Childhood Incest Recovery – A Journey Of Healing

Trysh Ashby Rolls Recovery

Road To Recovery Leads To Best Selling Book

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“Healing the devastation of incest is like negotiating a dark labyrinth. But the light at the end is a life of dignity and serenity never known before.”
Trysh Ashby-Rolls

Trysh grew up in the UK. As both a journalist since 1981 and author since 1991, she has carved out a unique position over three decades writing about challenging social issues. Trysh has written for television, radio, periodicals, and has presented at national and international conferences.

She has also worked on the front lines counseling women and men abused as children; facilitated workshops for partners of abuse survivors and for persons of both genders on anger, sexuality, and abuse. During the last few years, her research has included many stories of resilience, courage, and healing after major trauma. Some of these stories are contained in Burnished Gold, a work-in-progress.

Here is our interview with Trysh about her incredible fall and recovery, during which she discussed her best-selling book, Triumph: A Journey of Healing from Incest. Her book tells the tale of her recovery from a broken back and abdominal surgery, as well as the spinal cord surgery that triggered her repressed memories of almost eleven years of childhood abuse. Her incest recovery story is inspiring.

When you consider everything that she went through, yet came through on the other side stronger than ever, you’ll discover the incredible triumph of the human spirit. We are honored to share her inspiring story with you…


Trysh, I think it’s wonderful that you can see the beauty in life after everything you’ve been through. You’ve written many books and articles since then; we’d be remiss to not mention them. What are you working on now?


I’m finishing a proposal for Left Behind Dad: A Father’s Search for his Missing Children. It’s about parental-child abduction. In common with Triumph, the book holds a beacon of light for a very large group of readers within the pages of a riveting story. Plus it has lots of information and resources in the back-matter.


Trysh, Upon reading your story, we were just overcome with the feeling of speechlessness. You were beaten and sexually abused by your father as a toddler until age eleven; you were used in a child pornography ring, and your memory of this was only triggered by the surgeries and long hospital stay.


Your story is just so powerful, but at the same time, there must be so many other people with stories of their own that we never even hear about. In some ways, you speak for them. Can you please tell us in your own words about what brought you to write your book, Triumph: A Journey of Healing from Incest?



Just what you say. Having read nothing about incest nor ever having thought about it, for that matter, it seemed that my job–my mission on Earth–was to write and speak about my story, especially about the healing. To let others know that even though it’s indescribably painful–making it too hard for many to stay the course–healing is possible.


In the book, you chronicle the time when you became ill, and then remembered your repressed memories of childhood abuse. If you don’t mind sharing this with us, how exactly did that come about? What triggered that memory?


At age 40 (February 1983), I was hospitalized for severe bladder pain. I had a total hysterectomy and bowel resection. That’s when the memories began to surface. While recovering from the abdominal surgery, I noticed that I dragged my right foot. Then one morning I woke up and couldn’t wiggle my toes.


My partner at the time, Rob, who I’d been seeing for about a year, took me to the hospital, where doctors told me I’d have to undergo spinal cord surgery. “But you won’t survive it yet,” they said, so I had to wait weeks until I was strong enough. Rob stayed by my side throughout the entire ordeal as a sort of buffer between me and the strangers in white who were looking after me. I was on a lot of pain-killing drugs, lying in a hospital crib with its sides up, rather like a crib toddlers sleep in. The combination of a “safe” and trusted person with me as well as being in a crib sent me back to my days in the nursery.


Every time a memory came up, Rob, a newspaper man, encouraged me to write it down in a journal and share it with him. Although he didn’t tell me until a long time later, he guessed at what I was remembering, saw how a huge weight gradually lifted off me, and knew it would make a terrific book that would help countless people.


So now when you began to recover, the people closest to you suddenly deserted you. Can you tell us that part of the story?


Yes. That was pretty awful. Everyone seemed to leave me and, like so many others, I had huge abandonment issues. But as anyone who’s been in, or is in recovery from substance abuse or alcoholism will tell you, once we start changing, others either have to change with us or turn their backs on us. I grieved a lot. I know I was in a rage for three years and I cried for even longer. I wasn’t easy to be around! Reckon my behaviour must have been pretty scary.


Why do you think that happened, and how did you handle it?


I handled my anger by whacking my bed with a tennis racquet. There’s a rule about anger: No hurting others; no hurting yourself. Underneath the rage, I found an unexpected treasure that I describe in the book: a tiny warm nugget of unconditional love. I started looking after that beautiful thing, and it grew and grew over time. It was the incredible energy of that rage, which can be used for good or for evil, that I used to write my book.


During your recovery, you successfully combated insomnia and overcame a number of addictions. For all those people that have had these difficulties, can you share how you overcame these challenges?


