Tagged in: Therapy

Jann’s Story

Jann Simmons is Native American, a mother, a grandmother, a speaker, a podcaster, an author, and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

Jann first shared her story before a packed audience when she and her daughter were guest speakers at a national conference. At the conclusion, she was surprised to receive a standing ovation. At a book signing afterward, she was approached by a young man asking if he could talk to her for a moment. He went on to say he was a counselor but was considering quitting his job since he didn’t feel he had an impact on his clients.

Jann responded to the man, “My therapist has no idea I speak, have written a book, and am thriving now. She has no idea her words still influence my daily life.”

He replied by saying, “Because of your story and the hope that you give, I now know this work is exactly what I have to do. My belief in the therapeutic process has now shifted due to your story.”

After many more affirmations from the audience, Jann knew right then and there that her story inspired and provided hope. Her experience sharing her story motivated her to continue.

Jann shared how writing "Which Way? One Woman's Traumatic Journey and her Daughter's Explanation of how to turn Pain into Power" with her daughter Shari affected her healing journey: “It was difficult at first. Writing a book about the abuse I endured required that I mentally go back to each event. I had to remember the sights, the smells, the feelings, the surroundings, the perpetrators, and … the pain! A writer must be able to describe in detail to the reader exactly what is happening. This allows the reader to be drawn into the moment with you. Through my years of therapy, I had never actually gone to this depth of my abuse, and it was excruciating.”

Jann and Shari spent months writing their own separate chapters of the book and regularly came together to read their drafts to see how it flowed. It was challenging and emotional. Jann’s daughter also struggled with her emotions as she learned so much more about her mother’s abuses as a child.

Jann said, “However, the process of writing the book took me to a new level of healing and allowed me to fully embrace what happened to me. I realized how important it was to celebrate my courage. To own my story and say, ‘I am strong! I’m brave, and I’m a survivor! I made a choice to heal and to change the legacy of my family.”

As Shari struggled to make sense of her mother’s pain, she transitioned later in her life to a career that aligned with what Jann had endured. Shari became a mental health therapist, helping at-risk youth who were experiencing abuse and sexual violence.

Jann said that her daughter was a very precocious child. “She knew I was struggling with something during my years of therapy, even when I tried to cover up the pain I was feeling, as a 12-year-old … she knew.” It was worrisome to her young daughter, and she kept asking questions to try and understand. “My therapist told me I should tell her age-appropriate portions of what I went through,” Jann added.

Jann shared with her daughter that she grew up in an orphanage after being taken away from her mother for neglect and abuse. This planted a seed in the mind and heart of her daughter. Shari knew then that she wanted to help children.

“My story forged a passion in Shari,” Jann shared. “She is now a licensed clinical social worker and has been a therapist for over 30 years. She has run four residential facilities (no longer referred to as orphanages). She envisioned the residential units she would run and vowed compassion and healing would be the focus…It gave my abuse a purpose that I was able to pass on. When you think about it, it’s been brilliant revenge. I took something so horrific and turned it into an amazing possibility for good. I realized that my abuse now was planted on a foundation of healing.”

As Jann and Shari continued together on their journey to inspire others, they both learned so much along the way. Jann and Shari now speak at conferences and share the effects of trauma on the brain and how past generations pass on pain, as well as restoration to their family members. Jann and Shari have also spoken at a TED talk and continue to share their story of resiliency and hope all over the United States.

Jann urges survivors, “Please come forward. One of my favorite quotes is by Brene Brown, ‘Owning your own story is the bravest thing you will ever do.’ It takes a lot of courage to speak about what has happened to you. You may not be sure of what the listener will think when you share your story. To regurgitate all that pain inside you allows you to then realize your own worth. You can then begin to look at yourself authentically and courageously deal with what it did to you. Please find your voice, don’t remain silent.”

For Jann, her healing has taken on many forms. She shared what was most helpful in her healing journey: “Therapy was my path to getting to a better place. I had to stop the messages my past was giving me — that I was not worthy, not lovable, and not wanted. One of my therapeutic exercises was to write positive messages on my mirror. For a long time, I didn’t believe those words. Then, one day, I did! We can re-do the messages that we were given while growing up. This exercise changed the direction of my life. I also needed to accept my inner child. We have all got that little child within us. It’s the bravest part of us.”

Jann shared her final message with survivors: “It got very black for me at times, but I want you to know that there is hope. We must get to the other side of the darkness to see the light. The light is there. Don’t give up. You are so much more than how you view yourself because of your abuse. I am living proof that there is beauty on the other side.”

Jann’s podcast, Which Way? can be found on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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