Pedophile Ring Survivor Anneke Lucas

Pedophile Ring Survivor Anneke Lucas

Sold by her mother to a pedophile ring led by powerful politicians and aristocrats in her native Belgium, Anneke’s story is about more than just survival.  She talks about the ways her PTSD affects her life but also about the empathy she learned at a young age that inspires her to teach yoga in prisons, especially fellow survivors of sex-trafficking.

Click here to watch a documentary about Anneke 

Visit the website for her foundation LiberationPrisonYoga.com

Visit her Facebook page

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Episode notes:

Click here to watch a documentary about Anneke 

Visit the website for her foundation LiberationPrisonYoga.com

Visit her Facebook page

Episode Transcript:

Paul:   Welcome to episode 245 with my guest Anneke Lucas. I’m Paul Gilmartin; this is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, a place for honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions and past traumas and sexual dysfunction to everyday compulsive, negative thinking. This show’s not meant to be a substitute for professional mental counseling. It’s not a doctor’s office. I’m not a therapist. It’s more like a waiting room that doesn’t suck. The website for this show is mentalpod.com. All kinds of stuff you can do there. You can read blogs, guest blogs. Just posted a great one by my friend and former guest Cassie Snider about body image. She’s a really funny writer and it’s just such a great way of capturing the absurdity of life. So check that out. You can take surveys there. You can see how other people filled out surveys, because you know I love to read those on the podcast and they’re a big part of it. You can support the show through the website, there’s all kinds of stuff. You can do the forum, you can browse the forum or you can join it and post and connect to other people. I know a bunch of people connected on there before the Brooklyn show that I just came back from, and they met before the show and hung out together which I can’t even tell you how much that warms my heart. Mostly because I know they were talking about me.

What do I have to share with you? This vitamin D that I have been on now for a month is making all the difference in the world. You know I’ve shared many times about this crazy anxiety I would get when I would be playing hockey. It is going away. I played in like a big—well, big in quotes—playoff game the night I came back from Brooklyn and normally my, you know, my legs would have been a little shaky, I’d have been fatigued after a period, and I strength and a certain calm throughout the entire thing, so I think vitamin D might be the solution I was looking for. I was thinking that it was mostly mental, but I’m beginning to think it was biological, chemical, I don’t know what the—I can fax you the details. And if you’re old school, I can mimeograph them and send them to you via the Pony Express. Let’s get to the show. But thank you everyone that came out in Brooklyn. I had such a great trip. I had so many amazing moments being there. I recorded a ton of people, lots of different backgrounds, lots of different issues, and I just really, really loved it.

This is a Struggle in a Sentence survey. This was filled out by a guy who calls himself Tony Soprano and then in parentheses (because it’s on TV while I type this.) His issue is depression. And he writes, “I’ll feel much better as soon as you all leave me alone.” Oh my God do I relate to that. Snapshot from his life: “Crying in my car in a parking lot after hanging up on a rude customer. An old lady taps on my window and says, ‘Baby, you need to get away from whatever it is that’s making you feel that way.’ I know, but this pays the bills.”

This is filled out by a woman who calls herself Help Me Put Brakes on the Rollercoaster. She is—she has bipolar II, which she describes as a kiddie rollercoaster you must ride forever. Small ups and downs repeating over and over. About her anorexia, “I just want to see my hip bones and ribs again then I’ll be ok.” Compulsive behaviors: “Hair braiding. I have to finish braiding the smaller pieces to make into a bigger piece, tie it off with a knot, put it back in a ponytail, relax. Must untie the knot, untangle the hair. I have a small patch of thin hair to the left of my face that doesn’t grow in anymore.” About her anger issues, “Hating myself with such passion that I must punch myself, pinch myself, something to relieve the hot tightness in my chest.” Snapshot from her life: “Boss gave me the day off from work. I went to the store, bought far more home décor stuff than I needed, came home and set to work. I cleaned the entire apartment, rearranged the pantry, put things in labeled boxes on shelves, moved a mattress and box spring to the garage in the middle of a Florida summer. I felt like I could do anything. By the time my boyfriend got home at 5:00, I was beginning to feel myself come down. My body was tired but my brain still wasn’t. I knew the next day was gonna be a crash. Sure enough, I haven’t gotten out of bed for two days.” Oh man, that sounds—that sounds really, really intense.

This is filled out by a guy—oh no, I’m sorry, this is filled out by a gender fluid person who refers to themselves as Bug. And about their ADD, they write, “I’m like a sim and some asshole keeps changing my assigned task before I’m done with it.” That is so fantastic. About their anxiety, “The sound of hard steps on the stairs when you were in trouble as a kid.” Oh, that is so visceral. That is so descriptive. About their OCD, “Touching this elevator button with my ring finger knuckle so I don’t infect my partner with gonorrhea and blurting out the lyrics to My Sharona so mom doesn’t die in a car crash is a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.”

[SHOW INTRO]

Paul: I’m here with Anneke Lucas who is a yoga instructor. You go into prisons and jails in New York and teach inmates how to do yoga.

Anneke: Yep.

Paul: And you started a group of people.

Anneke: Yep.

Paul: You founded this team of people that go into the prisons and the jails and teach yoga. That’s so beautiful. What’s the name of the group?

Anneke: Thank you. It’s called Liberation Prison Yoga. And I created it by necessity because I realized there’s no organized effort to bring yoga teachers into the prisons and it’s really what I set out to do. And I really went to teach originally because I was going to create this organization. It wasn’t liberation at first; it was Prison Yoga Project, the New York branch of that. And I was volunteering full time after a very short time because once I started doing it I realized, “Well, I have to teach if I want to do it. I’m gonna have to bring other people in. I have to go through the process.” And so I started going in and the first time I went I realized that that is where I really need to teach.

Paul: What were the myths you had about prisoners?

Anneke: I believed—and I’m gonna have to backtrack a little bit—because I believed that I was going to meet the people that I grew up with. And it so happens that I grew up with a group of psychopaths. Not just one. My mother is definitely psychopathic but I was, you know—since she had absolutely no conscience and no feeling and no access to any of her feelings, she sold me and she sold me to a group of powerful politicians and aristocrats in my home country, Belgium. And so I was used for—from the age of six to eleven. And so these were murderers. They were completely without a conscience. They were also powerful in the world. And this is how they held onto their power. This was their power fix. I think this was as far as they needed to go to get that high of feeling power and I believed when I went into the prisons I was going to find those people.

Paul: No, those people never get brought to justice.

Anneke: Exactly. Exactly.

Paul: Wow, I’m so sorry that you had to experience that. I knew that you had gone through some trauma but I didn’t know the extent of that.

Anneke: The violence, yeah.

Paul: It’s so amazing how calm the person is that’s sitting in front of me. How, you know, we talked a little bit in the car on the way here and you’re such an incredibly empathic person and it’s just so weird sometimes to reconcile such chaos in a childhood with such stillness in an adult. And you’re very still.

Anneke: Well I actually accessed the stillness in my childhood when things were really bad. I did feel a loving presence often. I was tortured in various ways so within those moments there usually was some greater awareness that would dawn on me that helped me through the ordeal.

Paul: Wow. Like can you give a …

Anneke: Well, what I’m thinking of is rather graphic; I hope that that’s ok.

Paul: Trigger warning.

Anneke: Trigger warning.

Paul: Yeah. And I wasn’t looking for you necessarily to describe something graphically, more so …

Anneke: It’s not sexually graphic.

Paul: Ok.

Anneke: But it is graphic.

Paul: Ok.

Anneke: Yes.

Paul: I was looking for the thing that would come into your mind. But if you want to share the other part, that’s fine too.

Anneke: Well that’s how it came about, so I think it’s the context in this case that would matter. It’s not something that I’ve actually spoken about. But it was and is so crazy but I was taken down in a coal cellar, it was the cellar of a large house, with two adult men, one of whom was a politician, a famous politician. And they had a cardboard box with them. And the politician wasn’t carrying the box. But I was taken to a cellar that had coals inside and it had basically three walls. So I was put in and then the box was opened and thrown at me. And I was about ten years old at the time, maybe a little younger. And there were bugs inside and they were—they had claws—and so the bugs pinched me everywhere and I screamed. And that was actually, I mean this may sound very crazy, but these people were absolutely crazy, so the politician—I had spent some time alone with him and he had wanted me to scream. He didn’t say that, but I knew that’s what he wanted, and I hadn’t. I’d held out. And so this is how he got me to scream. And immediately after I screamed, there was this sense of a presence and there is the physiological freeze mode that a person goes into and is kind of trauma so that you actually don’t feel the pain as you normally would. You aren’t able to—the wounds won’t bleed and so forth. So there’s all this physiological stuff going on but at the same time there was this sense immediately that seemed to be given from the outside that these are just creatures, natural creatures that have been taken out of their habitat. So I relaxed. I collapsed, relaxed. And so it seemed immediately as though they weren’t so aggressive anymore. And the two men were bored by that time because I wasn’t, you know, in distress, obviously in distress, so they actually just left. And so I just brushed the last—they looked like scarab beetles with the pinchers—so I had these little marks all over me, which were little arrow marks, arrowheads they looked like. And so I just got them out of my hair and walked back upstairs, which was going to be to wait for my mother. So there was—that’s one instance of how this awareness would come to me and it then changed everything because it was so powerful that it wasn’t even interesting for the men anymore, for the sadists who really wanted to—me to be in distress.

Paul: There are so many questions that I have. First of all, have those politicians ever been brought to justice?

Anneke: No.

Paul: Are any of them alive?

Anneke: Not the ones that I was exposed to.

Paul: Have you ever said their names publicly?

Anneke: No.

Paul: And is there a reason?

Anneke: I don’t want to get killed. (laughs)

Paul: Yeah. That’s so sad.

Anneke: There was a scandal in 1996, the Dutroux scandal, the Belgian pedophile scandal it was named. It was written about in the New York Times. We got a little attention in the states, we got a lot more attention in Europe. That was a trial of one man called Dutroux, who said he had friends in high places who had been kidnapping children, who was basically a pimp for this network, who was delivering children. And then instead of infiltrating into families, incestuous families usually, often poor families, and obtaining the children, he started kidnapping children. And then he had to build dungeons for those children to keep them. And so the parents were concerned, and eventually the bodies of the children were found and Nihoul was the only one who ended up—I’m saying Nihoul—Dutroux was really the only one who went to prison for life. And a few of his companions, and then Nihoul was the fourth defendant who was involved, but really got off on the major charge, which was the kidnapping.

Paul: And had any of those people personally abused you?

