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An Interview with Marjorie McKinnon on Incest and Childhood Sexual Abuse

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 14th 2011

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Marjorie McKinnon Marjorie McKinnon is an incest survivor who ran away from home at the age of 18 after five years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her father. She spent the next 27 years going from one abuser to another until in her mid 40s she entered a program for recovery of her own devising that she later called REPAIR. During recovery, she found out that her second husband had sexually molested her two older daughters. Her youngest daughter had previously raped gunpoint by a masked bandit. This accents the reality that child sexual abuse and incest is a multi- generational problem. Children of an untreated incest survivor stand a five times greater chance of being sexually molested themselves. Marjorie is the author of fifteen books, one of which is her memoir, Let Me Hurt You and Don't Cry Out. She is also the founder of The Lamplighter Movement, a rapidly growing international movement for recovery from incest and child sexual abuse that emphasizes the importance of REPAIRing the damage. There are currently 80 Lamplighter chapters in thirteen countries. Two of these are in women's prisons, a project of particular importance to Marjorie who is a domestic violence survivor. She is working to get chapters in all of the women's prisons in the US.

David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.

On today's show, we will be talking with author Marjorie McKinnon about recovering from incest and childhood sexual abuse. Marjorie McKinnon is an incest survivor who ran away from home at the age of 18 after 5 years of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of her father. She spent the next 27 years going from one abuser to another until, in her mid-40s, she entered a program for recovery of her own devising that she later called REPAIR.

During recovery, she found out that her second husband had sexually molested her two older daughters. Her youngest daughter had been raped at gunpoint by a masked bandit. This accents the reality that child sexual abuse and incest is a multigenerational problem. "Children of an untreated incest survivor stand a five times greater chance of being sexually molested themselves," she says.

Marjorie is the author of 15 books, one of which is REPAIR Your Life: A Program for Recovery from Incest and Childhood Sexual Abuse. She's also the founder of the Lamplighter Movement, a rapidly growing international movement for recovery from incest and child sexual abuse that emphasizes the importance of repairing the damage. There are currently 80 Lamplighter chapters in 13 countries. Two of these are in women's prisons, a project of particular importance to Marjorie, who is a domestic violence survivor. She is working to get chapters in all of the women's prisons in the United States.

Now, here's the interview.

Marjorie McKinnon, welcome to Wise Counsel.

Marjorie McKinnon: Thank you for having me.

David: Well, I've been reading your 2008 book, REPAIR Your Life: A Program for Recovery from Incest and Childhood Sexual Abuse. And I understand that you yourself are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Perhaps we could start with your story. We're just now meeting, so it's kind of throwing you into the deep end of the pool all at once here, but if you could -

Marjorie McKinnon: Sure.

David: Because I know it's a painful experience, but you've dealing with it for a long time. So what can you tell us about what happened?

Marjorie McKinnon: Okay. Well, when I was 13, my father came into my bedroom in the middle of the night, where I was sleeping on the bottom bunk with a rosary underneath my pillow, and raped me. And I didn't have any idea where babies came from. I thought you bought them at the hospital, because that's how we got my little sister. So I just was screaming and screaming for help, and my mother was a very deep sleeper. By the time she came in, my dad was standing sideways, you know, with his robe closed, and I remember just hanging on her and clinging to her, saying, "Mama, Mama, please help me. Something bad happened. Somebody was on top of me and they did something really bad." I couldn't give a name because I had no idea what it was.

And my mother just told me, "You had a nightmare. Go to sleep. Go to sleep," and left, closed the door, and that was the end of it with her, but not with me. I mean, I continued to keep reliving that nightmare as my father continued his middle-of-the-night raids. And my mother eventually found out and had him get me out of bed in the middle of the night and started interrogating me, and I was so afraid that our happy Catholic family was going to fall apart if I told her or described to her what had happened, so I kept saying, "Nothing's happened. Nothing happened." And my mother told my dad to get the belt. And my dad went and got a belt, and he started beating me while she kept interrogating me.

David: Oh, my goodness.

Marjorie McKinnon: I can remember we had a Declaration of Independence, a large framed copy, hanging over our piano, and I kept trying to read it while he was beating me, thinking that if I could get into the words, I could leave my body. And so for years the words "When in the course of human events" just would kill me.

But, anyway, it just broke up our happy Catholic family no end. We were just - we were a lost and broken family. And my siblings, my mother - my mother just laid in bed all the time crying and sobbing, and had me bathe her. And my father got a job in another town and came home on the weekends. And eventually we moved to California and this continued, and when I was 18, after a beating that really almost killed me - it was so bad. My brother tried to stop it because he was - told my dad, "You're killing her." And he kept beating me till I passed out. And a week later I put everything in a pillow sack and I ran.