I still have insomnia, but I don’t fret over it any more. I get up if I feel like it to make tea and toast, watch TV, listen to music, read, or write. I did spend a long time training myself to go to bed at the same hour every night and wake up at the same time every morning. It all goes down the drain over the summer, especially with the waking up. My cats pat me on the face at anywhere from 4:00 a.m. wanting to go out and greet the dawn. I like to sit on the porch, watch the sun rise, and meditate to birdsong. Then I use the time to work, and by the time others are getting up, my workday is over, and I’m ready to go swimming or whatever.


As to those pesky addictions, I found the only way was to go cold turkey. It was hell. I did one at a time. First coffee, then booze, then sleeping pills, then sex. I had my counselor, my friends, and a 12-step group for support in the first few years.


What’s important to explain here is that healing childhood abuse has to be done from the perspective of healing its trauma. I have post-traumatic stress: like a soldier who’s been through war and seen his best buddy killed, a refugee who’s been forced from his or her birth country by a terrible enemy, or someone whose home has been swept away yet survived the flood, or fire, or terrible illness, or car crash. PTS(D): I put ‘disorder’ in parentheses because it’s a psychiatric term. Post-traumatic stress or “aftershock” is a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.


Of course that’s understandable. Now can you share with us how you ended up reporting your father to the authorities and getting him arrested? Was that a difficult decision, and what led you to make that choice?



My father, in common with other pedophiles, made sure he always had his supply of children in the age range he preferred. In his case, he liked toddlers. But he was careful to curtail his activities with female children before puberty set in. He had two wives who bore him a total of five children. When I was eleven years old, he found a new ,and he stopped seeing me. When his new children started growing up, he left them and moved on to a younger woman he called his “spiritual wife.” She had a toddler and a baby.


I worried about those children being molested, and there was no doubt in my mind whatsoever about reporting my father to the British police.


I planned a strategy, however, of confronting him through three or four letters. Had he given a hint of remorse over what he’d done, or apologized, or explained his behaviour and reformed, maybe, just maybe, I might not have gone ahead and reported him. But he told me in a letter that children look to adults to be loved, and the way he put it, he clearly meant sexual love.


He also wrote books of self-published poetry, and if you look up my book on Amazon, John Ashby-Rolls, my father, is directly under my name. I read one of his books and found some very questionable material in it. I sent it to the police when I turned him in.


Later on, I went to the UK, and the police interviewed me. They said he’d probably molested thousands of children, likely was a member of an international paedophile ring in which men exchanged lists of children, child pornography, and even children. My father was arrested but let go due to lack of evidence and the fact that I’d been in and out of psychiatric hospitals with anxiety and depression.


It’s now understood, of course, that when a person experiences trauma, there are changes in brain chemistry. Anxiety, depression, flashbacks, insomnia, addictions, et cetera, et cetera are all part of post trauma. There’s a list in the back of my book, and my website has not only the list, but ways to help combat each coping skill, as I like to call them.


Okay, let’s go back for a moment. Not only did you have to deal with all of that, but you also had to deal with major health issues, involving a car crash and severe illness which left you with mobility issues. Is that right?


Yes, After the abdominal surgery, for the next five years, I had to expel my urine artificially five times a day. That is until age 45, when I had the spinal cord surgery. Dr. Perrin removed scar tissue from nerves serving my bladder and restored its function.


Then in 2005, I fell out of the van I had at the time: hadn’t shut the heavy door properly. Then [I was] dragged, tossed upside down onto my face, and flipped onto my back before I ended up under the vehicle–at which point it was either the wheels over my head or over my arm. I pulled my head out. Luckily. Or I’d have been strawberry jam. Had to be medivaced off the island to the Victoria General Hospital on Vancouver Island.


The nerves in my right arm are injured, and sometimes I drop things. All the soft tissues in my neck and right shoulder were torn. Doctors told me I came within half an inch of severing my spinal cord. Had to wear a neck brace. I was aphasic for about six weeks. It took a couple of years to get my speech back completely. I was in hospital for a month.


My goodness, you’ve been through so much. But you’ve also experienced great success. I’d like to focus in on that for a moment, because it’s important to note that you’ve achieved some incredible historic successes as well…Can you share them with us?


Yes, I was trained as a broadcast journalist. Instructors–producers from CBC who brought me extra work writing wire service copy–encouraged me 100%. In the fall  of 1981, I was hired by a cable company as Canada’s first paid professional news person in the cable television industry on its flagship daily news program. In the spring of 1983, [I was] hired by a professional broadcast TV station (i.e., not cable). [I] wrote, produced, and presented [a] weekly current affairs program. [I] went on to CBC and started climbing the ladder.


