Vickroy: Abuse survivor walks for others
DONNA VICKROY email@example.com | (708) 633-5982 April 25, 2012 7:58PM
Dr. Myra West, a licensed clinical psychologist, (left) speaks with a young woman from the south suburbs that she has provided counseling to at the Joli Burrell Children's Advocacy Center in Park Forest. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Join the Walk
The Champions4Children Walk begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Aqua Center, 30 N. Orchard Drive in Park Forest. There also will be games, prizes and visits by the Park Forest NASCAR police car and the Calumet City Fire Department’s 1914 vintage fire truck.
To register for the walk or make a donation, visit cacionline.org.
Updated: May 27, 2012 8:15AM
To look at her, you’d never know this bright, cheerful, well-spoken young woman has been to hell and back.
She soon will graduate college with honors. She is planning her wedding. She is, by her own admission, happy.
Yet a decade ago, when she was in seventh grade, she crashed and burned.
“I didn’t want to hurt myself or kill myself, but I couldn’t stop thinking about suicide,” she said.
She is a 21-year-old Southland resident whom we shall call “Kate.”
This newspaper has a policy of always identifying sources. Because of the sensitive nature of this story, and the fact that certain members of Kate’s family still don’t know about her trauma, we elected to make an exception in this case.
For two years, starting when she was 10, Kate was sexually abused by a close family member. She knew she didn’t like it. She knew it made her uncomfortable. But she didn’t know it was wrong.
“I thought about asking my friends if that was normal, but then I didn’t,” she said.
Finally, when she was 12, she told her mother.
“Her mother did everything right. She acted very appropriately,” said Myra West, Kate’s therapist for many years.
Kate’s mother called police. She called the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. And, against the wishes of her daughter, she enrolled Kate in a counseling program at La Rabida Joli Burrell Children’s Advocacy Center in Park Forest.
“I didn’t think I needed counseling,” Kate said. “I thought I could handle it on my own.”
Of course, she was wrong.
At first Kate was somewhat defensive in the sessions, desperately trying to hoard the pain. She didn’t want to hurt her family, not even the abuser. She didn’t want people to turn against her mother. And she didn’t want to be the center of so much negative attention.
But once she realized West was there to help her in a nonjudgmental way, she slowly began to release the details of her story.
Like most abuse victims, Kate thought she could keep it together. She focused on school and sports, keeping herself too busy to think too much.
But she soon realized she was sinking. At the bottom, she became severely depressed, enduring constant thoughts of suicide. Medication was prescribed.
Looking back, Kate swears therapy is what saved her life.
“I know now that I had to hit the bottom to be able to climb back up,” she said.
“It’s a journey. You have to go through all these stages — regret that you told, a new reality, sadness and, ‘Oh, my God, that really was a horrible thing,’ ” Kate said.
“It’s not something that ever goes away,” she said.
“You get to the point where you’ve processed it,” West said. “You’ve processed all the feelings associated with this and are able to move forward. It will always be something that happened to her, but it doesn’t have to be the end of her.”
Indeed. Kate has been able to use her insight to help other teens on the brink of suicide.
“I know I’ve been able to save at least one life,” she said.
Today, her future looks very bright. She’s in love, will soon have a degree in education and is living proof that even the most horrific mountains can be conquered.
She credits the Children’s Advocacy Center.
CAC forms one arm of a multidisciplinary team that assists children who’ve experienced trauma, whether it’s from sexual abuse, violence or fire. Just like the police, the state’s attorney’s office and DCFS have their missions when it comes to protecting children, so does the CAC, which serves more than 300 children a year.
The center conducts child-friendly, trauma-focused psychological services, including interviews and counseling. Services are free.
Part of the Chicago Child Trauma Center, the CAC is funded primarily through grants and donations. Once a year, it hosts its only fundraiser — a walk. The Champions4Children Walk steps off at 9 a.m. Saturday in Park Forest.
Kate will participate.
“I walk because my presence is helpful,” Kate said. “I want to show my support for the people who saved my life. My story is the way it is because of this center. They’ve given me something I couldn’t give myself.”