How Many Gifts Does it Take?

It is said that maintaining a feeling of gratitude is the greatest contributor to joy in life. It is also listed as a primary trait in people who live longer than average. I can see how this makes sense. Negativity causes stress and stress affects the body in very real ways. What is now called toxic stress, has been proven to have massive physical and emotional impact including shortened life spans.

Sounds simple, be positive and appreciative, live better and longer. Be negative and a complainer, be sick and die younger. Read that sentence again, because it is the only answer you will find in this article. From here on I just have questions.

How do we move beyond our problems and injuries to feel real gratitude? I don’t have future financial security. The stock market crash and real estate values took most of what we had built up for retirement. After a lifetime of using and abusing alcohol and drugs I have had to give up my instant, “feel good” mood stabilizers. After 42 years of marriage we still have to put effort into “staying together” and maintaining a healthy balance. I find it is extremely difficult and it takes constant effort to be the person I want to be with my immediate family, instead of falling back into former negative behaviors.

Our future seems to fade into a mist. Is talking about child sex abuse and worry going to be the only things that will fill my mind and hold my interest? What will tomorrow bring? Will it be the same or worse than today? The contacts and activities that are satisfying, feel good for at most a few hours and then they are gone, lost in memory. Maybe my former “mood Stabilizers” helped me hold on to those feelings longer. Perhaps the bridges in my feel good neuropathways are in fact all made out of artificial stimulants.

Okay, here’s a thought. Oregon has spent millions and millions of dollars replacing all the bridges in the state because they were old and could not withstand current traffic or earthquakes. I’m beginning to think I need to replace all the bridges in my brain one at a time. Does it make sense to take out the old artificially supported bridges and replace them with positive thinking and gratitude?

I know it’s possible, but really, after sixty years of taking short cuts and denial can I really change? Somehow I survived being sexually abused for three years as a teenager. I survived over forty years of risky behaviors including alcohol and drug abuse. Can I find joy without 2-4 glasses of wine a night? Is there something better than withdrawing into my own private little world that feels as comforting as a womb?

What do I have to be grateful for? A partner who has shared almost everyday for 44 years with me; two daughters who are amazing human beings and I am extremely proud of; six grandkids who drive me crazy at times yet fill my life with incomparable value and give me hope for the future; sobriety (some days unsure on this one); meaning in my life and work; the opportunity to help others; a lifestyle that ranks in the top one percent on a worldwide basis (way more than adequate food, water, housing, clothing and transportation); health; the right of personal choice everyday. I could fill pages with all my gifts. I’m thinking that when something is in too much abundance it looses its value. Do I really have so many blessings that they don’t mean much to me? That’s sick.

Here is where I am going to start today. A friend gave me a tiny blank book with parchment paper. I asked her what it was for and she said whatever you want. I’m going to take it out of the drawer and begin writing daily blessings in it. When I have a good conversation or do something that makes me feel good, I’ll write it in that book. Four things have happened this morning I can write and it’s only 10. As I add to the book I will see past entries, and at the end of the day I will read what I wrote just before bed. Then when I get up tomorrow I will continue building my book of gratitude. After days, weeks and months maybe the bridges in my brain will be supported in a new way to create pathways to satisfaction, joy and gratitude.

There are no guarantees but it seems worth the try to find fulfillment in the midst of all this abundance. Happiness is not the result of how many gifts we have, it is the result of what value we place on our gifts.


Randy Ellison

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To Survivors of Child Abuse

I have often heard it said that child sex abuse kills a person’s soul. I have uttered those words myself. I know now that it does not actually kill the soul, but it definitely damages it and breaks the heart as well.

Recovery from the impact of child abuse for me has included reclaiming my heart and soul. I built walls to protect myself, and kept the secret hidden and stayed broken for four decades, so it is a long road to wholeness. For me going back in time and sifting through the pain and hurt to find the lost child has been the hardest part of the journey. And yet without him, I can never be me. It was so long ago. What was he like before; before the touch; before the lines were all blurred; when there was innocence and playfulness; when there was hope and joy.

As I have sought to rediscover my child self and open myself to the world again I have found some aids. Music, poetry, being in nature and yes, even faith have become part of the support on my path.

I cannot remember who gave me this poem, but it expresses that recovery process so well I want to share it with you. It took a long time to begin to access these feelings, but when I do it fills me up like nothing else. May we all find something that revives the life within.

Last Night

Last night, as I was sleeping,

I dreamt-marvelous error!-

That a spring was breaking

Out in my heart.