David: Oh, my goodness. Now, how long did this abuse go on?

Marjorie McKinnon: For five years.

David: For five years. And was he your biological father or stepfather?

Marjorie McKinnon: He was my biological father. In fact, he delivered me when I was born. And so, as a result, we were very bonded. I mean, I was his favorite child and he made no bones about that, and so - anyway, I spent the next 27 years, after I ran away from home, going from one abuser to another.

David: Well, before you go there, let me ask you - did you talk to anyone about this at the time?

Marjorie McKinnon: No. No. I had a lot of it - a lot of it - I was covered by amnesia. I mean I couldn't remember a lot of - there's a lot of blanks in my memory during those years, and there's a lot of things that I didn't understand why my mother hated me so bad, why I was so terrified of my father that him even talking to me got me shaking. I didn't - it was like some part of me took the memory of that and put it in a room and locked the door. And so, no, I never talked to anybody, never told anybody, nothing.

David: Okay. And I gather it had a considerable impact on your subsequent life. Maybe you can tell us about some of the negative consequences that resulted from that.

Marjorie McKinnon: Oh, it certainly did. Well, I had - my self-esteem was so low. I thought I was really, really ugly, and I didn't want children because I thought they would turn out like me, so I had no self-esteem. I was very - not naïve - I was like a child. My folks had always raised us as - we were like five years behind what other kids were, so I was very naïve. I didn't know very much about anything, and I was extremely Catholic.

I had wanted to be a nun when I was - after eighth grade. My dad wouldn't let me go to the convent. And so I wound up marrying the first man that kissed me because he said "I love you," and so it must mean that I had some kind of value. And we were married for five very rocky, very stormy years; had four kids in three years. And then I left, again - threw my kids and a few things, belongings, in a car and ran.

And eventually wound up getting married again a year later to somebody who I thought was going to protect me from my first husband's rages when he was trying to get me back - his boss. And it turned out - a man 20 years older than me - but he turned out to be a worse alcoholic, and he cheated on me and he beat me up. So I went from the frying pan to the fire, and that lasted about nine years. And then he wanted a divorce because I didn't obey him on something he wanted me to obey him on. He always got rid of dogs and wives when they didn't obey him.

And so then I was single for about 12 years, and during that time I went from one abuser to another, and when I was in my early 20s I had tried twice to commit suicide and wound up in psychiatric wards. And the main thing that kept me going was they had me on medication that kept me from pulling the plug again.

But during those years when I was single, I just became extremely promiscuous. I drank too much. I managed to raise my four kids by myself, and they turned out to be four of the most amazing people I've ever known. So I don't know how that happened because I was sure a mess emotionally, just a terrible, terrible mess.

David: Yeah.

Marjorie McKinnon: And then I did wind up, after the kids were all raised and had moved out, I wound up marrying my third abuser, who was the worst of all three of them. And I got into recovery, I guess, about a year or two years into the marriage. The abuse was so severe I couldn't take it any more. And so my doctor again asked me if my father had ever sexually abused me, and I'd always told him no. And he said, "I don't believe you anymore. You go into recovery."

So he had therapist who was a renowned child sexual abuse specialist from Orange County - I lived in L.A. at the time, in Corona - and I got into recovery with her, and she was with me for about a year, and then she left, dropped her practice to get married, and I was on my own. So I stumbled. I fell -

David: Before you go on, what did you get out of that year in therapy? To what extent was it helpful? To what extent was it maybe not helpful? Or did she really get to the issues that were core for you, or were they missed? Tell us about that year in therapy.

Marjorie McKinnon: Well, she was one of many therapists. I'd been through so many I couldn't even begin to count them, and nobody had ever, ever pinpointed child sexual abuse. Nobody had even asked me about it. But she had me go - she asked me about it, and I said, no, we had a lovely Catholic family. Everything was fine. And she said, "Uh-huh, uh-huh. Okay. I want you to go home," and she had me draw with my left hand pictures of my life at like two and three year intervals going back as far as I could remember.

And I thought it was a silly thing to be doing, but I sat at the kitchen table. She said, "Use different crayons to indicate different emotions." And I sat with my left hand, and I drew something when I was three, and another when I was five, and so on and so forth. And then I got to the age of 13, and I drew a bunk bed in a room. And I drew a door, and I drew a man with gray hair opening the door, and then, all of a sudden, I grabbed a red crayon and I wrote across that page, "Help me, help me, help me."

David: Wow.

