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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


A difficult question and a difficult answer

I got an anonymous letter.

I’m going to share it with you.

Here it is.

I saw the very touching letter in your most recent Ask Havi post and my stomach twisted up. And I decided, what the hell, I’ll write you and Selma.

I read all your blog posts and love the depth that you bring to emotional things without losing your grip on reality.

There’s a book I need to write, or at least, people keep telling me that others need to read it [funny, huh?].

But I haven’t done it yet because I feel like I don’t have the right to write about what happened to me. I was systematically abused for 10 years and nothing was done about it, to make it short.

And I keep being told I need to write about all this, so that others know they’re not the only one’s who’ve been tortured. So that others don’t feel alone, and don’t feel like they need to punish or kill themselves because someone else was a monster to them.

But I… still feel controlled by the fear that those people left in me. And it leaves me feeling that I don’t have the right to write about my own pain.

And more still, if I write this bloody book I want it to be anonymous, as much as possible, because I don’t want those horrible people to track me down. I know them, and I know that they would call me and show up at my door, and hound me to rescind the things I said, but I can’t — because they’re true. I can’t erase those actions and they can’t erase my memories.

Reality doesn’t work that way.

So my ‘ask’ for you and the eminent Selma, is how do I get permission to write this book?

I don’t even know where the permission should be from, I just know that this needs to come out of me and be used to help someone else, because I can’t think of any other way for all the energy of those terrible things to be used in a positive way.

I’m sorry for the urgent plea tone of this e-mail, I’ve been wrestling with this situation for a little over 20 years and it’s eating at me more and more lately. I’ve thought about writing the two of you about this before, but always chickened out because I know that this must all sound very panicked.

If you have any ideas where that permission might need to come from please let me know! I hate to sound desperate but that’s what I am.

All the best,

p.s. Q for Selma ~ do you ever wear socks?

Let’s take a moment, yes?

Let’s all just be really quiet for this woman and sit with this.

This is a lot of pain. It’s harder for her to carry than it is for us to witness it, but it’s hard on all of us.

If you can send love and strength and support her way, then send it. And if you need those things, I’m sending them your way too.

One more deep breath. And another one. Another one.

And we will find a way to respond.

Part of what I wrote back …

Oh my dear sweet __________.

Oh my dear sweet __________.
There is so much hard. I am so sorry that you went through this awfulness. I want to sit with you and hold your hand.

For your questions …

There are a couple of points I want to make.

1. Let’s remove — if we can — as many of the “shoulds” as possible.

The idea that you have this “obligation” to write your suffering out to help others … it sounds like guilt and fear are kinda running the show.

Which is understandable, given your background.

Still, if we could take that apart a little and pull out the should-i-ness of it …

If you think that writing about this will be therapeutic for you then by all means, do it.

Or maybe writing about the process of getting ready to write about it could be therapeutic for you, in which case, yes. Try it and see if it feels comfortable for you.

You are under no obligation to start healing the world or helping other people who have suffered unless you are drawn to this as part of your own healing process.

After all you have been through, it is ludicrous that you would “have to” do anything other than focus on what you need to help you heal as best you can.

If positive stuff for someone else can emerge from your painful experience, that would be incredibly powerful. But it does not need to be the thing that motivates you unless you come to the conclusion that you truly want it to.

2. The permission thing is also a “should”.

This idea that you “have to” give yourself permission or that someone has to give it to you … this is part of the mentality that can come from a history of abuse. I recognize it because I know it personally and many of my clients do this too.

Right now you have too much fear to give yourself permission. The only place to start is to acknowledge that this fear is there and that it makes sense that it would be there.

It is natural and normal that you’re paralyzed with fear. It is the natural human response to what you’ve been put through.

Of course you’re afraid to have permission to write about this, sweetie. Let’s wait a bit until we need to get this permission. In the meantime …

3. There are always more options than what there appear to be.

Maybe right now is not the time to write the book.

Maybe right now is the time to do some journaling. That might take some of the pressure off of the whole “oh no, a book” thing.

Not to mention the anonymity thing and the safety thing. That’s a lot to deal with all at once.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be a book. Maybe it can start as some sketches or some scribbled words in a book that’s only for you.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be memories.

Maybe what you end up writing can be about this process of learning how to make your healing become the main thing in your life.

Maybe your writing can be about your process of learning how to maybe eventually feel safe and loved.