I said: Along which secret aqueduct,

O water, are you coming to me,

Water of a new life

That I have never drunk?


Last night, as I was sleeping,

I dreamt-marvelous error!-

That I had a beehive

Here inside my heart.

And the golden bees

Were making white combs

And sweet honey

From my old failures.


Last night, as I was sleeping,

I dreamt-marvelous error!-

That a fiery sun was giving

Light inside my heart.

It was fiery because I felt

Warmth as from a hearth,

And sun because it gave light

And brought tears to my eyes.


Last night, as I slept,

I dreamt-marvelous error!-

That it was God I had

Here in my heart.


By Antonio Machado (translation Robert Bly)


May it be so.

Randy Ellison

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Rule of Holes

God never gives us more than we can handle. Isn’t that what people like to say when they see us with our head barely above water? Well, I call bullshit. If that were true, then it would mean that God was somehow behind all the crap that comes our way in life. Is God behind the abuse of children? Is God behind domestic abuse of women? Is there a cosmic plan to make people go broke and lose their homes? Or lose their job, or spouse? Or lose one’s child?

I think not. And it’s not another swell learning opportunity either.  It’s just plain old crap and there’s plenty of it to go around. When we are down it seems like nobody has it worse or can possibly understand our pain. “I’ve got it worse than you.” “You don’t know what I’ve lived through.” “If only things were different.” ”If that hadn’t happened, things would be fine.”

Hmm, got bad news for you. Life’s trials affect everybody including the rich and famous. Nobody gets a pass. Others may not have had the same things happen to them that you have, but they have lousy things happen to them too.

So how is it that some people seem to do just hunky dory and my life sucks? Did God screw up and give me just a little too much? Ever hear of Job? Just when things look like they are getting better more crap rolls in, like fog at the coast. After enough times of this happening, quitting begins to sound like an appealing alternative. I’m done! I’m tired and it’s just not worth it. You win God; I’m not playing anymore.

Since I’ve been working on my personal healing I’ve had some new thoughts and attitudes about pain and recovery. I find that if I don’t believe in anything then I get stuck in that hole with nothing but my misery to keep me company. God ain’t the one pushing me in a hole. And she won’t reach down and just pull me out either. If I don’t believe my life will get better, then I guarantee you it won’t.

I have to believe in something, anything beyond my own person. I need faith. Faith can lead me anywhere. It replaces despair with hope. It allows me to imagine a better world; a world where I don’t hurt as much; a world where I am loved; a world where it feels good to get up in the morning and greet a new day. Faith and hope give me the strength I need to climb out of that hole.

Amazing things begin to happen when I get my head above ground. I see there is more to the world than my misery and that allows me to focus and put energy into living solutions. Gradually I feel better and my life starts to work again. I know there will be more holes in life and I can guarantee you I will fall in some of them. But hopefully each time it gets a little easier to remember how to get out. Believe in a power bigger than yourself. Have faith that power can help support you emotionally and give you strength. And always believe that miracles are a possibility.

No matter what has happened in your life or mine, nobody conspired to put us in that hole. As Molly Ivins used to say, “remember the rule of holes: when you find yourself in one, quit digging.” Find a ladder and start climbing, one step at a time.


Randy Ellison

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Throughout my recovery from child sex abuse I continue to have very rough spots. This last winter has been an extended period of rocky times. The early arrival of spring and summer weather has helped bring joy to my days. The one constant in every stage of positive growth has been my faith in a higher power. When I feel weak I know my faith is waning and when things get better it is because I let go of my pain and worry, and trust in the universe.

On that road, a friend recommended a book, Prayers of the Cosmos. A stop at Powell’s Books on a trip to Portland was rewarded with two used copies, one for me and one to loan out. I love the variations of the Lords Prayer and the Beatitudes. The author went back to Aramaic, the language spoken in the period, instead of using the Greek on which the King James Bible is based. Using the original dialect adds a lost richness and incorporates the mystic way of thinking of the times into the words of Christ.

I have renewed strength in having these words come alive in new ways. I offer one interpretation by the author Neil Douglas-Klotz, and then my own variation that helps the words come to life for me even more. As with the words of prophets of all religions this is intended to inspire and not to support one religion over another.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father which art in Heaven

O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos, You create all that moves in light.

Hallowed be thy name

Help us to let go, clear the space inside of busy forgetfulness: so the Name comes to live.