Anneke: Well I had been confronted definitely with Jean Michel Nihoul, who was one of the people there yeah.

Paul: What do you mean when you say you had been confronted?

Anneke: He was a middleman.

Paul: I see.

Anneke: But my mother was my pimp. So I didn’t really go through the middleman.

Paul: Help me wrap my head around how your mother could do that.

Anneke: Well, psychopaths do not experience any feelings. I mean, they are a little bit soulless because they’re not—their limbic system in the brain just doesn’t work. So they have fight or flight, you know, they have survival instincts, and then it goes straight to the cortex, so they have—they can be very smart, very intelligent, but their whole feeling system is just not operative. So that’s why world leaders can do well because they have not—they don’t have the obstacles that we do.

Paul: A conscience.

Anneke: Of conscience in getting ahead.

Paul: In business, a lot of people, a lot of people in business.

Anneke: A lot of CEOs do very well. You know, it’s a great profile for a CEO to—how to get ahead in business.

Paul: Yeah, psychopaths know how to mimic emotion.

Anneke: They know how to mimic emotion. See, my mother—I always wondered in my adult life, when I was healing, I was always wondering, why does—my mother doesn’t answer to the profile of an alcoholic? And the reason I finally realized is because she doesn’t have any feelings to numb.

Paul: Oh wow. Wow, I never thought about that. I never thought about that. There’s a great book called The Psychopath Next Door.

Anneke: I love that book. Is it The Sociopath Next Door?

Paul: One of those.

Anneke: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: But yeah, she profiles like three people in positions of authority who are psychopaths.

Anneke: Great book.

Paul: And it—you actually wind up coming away with some compassion for the psychopath because you realize they don’t get to experience human connection and so life is just a big chess game to them and people are pawns and they need bigger and bigger risks to feel. And what a terrible prison to be in.

Anneke: Yes. And depending on their intelligence level also. My mother is not particularly intelligent and I really was her only victim. She had power over me. I would say perhaps my brother was somewhat of a victim, but they’re still in touch, as far as I know. I’m not in contact with either of them. But the fact that I was female and I was her only child for a while, I became the repository for all the things that she would not have been able to handle about herself, all the fears that she was not in touch with: the fear that she’s ugly, the fear that she’s bad, evil. You know, all those fears, that’s what was projected into me. So I grew up not really being able to have anything of me around her. It was a creation from her mind that was both evil but also bland and ugly and there were this whole list of things, physical things were wrong. And she’s very focused on the physical appearance of women, especially she’s always gossiping about women. And so yes, I definitely have come to a place where I don’t envy psychopaths, whether it’s my mother, or whether it’s people who seem to do really well and who actually do really well in the world, have all the power in the world, all the money in the world, the one percenters, I have no envy whatsoever. I haven’t gotten in touch with my own feelings over the years, because it took a long—I have a lot of healing behind me. My whole life is in this context of healing from that trauma. I can’t do anything else. So going into prisons is part of this healing, which is the most beautiful part, where I’m now sharing, I feel extremely useful because I can connect to the past experiences of most of the people that I work with. We relate. I’ve found my past back in little bits and pieces of different people. And so I really relate. I know what it’s like to be treated as the lowest of the low. I know what it’s like to be treated as evil all the time, even though you may not have done anything, or you may have done something once. And so I really connect and it is such a story of love. Going in and sharing and then finding, you know, finding that so much love comes back to me. So much gratitude and it’s just the most beautiful thing. So I’m very happy. Well I’m happy when I do that. I don’t stay happy if I don’t. I need a lot of things to keep my mind from sinking, you know.

Paul: Well before we get to the healing of going in the prisons, I guess I’d like to know the arc of how that abuse affected you and how you navigated the world and what your coping mechanisms became. How did it end? Did you just get old enough that they didn’t want you anymore?

Anneke: No. A lot of the girls who became older may have gotten pregnant and killed. So there was always that hanging over our heads. I was rescued in an extremely dramatic way when I was 11. I was at my prime age (indistinct) but I had been singled out.

Paul: Prime age to the pedophile?

Anneke: Oh yeah. To the men in the network, absolutely. That age, you know, pre-pubescent or pubescent is perfect. It’s like just at that age where it’s a bit of a woman, you know?

Paul: Mm-hmm.

Anneke: It’s like the whole society’s kind of like obsessed with that kind of body type in girls and so forth for a woman.

Paul: Did you know that at the time?

Anneke: Oh yeah, I got a lot and I, you know, I had nothing at home. And so when I was taken to the network, I was found beautiful, an object of course, but it’s better than, you know, ugly. And certain things in me were reflected back, so I actually—as much as I was scared to go because death was always a possibility, I was also happier there.

Paul: Wow. Wow.

Anneke: Yeah, living with my mother was really nightmarish. The constant mental turmoil of living with someone who just constantly projects. Where I could never be me. At all. At all. Like nothing. And my intelligence wasn’t reflected, my—nothing. There was nothing seen about me. So in the network sometimes my intelligence was seen, but mostly my beauty was seen and then reflected back and I got—I thrived on that. And as a young adult—so I was rescued at age 11. This person who had taken a liking to me for a year and then became my worst abuser within that year. And finally he was done with me and I was going to be killed. And I was tortured. And he had a change of heart. And negotiated for my release with one of the politicians who was like the unofficial leader of the network. And I was let go, not right away. I had to go through the worst experience there first, meaning committing violence before I was let go.

Paul: Violence committed against you?

Anneke: No. I had to commit violence.

Paul: Why?

Anneke: Because it’s an extremely clever tactic.

Paul: Oh, to keep you from talking.

Anneke: Absolutely. And very effective. I am 52. I started speaking about this two years ago.

Paul: Oh my God.

Anneke: Out of fear that really I was an abuser.

Paul: Wow.

Anneke: And that if I was going to start speaking, it was going to be clear that I’m the bad guy. And I think this is something in abuse – while an abuser abuses, they feel release and relief and they feel a little bit of innocence and they place this sense of evil and badness with the victim as a justification to do what they’re doing. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do it. So this is part of abuse, is that you get to feel evil.

Paul: And I think we put that shame on ourselves almost immediately.

Anneke: It becomes shame, yes.

Paul: Yes. Especially if there was any moments of pleasure around it.

Anneke: And why wouldn’t there be? You know, the body goes into a freeze state which especially in rape that’s really the only thing the body can do is to just relax all the muscles, go into freeze state. And part of that is that you will experience pleasure. So ….

Paul: So you think you were the one that wanted it to happen. I’m not saying you in particular.

Anneke: No, but absolutely.

Paul: To survive.

Anneke: And it’s very confusing and I think that there’s a—something going around there where sex victims—sex abuse victims sometimes feel that their body betrayed them.

Paul: I felt that my whole life.

Anneke: But that’s not true. Your body just did what it did to survive.

Paul: But I didn’t realize that until three years ago. And it was such a relief to know that I was just a little boy that didn’t deserve that.

Anneke: And because pedophiles don’t see the child in the child, they don’t see a child. They see parts of themselves that they’ve lost. They see maybe innocence and then they’re drawn compulsively to that part.

Paul: They want to go back and grab it.

Anneke: They want to grab it and they feel that innocence during the abuse, as strange as that may sound. While they abuse, the put the feelings, the dark feelings of anger and everything that really belongs with the perpetrator, with their perpetrator, in that moment those feelings are projected onto the victim, who then becomes, you know, the perpetrator for the perpetrator, and then the perpetrator in that moment is relieved from all these feelings that they’ve been living with their whole life. Of shame and pain and feeling that it’s their fault, and anger, all this anger that they can’t express. In this way, it’s just—that’s the blueprint and that’s how it repeats.

Paul: I am recording Anneke at about 11 in the morning here at the recording space and normally I record after hours so it’s more quiet but we couldn’t accommodate her schedule, because she’s just in town briefly. And so we have to record while the other offices are here, so half of my brain is listening to you and the other half is screaming at the other tenants going, “Shut the fuck up. She’s talking about something heavy. Please for the love of God shut the fuck up.”

Anneke: But then I teach in prisons.

Paul: Yeah, that’s true.

Anneke: It’s very nice and quiet here.

Paul: I need to accept that I don’t have control over how loud other people are and say that what is going to be is going to be with our interview and it’s not going to be ruined by these other people.

So talk about—you get extricated from this—and had your mother ever—other than selling you and doing the verbal abuse, did she ever sexually abuse you or she sexually abused you as well?

Anneke: Yes.

Paul: You just got the whole buffed platter, didn’t you?

Anneke: I did.

Paul: When did that start with her?

Anneke: Well, she abused me as an infant and I have remembered these things because they were so physically invasive that through physical memories really and pain I got back to those memories and then—which was molestation I guess. And then she molested me again after my release. So I was released with a set of very specific instructions how to live my life. But since I was 11, I couldn’t be put out on the street. So I had to live with my mother for another few years and she would then not be able to bring me back to the network. And because she wasn’t able to do that, she was very angry. Understandably, she didn’t have her, you know …

Paul: Meal ticket.

Anneke: Whatever she, yeah. Yeah, but I think it wasn’t so much for the money. Of course she took it. But I think it was more for—she had something—that’s how she—when her powerlessness would be stirred up in our, you know, inevitable clashes, then she—when she was triggered, she felt like a scared child and she felt like I was going to kill her. And then she had that power. And she could say, “I’m going to take you back there.” That’s what she would say. And she was really—she tried everything to break me after. And I was much—I was a much “better girl” before this person who had taken a liking to me had made me aware that she wasn’t so great. And then of course he greatly betrayed me as well, but I had been shifted. I wasn’t completely—my mother wasn’t completely good in my eyes anymore as she had been up to then, believe it or not, she was completely good.

Paul: How had your mother explained the reason for giving you to these men? What was her justification?

Anneke: Oh, she didn’t know. (laughs) She has, you know, some very good, you know, denial. Buffers and buffers of denial. She didn’t know what she was doing. She thought she was taking me to sleepovers. I did confront her. You know, whatever she could sort of come up with. But she’s not that smart, so it’s not really making any sense.

Paul: Yeah.

Anneke: Like she thought she was taking me to sleepovers, but then people who take their kids, they’re involved too, no I never would do something like that. That’s, you know, so confused. But not—actually, she didn’t categorically deny it either. But—so she tried to get the power back and then that was the last thing she did. And that worked. She molested me and the shame that I experienced and her shamelessness—I felt like I can never live after that. So I sort of got back into her world, taking the verbal, you know mocking and the projections, bland, ugly.