Marjorie McKinnon: And then I just started crying. I just - I was crying so hard I couldn't see straight. And then I called her, and she said, "Okay, bring them all in now." So we went in, and I showed them all to her, and she said, "You know, your father sexually abused you. He really did." She said, "Did he ever say anything to you?" And I said, "Well, he did." When I was in my mid-30s he wanted to talk to me, and he drove down from where he lived four hours north and we went out to dinner, and he was warm and loving. And he used to always call me "no good" and "unclean," and wouldn't have anything to do with me. But here he was my father again, warm and loving.

And he wanted - after dinner we went back to his hotel room, and he was sitting drinking brandy, and he said, "Kiddo. Don't you think that - a lot of people in the restaurant probably wondered what an old geezer like me was doing with a young gal like you?" I said, "No, Dad. I think they just thought that was a father with his daughter. Why?" And he said, "No, no, no." He said, "I'm sure that they thought differently." He said, "You know, I think it's time that I tell you about the sexual - about the incest relationship we had when you were a young girl."

David: He actually said that.

Marjorie McKinnon: He said that.

David: Wow.

Marjorie McKinnon: And I can remember just freezing. And he said, "It's not so bad, kiddo. A lot of fathers and daughters have this kind of relationship. Why, they do it in the Appalachian district all the time." I remember the words so clearly, and I can remember sitting there on that bed, frozen, and all I could think of was "What does incest mean? I think it's something from the Bible. What does incest mean?" And then I remember nothing. It's just blank, blank, blank, and I'm - till I'm driving home. And I'm driving home and I'm sobbing so hard I can't see to drive. And I'm just - and I don't remember anything that happened between those two times.

But then, a few years later, my father called and said, "I need you to come up to visit with me. I have to talk to you." So I drove up four hours north, and he had - my mother had died from cancer when I was 19. My father had remarried a few weeks later. And his wife had had a stroke. She was paralyzed, laying in a bed in the kitchen. And I can remember while I was there, he was changing her IV or something, and he said, "Kiddo, do you remember a few years ago when I told you about the incest relationship we had?"

And I said, "Yes." And I froze, thinking, "Oh, my God, not again." And then he said, "Well, you know, I really think it's time that I talked to you about that before it's too late." And my stepmother started screaming, "No, no, no. I've had to listen to you talk about that for 25 years. I don't want to hear anymore about it. Stop it, stop it." And he said, "Okay, okay, all right. I won't talk about it." And that was it. And then I left -

David: Well, was it your impression that maybe he was going to apologize? Or what do you think - where do you think he was going to go?

Marjorie McKinnon: Well, he seemed to be approaching it with a different mindset. You know, like the first time he talked about it, it was like, "Oh, this is so normal; people do it all the time." He was justifying it. And this time it was almost like - I had the feeling that he had taken a look at my life and he knew one alcoholic after another, one beating after another, drunk driving charge. I mean, he knew that my life was just shattered and just torn to pieces.

And I think he was beginning to wonder, "I wonder if that has anything to do with what we did when she was younger?" And I think that's what - I just have the feeling that's what he wanted to talk about, was that there was link there. I don't know if he would go so far as to apologize. My father had a very high regard of himself - very, very high regard of himself - and so I don't know if he'd gone that far. But what was the most startling to me was that he had talked to his wife about it. She hated me.

David: Yeah, that is startling.

Marjorie McKinnon: Yeah, the 25 years that they were married, she hated me so bad that she wouldn't even be in the same room with me, and I never knew why. I mean, I didn't hold anything against her, and I always wondered "Why does she treat me like that?" And I heard that they would - during their marriage, I heard from other siblings that did spend time with them, that he - they would be married for a while and then she'd leave him. She'd run off and leave him, and he'd go back and find her and bring her back home, and that that was 25 years of this back and forth stuff.

And he must have told her - because he got to tell something; you got to tell somebody something about this, and that's all I know. But, anyway, a few months later for his birthday, I sent him a letter, and I said, "I don't know what you were getting ready to talk to me about, but I really think we need to get it resolved before one of us dies and the one left behind has to carry the burden of wishing that they'd talked about it." And my dad got the letter, stamped it with the date as he always did - because we found it after he died - and then he died of a massive heart attack.

David: And so he died before that process that you were inviting him into could happen.

Marjorie McKinnon: Yes, he died right after he got that letter.

David: Yeah.

Marjorie McKinnon: And I never - so I never even approached it again. And then a few years later I met a really wonderful, wonderful man. He's my daughter's father-in-law. My daughter was getting married - getting ready to marry his son. He was divorced. And he wanted - we started dating. We already - we had a grandchild together. He treated me like a queen. We bought a beautiful home together. We were going to get married. I couldn't believe how happy I was, handsome, made good money, he loved my kids.

