Survivor Leads Way

By Debbie Mitchell McCormack

   There is a new Woman’s support group in the Waterbury area called SSING (Sexual Assault and Incest Survivor Support Group). The support group is for women who have been victims of sexual abuse. I’d like to tell you that there are more people out there than you can imagine who have been sexually assaulted as a child. In Waterbury, in Thomaston, Southington, and yes, here in Wolcott too.

   More than likely these individuals are adults in their mid 40’s to late 50’s and are just now beginning to deal with their trauma. There is a good chance that the assault happened more than once. There is a good chance that the assault was committed by a close family member. When this happens, the victim is many times sworn to secrecy or threatened, or shamed into silence. 

   The abuse may have occurred once, or many times. All of a sudden, the child is so confused, has no self worth, and is deeply ashamed because they feel they are to blame. If they find the courage to tell, there is a good chance that they aren’t believed. Many times they lose the friendship of the person they confided in.

   I started this support group because about four years ago, it was what I desperately needed and could not find in this area. Safe Haven of Waterbury wanted to offer a group at the time, but not enough women came forward who showed an interest in attending. At that time in my life, it was hard to say those words out loud; “I am a victim of sexual abuse and incest.”  Yet, whenever I made a phone call regarding a counselor or support group, this is what I needed to say.

   Finally I found the Susan B. Anthony Project in Torrington. They had a support group there that I attended every Thursday evening. Little by little, as I listened to others like me, I gained the courage to share. I learned coping skills.

   Soon I noticed myself encouraging and supporting others who were new to our group. For about two years I made the forty minute drive to Torrington every Thursday. During the latter part of those years, I had opportunities to speak in front of others to promote awareness. I took part in an art gallery display that was presented by victims and survivors of abuse by entering and displaying my own work. With each week that passed, I could feel myself get stronger, less fragile. A while later I became certified in Crisis Intervention by Safe Haven of Waterbury.

   I was a victim of incest at a very young age. I learned to hide my feelings until I had no feelings. I learned to put on a face that wouldn’t lead to suspicion. I learned that my life wasn’t important. From about the age of six to the age of 19, this was my life. For the next 30 years or so, I buried it all. In that time I got married and raised a family. Very few who knew me knew my secret.

   As time went on, and my children almost grown adults, things began to change. I began having nightmares. Insomnia. Flashbacks. Anxieties over driving, speaking, and going out. I started to have problems with my short term memory along with confusion. I was sent to a Neurologist for testing. It was thought that I may have had early onset Alzheimer’s. The testing suggested instead that I have PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which I now know is common in victims of sexual assault. 

   I have come a long way. I remember feeling so alone and different. One day while  reading a book titled Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. I read about how this little girl who had been brutally raped noticed that she needed to find others who were like her; who understood what she had been through. Once she did, she began to understand herself more. She was happier and less troubled. When I read this, I realized that I needed to find others like me. This is when I began my search and found my support group in Torrington.

   Finding a support group has changed my life. Now I want to show others who are victim/survivors that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. There is hope! We are not just damaged goods. We are not alone. We are beautiful and sensitive and talented and we have a lot to offer.

   Issues about incest and sexual assault are so personal, so emotional, and often so complicated. Women who are survivors need to seek help and support. This group offers a chance for hope and healing by bringing together these women who share similar traumatic experiences. With each meeting there is a chance to lighten the heavy burdens they carry.

    SSING is for women who were victims of sexual assault at any age. We do not give advice. We listen. We share.  We stress confidentiality. There is no pressure to speak. This group is free of charge. It is facilitated by a woman who is a survivor and who is certified by Safe Haven of Waterbury for Crisis Intervention. This is an open meeting, which means that new members may join at any time. Come and join us. The mood is light. Attending a support group may help change your life, it has changed mine.

   SSING meets every Thursday at 7 pm in Wolcott. The meetings are free of charge. For more information, contact Debbie Mitchell McCormack at 203-558-5025