Paul: After she molested you, did that help shatter your image that your mom was always right?

Anneke: Well it already had been shattered at that time.

Paul: By the person that had told your mom isn’t …

Anneke: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: Because I know it can take a long time for that ideal that we have to create of a parent to survive. Because if we know our parent is a monster …

Anneke: How are you gonna live?

Paul: It’s too—yeah, you’re not gonna be able to get out of bed.

Anneke: Right.

Paul: Those Legos don’t play by themselves. You gotta get out of bed and work those Legos. So once you began to know who your mom really was, was that a good thing because you still had to live with her for some time?

Anneke: No. I forgot again who she was when I was in the network and when I was being—when my eyes were being opened to who she was that’s how things got really, really bad. Because my mother wouldn’t take it. So she just stepped up the pace. And she did everything she could including after—including taking me back to a group of sadists after I was supposedly not to be taken anymore. I mean she—that was her drive, her biggest drive. She appears to anyone as a weak woman, maybe sexually inappropriate but the willpower that she put to work in my abuse and seeing that I would be suffering was tremendous. So my eyes had been opened then things, you know, just really got to—got really, really bad. Just anything. And since she’s psychopathic, there were no limits. So there really were no limits. One time she didn’t pick me back up. So she would drive me to a place but she didn’t pick me back up. And she said that she was going to do that because I had said that she was no good. Which was influenced by what I was learning. So she left me. And I was there for five days. And I nearly starved to death. And then she came and got me on a Thursday, a day before she was going to take me back again. So she had no limits. But she was practical too. Like she wanted to kill me but she also wanted me to be alive so she could continue to kill me.

Paul: So then she’d have the most power over you, the more afraid and dependent on you that you would become the better dog you would be.

Anneke: Yes. So after she molested me she became all good again and I survived again. But then I left home three years later. And never came back. I did speak to her and I continued in my healing process. So she was my mom, she was still a good person. And so little by little as, you know, more and more, as I was capable of really holding more and more of this, you know, tremendous information that was not available in my younger years. I know it took a long time before I was safe enough to receive the first bit of information. And so over the years, you know, it became clear and I processed a lot of the grief and the feelings and my relationship with my mother is still the most complex in the healing, because I—

Paul: Do you still have contact with her?

Anneke: No.

Paul: Ok.

Anneke: I don’t. But I still have feelings and projections.

Paul: I’m the same way. I think about my mom all the time. And I’m not conflating what happened to you to what happened to me.

Anneke: But it takes someone—

Paul: They’re both betrayals but I think about—almost a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about my mom and a little voice in my head will say, “You’re being a bad son.” You know, “You should really just suck it up and call her. She doesn’t have many years left.” And then the healed part of my brain says, “Shut the fuck up. She’s toxic. You tried for twenty years.”

Anneke: She’s toxic so she’s a danger to you. But that doesn’t mean that there can be no forgiveness. I mean …

Paul: I don’t hate her. I’m not even angry at her. I see her as sick and I have compassion for her. But I have—

Anneke: It’s self-protection, right?

Paul: Yeah, I like to say have compassion for others but not at the expense of compassion for yourself.

Anneke: Absolutely.

Paul: And that had to finally kick in at 48 years of age. And it was the healthiest thing I ever did for myself. But the reason I bring all this up is because that voice is still—I still ruminate about it. Less and less. It’s tapering off. But I want to know with you where you are with that, with the relationship with your mom or your feelings about your mom and what you think about.

Anneke: Well it’s expanded into this fight for liberation for women because I have been through everything that women go through for being women, for being girls, that makes them unliberated, that makes them betray each other.

Paul: And shame each other.

Anneke: Shame each other. Give power to men. Hold up men on a pedestal. Flatter men. And so uphold the patriarchy as it is today. So I have all the ingredients—my mother is like the extreme example of an unliberated woman. She was—did not have an easy life at all. She made my life a lot harder than hers I’m sure, but she was born before the World War. She was clearly molested, even though she has no memory of it. She has all the symptoms of someone who’s seen sexual abuse. She starved in the war years in Belgium. In the town where she lived there was starvation. She doesn’t remember that either. She lost her mother when she was five years old in 1945. So she did not have an easy life. And she didn’t also have the resources that I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed in Belgium. I got them in the United States. There was no really openness towards therapy when I was still living there.

Paul: When did you move?

Anneke: I left Belgium in the early ‘80’s. I went to France first. Then I’d been told that I should go live in Paris, London, New York. Oh New York, you should live in New York. And I think that this person was just thinking out loud but I went and lived in all three places. So I ended up in New York in 1985. And she really hasn’t—she always gossips about women and she flatters men. That’s really—I mean she’s like a little girl who is scared of men but is not so scared of women. Women reflect—is the reflection of the self-hatred. So of course I had a lot of that too because I was nurtured by being found beautiful in this centralized way. So I got a lot of that and I’ve trusted men more than women for the longest time. And I don’t know, I’m sure I was pretty weird, you know? I did some really strange things.

Paul: After you got out?

Anneke: Yeah. As an adult, as a young adult.

Paul: Anything you’re comfortable sharing?

Anneke: Well, there wasn’t really anything big because of the instructions, they were very clear. Never become a prostitute. Never take money to sleep with a man. Never do anything to sleep with a man. I mean, they were very clear.

Paul: Who gave you these instructions?

Anneke: The person who rescued me.

Paul: Ok.

Anneke: That abuser who rescued me.

Paul: I see. Because he knew the traps that the girls fell into once they became adults?

Anneke: I guess so, I guess so.

Paul: I guess I’m just curious – was that—was he in a moment of caring for your wellbeing or was he protecting his own interest?

Anneke: No, he was—that was one of the—probably the one altruistic moment in his life.

Paul: Ok. Because it threw me off guard a little bit. I was like, what’s his angle there?

Anneke: No, no, no. He was definitely—he killed many people, but he had that one moment that he changed his mind. And the result of that—and so this is a psychopath by all descriptions of psychopaths – extremely charming, and so forth. And he was rather young. He was 20 at the time, or 21. And what resulted though from that—him doing this one good deed and then opening himself—you know, he had to then negotiate so he was considered weak inside the network. He did something for—you know, he had to do something for it and he did. He lost his life.

Paul: How did he lose his life? They killed him?

Anneke: Well, eventually. He—part of the deal was that he was going to be like the left hand man, I guess, of that politician and then that—doing that, he ended up losing his life—losing protection when he was caught and then losing his life.

Paul: I see.

Anneke: But that is like that in that environment, you know. It’s really true. But in the moment when he released me, he shared his own childhood story. That gave me the opportunity to understand what had made him the person that he was. And he basically told me about what happened to him as a 12-year-old boy that was exactly all the things that he had done to me in this year. That helped me to really understand how this repetition comes about. And he cried and asked for forgiveness.

Paul: Wow.

Anneke: And then sent me off, and I believe sent off the innocent part of himself with me. And then turned to crime. I mean, then really delved into a life of crime, out of the feeling that he wasn’t worthy of anything else because he could never feel that he was good. He continued to protect his father who had abused him, his parents who both abused him. And who had maimed him. Who had maimed him.

Paul: Emotionally or physically?

Anneke: Physically. And he walked with a slight limp. He did the same thing to me. He stabbed me. And I should be walking with a limp but I worked hard not to.

Paul: It’s—you know, as you share that moment with him I think that might be the ultimate example of how people are both dark and light.

Anneke: Absolutely. You know, this is a psychopath. It tells me that there’s hope for psychopaths if there’s enough love. Because that was what it was all about. He made himself vulnerable, which takes a lot of courage, but he did. And there was this long pause when he asked—when he said he was sorry and he asked me to forgive him. There was a very long pause. And I had this power. I had been suddenly given this power and I had been of course very abused. So it wasn’t clear if I was going to embrace it, embrace him being weak, being vulnerable.

Paul: Vulnerable.

Anneke: For in that—

Paul: Weak in the network but vulnerable in society.

Anneke: Exactly. So I just said, “I love you.”

Paul: Wow. And what did he—did he cry? She’s nodding her head yes. What emotion’s coming up for you right now?

Anneke: I feel very soft. You know, that was this one moment in this person’s life. I had a dream and then found out he had been killed that night, so there was a connection even though I was a child and he was a pedophile, and, you know, everything else. From knowing his story I also found out that later on he was involved in very dark things, killed a lot of people. And one person who had been shot in the leg, or his leg might have been shot off, or killed the whole family of that man, that boy at the time, was a young boy, who looked at him and his mask had fallen off.

Paul: His literal mask had fallen off?

Anneke: His literal mask.

Paul: Oh they wore masks, huh?

Anneke: Yes. And this was another big mystery—mysterious thing in Belgium that happened in the ‘80’s. So this surviving boy, now a man, wrote a book and said that this criminal, that’s the person who shot me and killed my family and not necessarily believed but I know that it’s true because he shot me in the leg. And he had been stabbed in the leg by his father and he stabbed me in the leg, so …

Paul: That was his thing.

Anneke: This was their—there was the trauma and the betrayal. The father stabbed him after finding him in bed with his mother. But the father was already abusing him also so the father felt that the son was betraying him, rather than the wife. And then ran after the son and committed this violence against his son and stabbed him and crippled him. And so he replayed that trauma his whole life long. Because he continued to love his father and he continued to feel that he was a traitor. And so he continued to feel he could never be good. So there are certain feelings, you know, when they say psychopaths mimic people’s feelings, no, there are feelings, you know, I think on some level the trauma is always a very important factor. I think psychopaths like my mother—I don’t think my mother received any love when she was very young, in the first years of her life when this limbic system really develops, when there’s a blueprint for an emotional life, I don’t think. If a child is never seen as innocent and cute and a baby, you know, a baby, some babies aren’t viewed that way, and this can be—one baby can not receive that from their parents but another one can, you know, so I think that mixed with abuse usually creates just these horrible criminals. But I don’t think, I mean, I know people like to say that it’s this physical thing and it certainly has both. I certainly have the blood of a psychopath so I, you know, have all the ingredients, the psychopath and certainly the abuse but it’s something that can be overcome just like anything else.

Paul: Have you ever engaged in any behavior that shocked you where you were like, “Oh my God, I’m heading down the wrong path.”