But then he started talking to me. He said, "You know what? Something happened to you when you were a kid. Must have - because nobody as wonderful as you would wind up with that many abusers. We got to find out what happened to you." Oh, my gosh. I turned off on him instantly, and I said, "Don't even bring it up." Well, he kept bringing it up, and he kept trying to find out. He kept poking around and digging and digging. And so I started pushing him away. I said, "I don't want to get married. Go away." I tried to give him his ring back. He said, "No, I'll never leave you except through death. You know, that's the only way I'll ever leave you."

So I started having an affair with somebody, thinking that would say make him go away. Well, nothing made him go away. And then we found out he had cancer, and, boy, I tried to clean up my act really fast. Got rid of the guy I was having the affair with; started preparing Chuck for death, which is - if anybody's ever gone through that, preparing somebody for death, it's one of the toughest jobs you'll ever do.

David: Yes.

Marjorie McKinnon: And then he died, and a few weeks later I was living with the third and the worst abuser that I had ever even known.

David: Now, at some point, you instituted a program of recovery for yourself, and I'm interested what triggered that and why you ended up developing your own program; given that it sounds like you had a fairly successful experience in therapy, why you didn't find another therapist.

Marjorie McKinnon: Well, I didn't at first. I didn't at first. After Marcie (sp) dropped away, I kind of floundered around. I would join this group at a church and that group there. I got into a 12-step program, Codependents Anonymous. I thought that I was the abuser in my relationship, and found out from some people at United Way who talked to me about it, that, no, I was not the abuser. I was the one being abused because I was getting raped constantly by my husband, and it was in the middle of the night over and over and over. The man quit his job - he was sex addict - so he could rape me all day long. And I was having terrible, terrible flashbacks. So there I was.

I joined Alternatives to Domestic Violence at their recommendation, and the 12-step program, and I would just bring my box of Kleenex and I would go from meeting to meeting. You know, five nights a week I was at these meetings. But I would be floundering around, thinking, "My God. I need a lamplighter." I remember thinking at one time, "I need a lamplighter because I don't know which way to go."

And I was in a pharmacy one time, and they had a little brochure on the counter. It said, "Losing your freedom of choice is a bitter pill to swallow." I grabbed that brochure, and I just started crying. And I went home with it, and I Scotch-taped it to my mirror, and I read it every day. And then I got another positive saying and I put it on the mirror. And then I would try this technique and that technique, things that, to me, seemed like "I wonder if this would work."

And while I was doing this, I was writing my life, the story of my life. I called it Let Me Hurt You and Don't Cry Out later on when I finished it. But I felt like, "I don't know if there's ever going to be happy ending to this, but I've got to keep this document." And so I wrote about what all was going, and I tried a lot of really innovative things. I never heard them anywhere. It was just me stumbling on them. I just - God was telling me where to go or something, but I -

So, little by little, I was bringing out this program called REPAIR, which I didn't even know I was doing. It wasn't until after I completed recovery that I started going through and picking up the pieces and putting it together as a program. But the first step was "recognition"; that's the first R in REPAIR. And Marcie had gotten me into the recognition. In fact, she brought in - while I was with her, at one time she brought in a hypnotist therapist, and she said, "I want you to go to him. He's handled a lot of my clients." So I went to him, and I thought, "This isn't going to work. He can't hypnotize me. I'm way too strong for that." And I just knew it wasn't going to work, but I'm telling you - the most amazing things.

This guy took me back in time to when I was a little girl and, oh, my gosh; things I didn't even remember. And little by little, after session after session, and finally there was the one session where my father came into the bedroom and I was raped, and I lived through that. And, after that, I knew there was no way I could think that my father was in the center of any of this anymore. I now had to face the truth. And so that recognition, that moment of truth, was probably the toughest, toughest thing to go through. I had - I could go nowhere to hide, nowhere to hide. I had to believe that this really did happen. So then the next [crosstalk] -

David: Well, before you go on, let me just comment here, to make sure I understand, too, that the recognition - it's kind of common in the 12-step approach, I think, that the person has to admit or recognize that there is problem.

Marjorie McKinnon: Yes.

David: And in your case, I guess it was allowing into awareness these terrible traumatic events that had happened.

Marjorie McKinnon: Yes. And that was the first step in recovery - I mean, 12-step, and I was working that program, and that probably helped too. But when I later on tried to figure out a name for my program, it took me several days, and then all of a sudden I thought REPAIR, REPAIR. But the step -

David: Yeah. Now, the second letter, E, stands for "entry." What's that about?

