When survival and surviving are core challenges it is all too easy, and often all too instinctive, to overlook the good in life. Gratitude is a way of affirming the good—life over death, creation over destruction, connection over isolation, and triumph over loss. Gratitude takes trust—trust in the untrustworthy idea of authentic help, support, and love. And gratitude requires healing—because rage and its relatives are always scrambling for center-stage. Gratitude trumps rage. It requires us to grow up, get a bit of distance, and honor the fact that we actually need one another when need itself can feel like the ultimate four-letter word.
In this spirit of creative conundrum, Borne is committed to expressing gratitude to those working to eliminate torture and abuse in our world. We honor the work of Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson in Naming the Unspeakable: Non-State Torture. In this post we express gratitude to long-time activist and educator Jean Riseman.
We invite you to send us your appreciation for those who cast a light into the shadows of this world and make a difference.
Jean Riseman is a representative of the first wave of RA/MC survivors. She transformed her own grief, rage and struggle into decades of activism and education. Riseman started her activism in 1991 with organizing poetry readings and a task force on ritual abuse which focused on organizing survivor-oriented projects. In 1993, Riseman started one of the first online resources for survivors and therapists. In 1999, she succeeded Caryn Stardancer, the Executive Director and founder of Survivorship, in order to keep this essential organization going. Riseman did not want it to fold. “I needed it too much,” she says. This job included editing the Survivorship Journal and newsletter, managing the office, organizing conferences, maintaining the website, and moderating the message boards.
Riseman has contributed chapters to: Ritual Abuse in the Twenty-First Century edited by Randy Noblitt and Pamela Perskin Noblitt; Alison Miller’s books, Healing the Unimaginable: Overcoming Ritual Abuse and Mind Control and Becoming Yourself: Overcoming Mind Control and Ritual Abuse, and Ani Rose Whaleswan’s, We Have Come Far: Shared Wisdom from Survivors of Extreme Trauma. She has presented at conferences and moderates email support lists for survivors and therapists. Riseman is the Secretary of the ISSTD RA/MC SIG, which has an active listserve. In 1993, she created www.ra-info.org, a tremendously valuable virtual library of resources and information. For the last three years Riseman has blogged regularly and in-depth regarding a variety of RA/MC issues and experiences. Riseman’s current project is: A Book of Days. It will encompass 365 meaningful quotes, short poems and affirmations, one for each page of a year-long diary/journal. She is looking for contributions to this community project. For information, contact Jeanne.
Borne asked Jean Riseman a few questions:
What do you think therapists need to know in order to be effective with clients who are survivors of extreme abuse?
As an RA/MC survivor who has been in therapy on and off for fifty-five years, as a therapist who has worked with RA clients, and as a colleague of many therapists working with RA/MC clients, I have an awful lot of opinions about therapy. You might even say I am opinionated!
The best therapist I ever had was just learning about incest. He was intelligent, kind, loving, respectful and honest. What you saw was what you got; when he made a mistake, he owned up and apologized. And he had a great sense of humor. He didn’t have an inflated ego, as, in my opinion, some experts in the field do. He was totally different from my parents and from the people in the cult.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I tried to emulate him in my work and in my life in general. It’s never too late to have a role model—a positive one. To this day, I feel that who a therapist is, is more important than what they know. It’s great to work with a reliable, knowledgeable person, but it is a guaranteed disaster if you put your trust in somebody dishonest, no matter how much they know about RA/MC.
What books do you recommend?
For people who know nothing about ritual abuse or dissociation, Judith Spencer’s, Satan’s High Priest follows a family for about twenty years, explaining what is happening psychologically with each person. For personal healing, nothing can beat Chrystine Oksana’s Safe Passage to Healing and Alison Miller’s Becoming Yourself: Overcoming Mind Control and Ritual Abuse. She wrote a companion book for therapists: Healing the Unimaginable: Overcoming Ritual Abuse and Mind Control. The first two books are out of print but are listed in Amazon and can be found at independent used bookstores.
Could you give our readers a brief chronology of your experience–both as a survivor and as an activist in our community?
I was born in 1937 into a conservative family that belonged to a conservative Satanic cult. I was trained for sex work and from the age of six to twelve I was also used in mind control experiments. This involved testing to see how easy a given program was to install, what the optimal age was for installation, how secure the program was, and how easy it was to retrieve information. Any content could be dropped into the programmed system. I believe the MC experimentation stopped because the project lost its funding.
I went off to boarding school and then college, so my participation in cult rituals and activities diminished, then ended. I married, had two children, worked as a technical writer, and then went to graduate school and became a social worker. I think I became a therapist to find out what was wrong with me, and then, when I did find out, continued to work in order to figure out how to fix myself.
It was during the first year of my marriage that I started my personal therapy career. The precipitating factor was telephone phobia—which persists to this day. So does the anxiety and depression. Obviously therapy didn’t work, but I stubbornly tried one therapist after another, hoping somebody could help me uncover the source of my misery. They couldn’t, because child sexual abuse was unheard of in those days and they were totally unaware of the hints I gave. Basically, incest was seen as a matter of first cousins inter-marrying in the Appalachians.
In 1975 my father died, then my mother in 1981, and my husband in 1985. By that time my kids were off at college and I had nobody to worry about except myself. I entered therapy with Mike Ward for support around my husband’s death.
I had a flashback in the middle of a therapy session and realized it was to molestation that occurred when I was three or four. After two years of tears and getting used to this big new part of my history, I started “leaking” information about ritual abuse. I knew about RA, had been to conferences, had RA clients, but it had nothing to do with me. I was at a workshop and the presenter said that a symptom of Satanic ritual abuse was doodling stars compulsively. I thought “Oh, don’t be silly, I did that as a kid!” When I happily told Mike I had done some very peculiar things over Easter, he took a deep breath and asked if I had ever considered ritual abuse. My blood ran cold and I said softly, “Oh fuck.”
More years of tears and flashbacks followed. I continued to work during this period even though I was scared to death I would have a flashback in the middle of a session or lose my common sense and do something terrible. It was okay: my flashbacks kindly scheduled themselves for when I had a break in my schedule and I was, in fact, a more sensitive therapist now that I knew more about myself. But it was really, really, stressful.
After a while, the stress took its toll and I retired from practice and moved to San Francisco. There I went through a number of therapists, all with experience in working with ritual abuse survivors. I quickly learned how lucky I had been to have found Mike! It took me several years to settle on my current therapist, who, like Mike, is intelligent, kind, loving, respectful, and honest, plus she has worked with many other ritual abuse survivors. Now, the focus is on tracing the influence of the cult and my dysfunctional family on the present, rather than hanging on for dear life as I struggle through the flashbacks.
How do you stay motivated as an activist?
I don’t think of myself as an activist. What I do, I do out of selfish motives. It’s good for me to be around other survivors—it keeps me from spinning out into denial and craziness and teaches me so very much. I learn from every single person I meet, whether it’s in person or by email. Survivors make me feel “normal,” a feeling I have never felt before. And for the first time in my life, I have a community. I get far, far more than I give.
My other motivation is that if I want things that aren’t available, I am lucky enough to have the time and skills to make them happen. I owe my organizational abilities to the cult, which trained me in managerial skills. Using these skills for the benefit of myself and my community is a great way to flip the cult a bird. And contributing to my community gives meaning to my life in a rich and deep way. I am blessed to have found a purpose in life.