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Ariel MEI
September 22, 2021
I Healed My Sexual Trauma and Took My Power Back

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I Healed My Sexual Trauma and Took My Power Back

Release your inspiration...

Neiva: Glad to be here!

Host: Can you start by saying hello and introducing yourself. Just tell us your name, a little bit about yourself, and what you currently do.

Neiva: So, my name is Neiva and what I currently do is: I have a business, centered on emotion body healing: giving ideas and advising people, not prescribing medication, but more like changing your mindset, your healing, your emotions, exercising, changing your diet. A lifestyle that can not only heal you short term, right now, but also long term, so it's just the whole package of mind, body, spirit online healing business.

Host: You're like a mental health lifestyle guru. I love it. So, we're both Asian survivors of domestic violence and abuse, and you're here today to share your story with us. I’m very grateful for that. So, let's just start with your story. Whatever you feel comfortable with, we would love to hear it.

Neiva: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here. I have been through unusual childhood trauma. When I was a child, I went through physical abuse, sexual abuse, and I was transported around living through foster homes until I end up in the sweatshop.

A little flashback: I was born and raised in Indonesia. My biological parents are Chinese Indonesian, and I was given up for adoption. So I moved to Taiwan, and I was living in a totally different country. I only lived there for about six and a half years, and I went through a lot during that time. I endured abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse in the foster care system.

Today I'm 44 years old, and I feel I turned out great, I think, for my standards. I learned and made some mistakes along the way throughout my life, and I realized tools that I have been using to help myself, like always look internally and always grow and help myself, evolve and become the person that I want to be, not what other people expect me to be but who I want to be.

And I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I help people with that.

Host: I'm pretty happy with how you are too. So, can you talk a little bit about how you came to the United States after you moved to Taiwan?

Neiva: Where I ended up, which is a form of foster care where they actually don’t really foster care was a sweatshop. And I was physically, sexually, mentally abused for three and a half years. So, throughout those three and a half years, my biological parents actually tried really hard to save up money and get me back. And they did fail a couple times, but in the end, my biological mom won the lottery. She became like a millionaire, so she came in with my father and got me. I went to private school in Indonesia, I was educated.

After I finished college, I went to work for about a year or two, but my mom decided there's a better future out there called United States, so she sent almost all of my siblings to the United States. We ended up in Georgia, Atlanta in 2000. I was 22 at the time.

Host: That's a really incredible story and I’m so glad that you're here now. So, how do you think your cultural heritage affected your story, being Indonesian Chinese?

Neiva: Thank you. Oh, first, the reason why I talk about my mom winning the lottery... my growing up being privileged is that sometimes the outside looks become more important than how we feel on the inside. And as a child surviving trauma and abuse it was hard for me to not talk about it. But I was pressured to hide that side of myself. It can be really hard when your family is quite known in the neighborhood and in the community because of money.

People were shocked like: “Where did you come from? I know you are from this family. I know you guys have a lot of kids, but you just showed up out of the blue”. I was like: “yeah, mommy went back to Taiwan and got me out of the sweatshop”.

And that's like very hurtful and insulting, a slap in my parents’ face, kind of like: “Why did you say that? You're trying to hurt me and ruin my reputation”, and, you know, it's about image. But as a child, I didn't understand that, like I don't care what I look like, or what other people think of me. I’m just a child. I don't understand why that should be important. I'm just being authentic. I hope that makes sense.

Host: Did it happen that you tried to tell curious neighbors and family, friends, that your parents rescued from a sweatshop and you were criticized for sharing your story?

Neiva: I got punished, not just criticized. I got punched and bullied and was told I was crazy. My siblings told me I was delusional, that it was all in my head and it never happened. I was told that if I were a bad child, I’d just get spanked like every other child, because, you know, in Indonesia spanking children and physical punishments are common. But I knew that wasn’t not true. I know my story, and I was very stubborn as a kid.

Host: I’m sorry, you had to deal with that.

Neiva: Thank you.

Host: So, after you were punished for trying to tell your truth, your authentic self, how's it changed the way you interacted with people inside your family and with outsiders, in terms of asking for help when you needed it or when you felt bad?

Neiva: I became very independent, very defensive. I shut down and shield myself from the world. If I had a problem, I thought I needed to take care of it alone. It’s related to my family teaching me it's embarrassing to let the world know your flaws, you should always look perfect. I almost adopted that lifestyle: just focus on my own problems, don't let the world in and don't let the world know, I'm just on my own.

But I also thought: if I don’t need help from anyone else, why should I worry whether people know about this? I also had that side of me.