Thy Kingdom come

Create your reign of unity now- through our fiery hearts and hands.

Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven

Help us love beyond our ideals and sprout acts of compassion for all creatures.

Give us this day our daily bread

Grant what we need each day in bread and insight: subsistence for the call of growing life.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors

Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

Don’t let surface things delude us, but free us from that which holds us back.

For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory for ever. Amen

Truly- Power to these statements-may they be the ground from which all my actions grow:

Sealed in Trust and Faith.


Aramaic translation of the Lords Prayer by Neil Douglas-Klotz from Prayers of the Cosmos


O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos, You create all that moves in light.

Help us to let go and clear space inside of our busy forgetfulness, so that your presence comes to live within.

Create Your reign of unity now, through our fiery hearts and hands.

Help us love beyond our limits and sprout acts of compassion for all creatures.

Grant us what we need each day in bread and insight; subsistence for the call of growing life.

Loose the ropes of mistakes and guilt binding us, and help us release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.

Don’t let superficial things delude and distract us, but free us from that which holds us back from our true purpose.

In all Sincerity, Power to these statements-may they be the ground from which all my actions grow;

Sealed in Trust and Faith.

May it be so.


Adaptation by Randy Ellison

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On Forgiveness and Healing:

When I started seeing a therapist to begin my recovery from child sexual abuse I had to learn to put myself and my health first. When we are ill, whether we seek physical or mental health, we must put ourselves at the top of the list because it takes so much effort to create lasting change.

As a result I could have cared less about my perpetrator. The only feelings I had about him at all were negative. What he felt or thought were of absolutely no interest. Screw him. In fact he actually wrote a letter to me that the bishop forwarded. I took it unopened to my attorney and asked him to keep it in case I ever wanted to read it.

Later my therapist gave me a book on forgiveness that I took home. I started reading the preface about how much better I would feel to forgive someone who wronged me. Not so much. I put it down because I couldn’t relate to it at all and I returned the book the next week telling her I had no interest.That was four years ago. The only time I even give him a thought is driving up I-5 when we approach the exit to the town where he lives. My stomach always tightens into knots for a few miles. I have never named that feeling before but I guess it is fear; fear of him and his power over me, and fear of what he might do to me and how that would make me feel about myself.

As has been the case ever since I started my recovery my next step came as a complete surprise. A couple of weeks ago I had a dream. I am in a room of people, just random people, but the setting reminds me of youth group. The door opens and Reverend Ron is standing there and summons me out. He takes me into a room to view a DVD of me as a kid.

When I go to close the door, I do not close it tight. I leave it slightly ajar. There are three chairs in the room. He is in the one closest to the TV. There is one fairly close to him and one well away. I look at both and choose the one closest to him. Then I realize I do not want him to touch me and push my chair away and out of his reach. That is the whole dream, short and to the point.

Here is my take on it. First off, my perpetrator always separated me from the group. Then something so small, but so significant happened. I did not close the door all the way. You see when I was a victim, Reverend Ron always got up and locked his office door, so leaving it open is quite a statement. The next thing that happened shows just how far I have moved since I started my recovery. When I went to sit down, I dutifully sat in the chair closest to him, which represents how much I was under his influence and power. But here comes the amazing transformation, I made an independent choice. I actually physically moved my chair away from him. I broke his power over me. At age 61 after four years in therapy I was finally able to equalize the power differential between us. He can no longer control or hurt me. He can no longer make me tense up at just the thought of him close by.

The very next Sunday the Preacher’s sermon was titled “To Be Healed”. My friend asked me after church what the sermon meant to me. I didn’t answer her at the time, but I will now. For me it tied right into my dream. The dream was a huge step in my healing journey and I also think it was the first step for me in forgiveness. I could not possibly approach forgiving until I broke my abusers hold on me.

I’m not sure what comes next, but who knows, maybe I’ll get that letter from my attorney and read it. In any case I find that being healed is a journey, not a destination, and I am determined to stay on that path wherever it leads.

Randy Ellison

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Sitting With A Shattered Soul

Victims frequently speak about their stolen soul. Once we go through a recovery process and reach a some degree of healing we discover our soul was not gone, it was just buried, buried deep. Reclaiming my soul was about stage three of recovery for me, that happen about two years into therapy. It does continue though, I feel part of the healing is reclaiming the rest of my parts that were buried with it. As I write this it occurs to me that healing from child sexual abuse is a reclamation project; taking back what was stolen from us as children.

