt.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-656-HOPE, the national sexual assault hotline.
Photo: Sheena LaShay by Lori Patrick, firstname.lastname@example.org, at Lark Manor. Find Sheena LaShay throughout social media at @sheenalashay.
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- Bershan Shaw: Love in The City on OWN
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Passionate Living Coach Abiola Abrams gives extraordinary women inspiring advice on healthy relationships, self-esteem and getting the love we deserve. You’ve seen her love interventions in magazines from Essence to JET and on shows from MTV’s “Made” to the CW Network’s “Bill Cunningham Show.” Find love class worksheets, advice videos, coaching, and more at Abiola’s Love University. Her upcoming advice guide is named “The Sacred Bombshell Handbook of Self-Love.” Abiola is also the creator of the African Goddess Affirmation Cards. Tweet @abiolaTV or #loveclass.