Triumph was published by McGraw-Hill and became a bestselling book in Canada. I promoted the book across Canada from Victoria to St.John’s, Newfoundland. Two television documentaries were made about me. Three film producers wooed me: two of them really dodgy, [but the] third one, Sheldon Larry, [was] serious about buying the film rights, [and] making [a] movie of the week for CBS.


I was ambivalent, didn’t know how to deal with it all, [and] didn’t have an adviser or agent. I was good at the speaking engagements and the writing. Not so great at the business end of things.


I was trained as [a] counselor and began taking clients for groups and a few individually. In 1997, I started grad studies at [the] University of London, England. [I] graduated as an M.A. with Distinction in 1998. Since then, [I] have published in magazines and anthologies. [I] wrote [a] book, Left Behind Dad: A Father’s Search for his Missing Children, about parental-child abduction.


That is quite a list of accomplishments, Trysh. I think the title of your book, Triumph, really is appropriate with how you recovered from all of this. Can you tell us about how writing the book created a new life for you?


Well, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the letters that poured in. And the death threats and nasty phone calls were a shock. But the book opened the way to speaking engagements and facilitating workshops for other survivors. For about six years, I also facilitated small groups and did individual counseling under supervision. Eventually, I went back to school and studied psycho-education, a form of education done within a psychological framework, working with trauma survivors. I thought of myself as a midwife to my clients’ journeys.


As my confidence grew, I started writing for periodicals and got ideas for other books. There just never seemed to be enough hours in the day for everything. It took some eight years in counseling before I felt strong enough to fly free on my own, to write and speak my ideas. Besides which, I insisted on having a life–time to learn about dating, to paint, write poetry, play the piano again, garden, make jam–you name it. The world is full of good stuff.


And you spent time in a Zen monastery in the mountains of Japan? Please tell us about that.


I needed something to bridge the gap between psychotherapy and ordinary life, which I was learning about. Growing up in a dreadfully dysfunctional–albeit privileged–upper-class English family where I learned the niceties of good manners and flower arrangement, I really wanted to be ordinary. I had started going to [a] traditional Zen evening service once a week in Victoria on Vancouver Island, then to longer workshops until one day, Roshi (master or abbot) invited me to go to the monastery to study.


It was an amazing experience that taught me to be ordinary, propelled me toward authenticity. Just being who I am: calmer, stronger, cheerful, kinder, gentler, yet unafraid to speak out. I was the only female among oh, I don’t remember exactly, maybe a dozen male monks. I went back the following year and eventually took vows to become a nun. Not a religious as in Little Sisters of Perpetual Obedience, Poverty, and Chastity. I thought I might do literacy work in prisons, but Roshi gave me writing as my spiritual practice. It’s an honour.


Since I came to live on this tiny island off Vancouver Island, it’s too difficult travelling into the city every week, so my contribution at the Baha’i group is bringing in Buddhist teachings on occasion. Baha’is are strong on unity and on family.


My family is extremely important to me. Really, the centre of my existence and feeling of coming in from the cold to belong. I’m no longer cut off from family in the UK since both my parents died. My own family all lives within easy distance right here on the island. I’m blessed.


Trysh, you wrote, “Healing from incest is never-ending; it is a way of life.” So for those who have stories of their own childhood abuse, can you share any of your own learning that may help them?


I read books on infant and child development. They helped me understand where I was in my development as memories came up. At, say, two years old, I could imagine my height, what toys I played with (and I still have my first toy: a rabbit called Happy, though he’s awfully moth-eaten now), the words I might have spoken, and so forth. It’s like I grew myself up all over again.


I also found it helpful to imagine taking my child on outings: to the zoo, or a children’s movie, or [to] drop in to the library to listen to story hour. Ice cream would usually figure in there somewhere!


By the time I went to grad school, I was just about the right age to be a student. That is, although I was actually 55, inside, I felt in my early twenties.


Again, I did age-appropriate things: like [I] went to a rock concert, parties, and so on. I learned early on from an incredible pioneer work called The Courage to Heal that having fun is the only mandatory part of the healing process. And it’s true. I built on the authors’ work, just as I know people have built on mine.


Now I’m assuming you did this in therapy, but if you could share with us, if you were able to speak to your younger self as a child now, is there anything that you could tell her that might help her through those terrible years?


My first therapist certainly invited me to write my younger self a letter. I was so horrible to that lovely little girl. The chapter is called “Child in the Meadow.”


It took years to learn to love and gently nurture, get to know, and heal that child. Me! Then, all of a sudden, I realized that’s exactly what I had to do–raise her as if she were my daughter. So I bought a baby bottle and filled it with warm milk and let her suck on it. Slowly through each developmental phase and age, I grew her up. I asked my third and final counsellor, a male psychologist, to have a tea party with me. He was brilliant at it; you could tell he’d had lots of dollies’ tea parties. I think with his little daughter. And he gave me lots of guidance when it came time to date.