Start seeing how it feels to gently and cautiously approach some of the stuff around these memories without diving right into the pain or putting a bunch of expectations on yourself about who will read it. Then you can proceed from there.

Around these memories.

4. Going AROUND the pain. This is a very important concept.

There is this awful school of thought — very popular in Hollywood films — that holds that if we face our fear and re-live the awful things that happened to us, this will heal us.

I can barely even talk about this because it’s so wrong and so tragic and so dangerous.

It is very important to understand that there are many, many kind and gentle ways out there to dance around the pain, to do the healing at the very edge and not in the center.

You do not need to go through your pain again in order to heal. You can do the healing around it, from the periphery.

Acupuncture, acupressure, EFT, TAT, dance therapy, art therapy, yoga therapy, healers … there are so many powerful ways to work through some of our pain and soften it without plunging in and reliving the horrible.

If writing is going to be part of your healing process, try writing around the pain, not about the pain.

For example, writing about the types of things that trigger your pain. The types of things people say that set you off. Words that are troubled or problematic for you.

And then writing about places where you feel safe and supported. People whose presence helps you feel better. Smells and tastes that are comforting for you.

Find spaces where you can be in comfort after dancing around that pain.

5. We are with you.

You are not alone.

Abuse is … what can I say about it … just the most horrible thing. Ever.

There are a lot of us out in the world with painful, miserable experiences that we either remember or don’t remember … and there is a lot of pain for us to learn about. A lot of pain for us to practice letting go of.

I just want you to know that all over the internet, hurting and healing people are empathizing with you and remembering their own bits of stuck and hard.

We are all loving you and loving your beautiful heart and trying to love ourselves. We are with you.

p.s. I have never seen Selma wear socks. I don’t quite know where she’d put them, though it would be super cute.

A request for my readers …

Please nothing but kind, supportive, loving comments.

I’m writing about stuff I feel VERY strongly about. If you disagree with me, you’re more than entitled to your opinion — just keep in mind that today is not one of those days that I wish to know about it. Let’s just gather and support this woman.

27 Responses to A difficult question and a difficult answer

  1. Hi

    And a difficult comment.

    My heart goes out to your e-mailer.
    And I think that your suggestions are wonderful and supportive.


    LifeMadeGreat – Juliets last blog post..Do You Know What is Happening In Another Person’s Life?

  2. chas says:

    peace and blessings, havi, to your anonymous writer, and to anyone who has suffered abuse of any sort or quantity.

    what i loved the most about this post, other than the softly strong *protection* that you invoked, was the part about going around the pain. as a counselor, yoga teacher, and bodyworker, i work with a lot of people who are in pain, and quite often the request is for me to dig right into it.

    and always i like to work around it, from the edges, often even beyond from the edges, so that the healing can take place in the most natural way possible. like when we have a physical wound, and it always heals from the edges inward. all wounds are like that. physical, energetic, emotional, mental, spiritual.

    of course this takes time. and patience. and support. and a good spiritual practice doesn’t hurt.

    thank you for this reminder, and for everything you said. no wasted words.

    peace and blessings again,


    chass last blog post..friday afternoon update! 7

  3. Sarah Marie Lacy
    Twitter: smlacy

    Its like listening to myself during parts of this letter…
    My whole heart goes out to this woman.
    I can barely even imagine the hell she must be going through, having that on her shoulders for so many years.

    And the fear…oh hun, wherever you are, I know your fear. You are so not alone. Please be kind to yourself.

    HUGS. And more hugs.

    You are definitely not alone.

    Sarah Marie Lacys last blog post..Positivity Fridays: What a week.

  4. Tamara says:

    Havi you did a beautiful job of offering support and assurance that the healing process does not have to be done at the white, hot, center of the pain. This is so true. There is no reason that we have to heal from a position of weakness. Better to gather our strength and heal from that place of strength. And, do it in ways that support body, mind and spirit.

    Anonymous writer, I also struggled with others saying I “should” write a book to tell my story. This added pressure that was not helpful to me on top of an already very difficult situation. I did eventually begin a blog and began writing on it about my abuse. This was extremely powerful and very healing but something I could only do when I was ready. It is not something to be done to satisfy anyone but yourself. After years of healing and months of blogging I was able to look at this “call from others” to write a book about my abuse and I was able to see that this was not part of my healing path. And, that is all it needs to be about, your own healing path.

    I know that this can be a very frightening and confusing time as you confront the abuse and work through the healing process. Please treat yourself with gentle kindness and lots of patience. It will all come together perfectly for you. It does take time, though.