Marjorie McKinnon: That's about deciding what are you going to do in this program. Who are you going to need? Are you going to go through 12-steps? Are you going to join an Alternative to Domestic Violence group so you can understand domestic violence? Or are you going to have a therapist? Do you need a therapist? Can you do this on your own? What tools are you going to use when you start across what I call "the bridge of recovery."

And in my mind I likened it to "here I am on this side of the bridge, and there's all these ugly bad things," you know, suicide attempts - which I was still suicidal. Somehow or another I kept failing in that. I mean something would happen to interrupt it at the last minute. But I was still really a mess, and this deciding which tools to use was part of - a lot of this stuff I didn't do thinking to myself, "Okay, this is Step 2 in the program." I just would do it.

David: Sure.

Marjorie McKinnon: And later on when I went back and I read my book, I'd go, "Oh, gosh. Where here's where I decided what tools I was - oh, this is when I decided I would do this or do that." And so Entry - I mean, you can't go in there and stumble and say, "Well, I don't have any tools. I don't know what to do." I decided which books - there were some books that I read, that I paid a lot of money for, that didn't help me at all, that were best sellers. And I thought, "Well, this isn't okay. I got to find another." So I would go through different books, and so in the Entry part of it, I fine-tuned the actual path I was going to make across that bridge.

David: Yeah. So the first step, Recognition, is admitting or recognizing what the problem is, and then the Entry phase is making a commitment to take action, to do something, one or more concrete things to begin to work it through.

Marjorie McKinnon: Right, and which tools you're going to use. And the book kind of explains - you know, the book REPAIR Your Life, explains the best way to choose a therapist and how to go - how to choose the right group. Because there are some groups I would wind up in that were really bad. I mean, they would attack me because I was still living with my abuser, and so they used me as a focal point for their anger. Things like that. You don't need things like that, but it took me a while to decide "I don't have to put up with this."

David: Yeah. I know what you mean.

Marjorie McKinnon: You know, pulling out of that victim cycle was hard.

David: Right. Now, the third step that you've described is called Process. What do you mean by Process?

Marjorie McKinnon: That's where I actually had the nuts and the bolts, the different techniques, you know, like this mirror thing. My magic mirror was one of the most important techniques I used. I had that mirror covered with positive sayings by the end of my recovery, except for a little tiny square where I had to duck down to curl my hair. And every single day I would read that, read everything in there. But I would read it while I was looking into the mirror.

And then, while I was - another thing I was doing that was part of that - and, like I say, I didn't realize this was going to be an actual program. It was just what I was doing. Another thing I was doing was making a list of all the bad messages I got as a child and replacing them with a positive message. It's like throwing stuff away out of my brain.

I didn't realize how much I had in there that was just garbage, and it wasn't just actual things that were said to me; it was the things that were more playing with your mind kind of stuff, like it's okay to commit adultery because that's what my father was doing. So there'd be subliminal messages I had to get rid of, too. But then looking in the mirror and putting new ones in to replace them. You can't make a void and not have anything there, so I put new ones in. So that was a technique.

Another technique that I used was I got a tape recorder, and all the time I was driving to work, I would talk into that tape recorder, just about anything - talk, talk, talk: what I was - kind of relationship I was living in at the moment, what happened to me when I was kid, what did I remember, what did I not remember, what about my siblings, you know, just anything that I wanted to blabber about. And then on the way home, I played it back. It was amazing. Oh, my God, did I say that? You know, we talk and we don't hear ourselves - we don't hear what we're saying.

David: Well, I wonder if that shades into the next word in REPAIR. The next letter is A for Awareness.

Marjorie McKinnon: Oh, it did. A lot of these - and I can't remember all of them, but they were all put in the book, the different techniques I used. They all - yeah, they were opening my mind up to reality and the awareness of - I mean I started seeing this whole picture. One of the things that I did was I did create a family history. I went back in time and here's my father. Why did my father turn out to be like he - what happened to him, you know? What happened to my mother?

I talked to my mother's family, and they said the main thing they could remember about her was she was so passive. And she also had a motto about my father: "Even when he's wrong, he's right." So she had to go along with everything. And then I was talking to a family at a - some member of my father's family at one of the family funerals, and she said that she had lived with my grandfather for a week before she got married. And I said, "Well, what can you tell me about my grandfather? What was he like?" And she said, "Well, they had one saying about him, that no woman was safe with George Like (sp)." His name was George Like. And I thought, "Oh, my gosh. My dad's dad was a womanizer?"

