Svava Brooks is a survivor of child sexual abuse and the co-founder of a nationwide child sexual abuse prevention and education organization in Iceland called “Blátt áfram.” She is also a certified instructor and facilitator for Darkness to Light Stewards of Children, as well as a certified Crisis Intervention Specialist, a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, a BellaNet Teen support group facilitator, a Certified TRE® Provider, and an Abuse Survivor Coach.
The mother of three children, Svava has dedicated her life to ending the cycle of child sexual abuse through education, awareness, and by helping survivors heal and thrive. She is a certified facilitator for Advance!, a program created by Connections to restore authentic identity. Every week, she writes about healing after trauma on her blog and also leads a discussion forum on child sexual abuse healing and recovery online, in her private Facebook groups and on her YouTube channel. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, three children, and two rescue cats.
“I was born and raised in Iceland. When I came to the states in my early twenties to go to college, I was trying to escape. I was so happy to be in a new country, far away from Iceland and my confusing, painful childhood and I was ready to leave it all behind and start a new life for myself.
I met my husband in college, both of us coming together with grief from tragedies in past relationships. We were young people carrying a lot of hurt from our childhoods and families and instantly made a connection out of our mutual understanding of each other's pain. It was not long after meeting and soon after my graduation that we had our first child and got married. Then we had our second daughter and I became a stay-at-home mom. It was during these years that I really began to dig into my healing journey. I found the Courage to Heal book which validated my experiences and also helped me come out of denial about the trauma I had suffered my whole childhood. I also learned it is common that we forget or deny the pain until we are safe enough and supported enough to start healing, or a life-changing event will force memories hidden deep in the body/mind up to the surface, forcing it to be dealt with. I found a support group for survivors and spent the next 5 years learning about the impact my trauma had on me.
For the next 10 years, I was in deep healing while raising my kids and trying to keep my marriage alive. It was hard. Two trauma survivors that had been deeply hurt by the people closest to them, trying to feel safe in the world and safe in their relationship, while having to be there for two children...this was a tall order. We finally learned how to communicate, how not to use each other's hurt when we felt disappointed in the other, to be friends, to be kind and gentle with each other as we held a safe place for grief, and we navigated changing negative habits and beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. We learned that love was safe, not hurtful, risky, and disappointing, as we had previously been taught to believe.
10 years into my healing, I took a break from active healing and our son was born. Around that time, I started to hear a quiet voice in my heart telling me, “You need to break the silence. You need to tell your story.” I heard it but did not know what to do with it, until one day I saw a survivor on Oprah telling her story. This was the permission that I needed to do the same. Within a year, we had moved our family to Iceland, told my story in public at a conference and on television. Went on to co-found the nonprofit, Blátt áfram, with the goal to get a pamphlet about child sexual abuse statistics and prevention information into every home in the country. The movement I started in Iceland resulted in our educating 10% of the population about child sexual abuse prevention. Now, 15 years later, I am still building on the experience that speaking publicly about child sexual abuse gave me and I am still training adults how to educate their communities about child sexual abuse and prevention.
The most valuable skill I learned in this time was the ability to really listen and hold a safe space for people, to validate what people go through when they experience feeling powerless, to be okay with listening while giving them the space to navigate their feelings of denial, anger, and fear. I understand this reaction now and can feel compassion for them. People have a hard time accepting the facts about trauma (understandably), whether it is in their personal history or the uncomfortable fact that over 20% of children are abused before they turn 18 and 90% of abused kids are abused by someone they know and trust. The truth that makes them so uncomfortable to begin with, when they realize how many people/children are hurting and are alone, is what eventually moves them to take courageous action. That was what moved me to take action. When I realized there was something I could do, that I no longer needed to be stuck in fear, anger, and shame, I could not help but want to share that hope with others.
I felt a calling to use this skill to give survivors the experience of someone holding a safe space for them. Even though I resisted it in the beginning, I could not deny that it came easily to me. People naturally felt safe with me and shared their stories openly around me, even at the grocery store!
I saw the need and I was willing. I started with in-person support groups and then slowly brought the same concept online over the last 6 years. I recognized that the tools I had learned to heal and restore myself were something that I could pass onto others.
My clients usually find me after they have tried many other things and are desperate for a solution. After getting to know each other and establishing a safe connection, we begin the deep work of feeling safe with our emotions, reconnecting with our bodies, and practicing self-compassion and self-care. It is a multidimensional process that takes time. The most important part of the process is the relationship you have with the person helping you. It is a partnership of equals, built on deep respect, love, kindness, and trust, the survivor learning how to trust themselves and the healing process.
I empower survivors to see that they are not broken. That they are a textbook example of an adult that was neglected and abused as a child. I walk them through the process of understanding what trauma does to our bodies, our nervous system, our feelings, our thoughts, beliefs and values, and how that shows up in our outside world, our relationships, and how we take care of ourselves, learn to love, and our ability to trust ourselves and others.
The healing modalities that I use and empower my clients to use (depending on where they are on their healing journey and what the most urgent problem is for them) to heal themselves include:
As an example, here are some of the questions I ask my clients during our sessions and some of the exercises we go through together:
1. “What is challenging you today? As you talk about it, where do you feel this in your body? Slow things down and become grounded and connected with the awareness of your body and what it is trying to tell you with your words, thoughts, feelings, or sensations.
2. As we connect with the felt awareness, we can get curious. What is it trying to tell you? Does it just need to be heard or/accepted to let go? What story has it made up about who you are and why you are bad/shameful/not good enough/nor worthy?
3. Where did it come from? Is it true? Do you want to continue believing this or do you want to change it? Write a new script, followed by loving kindness and self-compassion.
4. Take daily action steps of gratitude, mindfulness, self-care, choosing to live out what you want now. Journal with what comes up and express the feelings/resistance as they come. Are the feelings from your younger self? How can you hold him/her and assure him/her you both are okay now?"
We work on staying grounded in our bodies through this process, practicing self-regulation as you learn to accept your truth as it rushes forward to be seen heard and validated. And finally, feeling a sense of belonging is achieved. Healing is not an isolated journey. It occurs between two people or between two parts, you and a part of yourself that has been hidden, denied, shunned, shamed, or repressed. The journey is about allowing each part to have their turn to come back into the light and to the knowledge that they were loved all along. You learn that all those parts belong and you belong to them. You learn that you belong amongst your fellow survivors, people that love and accept you for who you are because they understand your pain. Your pain is their pain. And you learn that you belong to yourself, always.
Between our sessions, my clients have the ability to email and check in, to share and ask for additional support. I have found this to be invaluable support for them. They are able to go about their lives every day knowing that they are not alone, that they have someone around that has their back and understands their pain. They get to feel a sense of community, knowing they are being supported by someone that has been through and is still on their own journey too. The additional support also teaches my clients the invaluable skill to finally ask for what they need and to reach out for help when they need it. No more suffering in silence and being “too strong” for help. They learn that healing IS asking for help.
My mission in life is simple: I help people heal and restore after childhood abuse or neglect and truly learning how to accept and love themselves fully. You are a unique person, with a unique journey, and your own divine timing of when you feel ready to reclaim your birthright to live an empowered, loving, wholehearted life. It is always a privilege and an honor to walk alongside extraordinary humans as they find their way back to their authentic self.
Remember, life is the school, love is the lesson.”
Email: [email protected]
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