Anneke: No. I was given a spiritual break. I was given an experience right at the last night in the network when I had been tortured and when I had committed violence and, you know, I would not have survived. I didn’t, in fact. So I had an experience that gave me a taste of what we can have if we follow the spiritual path and we follow truth rather than trying to get that sense of bliss and this feeling of love, great love through drugs or sex or—which I had all experienced, I had experienced ecstasy and sex with this abuser who wanted me, you know. And I had experienced—certainly I had been given a lot of drugs. And I had experienced incredible highs on the drugs. So I was given this taste and then to know what to strive for, I think. And the instructions that helped me to never really do anything too crazy. The only thing is that sometimes I placed myself in situations that were not completely safe as a young adult. And then I ended up acting like a hero but—while placing myself in that situation first so it’s not a real hero.

Paul: Can you be more specific if you’re comfortable?

Anneke: I am thinking perhaps of one incident her in LA, in Compton, driving through Compton, at 2AM in the morning, in the ‘80’s when I lived here. And I was with a friend and I had an old car and was almost out of gas. We were gonna get some gas. We had a couple of dollars of cash on us. And I get some gas and it was not a good scene at all. It felt very dangerous and not the right place for a white woman at 2AM. And there was no gas attendant in the cubicle and there was someone standing right next to it and said, “I’ll take, you know, I’m the attendant, I’ll take it for you.” I gave him, you know, a couple of dollars, last cash that I had and he filled his own car up with it. And so I started screaming at the guy. And I was really screaming and so he, you know, obviously became angry. There were all these people around that were just waiting to see what was going to happen and probably armed. And I was with a male friend, so he said, “I’m not gonna beat up a woman, I’m gonna beat up the guy.” And I literally picked up my friend, put him in the car, closed the door, went to the driver’s seat, started the car and yelled out, “You are a disgrace to your race.” Insane. So there’s this amazing strength that emerges that I have, you know, that comes when you’re abused enough. There is this place where no one can do anything to you anymore. And so you know that it’s not the body, we’re not the body, and so there’s this otherworldly strength that takes over. And that happened in the network a few times. I think I came in—I had some love as a baby from a caretaker, my mother was working. And so I knew what love was.

Paul: That probably saved you, huh?

Anneke: Absolutely. And I knew what love was and that’s why I have the possibility. I didn’t always have self-esteem but I always had the capacity for self-esteem and I knew that it was wrong because of that. Without that there would be no hope for me.

Paul: It’s really amazing you’re alive.

Anneke: Yes.

Paul: I mean …

Anneke: I agree.

Paul: I just, you know, put aside that you didn’t die in the network, I would imagine 90% of the kids that did make it out of the network at some point killed themselves with drugs or suicide or …

Anneke: And most did. It’s the truth. Most children did not come out alive. There was one woman alive, her name is Regina Louf, she’s a spokesperson, she testified in the Dutroux trial and then I think went through some horrible repetition where the whole country had something to say about her, believing or not believing, as if, you know, that matters. To me it doesn’t matter, so if somebody doesn’t believe me I don’t care. But I think to her, not having had this extensive healing, I think it was somewhat a repetition.

Paul: And a betrayal.

Anneke: And a b—I think it became a repetition of what happened to her in the past and, yes, betrayals. And I hope she’s doing well. I don’t really have a lot of contact with anyone in Belgium.

Paul: How has what happened to you affected your sexuality?

Anneke: Well I am asexual, so I can certainly enjoy sex now, which is part of the healing that for many, many years I couldn’t feel anything at all, I was completely shut off and when I started to be active again I realized, oh yeah, my body works, it works, but I don’t really care. So yeah, there’s this pleasure and I always feel that I’m perverting a spiritual joy and I’m bringing to this experience a spiritual quality of peace and bliss that is very enjoyable for the man but I don’t care. I don’t really want to do it. So now I’m being true to that. Saying, “No thanks.”

Paul: I think a lot of listeners that are asexual and some were abused, some weren’t, and they feel very alone in terms of how society views them, that society wants to change them somehow. And they resent it. And that makes sense to me because let people have their own thing, let them be their …

Anneke: Let them be alright wherever we are at.

Paul: Right.

Anneke: And I like the word asexual as a description, not as a label so that’s where I’m at. And I’m very happy within that, though. I’m very happy that I got to that, that I realized, oh yeah, that’s true. If I look back, I never really was very into it. Even the most intensive sexual experience I had in the network, I didn’t really want that intensity, you know, because that was also linked to fear.

Paul: Intense in terms of pleasurable to you?

Anneke: Yeah. Physically pleasurable because of the fear. Because I was being abused. And because my abuser was sadistic.

Paul: Do you feel—do you feel that that set you on a course then where for something to be sexually heightened there had to be some kind of external stimulus that was related to the abuse that you had experienced?

Anneke: I never looked for it. So I never wanted to go there.

Paul: So you didn’t try to seek that out, because I know I lot of people will try to replay….

Anneke: I always knew that it was the wrong way to go.

Paul: Yeah.

Anneke: I always knew that going to the sexuality was going to be the wrong venue. So I explored but not ever in an unsafe way or with unsafe people.

Paul: That’s amazing to me. I mean that’s just amazing. Because so many people that were abused become promiscuous.

Anneke: Well I took my instructions very, very literally, which really saved me. It also included about drinking and drugs, and not to buy drugs but you can do them if someone gives to you but you can’t do anything to get them. So this idea of “don’t become a prostitute”, I mean I took that and really took it. And I’m not saying I never sold myself because I did, you know, it’s not as if I always had this incredible integrity, not at all.

Paul: After you got out you did some prostitution?

Anneke: No. I didn’t. But I did end up at age sixteen I was working in the red district in Antwerp as a hostess.

Paul: Ok.

Anneke: So having drinks with men, drinking orange juice that was called vodka orange, you know, and getting half of the proceeds from those drinks. And I felt it was dirty money and so I left the—you know, I was just naturally drawn to that. I just wouldn’t sleep with the men or I wouldn’t touch—they wouldn’t—I wouldn’t touch them.

Paul: Did you go through a period where you had rage at all men?

Anneke: Yes.

Paul: Talk about that.

Anneke: It wasn’t obvious. I know I don’t look like an angry person, right? But I have of course so much anger in me, and it is my greatest—this is my greatest challenge is my anger. Now so the way that that would manifest, this anger at men, is that I would be with men that I didn’t really like. And especially when I started to explore my sexuality, which wasn’t all that long ago. So I didn’t really like them but I was with them, so my hatred of men, I mean it backfired just as much as, you know, I may have broken a few hearts, but certainly backfired because we weren’t really fighting, so they could have been ahead of me and just, you know, hurt me first. And I was still attached because there was sexuality and I still was attached because of the sex. So but mostly what I experienced was this automatic disrespect of men. And especially men in authority. Men in positions of authority. I just had an automatic disdain because I had seen—you know, I was raped by hundreds—about two hundred men.

Paul: Oh my God. I am so sorry.

Anneke: Thank you. Over five, six years. So men in authority and especially businessmen, especially balding, fat businessmen.

Paul: Are there any other kinds?

Anneke: (laughs) Of course there are. Look at all the startups. I would just automatically despise them. And especially men in power would be very drawn to that.

Paul: Men in power would be drawn to what?

Anneke: To this sense that someone despises them because they have people wanting to come to them.

Paul: Oh, that makes sense.

Anneke: And want to flatter them and I would just, you know.

Paul: And they want the chase.

Anneke: Despise them and so, right, and so what—and this is all very subtle—you know, I never really did anything. But basically I would draw men in and then I would hurt them. I would reject them without a word sometimes, you know, I would just psychically draw them in and then when the moment came, you know, unlike when this young gangster made himself vulnerable and I said I loved him, I instead, you know, did what I could and just like …

Paul: Cut his legs out.

Anneke: Yeah. Yeah. Just became cold and cruel. But all in a very subtle level, I have to say. Without getting too much involved in relationships with those people. Mostly I was too scared.

Paul: I can’t imagine how littered with triggers your daily life must have been and continues to be.

Anneke: Continues to be. This microphone literally is a trigger. It is. You know.

Paul: I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have them shaped like penises. You know, to this day when my wife will come up and touch me she’s like, “You recoil from my touch.” And it’s because that’s the way—that’s what my mom would do. She would come up and she would drink me in with her eyes and she would stroke my skin.

Anneke: Eww. Gross. My mother is like that too. It’s just gross.

Paul: Yeah, and it makes her sad and I, you know, and I try to not feel that way but it’s a trigger.

Anneke: Well you gotta honor it, that’s all, right?

Paul: Yeah.

Anneke: That’s what I do. I try to honor my triggers. I have to say – coming to the United States from France, I was living in Paris at the time, it has—I’ve really felt—I really—there’s a privilege. No doubt. I mean, the fact that I was European, spoke with a slight accent, white, young woman, and just—made things very easy. So I was actually able to—even the profile of the man I should marry was in the instructions. And I have never had to work so I have this privilege and so I’ve always been in a place where I could heal, I could focus on healing, and also could work with the triggers, you know. If I need an hour to prepare to go somewhere. You see, I came early, but it’s by accident because going somewhere, especially the first time, is a very big trigger.

Paul: I bet.

Anneke: Because my mother used to take me in the car. So having to go somewhere is always loaded. So I prepare tremendously, I have to prepare a lot. So and, you know, like taking my daughter to school has been a very big challenge. And, you know, so I’ve had to meet it and I’ve become sometimes over—you know I really prepare. I try to control it in preparing, but I’m aware that I’m triggered and I’m aware that it’s there, that it’s an issue, and so I can work around it. Now if I had to work fulltime, and I had all these triggers, it would be a different story. I wouldn’t be able to honor them as much as I do.

Paul: How—when you say you haven’t had to work, how do you get around having to work?

Anneke: Well I do have to work, actually. I mean this is past.

Paul: In the past. Because you were with men who supported you?

Anneke: I was with my husband basically.

Paul: I see.

Anneke: Who was the profile, the exact profile described – a son of a New York banker’s. My age, not an older man who made his own fortune. So I’ve been privileged and so I know that. I know that I’m privileged. And it’s helped me to have this time to work with triggers. I had to work around them and I now working more than ever in my life, I’ve been working very hard. It’s the first time I’ve ever been passionate about something. And so but I still I have to work constantly with the triggers because I will spend sometimes 70 hours a week working and I really need all my tools to remain, you know, mentally healthy.

Paul: Mm-hmm.

Anneke: And give time to the triggers sometimes.

Paul: I can’t imagine how many triggers there must be going into the prison system. Or at least initially.

Anneke: No. Well, I actually felt right at home because it does remind me of the network in certain ways and I felt good there, if you remember. But also I guess I felt the chaos, well, I first went to San Quentin, so there were all these men there, but I wasn’t really worried at all because I didn’t really notice psychopaths. I didn’t really notice the people from my past because as you said, you know, they don’t get caught. So no, I felt right at home. And instead of meeting those people that were psychopaths, I actually met people more like me, that I could really relate to. Men and women.