So when I started putting the pieces together of the family history, I started getting this feeling, this realization that came into the "I," which was Insight - you know, Awareness and then Insight - that I was just a piece on a chess board and I had nothing to do with any of it. It all had to do with family systems. It had to do with the part that everybody played that contributed to me, but I was just there, and I didn't even have a chance. I mean, there was nothing I could have done to have stopped it.

And not only that. You know, when I was little kid, when this happened, I lived in a town that had 500 people in it, and there was no 911. I couldn't pick up the phone and call anybody. And years later I talked to a neighbor of ours that had lived in that little town with us, and she said, "You know, your mother used to tell me all the time how unclean you were, what a bad person you were, what a liar you were, how I shouldn't have anything to do with you. And I knew you were a really good person. I couldn't figure out why was your mother lying about you?" So, you know, I couldn't have even gone to a neighbor. I couldn't - there's nobody I could go to. They wouldn't believe me first of all, because this is a 97% Catholic community. Fathers don't rape their daughters.

David: Oh, my goodness.

Marjorie McKinnon: So, you know - yeah.

David: What a life you have come through, I must say. Now, the next letter is R for Rhythm. Where does Rhythm come in here?

Marjorie McKinnon: Oh, boy. That's just a wonderful, wonderful thing. It dawned on me, as I was getting to the end of my recovery, that there were bits and pieces of who I was before I was raped that was returning to my psyche, to my personality, that I had forgotten I had. And so I called it Rhythm, because I feel that when we are born, we all have our own natural rhythm. We're full of laughter, or we're real quiet, or we love to do this kind of music or that kind of music. But we have our own little rhythm that we march through life to.

And when you're abused as a child, sexually or otherwise, that rhythm that is yours stops, and you go - it hides somewhere and you become that which you are really not in order to try to cope with all the abuse. If you're spontaneous and you will find that you learn to keep your mouth shut. You learn to be obedient to the rhythms your parents or your abuser start planting in you.

And then when you get to the end of this REPAIR program, you start going back to that. And part of that was when I did a lot of inner child work, and that really helped, and that really - that was so real.

David: So it's really about recontacting your true self.

Marjorie McKinnon: Yes. Yes.

David: Yeah, and letting that come out.

Marjorie McKinnon: You got to take all that - yeah, you got to get rid of the garbage in between what you were then and what you are now, and you literally go back to that which you were before - even if you were three years old or younger. I mean, I just think when we're born we all have our own stamp.

David: Yeah. Now, to get to the last letter in the acronym here of REPAIR, it's Recovery I guess, post-recovery.

Marjorie McKinnon: Oh, yes. Well, after I - yeah, after I got rid of my abuser, one thing I did do; I went back to that house. Petersburg, Nebraska was the little town I lived in at the time. I went back to that house we lived in. [Unclear] and Margie lived there of all the crazy things. And I asked her if I could look through the house, and I wound up going into that back bedroom, and - oh, my gosh - everything just comes popping out at me so fast.

David: Oh, I can imagine the feelings that must have come up.

Marjorie McKinnon: But I went there so I could empower myself. I felt like I have to do this. This is the hardest thing I could possibly do, so that's why I'm going to do it, because it's what I need to do.

David: Yeah.

Marjorie McKinnon: And after I did that, I was pretty shaky for a long time. I had to sit and talk to my inner child for a long time, get her calmed down. Went back home. Within a few weeks was able to get rid of my abuser and file for divorce and felt happy and wonderful. But I still was kind of shaky because now I was living a whole new life I wasn't used to.

So, you know, that's why I did a lot of post-recovery work, which was self-help tapes - not just self-help tapes, but how to be a better person, how to live your life joyfully, and all of those kind of books that were especially out during that time. There were so many of them. And I'd go to different programs. I would sign up for a weekend retreat or something - any place that I could find that had - could give me more information about how to live my life the way I want to.

David: Well, that's interesting, you know, because I think sometimes people are critical about all the self-help books that are out there and all the workshops that go on. But it sounds like you were really able to use those as resources in your recovery to bolster you up, to give you insight, to sustain your motivation.

Marjorie McKinnon: I did. Yes, I was. I was able to use it. But I also was able to decipher which ones worked and which ones didn't, like particularly for me. I mean, that one book might have worked for somebody else, but it didn't work for me, and so I didn't waste my time going in a direction that I intuitively knew was not my direction to go in.

And during that time, I think I found out a lot about inner voices. And it's interesting that my mother, shortly before she died, had written a letter to her parents. And in the letter she said something about, "I wish I had listened more to my inner voices." And she knew she was dying, and at the time that I read the letter, I thought, "Oh, I wonder what that means?" But here I was, realizing, yeah, that's my intuition. I know what's the truth and what isn't the truth, and I know where to go and what to do. All I got to do is listen to my inner voices and then take action. And that was a big step that I learned during recovery and in post-recovery.

