A Beautiful Change of Heart

Golden lotuses and reflected light at Denver Botanic Gardens

I call my survivor story “A Beautiful Change of Heart” because in all my search for truth, nothing has changed me so deeply as my journey from victim to survivor, accompanied by my beloved guides and allies. Also, I love to remind myself of how wholistic, trauma informed and therapeutic the intimate spiritual wisdom teachings I’ve received are, and how massively yet gently transformative they have been for me. Finally, it is time for me to begin moving from survival to thriving, in service of all I’ve learned and of those who’ve taught me.

In spiritual accompaniment now, it is so important to be spiritually mature, with a very broad and bright heart and mind, (aware and awake). Finding peace in the face of torment seems to have been one of the most significant things for me to learn in this life. I remember how it felt to experience something that I could not cope with, digest, admit to myself or speak to others about. I knew in my heart of hearts what was true, and I knew that to live truthfully would involve repercussions that I couldn’t yet face. The truth of my experience appeared dangerous to me because the truth of my experience in early life was of epic betrayal trauma.

My purpose here is not to disclose details that would be triggering, nor that would leave me unduly open to further harm. I take my responsibility to protect myself and to establish and maintain healthy boundaries very seriously. I have a lot of self-compassion. However, I do want to state the truth plainly, as I have earned that right (and responsibility) through decades of tremendously hard work on myself. I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse.

I say responsibility because I feel I owe it to myself and fellow survivors, (many of whom have helped me on my healing journey at crucial times), and to those struggling currently -and too often alone- against the agonies of victimization, to be who I am in this regard: a powerful witnessing and affirming presence, with skills, training and lived experience galore to spiritually accompany people integrating traumatic experiences, particularly of betrayal trauma. My goal being to witness and affirm us, with honor, into living true to our whole, holy selves and into fulfilling our fullest destinies. We are not forever cursed nor meant to bear endless stigma and shame for what we’ve endured.

A word here about being true to oneself, being honest, and not being fake, a pretender or a liar. Generally, we take this to be a very preliminary and basic thing in a human life. A kind of prerequisite. But it is extremely difficult when the truth we hold in our hearts is taboo and abhorrent to ourselves and to people in general, such as having experienced child sexual abuse for example. Perhaps we hold a great many beautiful and wise truths in our hearts alongside the painful and ghastly realities of victimization. Ay, there’s the rub. In the common realm of fair weather friendships and ordinary selfishness, it can be treacherously difficult and isolating to embody the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, when that includes having suffered overwhelming betrayal.

“Spiritual life will be very difficult for someone like you,” is something a devotee said to me back when I was in my early twenties and I first began disclosing my childhood history of sexual abuse. I was in an expansive and courageous phase of my life, so I easily dismissed this idea as nonsense at the time. However, in my late thirties, some time after my spiritual master had entered into nitya lila, (the eternal transcendental pastimes of God), I found myself plateaued and stuck in terms of spiritual progress, for the first time since I’d started chanting the holy names, (the core spiritual practice of my tradition), twenty years earlier.

There was nothing for me to do but explore my desolate heart. In the arid desert of existential barrenness, there was a dry wind whispering, “The child sexual abuse was my fault. Whatever that fault is in me, it may not be possible for me to identify it or change it, no matter how desperately I try, and I may be permanently excluded from further spiritual deepening and maturation.” With my sense of desolation came delusions, much like mirages of oases in the desert. I imagined I could power through; and that if I concealed the truth of my soul deadening sense of shame from myself and others it could be magicked away. Trudging through hot sands towards shiny new objects on the horizon, hoping against hope for predator-less sweet watering holes and shady date palms, my vain ambition was to outfox despair. Yet, I knew myself a dead woman walking. Pathetically mortal. The buzzards of deep shame circling my head, while the thirst of tyrannical perfectionism and the hunger of a cruel inner critic gnawed at me.

For a while I considered that the fault was in my past life karma. That idea didn’t exactly feel wrong, (in fact, I came to know through a near death experience that I’d become dreadfully entangled with my abuser in a previous life -but that’s another story), it was just that my conception was too basic. I needed an upgrade. The way that action and reaction work is exceedingly complex according to the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata. In my experience, too shallow a take on karma being all about fatalistic deservedness had lead to narcissistic abuse revictimization. So my mind moved on to consider that reversals of fortune are sometimes an expression of the Lord’s special mercy. I knew this to be true on some level too, and it has been revealed as a wisdom teaching in scripture and through the exemplary, (though not in the goody-two-shoes sense), lives of many saintly people. However, I could find no personal peace here either because feeling myself to be the recipient of special divine mercy was too much of a stretch for my shame addled self-concept.

Then I began really remembering my Gurudeva’s embodied teaching that there is no shame whatsoever in the relationship between bona fide guru and disciple. And, under his wing, I was able to take a long, loving look at the real.

I look and I recognize that I have a severe anxiety disorder resulting from the betrayal trauma of child sexual abuse, including the betrayal trauma that occurred upon disclosure of that abuse. My symptoms are now understandable and manageable to me, though they have been life threateningly severe at times. To the devotee who told me that spiritual life would be difficult for me, I turn, take a slow, deep breath and say, “Spiritual life is difficult for anyone who has but a modicum of spiritual knowledge and impossible for those with none, regardless of the circumstances of their birth. Likewise, by genuine spiritual knowledge, anyone -no matter how fallen- can cross over this ocean of birth and death.” I discover myself still wholly capable of being sovereignly responsible for myself, with powerful benevolent guides and allies revealing the way for me to own and transcend with what the abuse has done to my body and mind. And that harm, though real, is only a temporary setback on my journey to fulfill my destiny.

Prabha Devidasi at Ksirsagara or Krsna-Kunda, Bhojan Thali, Kamyavan

“You must fulfil your destiny!”

Srila Prabhupada in a dream darshan I once had…..