    Many hugs sent your way.

    Tamaras last blog post..Turned out to be a good day – didn’t start that way

  5. […] one more thing. Go here and send this woman love and hugs. She’s got the world on her shoulders, and tons of pain. […]

  6. Justin says:

    @anonymous writer – I have a constant battle as I try to talk about my life for the same reasons. The people who did awful things are still around, will hound me to apologize for telling the truth, etc.

    I can’t say my experience with them was as abusive as yours, not by a long shot. However, I do know the feeling of being trapped by what-I-know-they’ll-do if I speak out.

    You’re not alone.

    And listen to Havi, for sure, ’cause she’s quite smart, that one.

    Justins last blog post..Life is Improv: The Meaning of Life

  7. dear havi, selma & anon. writer

    thank you … for the reminder to step-onto-the-court with compassion, or perhaps more accurately, to acknowledge our being on-the-court with compassion. & that there is no such thing as a less-than-point, only points-of-process … scarey with possibility/ies, hmmmmm :)

    huge hugs …

    joyce lukaczers last blog post..Wana Duma Children’s Project

  8. chris zydel
    Twitter: wildheartqueen

    Dear Havi, Anon and the cute ( but sockless) Selma,

    It’s almost impossible to grow up on this crazy, beautiful planet without experiencing some form of abuse or another. I am grateful that I have not been the victim of some of the more brutal forms but I have been a therapist for many moons now and I can say that Havi’s advice and guidance to the courageous Anon is sound and wise.

    I can’t really add anything but I can reiterate: Take it slow. Baby steps are always good. Hold yourself with the tenderest compassion as you continue on your healing journey and remember that there is not one more thing that you HAVE to do for anyone else. The fact that you have survived with your heart and soul obviously still intact is more than enough. You have permission from the universe , if you choose,to spend the rest of your life just taking care of yourself. But if part of taking care of you involves sharing your story then only do it in a way that feels easy and nurturing. Get some support. You don’t have to do this alone. And if something feels scary, know that you really don’t have to go there. You’ve been scared enough for one lifetime and the antidote to fear is always kindness and gentleness and love.


  9. Duff says:

    There is this awful school of thought — very popular in Hollywood films — that holds that if we face our fear and re-live the awful things that happened to us, this will heal us.

    I can barely even talk about this because it’s so wrong and so tragic and so dangerous.

    It is very important to understand that there are many, many kind and gentle ways out there to dance around the pain, to do the healing at the very edge and not in the center.

    You do not need to go through your pain again in order to heal.

    AMEN sister!! I cannot agree enough. I keep telling people this again and again, and work with clients with a technique that does exactly this.

  10. Dear lovely Anon writer,

    Thank you so much for writing in and sharing your story. I admire your courage for reaching out and asking for help. That’s a biggie. And thank you to Havi for such a beautiful reminder that we do not need to go through our pain again in order to heal. She’s so right. I feel like most of my healing has happened when I wasn’t even trying for it.

    I wish I were as eloquent and adept at this as Havi, but mostly I just wanted to tell you that I’m here with you as much as I can be across cyberspace, and to send you all the patience and hugs you can stand.

  11. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    You guys are the best. Do I say that every single day?

    Thank you for being here in support.

    @Tamara – thanks for your reminder that writing/healing can take many different forms and go through different phases. It’s great to see how bravely you’re doing the thing and working through your own stuff using this format.

    @Chris – that was so beautiful, everything you said … and also I will now have to refer to Selma as Sockless Selma from here on out. Like Shoeless Joe Jackson. Sockless Selma the Duck.

    You are such a wonderful teacher. It is totally a privilege to know you.

    @Diane, Chas, Duff, Joyce, Justin, Sarah, Juliet … your thoughts and energy are so appreciated. Big hug to you. Thanks for being part of what I do here.

  12. Sonia Simone
    Twitter: soniasimone

    Big hugs to you both.

    Sonia Simones last blog post..Dumb Things Small Businesses Do #6: Ingratitude

  13. amy says:

    i relate. this abuse surely happened when you were a child.

    a good thing to remember is that you are an adult now, you no longer need permission from adults to do anything.

    quietly hold your younger self’s hand and tell them you are HERE, that you will make the most gentle and caring decisions for them, that now you are big you WILL protect them and never allow such things to happen EVER again. Be the adult that never protected you.

    i did this, it works.