David: Yeah. Sure. Now, I see that you've written 15 books. When did you write 15 books? Was it - were you writing all through this process? Or was it after the point that you were pretty much recovered?

Marjorie McKinnon: Oh, most of them are after recovery. Actually, the booklet You Hurt and Don't Cry Out, which was basically my memoir, and I've never tried to publish that - that was the first one. I wrote that while I was in recovery. And then I went back to where I used to live, and while I was there, I think it started opening up different doors. It started triggering my memory when I was back there.

So one time I went back there, and then I came home. In the middle of the night, I thought, you know what? I got to write this book. I don't know why I got to write this book. So I wrote this novel, a mystery novel, about a woman who had to return to the town where she had been born, a small town in the Midwest, in order to discover a secret of something that happened to her when she was a child. And it's got nothing to do with incest or sexual abuse or anything, but that story started coming out of me, so I wrote a whole mystery about that, and it was called, When First We Practice to Deceive.

David: Yeah.

Marjorie McKinnon: And then I wound up writing a book called A Common Sense Spiritual Path. I mean, this is after recovery, during all those several years. In fact, I think when I married Tom, which was in the year 2000, I think I wrote four of them after I was married to him. I just couldn't stop writing. And I couldn't seem to get my program going. Once I married Tom, I was living in Colorado, not California. And I couldn't get the program going, couldn't get anybody interested in the book, and so I made use of my time by writing, and that's when I wrote all of those books. And a lot of them I did research on. I'm a very heavy reader. I read about 15 to 20 books at a time, and I read like 60 books a year. [Crosstalk] sleep.

David: Wow. Wow.

Marjorie McKinnon: You should see the library where I'm at right now. Our third floor has a floor-to-ceiling library in it. So I wrote Mystical Experiences, which was called Tales of the Inner Light. It's different Twilight Zone episodes that have happened to me.

David: Oh, well, let me cut in because we're not going to have time go to through all 15 books. But this book that we're talking about, REPAIR Your Life, you wrote that in 2008, and I'm wondering - has it been out there, and have you gotten any feedback on it? Has it been helpful to other people? What do you know about the impact that it's had?

Marjorie McKinnon: Well, it was published in 2008. I actually wrote it probably about three or four years after I finished recovery, which would be like '97 or something. But sales have been slow, but the feedback I get is incredible. I mean I get a lot of emails from people that tell me that they were ready to pull the plug on their life, and then they found my book, and that it's the only book they've ever found that would help them. And I've never heard anything but constant praise about this book. If you go to you can see some - 15, I think, five-star reviews on it.

David: Oh, wow. That's really something. And you went on to found an organization called the Lamplighters. How did that come about, and what is the work of the Lamplighters?

Marjorie McKinnon: Well, that was like a - I think I mentioned, when I was in recovery at one point, I said I wish I had a lamplighter, somebody who would show me the way. So then a few years after I was finished with recovery and I'd written the REPAIR book, I thought, you know, I really need to start a movement, and I think I want to call it the Lamplighter Movement. So we were back here living in - we live in Arizona. We were here by that time, Tom and I were. So I decided that I was going to start this, so he did a website for me.

And it was basically for people to start chapters where they could get together and tell their stories, because telling your story is the beginning, it's the key, and once you start telling your story, you're on your way to recovery. And I did a lot of traveling around the different states before I wrote REPAIR, having interviews with different people, what they would like to see in a program that would help them. And I can remember being in Nebraska and talking to a bunch of women on a park who were having their lunch, and I started telling them my story.

And one woman said, "Why are you talking about this as if it isn't your fault?" I said, "Because it wasn't." "It wasn't?" "Heck, no. What is there about a 13-year-old laying in a bottom bunk with a rosary under her pillow getting raped by her father that's her fault?" And she said, "Oh, my gosh." And then she started telling me her story. She'd spent all her life thinking it was her fault. So I thought there's a lot of women out there that need to go to a chapter where they can tell their story safely amidst other people who have a story, because it's such a shameful, shameful thing to talk about. But if you're in a room full of other people that have gone through the same experience, it empowers you.

And so my first chapter was - I got a phone call from a gal in a little town in northern Minnesota called International Falls, and she wanted to start the first chapter, so I told her, "Sure, go ahead." Told her how to do it. All you need is you and one other person and a place to have it, and I devised the Lamplighter code. I said, "Just read that code at the beginning of the meeting, and then you guys just all tell each other your stories, and you got yourself a chapter, even if it's just you and one other person."

