When a person is sentenced for a crime like the sexual or physical abuse of a child, they are told how long they must serve for their crime. Their victims, however, often find themselves dealing with the impacts of the crime for the rest of their lives in one form or another.
A local woman is at the heart of a charity that aims to help adult victims of abuse of any kind find their self worth and strength again. Shannon McGraw is the founder of Hopeful Hearts Ministry. The 1991 graduate of Sherman High School is also the daughter of the late Tim McGraw, a former Grayson County judge, and Judy McGraw, a former volunteer and employee at CASA of Grayson County.
A survivor of both rape and incest, McGraw said she went through a lot in coming to grips with the abuse she had suffered. Once she found her strength and her faith again, she knew she wanted to help others with their journeys as well. She has since written two books about her experiences: “Exposed: Inexcusable Me … Irreplaceable Him” and “Redeemed: The Story of a Marriage Torn by the Effects of Past Abuse and Restored by Faith.”
McGraw spent some time talking to youth groups and others about her journey, but felt the call to reach out to more people like herself who hadn’t fully addressed their abuse until they were adults and became a certified mental health peer support specialist. Explaining that many people don’t start working on overcoming their abuse until they are in their 30s, 50s, or even 70s and beyond, McGraw said there are a lot of people who need the kind of one-on-one connection offered at Hopeful Hearts.
“We want to help them overcome being a victim and realize the full potential of their lives,” McGraw said in a recent phone interview.
She talked about an event that was recently held in Grayson County to help her find supporters for the ministry. There were about ten people at the event, and after hearing her share her story, two of those people each described their own experiences of abuse that they had not previously shared before.
The ministry recently had a video that went viral and are getting referred to more people than they can currently help; they need to certify more peer counselors and that takes money. The ministry is fully funded by donations and are looking for people who want to help make it possible for them to respond to each of the survivors who reach out for help.
“We have created an online support group for (those survivors) to join to seek and provide encouragement for each other,” McGraw said.
She explained that Hopeful Hearts doesn’t try to take the place of counseling with a professional therapist. In fact, they encourage therapy and are sometimes referred clients from therapists who think their clients might benefit from being able to discuss their abuse with those who have lived through the same experiences.
“We really only see people for a good three or four sessions and I don’t know how long they work with their therapists after that,” McGraw said. The clients “really only need that moment to be validated to maybe get through a hard time.”
However, McGraw said sometimes if they hit another life moment that triggers them, they do come back.
“Unfortunately, no matter what the abuse is, this is something that is going to remain with you forever,” she said.
That is not meant to be a daunting statement, rather just a statement of fact. At this point in their lives, what the person does with the fact of their abuse is what matters.
“If it was something that happened to you during your childhood, for instance, it has obliterated certain boundaries or has taken over certain subconscious thoughts,” she said. “The work with Hopeful Hearts is about finding the tools and the abilities to be the best version of oneself and to move forward with the ability to recognize your own triggers and to know what you can do rescue yourself from the insecurity or self-doubt that those triggers can cause. It can help a survivor know they can stop and call a friend or a therapist to help them avoid making decisions based on that old trauma or the negative feelings it caused.”
McGraw said there is no set amount of time survivors take to work through their abuse, but progress is generally quicker if they are able to dedicate time to really talk through it with someone. To do so, she said, is not wallowing in the past, but more like a “spring cleaning” of one’s own true self. Moving survivors forward without that uncertainty and with confidence in themselves is the ministry’s goal, but to make all that happen funding is needed to be able to have enough peer-to-peer counselors on hand to work with those asking for help.
To find out more about Hopeful Hearts Ministry or to donate, visit www.hopefulheartsministry.org or their Facebook page @Hopeful Hearts Ministry.