Stories of Healing


More than a year ago, TOPS News received a letter from Kay, a longtime TOPS member who wanted to describe a troubling experience she had at a TOPS retreat. Her letter, offered below in its entirety, is a deeply personal request for help and understanding. In it, Kay describes her history of childhood sexual abuse and the devastating impact that it has had on her adult life.

Since receiving her letter, TOPS staff has stayed in contact with Kay and carefully considered her request for an article addressing the link between sexual assault and obesity. We knew that one article would not be enough to thoroughly respond to this complicated topic and the profound effects it has on survivors and those who love them—but a special section in TOPS News might help to promote understanding among members and even lead to healing for those who need it. This is the Recovery Room.

Kay’s Letter

Dear TOPS News:

I am writing to you regarding a topic I would like to know more about and that I believe impacts a lot of TOPS people: the correlation of childhood sexual abuse and adult obesity.

I attended a TOPS retreat in June 2015 with Retreat Director Deanna Bies. She talked about her abuse experience. I don’t remember a lot of how she related it to weight loss except to tell of her journey of recovery. I was very upset about this, so I confronted her after the session, asking her if she thought that was appropriate. I came to the retreat to learn about how to lose weight, not to be reminded of my own childhood sexual abuse. Deanna asked me how many of the women in the audience I thought also were abused. I agreed, probably a majority of them. Although this greatly upset me for a couple of months following the retreat, I came to the conclusion that God had given me a reminder that there was still work to be done on myself.

I was a victim of repeated rape at the age of 4. My father was a violent alcoholic (my abuse was not by him, although I blamed him for many years). My dad was in the Navy, which meant we moved frequently. I attended 12 different schools in my 13 years of schooling. There were other awful events that took place, but enough said.

Although I am over 50 years past the abuse, it still deeply affects me. I’ve been in and out of counseling for decades. I have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and depression. I have been on and off medication for years. When I am not on medication, I’m suicidal. I truly believe counseling and medication saved my life.

I’ve read many books that mention the link between childhood sexual abuse and obesity, but I don’t ever recall hearing anything about it from TOPS except at the retreat. I know this is a painful topic, but if it is significant to deal with this to achieve weight loss, then I would like to hear something from TOPS.

Right now, I’m feeling rather hopeless in my ability to reach KOPS status, but I haven’t given up. I’m on day three of following a sensible calorie-counting plan. In search of encouragement, I am very curious to know if any KOPS members were childhood sexual abuse victims and if they overcame it.

Perhaps emotional eating is the connection.

Food is a form of self-medicating. All TOPS members are aware of emotional eating because it’s included in our TOPS pledge. I believe TOPS is also a part of my recovery in learning how to deal with my eating problem. I would like to tell you a little about myself so you know where I’m coming from. I have been in TOPS for 27 years. I have held many chapter officer positions and have been to many State Recognition Days (SRD) events and one International Recognition Days (IRD). My biggest success was when I first joined TOPS, losing 40 pounds in the first four months. I got pregnant with baby number five soon after, and it has been a roller-coaster ride ever since.

I’ve had different types of counseling. There have been two that benefited me the most. I’m not negating any of my past counseling. I believe I did get some benefit, such as saving my life! Everything is in God’s timing, so this was my path.

The first counseling I benefited most from was group therapy (not first in importance, just in timing) that I found through a battered women agency. I went after years of previous counseling. I believe I needed the individual counseling first, perhaps to be believed before telling a group. The greatest benefit of the group therapy was the feeling of not being alone. The other women's stories varied, and yet there was commonality with all of us.

The second of the two most beneficial counseling for me is the one I’m in now. It is with a Christian woman who is a certified psychologist. She doesn’t just listen to what has happened during the preceding week. She takes these events and teaches me the reason I react the way I do and the correct way to react. She also uses biblical principles to encourage me, such as God’s love for me, which I appreciate because God is an important part of my life and recovery.

As I said earlier, I’ve been in and out of counseling for years. The reason I went back to counseling this time is to seek help for my drinking problem, which is another type of self-medicating. There are many excuses to drink, but the cycle continued because the worst symptom of my sexual abuse is the difficulty I have with intimacy with my husband. Drinking helps. I share that because I want others to know so that if that is their problem, too, they’ll know they are not alone. I do have hope that I will be healed eventually, and soon! For both the intimacy problem and the drinking problem.

As a longtime TOPS member, I have had my ups and downs on the scale. I’m one of those members that believe if I hadn’t been in TOPS, I would be much bigger than I am. At this point in my life, I feel better about myself than I ever have. I believe liking myself and caring about my health, whether I live or die, is a key to my weight-loss success. I AM on my way to KOPS!

Please seek help if you are a victim. As I’ve been told, “You are worth it."

Editor’s note: Kay had asked if she could give us an update on her progress at the time of printing. She writes, “To be honest, when we got to this point, I was hoping my update would be that I am at goal. But sadly, I’m not. I am mentally doing better than ever, and hubby and I are still working on the marriage (next October is our 40th anniversary). I am currently the Leader of my chapter and still have high hopes of success. I hope to be a graduating KOPS, maybe at Niagara Falls IRD in 2020!”

Retreat Director Deanna Bies responds: The program I was presenting at this particular retreat was about emotional eating. I use myself as an example and share issues I have had to deal with in my life in order to move forward on my journey. No one is singled out in the group for any reason, nor is sexual assault the topic of discussion. I also mention physical and mental abuse, divorce, death, etc. My intent is to make a connection with something retreat participants may have experienced that may be blocking them from moving forward. Coming to terms with life’s difficulties, which are different for each person, is often necessary for moving forward. Doing so gives retreatants an option to make choices that might not have been available to them previously.

Courageous KOPS: In response to Kay’s request for help, we are sharing the stories of two KOPS members who overcame their past traumas and embraced healthier and happier lives. We hope their stories of determination, resilience and commitment to recovery will be a source of comfort and hope for Kay—and for all those still struggling to overcome the effects of abuse and assault. These two KOPS share more about their experiences in videos that you can find on this Recovery Room page.