059. Surrendering to the Facts to Realize Opportunity with Madeleine Black

The sharing of her story of sexual assault publicly On The Forgiveness Project’s website in September 2014, opened many doors for Madeleine in ways she never imagined and the invitations started to pour in.

Many women and men got in contact and explained how reading her story gave them strength, hope, and a different perspective of what’s possible in their lives.

The founder of The Forgiveness Project, Marina, often refers to the various people on her website as  “story healers” rather than “storytellers” and now she completely understood why.

She has taken part in both TV and radio interviews and has been invited to share her story of being gang raped as a teenager at conferences, events and schools.

She recognises that she was a victim of a crime that left her silent for many years, but has now found her voice and intends to use it.  Not just for her, but for so many who can’t find theirs yet. Her memoir, Unbroken, was published on April 4th2017.

As a note, Madeleine story of her is very real, very powerful and may be difficult for some to hear. It also may not be appropriate for children to hear, so please use your discretion when listening.

Key Points from the Episode with Madeleine Black:

  • Madeleine started sharing her story a few years ago to help end the shame and stigma around sexual violence. Her message intends to inspire people to realize it isn’t what we experience that matters, it’s what we do.
  • Madeleine was raised by parents who had survived great ordeals themselves, which she says may be part of why she’s so resilient. Her father was a Holocaust survivor, and her mother survived and ultimately recovered from a traumatic neck injury that put her life on hold for years.
  • When Madeleine was 13, she and a friend got drunk for the first time and met two boys who they took back to her mother’s flat (apartment) in London. These boys ended up raping Madeleine and committing other violences against her, which was the focus of our conversation.
  • The boys were sons of US diplomats who Madeleine knew. This is quite common where the perpetrators are known to their victim.
  • Years after, a friend had pushed her to write her story down. That friend, a man, felt that her words were so important for men to see what a woman goes through in a rape.
  • Putting the whole story out there and standing in her truth helped Madeleine shatter the shame of the incident.
  • In the midst of the rape, Madeleine went through the mental shifts that took place to help her survive. She described it as if she had floated out of her body, became aware of things going on outside the flat rather than in it, focusing on things like the wall paper, etc. Ultimately, she felt that she had floated out of her body and was sitting on a wardrobe watching what was happening to her rather than experiencing it first hand in her body.
  • The memories ultimately did come back years later when she realized she was ready to face it.
  • We become very clever at wearing a mask. What we don’t speak about leaks out of us. For Madeleine, that meant using anorexia, alcohol, drugs, promiscuity and ultimately suicide attempts as ways it was trying to come out. Because of her mother’s health situation and being a teenage girl, some blew it all off as being an angsty teen.
  • As her parents became aware of all of the behaviors, they felt she should go away, and sent her to Israel for a year, where she worked on a kibbutz and met the man who would become her husband, Stephen.
  • She had issues understanding why Stephen would want to be with her or love her. Given how she felt about herself, she had such trouble accepting and comprehending him feeling the way he did.
  • As their relationship progressed, and even after they married, she felt so strongly that she did not want to be a mother given what she had experienced. She didn’t want that for her children, and also didn’t want to go through the process of birth, which felt too exposed.
  • What she came to realize over time is that these two boys were continuing to define and control her life. When that became clear to her, she realized how much she did not want them to control anything about her life, and she resolved to live the best life she could from her choices rather than the restrictions of others.
  • As her kids grew up and her oldest approached the age she was when she was raped, she realized how restrictive she was due to her fears. She also realized that this would impact her kids’ minds and development, and keep them from developing the tools they would need to make smart choices and protect themselves, so she decided she needed to step back and let them live more.
  • Madeleine was scared to be around men, but realized she could not keep trying to either keep men from interacting with her or constantly be looking for the exit in case they were to try something. She worked to force the issue – if she tried to keep avoiding her fears, they will keep controlling her. As she made herself work with men as clients and counselors, she started to see situations where she found these men to be just like women. She had a patient who was a male victim of rape, and was able to see him in exactly the same light as herself, which woke her up to gender not being the defining difference between someone who is safe and who isn’t.
  • She surrendered to the facts and let it go.
  • We touched on a sentiment I find with a lot of people who have survived great trauma – the notion that she would not wish her experience on anyone, but would never undo it for herself given how she is grateful for and enjoys her life today.
  • I asked if it was ultimately about control, but she believes control is never real. We are never really in control, so we can’t latch onto that idea. It’s about knowing your strength and resilience regardless of what you face since you can’t control it all.
  • Rape is interesting in how victims are shamed. If your home is broken into, people don’t say it brought it on or did it to yourself. But with rape, the victim is often looked at as having blame, or the rapists are looked at with understanding or perhaps doubt that they could do what they did.
  • Forgiveness was the last piece in her journey. She doesn’t insist anyone has to do it, but for her, it was critical in her ultimate ability to move forward. She didn’t seek them out to apologize, but rather let go of it for herself. She deserved forgiveness for what that could bring to her. Holding onto it wasn’t harming them at all, and only impacting her life. It really has nothing to do with them.
  • Anger had been Madeleine’s best friend, and when she let go of it, she lived so much better. Her life became defined by possibility, gratitude and happiness rather than anger and shame.
  • You don’t have to forgive in order to heal, but for her, it was the right thing.
  • She wanted to make clear that she did not get where she is overnight. She has spent several decades working on it, and it is a process of progress.
  • For anyone who is going through the aftermath of rape or violence like Madeleine did, if you imagine wanting to get to a healed place, it is never ever too late.


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