And then they eventually, after they got their chapter going, they invited me to come back for three days of giving speaking engagements at the college and the community in different places around there. So I went back there, and I told them; I said, "Do you know where I was born?" And they said no. And I said, "Right here in International Falls, Minnesota. My father delivered me in this town, and this is the first chapter that I have." I mean I could start a -

David: Isn't that something? That's just a coincidence or synchronicity.

Marjorie McKinnon: You know what? When I was in recovery, one of the things I did is I went to my father's grave - because he was dead by then - and I just spent like four hours crying and screaming and carrying on. I was so full of anger. And then I told him at the end, "If you want to do restitution for what you did to me, you will help me get some kind of a movement started. You will help me get my words out to people that I write in books. But you will do this for me, and then I can forgive you." And so when this chapter, first chapter, turned out to be the town where he delivered me, I thought, "Oh, my gosh. That's my -" I felt like it was my dad pulling strings, trying to make restitution from wherever he is - wherever they send child perpetrators. I don't know.

David: And are there other chapters?

Marjorie McKinnon: Oh, yes, there are. It's been a while, but we now have 80 chapters in 13 countries.

David: Oh, my goodness.

Marjorie McKinnon: Yeah, we have 17 chapters in Africa. Africa has a huge, huge problem with it.

David: Oh, yes.

Marjorie McKinnon: And so we have - yeah. And then since then I've written REPAIR for Kids, and then I got requests to write for younger ages, and so I wrote REPAIR for Toddlers. And then I wrote this book called It's Your Choice: Decisions That Will Change Your Life, which is basically about how to make healthy choices in what I call the "six dimensions." And then my publisher asked me a few months ago if I would write REPAIR for Teens. I just finished that, and it's now with his editor, should be out before the end of the year.

David: Well, that's great. I want people to know that they can go to your website to get more information about the Lamplighters, because I'm sure your story will have touched some listeners. And that website is

Marjorie McKinnon: Yeah,

David: Right, and as we wrap up here, Marjorie, is there any last thought that you'd like to leave listeners with?

Marjorie McKinnon: If you in any way at all know or feel that you were sexually abused as a child, please get help now. Get a copy of REPAIR and work that program, because if you wait too long, it will impact the children that you have and their children, because it's multigeneration. You've got to stop it now. That program works. It really, really works.

David: Okay. Well, Marjorie McKinnon, thanks so much for being my guest on Wise Counsel.

Marjorie McKinnon: Thank you for asking me. I just really appreciate it. And thank you for reading my book.

David: I hope that Marjorie McKinnon's story will have touched and inspired any of you in the audience who may be recovering or who may know others recovering from childhood incest or other sexual abuse. If you're interested in finding out more about Marjorie's work or the Lamplighters organization, you can on the Web to

You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the home page.

If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like ShrinkRapRadio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.

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About Marjorie McKinnon

Marjorie McKinnon

Marjorie McKinnon is an incest survivor who ran away from home at the age of 18 after five years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her father. She spent the next 27 years going from one abuser to another until in her mid 40s she entered a program for recovery of her own devising that she later called REPAIR. During recovery, she found out that her second husband had sexually molested her two older daughters. Her youngest daughter had previously raped at gunpoint by a masked bandit. This accents the reality that child sexual abuse and incest is a multi- generational problem. Children of an untreated incest survivor stand a five times greater chance of being sexually molested themselves.

Marjorie is the author of fifteen books, one of which is her memoir, Let Me Hurt You and Don't Cry Out. Five books have been published by Loving Healing Press: REPAIR Your Life: A Program for Recovery and Childhood Sexual Abuse, REPAIR For Kids, REPAIR For Toddlers, The REPAIR Your Life Workbook and It's Your Choice! Decisions That Will Change Your Life. REPAIR For Teens will be out before the end of 2011. She is available for speaking engagements across the country. She is also the founder of The Lamplighter Movement, a rapidly growing international movement for recovery from incest and child sexual abuse that emphasizes the importance of REPAIRing the damage. There are currently 80 Lamplighter chapters in thirteen countries. Two of these are in women's prisons, a project of particular importance to Marjorie who is a domestic violence survivor. She is working to get chapters in all of the women's prisons in the US. The Lamplighter website is at

Marjorie and her husband, Tom, were both McKinnons when they met on a genealogy website. After a 16 month long distance courtship they were married in the year 2000 in Melrose, Scotland. Tom is the illustrator of her children's books. They live in the Sedona, AZ area along with their Golden Retriever, Guinevere.

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