And through all of this, you questioned the existence of God and discovered “a new spirituality.” Can you please tell us how that came about?


I’d been a well-argued atheist since I was an adolescent. Now, for the first time in my life, I felt so much love from Rob, from my friends, from people who were helping me back to health and strength. I began to wonder about my assertion that there was no God. If so, who was or what was this entity?


I don’t go to church, but I do have a spiritual base in the teachings of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, and the writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’lBahá in the Baha’i faith. It emphasizes the oneness of all people and religions and promotes world peace. Zen and Baha’i go well together.


Trysh,  I think it’s wonderful that you can see the beauty in life after everything you’ve been through. You’ve written many books and articles since then; we’d be remiss to not mention them. What are you working on now?


I’m finishing a proposal for Left Behind Dad: A Father’s Search for his Missing Children. It’s about parental-child abduction. In common with Triumph, the book holds a beacon of light for a very large group of readers within the pages of a riveting story. Plus it has lots of information and resources in the back-matter. I’m also halfway through Unbecoming a Physician: Two Cases of Doctor-Patient Impropriety.


This book is a memoir. For many of us who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, it’s as though we wear a headband on which is written, “Please abuse me.” It happens over and over again until we get strong, learn to yell “NO,”learn boundaries, trust our instincts–oh, goodness, the learning never stops. That’s what I mean by healing being a lifelong journey. A way of life to be sure.


Then I’m also working on Burnished Gold: Stories from Around the World of Resilience, Courage and Healing After Major Trauma. I’ve travelled all over the globe collecting the most amazing stories from ordinary people who’ve also gone through extraordinary events, come out the other side, and gone on to do things for others or discovered their talents as writers and artists or achieve[d] greatness.


One man, who grew up under appalling conditions in Nazi Germany, thought he was born to kill. His great achievement was raising his three young daughters into adults after his wife died at age 35. He told me I was the first and only person to whom he’d told his entire story (several interviewees said the same thing). He said he felt free afterwards.


I’d like to mention, too, that I’ve contributed to a number of anthologies. One is Travel Blows the Mind: Cautionary Tales in This Place a Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone, published by Caitlin Press. It’s available from, www.caitlin-press.com or a bookstore near you.


And how can people reach you?

[The] best way is through my website, www.TryshAshby-Rolls.com.


Thank you for the honour of this interview. I really do hope it helps encourage survivors’ healing journeys.

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Trysh’s book, Triumph, became a bestseller in Canada and a Top Seller on American Amazon. A new edition of the book, with a new epilogue, is to be released October 15, 2016 at Amazon. An e-book and audiobook are planned.

We are happy to see that Trysh is really enjoying life right now. Her story is inspiring in that she has recovered from so much. It reinforces our belief that no matter how many times you fall, you can always rise one more time.

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Like this? We want to know what you think, please comment below

6 Comments

  1. daniellacomella

    oh my goodness I can’t believethat she wentthrough all of that in her life. Talk about unlucky. Wow his lady has such a crazy story it’s almost hard to believe. Is it true? Can people really have so much misfortune in their life? I guess I feel blessed. When I think about my life and my problems they are like nothing against what this lady has experienced. This website makes me feel so much better thanks

    Reply
    1. TRYSH ASHBY-ROLLS

      Hello daniellacomello: Yes, my story does sound crazy and you’re not the first to ask if it’s true. You’re the second! No one could make up such an ordeal. You say your life and problems are nothing compared to mine. But you know, you can’t ever say anyone’s suffering and pain is lesser or greater than anyone else’s. What appears small on the outside may be just as awful pain-wise as something that appears totally appalling. We all need to learn compassion for each other, don’t you think?

      Thanks for writing and sharing. Glad you enjoyed the website. “Unlucky” stories make me feel blessed too, and inspire me. That’s why I like sharing with others. Most of us need a helping hand in life.

      Please write again. If you ever want to share your story – and we all have one – let me know c/o my website at end of the interview. http://www.TryshAshby-Rolls.com
      Warm wishes, trysh Ashby-Rolls

      Reply
  2. Julie A. Cipolla

    Thanks, thanks thanks, Trysh!!! For surviving and for thriving!!! And for writing and getting the word out to help other survivors. My book “TODAY I SEE THE SUNRISE: Daily Meditations for Survivors of Torture and Abuse” is coming out in the next two months. I feel so grateful to have found you!!! Warm Blessings to you!!!

    Reply
  3. Damien

    Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to the whole thing. thank you

    Reply
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