Paul: People who have been abused.

Anneke: Who have trauma in their past and I found that the men that I was there to see, they were so sweet and humble and so I found exactly the opposite of what I thought I would find. I found a population that is victimized.

Paul: I think too—I was sharing with Anneke that I go into jails here in LA sometimes and talk about living without drugs and alcohol and I was very nervous before I first started going in there. This was, you know, maybe nine years ago and the thing that shocked me was, you know, you get a group of gang members, or whatever these people had done, they’re in jail, but you get them in a day room outside the rest of the population they are looking for a chance to let their guard down and stop being the tough guy. And I’ve had, you know, gang members with shaved heads and the tear drop tattoo break down and say that they’re tired of living the way they’re living and to this day it’s one of the safest places that I feel is that day room with these guys that I know if the riot were to happen, they would protect me.

Anneke: Absolutely and I feel the same way teaching the male population. They have my back completely. Sweet men.

Paul: It’s like there’s this seed in them that is trying to grow and it just needs water.

Anneke: It just needs love.

Paul: It does. It does need love. Now, you know, that’s not to say I don’t have to occasionally kick a couple of these guys out because they’re being disrespectful.

Anneke: They’re testing.

Paul: They’re testing and I’m not gonna put up with their shit and it scares the fuck out of me to say, “Hey listen – you, you – go. Out.” It scared the shit out of me the first time I had to do it. But they are the overwhelming minority of the group of people that I’ve encountered. But I want to know about your experience.

Anneke: My experiences, yes. I’ve met …

Paul: Give me some snapshots of …

Anneke: Well, as far as protecting for example, one of my students was walking out behind me and someone was looking at me and it really didn’t feel safe. It was not only lecherous, there was some clearly aggression. And I didn’t know how to respond. I mean it was very momentary. I mean I was just on my way, you know, he was standing right—the person was closest to me. And my student was right behind me and said, “Keep your head up.”

Paul: To you?

Anneke: To me. And I looked straight in the eyes of the person who was looking at me that way and that’s how I could move on because I was inclined to look down, and if I had looked down he might have thought I was submissive and it may have, you know, turned the other way, I really don’t know. My student was right there helping me in that moment and knew exactly what was going on and had my back.

Paul: Give me some other snapshots from your experiences in teaching people.

Anneke: Well I told you on the way over that I’d have a group with women that have been sexually trafficked and so I do feel, you know, there’s—we all have these different degrees of how we feel useful, right? Which helps us to get up in the morning, right? So when I teach hatha yoga to the general population, I feel, well, you know, there’s a lot of people that can do that a lot better than me.

Paul: What type of yoga is it?

Anneke: Well it’s yoga—our programs are trauma informed so we don’t use any commands. It’s quite different and there’s always a discussion. There’s always—the most important—

Paul: You call it hatha?

Anneke: Hatha yoga just to describe—it’s not necessarily what is called hatha yoga in the studios, just to describe that it’s the physical aspect of yoga.

Paul: I see.

Anneke: So we do that mostly.

Paul: How do you spell it? H-A-T-H-A?

Anneke: Yes.

Paul: Ok.

Anneke: Which I use to just say physical yoga exercise.

Paul: As opposed to …

Anneke: To people who generally know it but we always have discussion. We have groups where we have led discussions and then we have stream of consciousness writing and then we have shares at the end that can be very powerful. That was a pilot program that we did. And we teach in a trauma informed way so we are very gentle in the way that we speak and physically it’s gonna be on the level that the class can do. You know, whatever that level is. So we can be—usually it’s beginners with the women, with the men sometimes it becomes intermediate, especially in prison also when we have students over longer periods of time, they become physically more capable so we do more intermediate to advanced classes. But the way that we teach is very different. Yoga teachers are taught to teach by commanding so we don’t use any, not a single one throughout the whole class if we can help it. So and it doesn’t detract from the time nor does it make it wishy-washy at all. It’s rather a respectful way of speaking to someone, asking instead of commanding. Speaking in the first person, “I am doing this.” So that people always know that they have a choice. And we are also very clear that whatever we do they just are there. It’s really about self-care. We insert a lot of messages of self-acceptance and self-love.

Paul: Did you learn that from being in support groups? The not commanding? Because that to me has been one of the greatest things about support groups is they don’t tell you what to do. There are maybe suggestions or you watch somebody and learn from their example.

Anneke: I learned a whole lot from support groups, yeah. Support groups really, really opened my eyes and, yes, that was the first strong experience that I had there that it’s up to me. I can, you know, I’m accepted here. I qualify but I don’t have to do anything and I think, yes, that this philosophy from the groups, from the rooms, really translated into when I was starting to do the yoga that says let’s just do this in a way that helps people to feel the way I felt when I went to the groups. Yeah. And be respectful and so whatever it is with the women that have been sex trafficked, we don’t do physical yoga, we do a group that is based on an SIA model, from Incest Survivors, Anonymous. And I have permission to speak about SIA, it’s a wonderfully supportive group. I’ve gotten so much from the group and the community and the phone line and the meetings. And so I used—started by using our format that we use in the meeting and then adapted it over time to suit the population better, the language simpler. No twelve steps, no sponsorship, but, you know, we have this group that meets every week and we inserted moments of silence and then we discuss at the end. So we have the shares and then everyone has to hold on because they don’t want to share really badly. They all have so much that they need to share.

Paul: So many prisoners are just bursting.

Anneke: Bursting.

Paul: Bursting with wanting to share. I’ll even sometimes say we don’t have time for people to share because we only have about five minutes left but do you have any questions? And guys will raise their hands and they start sharing with no questions. And I’ll be like, “Oh man, these guys are just dying to be heard. Just dying to be heard.”

Anneke: And because of that I really had to structure the group and it’s a challenge but I also share and I know that there, with that population I bring hope because they look at me and they go, “Wow. You went through that? You survived that? Then there’s hope for me.” And they’ll say it. And I know it’s true. I know it’s inspiring. And they give me so much. But I feel particularly useful because I know all these issues because whatever they’re bringing, I’ve been there. So I can go to the specifics of the emotional reality and address it and be with them. So it’s beautiful.

Paul: Isn’t it weird how the most painful things in our lives can be the very thing that gives our life meaning and purpose?

Anneke: Absolutely. And I have to say, and this may sound really weird, but I don’t regret anything. I feel the insides that I have received on this path are absolutely what I needed and wanted.

Paul: What do you say to somebody who’s out there and listening and just feeling traumatized by their story and can’t imagine how they could get to a place where they would ever feel grateful for what happened to them. What would you say to them?

Anneke: Well first of all I want to say I totally understand. I totally understand. I mean, trauma is overwhelming. That’s the first thing. You don’t have to be grateful. Everything that I do is for me first. Going into the prisons is part of my healing. And I don’t say that selfishly. I say that as my life really is in the context of healing because it has to be. So wherever you are, the most important thing that you can do is to just really accept it and really say, “Hey, I’m here. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with being right exactly where I am. It’s ok. It’s ok to be right here.” And sometimes I tell students, “If you really knew—if you were in touch with all the feelings relating to your trauma, you would fully understand why you’re here now emotionally. So if you don’t understand why you’re there and you feel like you should be farther along, forget it. You’re there for a reason. It’s fine. You’re there because you need to be there.”

Paul: And yoga sounds like such a perfect vehicle for acceptance because whenever people start yoga, myself included, my first thoughts are, “I’m not doing this right. I’m not flexible enough. I suck at this.” And the one thing I hear teachers say over and over again is, “There is no ideal for yoga. It’s wherever you are at it right now. If you can only reach forward two inches to stretch your legs, that’s ok.”

Anneke: Right. There is that vehicle, the physical vehicle, that every pose is a constriction. And within that constriction there’s choice. You can stretch those two inches or not. That’s the whole point. You don’t need to. We’re doing this. There’s a pose, there’s a form, doesn’t matter what the form is. You just make your choice whether you want to go deeper and have physical sensations or whether you don’t want to go deep and you want to take it easy today. You just take care of yourself and whatever choice you make there’s no wrong choice. There’s no wrong thoughts. Not in this practice. There’s nothing that you can do that is wrong.

Paul: What does yoga give you aside from teaching yoga and bringing it to other people? Your personal relationship with yoga, what has it given you?

Anneke: Well my physical practice has always been the perfect physical therapy. So as I said I should be a cripple, but I’m not. I did many things and I still run, I still do other things but yoga is physical therapy and it’s—it makes me feel so good physically and of course mentally we know that it alleviates depression as well. And for a long time I did quite extreme, you know, kind of physical yoga because I had so much anger and so much, you know, to get out of my system. So that’s what I needed to do.

Paul: I can imagine—you had so much trauma trapped inside of your body.

Anneke: Yeah, yeah. And ashtanga yoga was like yeah, go for it. (laughs) Just get it all out! And so yoga really helped me to get back in touch with my body and accept it. And but I do see yoga as a way of life. Everything is yoga to me. There’s nothing that’s not yoga because everything, every aspect of my life is part of this spiritual journey that is towards a greater truth and certainly greater love. I feel that I am aligning—trying to align myself more with love and that that’s the right thing to do, that that’s our role. That’s our job.

Paul: So where can somebody start—and I completely agree and know that feeling when—because my life used to be dominated by anger.

Anneke: Yes, mine too.

Paul: And selfishness. And as I began to heal in support groups, and began to learn how to get vulnerable, and was able to give and receive love, then love became greater than anger, and I started to get more peace. But to the person out there who has more anger than love, that just can’t—has trouble giving love and just cannot get enough love, or doesn’t want love, what do you say to them?

Anneke: Well the problem is really that it’s hard to receive love because it’s really all about self-love first. And we can’t give to others what we don’t have ourselves. So the problem often with people who have been very traumatized, and my own problem, is how do we receive love? You know, we may not recognize it, first of all.

Paul: Or it may be triggering.

Anneke: And, yes, and certainly with sexual abuse, the idea of love may seem really creepy. So it’s the quest for unconditional love, right? We want to know what is unconditional. So these messages of self-affirmation and self-acceptance and embracing the anger. I mean, anger is very important. We have to accept that we’re angry and we have to embrace it. And we have to say, “Hey, this comes from some place and whatever place it comes from makes it that it’s completely valid for me to have these feelings of anger. So have them. And if they can possibly be directed, not inside a trigger but to the original source, I guess that’s the work that we try to do.