    Havi, you are great!

  14. Linnit says:

    Thank you to Havi, Sockless Selma and My dear sweet … It’s not often my rss reader makes me cry. Dancing round the pain is so much healthier and healing. My dear sweet…. Havi’s right,(no surprise there then!) it’s not your responsibility to heal others who’ve been hurt, just you, just the little girl that no one helped.It’s the hurt you’ve been through that makes you feel this huge ought. Hugs to you all.

  15. Kelly
    Twitter: copylicious

    Wow, this post and the letter really hit home for me. I wish I had been able to read this back in the day, when I needed to hear it most. Letter writer, I recommend picking up a copy of Julia Cameron’s the Right to Write (hey, you even wrote the title in your letter!). Embrace your morning pages and don’t let the Shoulds win EVER! The Shoulds will stop at nothing, until you’re sacrificing years of your life for something that brings you absolutely no joy at all. Write about whatever you want. Or don’t write at all. And Havi’s advice about not needing to relive the pain to work through it is so wise, and so exactly the opposite of what the “experts” are saying, and that sucks because it’s hard to know whom you can trust when you just want support. Unless people have been through something similar, most people just don’t know what to say, and that can feel isolating.

    An old coach of mine had a father who lived through the Holocaust, and one day he asked his father, “After all these years, why don’t you ever talk about what happened?” He said, “Those people killed my parents and took away 5 years of my life. I’m not going to give them another single day.” Amen to that.

  16. Teresa Hall says:

    I was reading this on my cell phone email and had to get out of bed to post.

    Dear beautiful anonymous Soul,

    How brave you are to tell your pain and how wise you are to choose this beautiful place of safety that Havi creates just by being who she is.

    You are SO not alone. Your story is not mine, but I know the fear and the shame and the deep ragged tears in your soul, for I have had my own as well.

    I too have felt compelled to write my story, and I do write as my chosen career path. Yet, I’ve not yet told the tales because my time has not been right. Havi speaks such truth when she says that you do not need to let any “shoulds” run your life. You have had so much control your very being for so long, and please, please, do not let this “should” become a way to punish yourself for something that is in no way your fault.

    Yes, writing can help and heal- yourself and others- but only when it comes from a place of peace and healing and I do not know, but it sounds as though you aren’t there right now. AND THAT IS OK- and that is OK.

    My heart and my prayers are yours. Not just tonight, but for the rest of your life. It matters not if I ever know your name, though if we should meet I would gently ask if I could wrap my arms around you and hold you close and just let you know that you are not alone. You are a masterpiece of God’s own making- whatever God you believe in- and if you don’t, if you can’t believe, have no fear. He believes in You.

    If you ever want to “talk” leave me a comment on my blog or follow me on Twitter (TeresaWrites4U) and simply tell me that you are Havi and Selma’s sock friend and I will know who you are. You never need to share a detail if that is your decision. I will just be your friend.

    Havi- I hope you realize what a powerful place of love and healing and peace you have created here- just because you are you.

    Please contact me if there is anything at all I can do to stand in the gap in this situation.

    I send peace and love and comfort to you, dear writer, and you, dear Havi- and of course, dear, poor, sockless Selma.

    Rest well tonight I pray,

    Teresa Halls last blog post..Whew, what a weekend!

  17. Carole says:

    I have no idea what to say after reading this, except that I can’t imagine how hard it must be to live with what you’ve gone through, considering how hard it was for me just to read just that much of it. I have no advice, other than “listen to Havi (and Selma)” but you already seem to have figured that part out on your own….

    Many, many hugs, and a heart-ful of loving support from me to you.

    @Havi, wonderful advice, as always….

    Caroles last blog post..Job Hunting 101: Part One–Finding Jobs (Guest Post by Patrick Gary)

  18. My heart definitely goes out to the letter-writer. I experienced a smidgen of peer-abuse as a child and it’s taken me decades to get over.

    I agree with Havi that there are a lot of shoulds in the letter and a sense of obligation, so I have just one question for the letter writer:

    Do you want to write this book?

    If you do, then you’ll find a way, but if you are struggling with it maybe it’s because your intuition is saying “this is not the work for me” and so the should battles the want.

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Success Comes from Slow Change: Leo Babauta Interview

  19. Ruth G says:

    If the “people tell me I should write it” is stronger than your own desire to write, then know you don’t owe anyone your writing.