Here is a poem that beautifully expresses that healing. Thanks to Sally Mac for this inspiration.

Sitting with a Shattered Soul

So how do you sit with a shattered soul?
Gently, with gracious and deep respect.
Patiently, for time stands still for the shattered, and
the momentum of healing will be slow at first.
With the tender strength that comes from an openness
To your own deepest wounding,
and to your own deepest healing.
Firmly, never wavering in the utmost conviction that
evil is powerful, but there is a good
that is more powerful still.
Stay connected to that goodness with all your being,
however it manifests itself to you.
Give freely. Take in abundantly.
Find your safety, your refuge, and go there as you need.
Words won’t always come;
sometime there are no words
in the face of such tragic evil.
But in your own willingness to be with them,
they will hear you;
from soul to soul
they will hear that for which there are no words.
When you can, in your own time,
turn and face that deep chasm within.
Let go. Grieve, rage, shed.

-K. Steele (1987)

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Losing Faith in Religion

I don’t know if I can pull this one off, but I will try. A month ago I saw a study that Canadians are “losing faith in religion”. At first glance it seemed a bit of an oxymoron. But when I read more I saw that people are feeling that religions are doing more harm than good. People were indicating they thought of themselves as spiritual but not religious.

What a sad state of affairs that world religious leaders and policy makers have become so disconnected with people’s attitudes that they are no longer the source or center of our spirituality. Everything seems to be based on who’s right and who’s wrong, which groups ought to have our approval and which should not. And my group certainly has the word of God on its side. The old love one another, and judge not lest ye be judged, do unto others, as you would have them do unto you, and what so ever you do to the least of my people you do to me, kinda got lost in the shuffle.

Okay you’re asking yourself what does this have to do with child sexual abuse? Just give me a minute, I’m getting there. World religions are fighting back against survivors of child sex abuse led by the Catholics. Instead of reaching out with love, compassion and asking for forgiveness, they wish to disavow any responsibility for what happened at the hands of their priests and preachers, in their own buildings. In doing so they have relinquished their position of leadership in the development and healing of the spirit.

At a point in time for survivors, when they need their church community and faith the most, they find themselves in an adversarial role with the same organizations that victimized them in the beginning. So instead of healing and bonding together to go forward stronger, the victims must seek spiritual strength outside of the church and the church finds itself with less parishioners, spending weekdays in courtrooms and paying a bunch of money in legal fees and settlements.

If you haven’t already gotten the massive irony happening here, let me finish by driving the nail in the rest of the way. Victims of child sexual abuse must have some dang strong faith to recover. I have not met a survivor yet, who has had any success in healing, that did not believe in some kind of higher power.

So all you preachers, church leaders, bishops and popes out there, while you are standing by the riverbank telling folks what they should and shouldn’t do, the boat is floating right by you. While you are expending most of your energy pontificating and protecting your possessions your mission has been totally lost in the fray.

May you find your way back.

by Randy Ellison

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Isn’t it great when science comes along and proves to us something that our moms taught us and we learned in Sunday School? That it is a good thing to try be a better human being by helping others. Now we have proof that it is good for us to help other people. Here is the really interesting part of the study: If you volunteer with a desire to help others then you may live longer, as much as four years. If you volunteer because it it makes you feel better about yourself or feel like it is about you, sorry, you are only half way there.
So the report tells us it’s not enough to just step out and help others, we really do gain something concrete, if we do it with a good attitude and with love. Do you suppose this study is science’s way of agreeing with the parable in the Bible of the rich man having to give up what is most important to him to gain a higher level of existence?
So if we learn to be more selfless we can achieve a longer (and more productive) life. Nice.

People Who Volunteer Live Longer, Study Suggests

LiveScience.comBy Remy Melina | LiveScience.com – 5 hrs ago (more…)

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The Power of One

The Power of One:

I was at a Child Abuse Network meeting yesterday and a woman brought up the Power to Make a Difference. She told about a program she was involved in once, to make a point to smile at a teenager. Studies show that it actually makes a difference in their day and their lives.

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Reclaiming One’s Soul

Reclaiming One’s Soul

Well here it is the Sabbath and I am sitting in the woods on the upper Rogue River surrounded by huge firs and mammoth cedars watching the river flow by. A half mile away the entire river disappears into a lava tube and comes out fifty feet away. They call it Natural Bridge. Been here for three days now and I am always amazed how different I feel after a couple days in the woods. It’s been hard to go to that place in my head where I want and need to talk about abuse. (more…)

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