Paul: So do some detective work and find out what the source of that anger is, either through therapy or support groups, or self-help books or anything.

Anneke: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Paul: And then …

Anneke: It’s like research into the self.

Paul: Yeah.

Anneke: Because you’re looking into your own psyche. If you—I mean, my greatest challenge is anger. So there’s a part that, you know, self-control never quite worked. This, “I’m not gonna do it again. I’m not …” it never quite worked. And it really is what you say – that the love had to become greater—I still, you know, I still will lash out, you know.

Paul: You’re a monster.

Anneke: I become a monster. (Laughs)

Paul: I’ll just judge you and end the interview right now.

Anneke: Once in a while. (laughs)

Paul: Have you gotten angry during our interview?

Anneke: No.

Paul: Ok.

Anneke: I don’t become angry at random people. I become angry at my daughter.

Paul: Talk about that.

Anneke: Well, she has been my motivation. Without her I would have never realized that I have not only so much work to do but I would have not—I would have killed myself before doing this work. Because it was very painful. So she is my motivation and at the same time, the impulses and compulsions regarding anger, nothing else, but regarding anger, I noticed that I had a problem. I knew that I had a problem when she was still quite young, four or five is when I started to, you know, yell at her. So it’s been a really great journey. In fact, the support groups really helped me to first, again, embrace where I was at and just it’s ok, you know, there’s a new day today. And I can start again. I don’t have to like get into a cycle of guilt where I compulsively will do it again because I’m in a cycle. So and I still to this day it’s really about increasing the love, this means increasing the self-love. Service is a fantastic way to get in touch with—to receive love.

Paul: Talk about that more because a lot of people are like, “What?”

Anneke: How does that work?

Paul: How does being of service to other people—how is that loving yourself?

Anneke: Right. Well there’s a way to do it. You can’t go in as a teacher. You can’t go in as, you know, I am above you guys and I’m teaching you something or, you know, you poor people, I’m giving you soup, right? No. You have to go in as—and really share with yourself. Yourself with others. And that is how I believe you give to the helpless, powerless child inside yourself. Maybe the child that was abused. And that’s how you give to others vicariously. You give to that child by giving to others in need. And that child is gonna start feeling very happy and start feeling safe.

Paul: And connected.

Anneke: And connected. And this is the thing – you have no idea, you go to give but you really receive. You really receive. And it’s possible to receive it. Because it’s just—you couldn’t not receive it. It’s just all there.

Paul: That’s one of the reasons why I’m also a big believer in having like a weekly or a monthly commitment to do something that’s of service because you’re always gonna battle that part of your brain that wants to stay home, that doesn’t want to go do it that day, but if you have it built into your schedule that no, you’re expected to be here. Then you get off your ass and you go and do it. And you—I always feel better when I leave even though an hour before doing it I was dreading to go do it.

Anneke: And that’s my experience and that’s—we have about thirty teachers that work with us—that’s everybody’s experience. You don’t maybe—you might not feel like going but you always feel better when you leave.

Paul: Always. Always. Anything else that you’d like to share? I think I had a couple more questions but I’m kind of blanking out on them right now. What is the website for your program?

Anneke: Our website is www.liberationprisonyoga.com.

Paul: Was it very triggering for you—and it sounds like this might have been when the anger started coming up at your daughter, was she got to be the age where you were when you had begun to get abused because I hear a lot of people share that, is their emotions get very intense when they see what they looked like at the age when they were taken advantage of.

Anneke: That’s right. And, yes.

Paul: Do you think your anger was related to your daughter getting near that age that you were?

Anneke: Absolutely. Absolutely. And the first years, you know, I had done so much work on myself before I had her and I was very scared, you know, about anything that I may pass along to her. So the first years I think were lovely because I had that love from the caregiver and so it was easy and also because we were comfortable. But the moment that I had to bring her to school—so in preschool I would bring her an hour late, and, you know, we could just relax all day. But when I had to get her to school on time, because she was going to public school, and suddenly she got, you know, a late notice and the teacher said, “No, she can’t come late,” I was just overwhelmed with this pressure. So the trigger—my mother took me, you know, in the car and it was sometimes in the daytime, sometimes at night, but she would become extremely agitated before bringing me. She always seemed to think that we were gonna be late. There’s all this fear that got in. And all of that just started to come up in me, having to bring my daughter to a place at a certain time. So that started when she was four. And it was a lot of work because my mother’s—I didn’t have that caretaker anymore after the age of three so my blueprint wasn’t ideal at all and I had to really draw—and I lost my therapist at the same time. My marriage ended so I suddenly found myself very alone. So it was very difficult, yeah. And—but it was very clear that I have to get out. I mean I was determined, because I knew—I could recognize enough that I am hurting her, and I knew, I knew that I could get out.

Paul: And I think that’s what’s such a great—why that’s such a great example of you’re gonna have hurdles, you just gotta go, “Ok, how do I deal with this? I’m being triggered right now. Or this is scaring the shit out of me.” Or whatever and that’s what healing to me is, is almost like a factory line—like Lucy with the cakes where, “Ok, here comes another cake. We’re not gonna be overwhelmed, you know, this is just the one cake at a time. Maybe they’re gonna start piling up on the floor but it’s not the end of the world, maybe we can laugh about it.”

Anneke: Once my guilt complex was, I guess, pretty much healed, but I had this enormous guilt complex, and when I was 50 years old, I wrote about the experience of what I was made to do. The violence I was made to commit. And when I wrote it down I finally realized that it wasn’t my fault. And after that, it became much easier.

Paul: Was this publicly that you wrote this or just privately?

Anneke: Privately. Privately. It was a private moment but I was 50 years old already—49 in fact. I was 49 years old and it finally—before with this guilt complex, this secret fear that I’m evil, always lingering. I really had trouble getting out of the cycle. So I had to get over this guilt complex first and then—meanwhile I have to say that the outbursts had, you know, first they started to, you know, be less frequent and then less intense.

Paul: After you wrote? Or before you wrote?

Anneke: Way before already. I had worked on this for a really long time, you know, since my daughter was four. So it was like 2003. Since then, that’s when my marriage ended and everything, you know. And so I wrote my book, I mean I wrote the book that I’m still writing, but I wrote my story down, and in the writing down of that story, everything came, so I got in touch really with the source of my anger, this violent anger, and I remembered certain other things that I wasn’t aware of. So it was a long journey. But the guilt complex complicated everything. And so what I say to my students is that it’s always about the self-acceptance, you know, if you’re there, you need to embrace—you can embrace where you are, it’s ok. And there was something I wanted to say about the guilt complex itself – this voice that is really this voice that I fear that I’m evil, I fear that I’m bad, I realize well that’s not my voice, that’s the voice of my abusers. So being able to witness and recognize this voice and always know that these negative—this negative self-talk, that that’s not even me—that’s very helpful. And it’s been very powerful for a lot of my students, because of course they’re in this environment where they get treated as evil all day long, and that’s often a repetition for them too. They’re used to that. So when I say that this is not even your voice, this is a voice from abusers, that’s very powerful.

Paul: Have you ever shared with anyone what the violence was that you were forced to commit?

Anneke: Yes. In our groups where we discuss, certainly. And sometimes I’ll share something because really the most important thing that we are there to do is to connect on a human level. And so sometimes it’s hard. So sometimes I’ll say something like I know what it’s like to be imprisoned. I know what it’s like to be treated as though I’m bad all day long. Because I was in a situation like that. And then they’ll connect. Then they’ll say, “Oh, ok. You’re like us. Ok, good.”

Paul: Anneke, thank you so much for sharing all this stuff and being such a great example of healing and the importance of meaning and purpose in one’s life.

Anneke: Oh, well, thank you very much, Paul.

Paul: Many, many thanks to Anneke and to the listener who suggested that I get in contact with her to have her as a guest. For some of those—some of you who listen to that episode, you may have been skeptical, because her story is so dramatic. But I can tell you having spent time with her during that interview, we’ve hung out a couple of times since then, I got to have breakfast with her again in Brooklyn when I was there, and I can tell you sitting across the table from somebody in person I’m not the least bit skeptical about all the things that she shared with me, and she shared with me some more details of the stuff that not only happened to her, but the things that she had to do, the violence to escape, which as she said, she blamed herself for years for that and that kept her from coming forward because she thought she was evil. And I’m so glad that she knows now that she’s not and that she was a child and it’s amazing how that shame—I experienced some shame this last week and it was so visceral, you know, it came up in me. And I shouldn’t say that somebody shamed me, but I allowed somebody to shame me, and—because I believed it—and it—I just felt nauseous, my face felt hot, and thank God for my wife because I was able to call her and she helped kind of talk me down. But there was a, you know, probably a good day where I had the feeling where I was like, “I want to throw myself off a bridge, because I want this feeling to go away.” And it, thankfully, it eventually passed. But, God, shame is so toxic, it’s so toxic.

Let’s get to some surveys. Oh, before I do that, I want to remind you guys, there’s a couple of different ways to support the podcast if you’re so inclined. We could really use some more financial support, for instance the trip that we just did, we—I just did to Brooklyn, it probably left me about $1500-$1700 in the hole. It was certainly worth every bit of it, but there’s so many things I wanna do to expand the podcast. I want to get out and I wanna record people around the world but it’s just not financially viable and I mean, even aside from taking the podcast out and about and recording people, it can really use some more financial support. You can do it one of two ways – you can make a one-time PayPal donation, you can become a recurring monthly donor for as little as $5 a month, you can volunteer to transcribe an episode, or if you’re a PR person, maybe help get some publicity for the podcast. If you’re somebody who books guests, maybe you can help me get some high profile guests because a lot of times that’ll bring new listeners to the show. If you’re somebody that knows how to become a non-profit, that’s something I’d like to talk to somebody about because then maybe I could get some support through benefactors or, you know, charities. Anyway, I need your help. I guess that’s what I’m saying. It’s getting easier to ask for help. I was so afraid when I first started doing this show, but I believe in what I do and I get the feeling you guys too—do too. And there are many of you that do support the show. And I deeply appreciate it. Because I know a lot of you are living on shoestring budgets and I appreciate it.