    If you feel that you want to express your experience, there are many choices…

    1. you can fictionalize it, even make it a children’s book
    2. you can publish it under a pseudonym, or not publish it all
    3. you can work with co-writers or a ghost writer, and let them use your stories and change your name to protect your privacy (writers do this all the time)
    4. you can express yourself in other ways: poetry, song, instrumental music, painting, dancing
    5. if you want to help others, you can find scholars/scientists/authors working on this (Google…they may be in Psychology Depts or Schools of Public Health) and see if there is someone interested in taking your case history to inform their research. they will get your story out to those it might help, but without your name attached


    And sometimes we give our oppressors way too much power by taking them and the memory of them seriously, when they don’t deserve even that. (I’m Jewish and grew up with jokes about Nazis.) If your issue gets too solemn, just remember Havi’s tongue-sticking-out part of her exercise, which you could follow by a loud “You’re not the boss of me!!”

  20. Karen says:

    My heart goes out to you, and my thoughts will be with you today.

    Sometimes people feel we ‘should’ do something but unless you feel complelled to tell your story you don’t have to.

    Do what you have to do for you, regardless if that is to write the story or not, you are important.

    You are asking permission to do something, but have you asked permission from yourself? Take a look inside yourself.. what do you want? what makes your heart sing? Give yourself permission to do that!

    You matter, you are important, take care of you.


  21. Rachael says:

    @Anonymous – I send you hugs and support and kind thoughts. My personal vote about the permission thing is that the only one it’s needed from is the little girl who endured the abuse and still lives in fear each day. I agree that the should-monster is often just that, a monster we give our power to because we’ve never known any other way. I have no way of knowing whether writing a book would serve your healing, but I would definitely reiterate that what serves your healing is what I would imagine as serving you. Big, big hugs, and lots of permission to be or do whatever makes you and your little one feel loved and safe.

  22. steph says:

    After reading all these wonderful comments, what left to say? But I am learning to stop doubting that even among thousands or millions, I can’t make some sort of difference, so I’m commenting anyway.

    First, to you, anonymous writer: I give you so much credit for having the courage to write what you did to Havi. Even doing that, I know, takes a great deal of pushing when you have doubt and fear and insecurity and shyness and feeling you dare not hope when there’s so much at stake. Disappointment is scary. But you prevailed and that part of you that told you you have nothing to lose, especially not with Havi and her readers, was wise. Which to me says there’s more of that in you – more wise. You just have to find it in you and let it out.

    When people say trust your gut, what they really mean is listening to your soul tell you what is good for you. Just as our bodies know and tell us what is good and not, so our soul, the wise bit in us that we are so out of touch with.

    Some quiet meditation, allowing yourself to stop thinking of the shoulds and take some deep breaths and letting your soul speak to you really helps. It’s not easy, but just giving yourself a few minutes at a time to close your eyes and breathe deeply and simply feel what it is to be you will help you get more in tune with your wise self. I know it sounds hokey, but really, it’s also common sense. If we take a bit of time to be with ourselves, and allow us to feel whatever we end up feeling and thinking, we will come to know ourselves, what we want, what we truly know, what to do. It helps develop strength of character and self-confidence as well and you’ll find yourself less bullied by others, less guilty feeling.

    Havi mentioned a few techniques, like acupuncture and EFT. EFT has worked for me, as has Reiki. Above all, try as much as you can to stop fighting yourself. It’s hard to heal when you are fighting at the same time. If you stop fighting, nothing fights back, and that’s a good start. :)

    I wish you healing and peace from your hardship. Imagine that release, that relief, and you will have it.

  23. Joely Black says:

    I think the advice here by Havi is excellent. I went through the process of writing out my own life experience at the behest of others, and found it releasing, but my god, it’s hard. Is there any need to do something like this because others tell you you “should”? I don’t think so. Your life, and thus your choice.

    Byron Katie is the person I go to when I get wrapped up in “should.” I recommend her to everybody.

    Joely Blacks last blog post..Relating with an approval addiction

  24. chas says:


    good call on the byron katie thing. very good at helping break through the story and see things in a more objective light.

    chass last blog post..friday afternoon update! 7

  25. […] again, or returning to yoga. It could mean documenting what comes up for me when I work my way around the edges of my fears of success that come up when I am starting, engaged in, or completing many a given […]

  26. […] again, or returning to yoga. It could mean documenting what comes up for me when I work my way around the edges of my fears of success that come up when I am starting, engaged in, or completing many a given […]

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