The Origins of Hidden Water
Hidden Water was developed as a response to the lack of services for adult individuals and their families suffering from the impact of childhood sexual abuse, sometimes even decades after the abuse occurred.
We searched for years for the right intervention but for all our efforts, what we found was that conversations between family members about the abuse, even after therapy, normally yielded more harm. The tendency by some family members to blame the victim, minimize and justify the abuse, or straight-out deny it happened compounded the impact of the abuse even years later. I was asked many times to mediate these cases with different family members but it always ended badly, so I went out in search of a solution, a different way to create a truer and deeper healing.
I joined forces with Cat Greenstreet, Glen Parker and Michelle Gutierrez, and we spent years researching and interviewing people working in the space of childhood sexual abuse. Mostly what what we found were processes that didn’t work and old paradigms that did little to support meaningful healing on the family level. There had to be another way, and we pieced it together through a lot of research, experimentation and sharing with others. Three influences stand out: Hollow Water, Derek Brookes and Kay Pranis.
Early on we watched Hollow Water, a documentary about an indigenous Ojibwa community in Canada that was experiencing staggeringly high rates of CSA. Faced with a decision to either exile those who had committed abuse, or take steps to heal the community with them, the community leaders chose the latter. They used a circle process to promote healing and accountability, and built a path for the community to move forward together. We saw in their story a worldview that resonated for us: families wanting to stay together, and communities committed to addressing the root cause of the epidemic and including everyone in the healing process. Hollow Water was the inspiration for our name.
By happenstance (and miracle) we came across a photocopied text of an unpublished book called Restorative Justice Theory by Dr. Derek Brookes. This book laid out a profound understanding of how to repair harm. Beyond a restorative framework, Dr. Brookes details the moral implications of harm and the way in which shame can undermine how we respond to harm. The book became the basis for our model of healing. Our Circles Keepers spend a great deal of time studying these theories, and it is from this book that we give depth to our understanding of how to heal from harm. Indeed, we cover this model in the third session of every Healing Circle we hold. Dr. Brookes’ book was published under the name Beyond Harm:Toward Justice, Healing and Peace in May 2019 and continues to inspire and inform our work.
In 2014, we met Kay Pranis, who is our primary teacher and mentor. We credit Kay with having had the “answer to our question”. We knew that you couldn’t put a family together in a room to talk about what had happened and discuss how to heal from childhood sexual abuse, because we had tried many times. We saw how it only resulted in more pain and harm. But what we did not know was why it didn’t work. Kay gave us the solution to this befuddling, seemingly insurmountable problem: stack the deck. We use this concept as the foundational understanding of our work. The circle needs to include enough prior healing around the impact of childhood sexual abuse such that the conversation can be elevated toward truth, accountability, wholeness, interconnectedness and the capacity for us all to heal together.
Kay has been coming to New York City to train Circle Keepers ever since. Each year we expand our understanding of Hidden Water’s work. It is in these trainings we developed the idea of the Healing Circles as the way to build the capacity to “stack the deck” with people who have done enough healing work. Traditionally, the one who was harmed is the only person in a family system to hold the burden of healing the system for everyone else. We now know that everyone in a family system must do their own individual healing work to start to build the lightness and understanding to break the cycle of childhood sexual abuse. We are all invited to participate in the healing of our own family system, regardless of our relationship to the abuse.
There are so many unnamed teachers in this Origin Story of Hidden Water. Each of the people we name as our teachers have their own teachers. Hollow Water shows us how they went back to their elders to find the Old Ways to reclaim their ancient practices. Derek Brookes credits many with what he knows including the late Ruth Morris, and David Doerfler of Concentric Journeys. Kay Pranis trained for decades with Barry Stuart, a judge in Yukon, Canada, Harold Gatensby and Mark Wedge, First Nations, of the Klingut/Tagish people of Yukon, Canada, and Yako Tahnahga, Native American. We honor all those that held these teachings that we might be standing on their shoulders, and expand this deep and ancient wisdom to countless others around the globe.
Hidden Water was not developed by one person but was the wisdom that grew out of our sitting together in community. We have sat in hundreds of circles together in the name of Hidden Water. Each time expanding our understanding through mostly deep listening, and opening ourselves to allow the teachings to come through. We are finding our way not by the brilliant insights of a few but by the willingness of many to stay connected through difficult conversations and truths.
Kay taught us that “you can’t kick anyone out of your circle”, so we won’t. We will sit with those who harmed, and those who were harmed, and everyone else impacted. It hurts. But we know we can only heal together, so we will.
Founder, Hidden Water
Brooklyn, April 2019.
We want to acknowledge with the deepest gratitude all those that have worked so hard to build Hidden Water and all those that continue to lend their strength, compassion, insight and power to pushing this out into the world. The rings of healing are growing.
Thank you to all the early Keepers that helped us build our capacity for Healing Circles in the different colors: Sethu Nair, Michelle Gutierrez, Anne-Marie McFadyen, Glen Parker, Brandon Gorman, Manorah Reyes, Emily Iwamoto, Deborah Starr, Tomay Douglas, Vivienne Guevara, Justin Strock, Brian Gorman, Tammy Rubin, Clara Stewart, Felise Nguyen, Eric Shanks, Laurent Rappaport, and Christopher McAllister. And to all the Keepers that step up to keep the Circles going now.
Thank you to all who have volunteered countless hours to keep the business of Hidden Water going, most notably Felise Nguyen, Laurent Rappaport, Emily Iwamoto, Eric Shanks, Mary Plummer, Zoe Dunn, Lila Miller, Rodrigo Tello, Sibylle Jud, Paul Lichtenburg, Robin Renzi, Mieke Duffly, Tomay Douglas, Elizabeth Clemants and Glen Parker for doing their part in building our new website; and to Monique Hoeflinger, Atoosa Rubinstein, Blair Borthwick, Elizabeth Wang, Deborah Starr, Carolyn Cahill, Angela Folit, Julie Burke, James N. Donahue, James Kornbluh, Connie Sopic, Robin Renzi, Glen Parker, Justin Strock, Michelle Gutierrez, Felise Nguyen, Tammy Rubin, Caren Rabbino, and Susan Abdalla for serving on the Host Committee and bringing us the Founders Circle to begin our journey as a funded organization.
A very special thank you to Michelle Gutierrez and Glen Parker for keeping the all-volunteer force going, and heading up the management and administration of this program for five years in their “spare” time.
This organization would not be where it is today without all of you, named and unnamed, who have touched Hidden Water. With the most humble gratitude for your inspiration, unwavering commitment, hard work and big hearts; you have sat through the most difficult of conversations and stayed with it. You have stepped up for this important work and healing to make its way into the world. Our ever widening circle, we honor you.