Let’s get to the surveys. Enough of my yakkin’. Oh you can also help by spreading the word through social media about the podcast. This is—the surveys today I’m reading are basically all Struggle in a Sentence and What Has Helped You? I just felt like the interview was so heavy on kind of dark, sexual stuff that I didn’t want to read any surveys that kind of covered that same ground. So if you’re somebody who’s triggered by surveys, I don’t think this will be a stretch of surveys that you will feel triggered by. This is a Struggle in a Sentence filled out by a woman who calls herself Spatz Shambolic. About her trichotillomania she writes, “I know it’s disgusting and I know you can see me but it’s the only act that can make me feel clean.” About her codependency, “Whenever there’s a silence between us, I ask if you’re ok while scrutinizing your facial expression and tone of voice because somehow my brain won’t believe you if your answer is positive.” Oh, I so relate to that one. About her self-destructive behavior, she writes, “Trust me, I know what I am doing. I purposefully bought the only car without brake fluid.” Wow, that is heavy. Snapshot from her life, she writes, “I was sitting in class drunk and sipping on a whiskey and apple juice contained in a plastic bottle labeled ‘juice’ when a fellow classmate asked for a sip. I was unable to think of a valid excuse other than, ‘It’s got a hidden extra that I don’t think you’re prepared for.’ So mainly because I’m an empathetic drunk I just let it happened and then pretended not to notice their coughing fit and disgusted confusion after they had a drink. Needless to say, they actively avoided me for the rest of the year, which suited me just fine because I was also happy isolating myself from my peers in the world.”

This is filled out by—this is a What Has Helped You filled out by a gay man named Justin Time. He’s in his 60’s and his issues are anxiety, bipolar cyclothymia type, horrible projection, panic, worry, intrusive thoughts, vertigo and dizziness, and fear. Well I’m gonna guess one of your issues isn’t constipation. My God, that is a nervous system revving. “What has helped you?” “Transcendental meditation has been a blessing. Listening to calming vocalists like Eva Cassidy, Jackson Browne, Jennifer Warrens, Sam Baker centers me. Rollerblading. Daily prayer. Laughing and sharing with friends.” “What has somebody said or done that has helped you?” “Talking with others who let me know I’m not alone and just having people in my life who care about me helps.” Thank you for that.

This is a Shame and Secrets—oh no, I’m sorry, Struggle in a Sentence, filled out by Gingersnap. About her depression, she writes, “My bipolar is like being a suicide bomber. Some days the conviction over something totally irrational makes me want to blow up my world. Nuclear. Destroy it. Or I let myself live another day still knowing I have the dynamite strapped to my chest every day.” Snapshot from her life, “28 years old. My first major manic bipolar I break. In the span of five months, I was fired from my job, mainly due to my depression, celebrated a wonderful one year anniversary with my loving husband, then it happened fast. I cheated on my husband, not the first time, started to spin into mania, continued a long-distance relationship with this new man. Lost ten pounds. Stopped sleeping. Filed for divorce. Moved out and packed my things to move across the country for my new romantic interest, who was still married to his wife. And it would still be months before they divorced. Funny how being out of my mind, manic, made these changes so much easier. It all seemed perfectly rational at the time. Got bipolar?” Wow, that is intense.

This is the What Has Helped You survey filled out by a woman who calls herself I Am Not My Mental Illness. Her issues are depression, compulsive behaviors and anxiety. What has helped her? “Medication and CBT were and are incredibly helpful particularly with finding the right psychologist and counselor that I felt like I could be open and honest. I do my best to live a healthy lifestyle. I stick to a routine to help keep my stress down, which triggers my anxiety and helps my meds to work properly. I don’t really like having to take medication but I am being as healthy as I can. My meds give me that little extra push to keep going.” “What have people said or done that have helped you?” “Listening without trying to problem-solve.” Oh that’s such a huge one. “When people start jumping to solutions after I open up, it makes me feel like they only heard the problem and not my feelings. The best thing someone did for me was help me call a therapist and they drove me to my first appointment. It made me feel less alone and this daunting task became doable.” Now if you look at that on the surface, you would say, “Well, that person was trying to fix your problem.” But I think the difference is they were participating in it, which is a sign of love and that they are feeling you. Because if they didn’t feel you, I don’t think they would go to the effort to do that. But the sentence that you said, “It makes me feel like they only heard the problem and not my feelings,” is—that is such a concise way of describing what can turn us off to opening up to people.

This was filled out by a woman who calls herself Martha the Mess. About having borderline personality disorder, she writes, “It makes me feel like I’m less than human. I can’t relate to people. I can’t be without people. I can’t understand people and all I want is to be loved. I get what I think I want and I spiral out of control with insecurity and fear. I lose what I want and I wish I was dead. Medication after medication doesn’t help, actually makes it worse. I know I’m not this horrible person but the voice in my head is so strong and so cruel that it beats me down until I feel like nothing. I wonder if I’ll ever get better. Can I beat this? I’m so scared I can’t.” Well, I don’t know that much about borderline personality disorder but one of the things that I have heard, especially from talking to our guest psychiatrist Melanie Watkins, she said that typically borderline personality disorder can’t be managed really just with meds, it’s not something you throw meds at, but one of the things that can greatly help is dialectical behavior therapy. So if you haven’t done that yet, you might find a therapist that specializes in that. And you know I had to deal with somebody who I think had borderline personality disorder recently and the image that I just had of them was that they are a porcupine trying to get a hug. And it broke my heart because I was trying to reach this person and all I got was the needles and I—one of the things I learned was to not take it personally and to not make it “I’m right, you’re wrong.” You know, one of the things I hear about dialectical behavior therapy is a lot of it is reaffirming that you hear what that person is saying and that you understand what they’re saying.

Anyway, this is from the What Has Helped You survey. And this was filled out by a woman who calls herself Antiphony. Her issues are depression, history of self-harm and bulimia, low self-esteem, persistent feelings of loneliness, emotionally distant parents, and healing from an emotionally abusive relationship. “What has helped you deal with them?” “Singing. A few years ago I decided to take up private lessons. While I was aware that I was a novice, I thought I’d be at least an ok singer since I’d been learning piano for most of my life and was quite musically inclined. Turns out I really sucked. I was so depressed after my first singing lesson that I nearly scrapped it altogether. But I’d already scheduled in a bunch of lessons. So I made myself practice every day because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by continuing to suck, or even worse, being a quitter. After about—“ Hey, you know, if you ever want to be a quitter, you just email me. I’ll—I’ve got a book out called Come On, Let’s Quit Together. “After about a week I realized I enjoyed the sensation of singing so much. The vibrations it caused in my body and the sense of release it gave me that I didn’t really care about sucking anymore. I got hooked on the process of learning and improving and now, three years on, I can finally say I have a pretty nice voice. When I’m feeling sad I go to the piano, choose one of the most heart-wrenchingly sad songs I know, and for those three-and-a-half minutes, I’m transported out of the murkiness of my thought-riddled mind into a present moment. It’s like my mind is cleared, nothing else matters. When I play a particular chord or sing a note clearly on pitch, with just the right amount of vibrato, I’m surprised that beautiful sound is coming from me. Sometimes it’s like I lose all sense of ego and become merely a conduit for the music which seemed to come from somewhere way above and outside of me, as much as it seemed to come from literally inside of me. I’m not a religious person but this is the closest I ever come to experiencing a higher power or something bigger than myself.” You just described too how I feel sometimes when I play guitar or I do comedy. It is the feeling of something passing through me. So I very much relate to that. And I’m so glad that you found something that moves you and calms you and allows you to express yourself. “What have people said or done that has helped you?” “My singing teacher has been like the mother and therapist I never had. She has this gentle way of speaking even when she’s delivering criticism that makes me feel at ease. She taught me the genuine expression of emotions is the most valuable thing a singer can have. This helped me overcome the perfectionistic tendencies that years of classical training had instilled in me as well as my crippling stage fright.” There should be a band named Crippling Stage Fright. I would pay to see them without hearing any of their songs. “She taught me how to be vulnerable, brave and unapologetic all at the same time. She taught me to make the most of the voice I was born with, that while I was never going to sound exactly like Dionne Warwick, I had my own voice that was special and powerful. And most importantly, she taught me how to accept praise and to be kind to myself.” Thank you for that.

This is Struggle in a Sentence filled out by Marie. About her depression, she writes, “Severe depression – wanting to shout to those people closest to me that I just need you to listen to and love me but my tongue has been cut out of my mouth.” About her PTSD, “The triggers are like having to take the biggest shit ever and there is nowhere to squat. I mean nowhere.” Thank you for that. You know I love any good shit analogy. Is it an analogy or a metaphor? I don’t know.

This is from What Has Helped You filled out by a guy who calls himself An Alternate Name for Rose. And, “What has helped you?” His issues are high-functioning autism/non-verbal learning disorder, bipolar disorder, severe seasonal affective disorder, and addiction. And, “What have people done or said that has helped you?” He said, “I’ve had a couple of close friends who, when I’ve called in the middle of the night in a panic, breakdown mode say, ‘Hold on. I’ll be at your house in an hour.’ And they are true to their word. Whether it’s talking through my issues or simply providing a means of distraction through a movie or conversation or even, and this is almost juvenile and childish, taking out for ice cream. Everyone should be so lucky.” I’m a fan of the ice cream one. I think that’s awesome. I think they’re all awesome.

This is Struggle in a Sentence filled out by a woman who calls herself Can’t Sleep, Won’t Sleep and about her sex addiction she writes, “Guilt, shame, embarrassment. Though it is in my past, I feel like I walk through a graveyard of past partners every day. Their headstones read, ‘Here lies another empty soul who couldn’t fill yours. In loving memory of someone who loved fucking you, but could never love you the way you deserved.’” Thank you for that. A lot of people don’t understand how serious sex and love addiction is, that it is deadly. It is deadly.

This is filled out by—this is the What Has Helped You survey filled out by Struggling Parent and she writes that her issues are severe depression, anxiety and complex PTSD. I think somebody should build a building of apartments called The PTSD Complex. Pardon my stupid jokes tonight. “What has helped you deal with them?” “Therapy, yoga, taking walks in nature or at the gym. Spending time with my husband, guided meditation apps, meds, affirmations, sharing my stories with supportive people, making crafts, watching movies.” “What if anything is it that people have said or done for you that have helped you with your issues?” “My therapist reminds me of the idea of the ‘good enough’ mother, a concept coined by David Donald Winnicott. I beat myself up—beat—“ Why is my printer suddenly printing? “I beat myself up all the time.” I actually have a—there’s a ghost in our house that is very productive. Likes to do a lot of word processing. “I beat myself up all the time because I think that I’m not a good enough mother. But my therapist reminds me that being a good parent is not about perfection but about making yourself mentally available to your kids and helping them feel safe.” Well said. I’m not a parent, but that makes perfect sense to me.

