Project Description

About Donna

On the personal side – I’m 70 years old. I’m a mother, grandmother and married to the man I’ve been with for thirty-three years. I grew up in the mid-west, lived for 25 years in Brooklyn, NY and now live in Western Massachusetts with my husband, Chug, and our dog Bella.

I founded the project Time To Tell™ in 2009 with a mission to spark stories from lives affected by incest and sexual abuse to be told and heard. I wrote and perform my one-woman play, What She Knows: One Woman’s Way Through Incest to Joy, which is based on my own experience of surviving incest and what I did to make my life worth living. I’ve performed my play at conferences, for organizations focused on boys who have sexually abused others, girls in prison, college students, domestic violence and sexual assault advocates, and communities in need of healing. I lead Time To Tell What We Know writing and mindfulness workshops for survivors. I am a leader, counselor and organizer who built grassroots women’s centers in New York City during the 1970’s and 1980’s and am still active in the leadership development consulting and training practice I established in 1986. My book, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy, is a narrative of the choices I made and experiences I had that helped me heal from my childhood trauma. Levellers Press will publish it in Fall 2017. Find more on my web site at

My Story

My father was my offender. The physical abuse started when I was an infant in 1947. The sexual abuse started when I was seven years old and continued until I was twelve. The emotional abuse lasted until he died when I was age forty-six.

I grew up in Wisconsin inside an alcoholic family on my father’s side. My mother’s side lived in North Dakota and, though far away, they offered a safe-haven both physically and emotionally. My brother was born ten years after me and became an oasis as someone to love within the chaos of my fathers abuse and my mothers neglect.

In 1965 I left home at age eighteen and ran off to California – with $32.00 in my purse!

The second large trauma in my experience as a survivor is what happened in my family of origin after I came out to them as a survivor in my forties. When confronted by my brother my father said he couldn’t remember ever doing such a thing, my mother decided that, since he’d had black out times when he was drinking, and that I would never lie about such a thing, she believed the both of us. My brother decided I was lying about our father and refused to have anything to do with me from that day on until he died 26 years later.

My Healing Journey

I’ve written a book, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy, which tells in great detail all I’ve done and experienced on my healing journey. In a nutshell – here’s the list:

  • Writing
  • Therapy
  • Support Groups
  • Political activism
  • Yoga
  • Body/Mind work: Cranial Sacral, EMDR, Acupuncture, Massage
  • Guided Meditation
  • Spirituality
  • Nature
  • Writing a play and performing it (What She Knows: One Woman’s Way Through Incest to Joy)
  • Leading writing & mindfulness workshops for survivors

Probably the most central component to my healing was the building of new relationships. I’m convinced that without embracing and taking the risk of building close and healthy relationships, I wouldn’t have made it out of my own particular internal dungeon.

I would come to call this alternative my “family of choice,” populated with people I love who love me in return. The act of loving others is the more important half of that equation, both for my soul and my sense of belonging.

I started building my first family of choice in junior high school, though I certainly didn’t call it that back then. It was my crowd. I found people who could be a grand distraction from all that went on in my family – a group of teenagers who’d both get my mind off my past and help me forget to worry about what might be waiting for me at home.

It’s a double whammy a) being born into a family that’s not on your side and b) the rest of the world (or at least a big part of it) thinks there’s something wrong with you for not staying in that family. I knew I had to find an alternative to my nuclear family. That held true for the majority of my extended family as well because it was filled with people who were either clueless or paralyzed about what my father had done.

Having a family of choice was an enormous help not only in coping with but ultimately accepting the disintegration of relationships in my biological family. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally miss the first one, especially my niece and nephews and not getting to watch them grow up, but I’ve mostly gotten away from longing for it to reemerge. My family of choice is a counter to that longing. I put a lot of energy into forging and keeping loving, healthy relationships, which became a mighty contradiction to those I’ve lost or left.

This is what Judith Lewis Herman calls: “restorative love”. * And, through that restorative process, I came to a place where I refuse to spend my time and heart any more on people who are rude or mean, self-absorbed, neglectful or abusive – those who can’t love back.

* Trauma to Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, by Judith Lewis Herman, M.D. Published by BasicBooks. a division of Harper Collins, 1992

“You are not bad, you are not the reason he is doing all this bad stuff to you. You are precious and loveable.”

To My Younger Self

I imagine little me at age eight – when the incest was about a year old.

“Listen, you’re going to figure all of this out. It’s going to take a hell of a lot of work but you’re going to figure it out. He doesn’t really hate you he’s just been made crazy because of a whole lot of bad stuff his parents did to him when he was your age. Which, of course, doesn’t excuse him in the least. But, I’m here to tell you the most important thing – you are not bad, you are not the reason he is doing all this bad stuff to you.

You are precious and loveable and our world is so lucky that you came here. And all that hard work I said you were going to have to do – well, the payoff is you are going to come to know you are loveable and loved – it’s just not going to come from the people you are living with right now.

See those two dolls of yours over there in the corner? Well, every day I want you to have them tell each other how much they love belonging to Donna. Every day – no matter what. I promise – it’ll pay off in the long run.

Oh, and another thing, you are going to have so many people to love once you get outta’ here.”