Meet Cindy L. Herb, a Dallas-based author who educates others about finding joy, despite adversity. Writing as "The Joyful Survivor", Herb uses her own personal story of overcoming deep trauma to illustrate how happiness is possible after pain. Herb uses her inspirational writing and an upbeat attitude to help others walk on a journey out of shame and guilt to acceptance.
As a child, Herb was raped while working a paper route and then she says she was sexually abused by a family member. In her book, Awakening the Spirit: The Open Wide Like a Floozy Chronicles, Herb shares her spirtual growth that sprouted from her childhood tragedy. Herb's book has received national attention, getting the endorsement of the former first lady of California, Maria Shriver.
Herb has appeared on Dallas-Fort Worth television programs sharing her message of hope and healing for surviviors of sexual assault and abuse. We wanted to know more about Herb and she was kind enough to answer a few questions. (Be advised, the material is for mature readers only.)
Dawn Tongish: You are an inspirational woman, who has overcome traumatic ordeals early in life. Can you please share your back-story?
Cindy L. Herb: On July 31, 1966 at the tender age of nine, a stranger raped me. It happened on a Sunday morning before the sun had arisen. I had a paper route with my sister, who was one year older. Unfortunately, our parents never chaperoned us on our route. That Sunday morning would change my life forever. Not only was I raped by a stranger, but I also had to endure a pelvic exam immediately afterwards. It was like being raped all over again. Adding to the trauma, my own father sexually touched me within days of the rape. Afterwards, I lived in constant fear—I did not feel safe either outside or inside my home. Equally horrific were the reactions of shame and guilt by others, especially by my own mother. She not only treated me as if I was the one who was to blame, she also forbad me to speak of those fateful events ever again. Hushed up, I learned to hide my true feelings. I felt isolated, alone and my self-esteem plummeted. Over time, the horrific events caused excruciating physical and emotional pain. I became severely ill and depressed to the point of considering ending my life.
However, it was at my darkest hour that transformation began. Divine influence intervened. At age fifty, an angel guided me to seek out a spiritually based shaman while attending a local fair. Working with him has proved to be highly beneficial. Almost immediately, my joy returned and my health began to improve. No longer burdened by guilt, shame and the tragic events of my childhood, I have fully released any blame towards others for those events, including my parents. I love them very much and this has brought me much peace and joy. I further recognize that the unsettling events from my childhood were a gift, in that they brought me to a point of further spiritual growth. Although I had never been a writer before meeting the holy man, soon afterwards I began journaling my painful childhood experiences. It was extremely cathartic. Realizing that others might benefit from reading my true-life's tale of suffering and healing, I decided to publish it. Maria Shriver, former First Lady of the State of California and member of the Kennedy family has endorsed my book. She writes, "I know you inspire others through your personal story of overcoming pain and suffering. I applaud you for having the courage and strength to share your extraordinary story."
DT: How have you managed to persevere through your personal pain to lead a successful life?
CH: I am very spiritual and every time something traumatic has occurred in my life, I just knew there was a reason for it. I have been at death's door many times in my life, yet I have lived. I am The Joyful Survivor. I knew there was a divine source guiding me through all my trials. I was taught that we are never given more than we can handle. I have observed this to be true. I feel this way, even though at times I thought I could not handle something, I was given strength or help to endure. That 'help' came in the form of what I call angels. All of us are connected to the divine (who I call God). However, we lose sight of this, especially in times of adversity. Most of us center on the physical world, although our primary being is of a spiritual nature that lives eternally. To counteract the constant physical bombardment of life, I focus on the spiritual side of me that is within through daily meditation. I also practice giving thanks for everything in my life, as I know that all life experience is a gift…an opportunity for spiritual growth and character building.
DT: You have written, "Awakening the Spirit: The Open Wide Like a Floozy Chronicles". What is the message you are sharing in your autobiographical book?
CH: My message is: 1) no one is ever alone, 2) all of us go through trials for the purpose of spiritual growth, and 3) there is peace and joy no matter what happens in your life. I want people to know that they are not just physical beings, but more importantly, they are spiritual beings. Furthermore, God is within everyone and we are all connected to each other through this one Spirit. I would love it if people could look beyond their current perceptions and stop using judgment, which is not a spiritual attribute. You never know what someone is going through or has gone through that may be influencing their perceptions and actions. Challenges do not occur because God is punishing us, but rather as a tool for spiritual growth.
DT: Anyone who meets you is instantly drawn to your contagious, upbeat attitude. Where does your positivity come from?
CH: My optimistic attitude comes from knowing that every day is a gift from God, no matter the physical circumstances. It is also derived from knowing that we are ALL connected through the same Spirit of God. Finally, I positively know that God loves each of us unconditionally.
DT: You admit that you entered adulthood damaged after a tumultuous childhood. At what point did your life turnaround?
CH: I think there were years leading up to a tipping point. However, I would have to say, the real turnaround point where I became truly happy was when I met a spiritual shaman. This particular shaman's credo is "We are all connected to the whole and not separate," which simply means that God is everywhere, including within each of us. He also adheres to the principles of living a God-like existence of constructive living—using the attributes of love, understanding, compassion, honor, honesty and humility. Although I was spiritual before I met this man, my spiritually continues to be enhanced by his teachings. One of the main things that helped me was the idea of a non-judgmental God who loves us unconditionally. I had bad things happen to me not because I was being punished, but rather as a means to grow spiritually.
DT: Not every rape or sexual abuse survivor is willing to come forward and share her story. Do you hope that by speaking up, you will remove the stigma and shame?
CH: Of course I do. A person who is raped or sexually abused feels completely violated. There is also an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt. Since the world can be judgmental, rape victims often suppress their emotions and the trauma itself. They can lose trust in others and in themselves. Those emotions are the result of reactions from others and from living in a world where one feels disconnected to God. If you think you are separate, you feel something is lacking and this can lead to judgment. I have told my story, despite objections from others involved, because I want to empower people. I want them to understand there is NO reason for shame, regardless of the trauma. When you think you are outside the light of God, shame can occur. However, in reality, every breath we take validates that each of us has the light of God within us. Therefore, if you can come to realize that guilt and shame are a function of the mind, not the Spirit, simple adjustments in thinking can dissolve these emotions.
DT: Your attacker has never been caught or prosecuted. There are thousands of untested rape kits. There is a move afoot in Texas to DNA test the old kits and bring assailants to justice. Can you share your thoughts on that push and what it would be like for a rape survivor to finally get justice decades later?
CH: Although I am no longer angry with my attacker or blame others for my rape, this does not mean I feel others are not accountable for their deeds. I feel God loves us unconditionally and in His grace, gives us choice. Those choices can have consequences as each of us 'reaps what we sow.' My main wish for having assailants prosecuted is so others may not be hurt by similar actions from an attacker, not that I may feel vindicated. In addition, even if someone were prosecuted years later for an attack, although the victim may feel better for a short time, there would still be no lasting peace. The damage to the victim would not be alleviated because the feelings of guilt and shame would remain—that is, unless the victim dissolves those emotions. Despite this, I am happy that Texas is DNA testing old kits and possibly getting assailants out of the general population to protect others from their controlling and damaging habits.
If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.