This is the Struggle in a Sentence. “The” Struggle in a Sentence? The Struggle in a Sentence survey filled out by Kate and her serious health issue, she writes, “I feel like I don’t deserve to call myself a cancer survivor because I never had to have chemo or radiation. My cancer doesn’t feel cancer-y enough despite it taking a huge toll on me.” I wonder if a cancer survivor support group would be a good place to—actually, she just writes here that I—because she’s young, she writes, “I tried to find a cancer survivors support group for young people of ovarian cancer but there aren’t any.” Well I wonder if you could go to one that aren’t for young people and still share your issues because a lot of times it’s not necessarily the issues as much as it is the universal feelings that we’re all having, which is usually low self-esteem, you know, you know the greatest hits.

This is from the What Has Helped You survey filled out by a woman who calls herself—actually she’s a teenager, she’s 16, she calls herself Chronic Life. Her issues are chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and trauma from an assault. “What’s helped you?” “I took a notebook and wrote, ‘I deserve to be loved. I am here and that is enough.’ Over and over again. I was feeling really bad and just wanted to hurt myself but I did that instead. It was the first time that I didn’t feel selfish about wanting something positive for myself. At first I thought it was stupid but I started to feel better the further I got. I felt free for a while and didn’t end up hurting myself. With being in pain all the time, writing helps me release it in a healthy way and makes me feel empowered.” Wow. I am struck by how mature your intuition is to do that. And you know maybe that’s kind of similar to what Anneke talked about in her interview, having survived so many assaults at such a young age, that it kind of—that this other part of her brain came alive, that there was something more in the world almost like you get this different perspective when you’re in a tremendous amount of pain sometimes, it’s—anyway. “Things people have said or done that have helped you?” “That it was ok that I was upset, that I didn’t have to be ok. And that they were there if I needed anything. They didn’t try to fix it. They were just there.” Beautiful. Beautiful.

This is from the Struggle in a Sentence. This is filled out by a woman who calls herself Recovery Doesn’t Get a Day Off. About her depression, which is dysthymia in her case, “Living in a body that fights to survive with a mind that tries to die.” That’s hall of fame. That’s hall of fame right there. About generalized anxiety disorder, “Hearing dramatic music get louder and louder but never seeing the threat.” (laughs) You are good at this. About her anorexia, which she specifies as eating disorder not otherwise specified, “The constant voice saying, ‘You’re too fat to have an eating disorder.’” I’ve heard so many people share that and it just breaks my heart that on top of all the shit they’re dealing with that they don’t feel like they belong. Don’t ever let anybody judge whether or not you have an eating disorder. If food causes you anxiety, and to break promises to yourself and feels addictive, it is an eating disorder and fuck what anybody else thinks. About her social anxiety, “I am an actor constantly rehearsing lines for everyday conversations. When will this play end?” Man, you are good at this. Thank you for that.

This is from the What Has Helped You survey filled out by a woman who calls herself Angela Chase. Her issues are PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. “What’s helped you?” “Having grown up in a very unpredictable environment, setting up routines in my adult life as well as being able to provide a predictable and stable life for my own children gives me a lot of satisfaction. Exercise and a lot of comedy helps too.” “What have people said or done that has helped you?” “It was extremely hard for me to talk about my past trauma with my therapist. During a particularly tough session, I was able to talk for the first time about a pretty traumatic event. When I finished talking, it was—“ What the fuck is going on with my printer? “When I was finished talking, it was quiet for a bit and then he said, ‘If someone had done that to my daughter, I think I’d be jail for killing them.’ It was such an uncharacteristic break in his professional demeanor that I was taken aback. But it meant so very much to me because it was just so human. It made me realize how little my own parents had done to help me and for the first time it made me think that I had deserved someone to be angry for me in the past.” That’s beautiful. That is beautiful. I love when people have breakthrough moments with their therapists. I love when I have.

This is filled out by a woman who calls herself Name Starts With M. This is a Struggle in a Sentence. About her love addiction, “Any time anyone shows me any kind of affection or kindness, I am lit up for hours like a firework, exploding. When someone doesn’t respond how I would like, I think they hate me.” Snapshot from her life, “Hating myself so much that I latch on to a favorite celebrity and ingrain myself in them. I take over their interests, fashion, even foods or hair color and use them as my own. Anything I legitimately liked on my own or discovered myself I’ve ignored, removed myself from or thrown away certain things to erase it from me. I wonder if I am a fake person, if my mental issues are false. I’ve yet to see a therapist but I worry about using someone else and trying to find myself through them is the fakest thing of all.” You know I wouldn’t use the word “fake,” I would just say that it’s not organic to you, that it’s a distraction from you. But that is not—that doesn’t mean that you’re a fake person, you’re a person in pain who is struggling to find a sense of self, which I think we all do. And the most convenient place is we try to find a reflection of ourselves in others, but it can really be a dead end street. So I think therapy would be a great thing for you.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by a woman who calls herself J and she writes, “I took physics in high school. The teacher was funny and engaging. And while physics isn’t really my thing, his enthusiasm for the subject material, and my desire to do well, meant that I paid attention. And never more so than when he described in explicit detail what happens when someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide. Just as my father had ten years earlier.” That is so fucked up. That is so very fucked up. I wonder if that occurred to him that—I mean that just seems like a really bad thing—you know, describe a watermelon falling off a building or something else, but at least he cared about his subject matter.

This is Struggle in a Sentence filled out by Jess. About her depression she writes, “Major depression feels like those dreams you have where suddenly your legs feel like sandbags and you try to run but you can barely lift your feet.” Snapshot from her life, “I’m at work and I ask to speak with my boss privately. Alone in his office, my heart is in my throat. When I tell him that I will be taking time off of work to get psychiatric help, in a gentle voice he tells me he understands and that he has dealt with his own struggles. I try not to cry.” That is so beautiful.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by a woman who calls herself Over the Rainbow. And she writes—this the first—let’s try this again. “This is the first time I’ve ever voluntarily attended therapy. I am tired of my childhood traumas affecting how I feel about myself. I am tired of believing I am not worthy of love. I described all of this to my counselor and she said, ‘You are a wonderful person with so much to offer. I can help you work through your trauma and change those core beliefs.’ Hearing her compliment me made me uncomfortable because I don’t believe those things about myself yet. But having someone tell me that my feelings matter and that there is a way out gave me so much hope. I’m about to start EMDR therapy and I’m really scared to revisit those awful memories but I know in my heart that I will be better from it. I sought therapy through rainn.org because you mentioned it on your podcast. Thank you.” Well you know I love almost more than anything hearing that this podcast nudged one of you towards getting professional help or going to a support group.

This is a Struggle in a Sentence filled out by a woman who calls herself Average Tits. About her depression, “Like there’s a huge party going on and I’m not invited. Sometimes it manifests in extreme boredom to the point where I do not care about myself and could just lie in the same position for hours.” About her love addiction, “If he doesn’t think I’m pretty, I am shit. Even if he says he does, he’s a liar.” About her OCD, “Constantly wondering if I did or said something weird. How I came off to other people.” About her compulsive behaviors, “Going on Twitter or Facebook for hours, zoning out and looking up random people and comparing myself to them. Oh, she’s pretty, has a great job, an amazing boyfriend. I want to die.” Thank you for sharing that.

This is a Happy Moment filled out by Jessie. She writes, “When I come home from work and the dog is there to greet me, I kneel on the floor just inside the door and he stands on my knees. He gives me a few kisses, the only time I get them, and I kiss his forehead. We just stay there for a few minutes, him sniffing me over and me petting him, and then it’s time to put away the groceries or make dinner. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and it’s not a far reach to say that during my worst depressive episodes he saved my life.” I’ve told you many times I love to roll out of bed and just get down and kiss Ivy’s snout and then go over to the other side of the bed and look at what Roman emperor pose Herman has struck in a gigantic pile of blankets and just give him little belly rubs.

This is a Struggle in a Sentence survey filled out by a woman who calls herself Just Your Average Apple-Slicing Genius. About her anxiety she writes, “Constantly worrying that it will keep me safe. Definitely. Maybe? I don’t know.” About her PTSD, “You tore me down emotionally. Now I jab myself with a paper clip to keep from feeling rejected.” About living with abusers, she writes, “My boss, my mom and stepdad. If I live and breathe to please you then I can keep you from humiliating me.” About her low self-esteem, “Does Covergirl make a concealer that will hide the piece of shit I am on the inside?” Hall of fame. Hall of fame. Snapshot from her life, “I’m cutting an apple for my three-year-old daughter and worrying about how I won’t be able to give her everything because of money, feeling like a complete failure as a person, when I’m done cutting the apple she excitedly says, ‘Oh, wow Mom, you are a genius. Apples are flipping awesome!’ I wish I saw myself the way my daughter sees me. If slicing an apple for a tiny three-year-old girl is genius, then God damn it, I’m a fucking genius. Look out world, I can slice an apple.” Awesome. Awesome.

This is an Awfulsome Moment filled out by a guy who calls himself Starbuck. Yeah, Starbuck. And he writes, “It’s not a moment, but a life. I am employed in mental health support as a peer worker. My clients’ issues are a rainbow of dysfunction from mild to acute. It’s tough work but I go to work with a spring in my step because dealing with my two- and four-year-old sons is a goddamn nightmare in comparison. I’ll take daily suicide attempts over an argument over which blanket to bring in the car any day.”

And then I would like to end on a happy moment that I had during my trip to Brooklyn. I was walking around the ungentrified part of Williamsburg with Rama whose episode you will be hearing at some point in the near future and she is of Syrian descent and was raised in Brazil. And her boyfriend Haydn who is of Colombian descent and we were walking around—actually, I was just with Rama now that I think of it—and we were walking through her neighborhood and we passed a bodega that had salsa music cranking. I really like salsa music. And there was a group of guys sitting at a table playing dominos and they were laughing and there’s hair salon right next door with a group of women who were just laughing and singing and it was just, it was just such a beautiful moment. And being with Rama I just felt like I was in this cultural pot of—like I was a part of the world, like I—a) I was just getting a really cool New York, authentic New York experience, but I also just was reminded of the diversity of humanity and how beautiful it feels to be a small part of that. And how much there is to learn about people. And how many foods there are to sample. We—I went out with her and her boyfriend Haydn the night after we taped Haydn’s episode and we got Syrian food and we talked about her experiences in Syria and it was just so—it was just a great trip. And I can’t wait to air some of those episodes for you guys. I think you’re gonna like them, I know I enjoyed doing them. And if you’re out there and you’re listening, and you’re struggling, just know you are not alone. You are not alone. And thanks for listening.