Host: I was about to ask how you went from this really closed off childhood, where you were punished for speaking out, to being someone who was so open to speaking with me. Is that kind of where the switch happened? You just went: “I don't care, this is me”?

Neiva: I have never not been me, like I have always been this open since I was a kid and I got punished for it, but I just kind of don't care. What's the worst thing that could happen? I've been through worse.

Host: So, reading into that a little bit, does that mean your family still denies your experience to this day?

Neiva: Yeah, unfortunately. It's hard, I guess. I think it's harder on them to know that one of us has been through so much suffering and perhaps it's hard to accept the guilt. so I see it that way, and I forgave them.

Host: But they've never admitted to you or said: “Yes, we know this happened”. They've never kind of confessed that truth or talked about that with you after you left the sweatshop.

Neiva: The best they have done is acknowledging it, like not denying, no longer punishing me or tell me I’m a liar or say it's in my head, but when it comes up they go like “next topic, please”.

Host: So, they acknowledge it by not punishing you but they sort of brush it under the rug.

Neiva: All the time, they still do.

Host: I'm so sorry.

Neiva: Oh that's okay, thank you.

Host: This dynamic that you have with your family, including: “Oh yeah, they're acknowledging it, which is good for me, but the acknowledgments can be brushing it away”, feels very similar to what I experienced in my Chinese family. Do you think that's a very common reaction in a lot of Asian families like ours?

Neiva: You know, I notice it's very common, more common than I realized.

Host: And do you think that this dynamic is difficult for people who are not from Asian families to kind of accept?

Neiva: Hmmm, culturally, I would say yes. Every family has its own skeleton in the closet, every family has its own kind of dysfunctional system going on behind the curtains, but a lot of non-Asian families probably don't understand how important respect, honor, and what you can bring into your family are in Asian culture.

From an Asian perspective, if you show the world that you were or you've been wounded, especially under the protection of a parent, then you hurt parent’s honor. A lot of non-Asian people probably don't understand that.

Host: I feel the same way. Do you think there's a stigma against you for the fact that you are a Chinese Indonesian survivor? What would have been different if you were a blond, blue-eyed American?

Neiva: Oh wow. Huge difference, huge difference. There's a good thing and a bad thing about it. As a survivor who is a person of color, we’re talking about how people see beauty in America, right? Maybe it's just my personal experience. Since I’m from another country, I'm automatically stigmatized as coming from poor, jungle Asia, which is not true.

I grew up in a tiny town with 30 million people, which is very modern, very big compared to most of the cities in the United States actually, so people thinking that I’m from the jungle is actually not true. I’m from a big city.

It's a wrong stigma, but I don't bother trying to change people's minds, because they have good intentions. I don't try to change it. Maybe it's wrong, I’m not sure. Maybe I should try, but I don't know.

Host: I mean, I think you captured it right in that it's not your job, and I think that for a lot of us Asians there is this fear that if we push back too hard against people, they have their assumptions about us, they could always kind of kick us out or take it out on us right? So it seems easier and less dangerous to kind of just be like: Oh, let it go.

Neiva: Speaking of it, I have had many experiences when in my first few years in the United States, I tried to explain to people: “No I'm sorry that's not true. I’m not from the jungle, not a third world country”, and then they get defensive. I'm not sure where it’s coming from, but then they get aggressive, like: “Oh, if you don't like America, you should go back to your country” or “If your country and where you come from is so amazing, why are you here?”. I just don't want to argue.

Host: I get the same thing, like “Where are you really from?”

Yeah, so I’m sorry actually. That was my fault, we went off on a tangent. So, you had some great points you're bringing up about the stigmas that you face because you’re not only a survivor, but you are Chinese Indonesian, you're a survivor of color.

Are there any other stigmas you feel like you face because you are a person of color, you are an Asian survivor versus if you had been a white American survivor?

Neiva: Absolutely. I know first of all I want to clarify that I’m aware that survivors have this whole behavior pattern that’s due to trauma, like being afraid to argue, having trust issues or not setting strong boundaries or no boundaries at all, those come from trauma.

But sometimes people don’t know that or maybe they are not properly educated or not familiar with that, so they see those behaviors as an indication that I’m very submissive, I'm not very smart. Perhaps because I was a survivor, they think I'm not very knowledgeable about the world or people or society. Perhaps they also think that because I’m from another country. So there's a combination of all. And it is not necessarily true.

Host: You don't have to prove to me, I know how amazing and beautiful you are. I totally get that.

Neiva: Well, I can't forgive and understand where they're coming from, why they judge. There's a reason we need to prejudge people, but don't let that holding you back from connecting with others. That’s what I worry about. For example, if I go down a dark alley alone at three in the morning, I will always be hyper aware and alert to anyone that walks pass me. I will prejudge them, gauge their size, like “can I kick their ass easily?”, “is it a man or a woman?”, that's normal, that's okay.

