• Courtney Phillips

My story of healing – Elizabeth Peace

Updated: Jun 23, 2019

Like many survivors of childhood trauma, Elizabeth Peace has to work each day to open herself up to others, combat anxiety, overcome sleeping issues and allow herself to trust that the majority of people in this world are good and kind. She’s found a way to overcome significant traumas and is now an advocate helping others.

Learn more about her story of healing below:

Tell me about yourself: After leaving a career as a military police officer, I spent 15 years as a journalist and TV news anchor. Now, I work for the Department of Defense as a public affairs officer in the DC-area. I have two boys, who are 11 and 18; a wonderful husband, who is an active duty Marine; and a three-year-old rescue dog, who is a 150-pound Mastiff. In good weather, you will find us doing outdoor activities – mostly camping, kayaking, hiking, fishing or horseback riding. We are definitely a warm weather family so during the cold Maryland winters, you will find us indoors usually in a very heated and competitive board game! We are more than ready to move back west this summer where we are from! That also will most definitely help with my seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

My story: I have to work diligently at not trying to create a “perfect life.” Because of my childhood, I still find myself battling the need to prove my worth to others. I find that I struggle to open up and tell people how I truly feel about things and what I’m actually thinking. I tend [MOU1] to slip into the habit of thinking I need to please or impress others at all times. I am not ashamed to admit that I take a low dose of anti-anxiety medication, but I also am proud of the coping skills I’ve learned to overcome most of that anxiety and the need to look perfect. I think counseling is one of the greatest things that exists and something every person should consider. But still I struggle with showing emotion, trusting others and realizing that disappointment and making mistakes is a natural part of life. My initial reaction to touch, for example, is to physically pull away, and I still tend to sleep with my arms tucked into my chest protectively. I’m sure some of those things will never go away.

What happened to cause your anguish or what is the history of your struggle? I was sexually abused for many years as a child and was a victim of campus rape at the age of 17. Growing up, my surroundings and the things happening in my life wrongly taught me that women are sexual objects and only necessary if they are perfect in every way, but especially perfect physically. I then entered into one violent relationship after another when I turned 18. Like many survivors of child sexual abuse, I was at one point sleeping in my car and wondering what I would do for shelter and work. Sometimes, its hard to explain to those who grew up in a healthy environment how much sexual abuse can devastate your future or how having a completely ruined self-esteem can keep you from being able to move forward in life. Sexual assault at any age can cause severe PTSD and the later effects in life can include drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, prostitution and many other life-altering and horrible outcomes.

What was the moment or instance that caused you to realize that you needed to seek care? I wish I could say there was one major moment but unlike Hollywood movies, it was slow growth over time with three turning points in my life. Growing up, I didn’t have a safe place to turn. I was being abused by someone at home unbeknownst to my parents, and I was severely bullied at school. It wasn’t until a high school counselor and a rape crisis center counselor become my mentors during my senior year of high school that I had my first turning point. I was on the verge of not being able to graduate from high school when the school counselor brought me in and started to help me. I have worked with counselors on and off since then.

My second turning point was when I became a mom. I was serving in the military as a police officer, working to put away the very people who hurt others, and studying criminal psychology. Becoming a mom was almost an overnight realization that I had to do anything and everything to make life better and as good as it could be because now this innocent little human was relying on me for protection.

And that brings me to turning point three when, as a mom of two, I discovered that the statistic that children of sexual abuse survivors are a thousand times more likely to also be sexually abused is a very real statistic. I found out that while in the care of someone else while I was working and during a visitation with my ex-husband that my children had been sexually abused was the most devastating thing we have ever experienced in our lives. There is nothing I have ever been through that is more devastating than feeling like I couldn’t even protect my own children.

What does your recovery look like? For me, it meant a lot of therapy and taking ownership of my decisions and letting go of the blame I was holding onto for things I had no control over. But mostly, it came from talking about it. I first began talking about my sexual assault privately in counseling, and finally telling my parents when I was 18. It was another decade before I began speaking about it publicly.

My husband helps me when I start to become closed off, and I return to counseling when I feel it’s a good idea. I take anxiety medication daily and find that eating healthy and exercising helps as well. Through prayer and meditation, I’m able to get stronger emotionally and mentally every day. My belief in Heavenly Father and His love for me is one of the greatest things I have found as an adult.

It’s also important to remember that traumatic situations change the trajectory of our lives. It’s okay that things will never be the same again. We will never be the person we were before the traumatic event. My children are different people than they were before the abuse. You have to accept that and not wish for things to be the way they were and find joy and happiness in your new life the way it is, not the way it was.

Where are you now?

When I tell my personal story, it’s important for me to remind other survivors that if I’m where I am today, they can be, too. Recovery is hard and it’s not something you ever complete. You work on it little by little every day. I’m happily married. My children are doing amazing. My oldest is in college and my youngest is thriving. They both found hobbies that helped them through recovery (theater and horseback riding). And they’ve both decided to become advocates and talk openly about their stories, as well.

At the time I discovered what had happened to my children, I had already left the military and was working as a journalist. I knew how often predators were being released back into the public and how few ever spent time in prison for victimizing children. I knew that I wanted to fight this. So I decided to launch Operation Innocence, a non-profit dedicated to stopping child sex abuse and fighting for legislation that keeps abusers accountable so victims can have justice. My goal is to help people before things become that severe but also to let them know there are resources available even if they feel they are beyond saving - because no one is beyond saving!

I also needed to know how to prevent child sex abuse. It was the single most question I had while going through the justice system for my children: how could I have prevented this in the first place? And that is when a friend told me about the child sex abuse prevention training through my advocacy partner Darkness to Light. Becoming an instructor with them, speaking publicly about our story and helping my children through the healing and therapy process took several years but is what I credit for all of us being where we are today.

One piece of advice you would give someone in a situation like yours trying to decide whether or not to seek care:

My recovery started when I allowed someone else to help me. I didn’t know what I needed to do on my own and even though I am now 20+ years in, I still find it helpful to talk to a professional.

Children who are abused have the greatest recovery success if they work as quickly as possible with a specialist trained in child sex abuse recovery. I can’t stress enough the importance of not ignoring the signs of child sex abuse and not allowing others to talk you out of reporting it. Let law enforcement do their job and do what they are trained to do - investigate - and let a trained therapist help a child through recovery.

The best thing you can do after that is offer love and unconditional support because a child recovering from that trauma will likely suffer from severe PTSD.

If you or someone you know is the victim of a sexual assault, there are resources to help them. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es). When you call or access their live chat online, you'll to be routed to a local sexual assault service provider in your area. Trained staff can provide confidential support and connect you to resources in your area.

Mental Health Resources If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, don’t suffer in silence! There are free and affordable resources to help you get through these times. Here are just few options for you below:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255): Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential, toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. 

  • Some federal agencies offer resources for identifying practitioners and assistance in finding low cost health services. These include:

  • Health Resources and Services Administration works to improve access to health care. The website has information on finding affordable healthcare, including health centers that offer care on a sliding fee scale.

  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has information on its website about benefits and eligibility for its programs and how to enroll.

  • The National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus website also has lists of directories and organizations that can help in identifying a health practitioner.

  • Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers resources to help answer questions about insurance coverage for mental health care.

  • Service members and Veterans have unique needs. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/veterans provides for their specific needs.

  • National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) offers peer-to-peer support groups in most locations. This in-person group experience provides the opportunity for mutual support and positive impact. You can experience compassion and reinforcement from people who relate to your experiences. 

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