The effects of child abuse can linger a lifetime. Decades after the trauma, many people still have trouble talking about what happened to them, says a Sebastopol woman who has created a new 12-Step program to help adult victims in their recovery. El Chess said she endured severe abuse as the child of parents she described as mentally ill.
“They were both violent, brilliant sociopaths,” she said. Her father was a mechanical engineer, her mother a housewife and Columbia University dropout.
And yet, even at 71 and after years of therapy and spiritual work, Chess feels the lingering effects of their abusive parenting.
Beginning in the early 1980s, she found help for other life issues through 12-Step programs, based on a set of guiding principles to aid in recovery.
Born originally out of Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12-Steps have since been used as a model for many recovery programs ranging from overeating and narcotics addiction to overspending, sex and social anxiety.
Chess, a life coach who spent years in business, hospital management and real estate, said it came to her many years later that those same principles could help people like herself deal with a pain they had been carrying around since childhood. She decided to take the model and adapt each principle to adults struggling with early childhood pain stemming from abuse.
In July she created a new weekly 12-Step group in Santa Rosa, a program she named Adults Abused as Children Anonymous. Meetings are from 6:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. Thursdays at the First United Methodist Church, 1551 Montgomery Drive. This month she is self-publishing a book based on the program, “Adults Abused as Children,” that will be available in hard copy and as an e-book.
Like other 12-Step groups, there is no fee to attend.
“There are no pledges. We don’t take attendance. There is no commitment, and it’s all confidential,” said Chess, who has lived in Sebastopol for 40 years.
“It’s not group therapy. It’s not counseling. No one gives you advice or tells you what to do. You share your own experiences, and you listen.”
Participants are not required to share if they don’t feel like it or are not ready, she stressed.
The program and the book are the fulfillment of a promise Chess said she made as a 3-year-old when her mother tried to drown her in the bathtub.
In what she describes as a near-death experience, she had a vision of an angel who asked if she would come back and tell, and she said “yes.”
“That was when the seed was planted, and the fruit of that commitment was this book,” she said.
Chess grew up on Long Island and in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Her most vivid memories are of her mother ambushing her with unprovoked violence.
“I never knew when it would happen,” she said.
“She attacked. She clawed. She choked. She threw me. I was her slave. I was a 6-year-old cooking for a family of five. Often I was not allowed to eat. I was tied up.”
School was the balancing part of her life, Chess said. She never missed a day, even when she was sick.