What I’m trying to say is: take a moment to see me as a human being, as a person, not just my trauma. I'm not my trauma. I'm not my gender. I'm not my body. Get to know me first, then perhaps you'll know better, and you’ll have a better idea about who I am that will be better than your initial judgement.

Host: I think that something survivors and people in general really overlook is they think about survivors in any way connected to sex and they're go to reaction is: “ooh bad”, but what's your take on that?

Neiva: Sexual trauma needs sexual healing; self-esteem trauma needs self-esteem healing. Sometimes they may come across as narcissistic and egotistical, but sometimes it's kind of like a pendulum, right? You swing the pendulum, and it can swing back and forth to one extreme or the other, but eventually it goes to the middle.

For it to become centered in your authentic self, one extreme circumstance may need another extreme measure to heal it. Actually, in ancient Chinese culture, they believed in that too, and they would use poison to heal poison; it works kind of like that.

Host: So, you worked as a stripper. You say that you think this experience actually helps you heal from your sexual trauma in what way?

Neiva: It put me into the driver seat, from a victim mentality into “I'm in charge”, and then there was this part of me that felt anger and rage and wanted to take it out on men. I thought: “now I’m in charge, people cannot hurt me or rape me, and they just look at my naked from a distance and admire me, but they can’t do anything.” I don't know if you know this, but there's a thing called VIP room.

The VIP room is a private room. First of all, I don't know about every strip club, but the one that I worked for in Atlanta was one of the most famous strip clubs, so the only places that don’t have cameras are the dressing room, the manager offices and the VIP room.

The VIP room is where dancers can ask for more money. One song is about two to six minutes if not 10 minutes, and you make $10 a song and pick off the clothes by the end, but if you have your room, it’s actually 30 minutes for $150.

Starting price, I can charge whatever I want, but we compete. I can’t just ask for $1,500 when all my coworkers charge $150. The truth is the most money you make from the VIP room is never from sex. I'm not saying no one has ever done it. I'm saying that's not where the money comes from.

Of course, you have to set the right mood and if that person feels like it ,like, I can pull off their belt and yell at them, insult them, take out all of my rage about patriarchy and beat them. And I’d scream at them and sometimes go overboard. Then, they’d be like: “Whoa it’s too much”, and after beating the shit out of them I’d also be like: “Whoa this is going too far, sorry”.

Host: So, you would make money in the VIP rooms, by acting out a kink scene with contact that was consensual. Okay, not saying that everyone out there should now go find a strip club and start beating clients with belts. But no shame for those who do and found sexual empowerment in it.

Neiva: Most people are kind and caring enough to say: “Well I’m so honored to be able to help you heal, here's more money”. So many people are nice. I did extensive research on a dominatrix place, and I thought I could do it, but then I realized those men and women who want to be a sub have trauma, so I decided I don't know if I can.

Host: Thank you for sharing that story, that was an incredible story.

What would you say to other Asian survivors in the United States and dealing with similar backgrounds to you, similar stigmas? What would you say to them if they're looking to heal from their trauma?

Neiva: The hardest part of healing from trauma and living in a society where you feel like you have this trauma and people around you probably don't know or don't understand, I would say is being too hard on ourselves, blaming ourselves, like asking ourselves: “was I at fault?”; “are my clothes too sexy?”; “Did I ask for it?”.

I think it's very toxic that we have a mentality that makes us go through all these checkpoints and ask: “If something bad happened to me, is it because I am my fault?” Why do we live in a society where we have to feel that way? I wish victims were told:” it's not your fault, don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Being so hard on ourselves can cause depression, suicidal thoughts, and, you know, people always tell you: “get over it”. No, you can't get over it. It's a scar. You have to heal one day at a time, and you'll never, ever, ever actually heal 100%, and that's not a bad thing. It's who you are; love that wounded part of yourself, love that hurt part of yourself.

The world doesn't give us the kind of love and affection and care that we needed when we were wounded, but we can give that to ourselves for the rest of our life. We can't say: “I'm done”, but literally, you have to do it every day for the rest of your life; it’s your responsibility; now you are your own caregiver. Love yourself how you would like to be loved.

Host: I think that was a perfect place to end. That was such a beautiful quote. Thank you for having the courage to share your story so candidly with me. I loved it.

Neiva: I'm so honored to be here, thank you.

Read more blog posts on these topics:
rape consent domestic violence dv aapi asian american pacific islander asian culture interview podcast the dv discussion sexual trauma
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