#115 Don’t Speak and Don’t Tell: The Burden of Trauma

Today's Guest: Cindy Benezra

Today, I interview Cindy Benezra who will share how she has emerged as a brilliant advocate for sexual abuse survivors. Her story is deeply moving, reflecting her struggles and resilience in the face of unimaginable trauma.

From a young age, Cindy endured abuse at the hands of her father, a dominant and intelligent man who shattered her innocence. The abuse left her voiceless, as she grappled with the confusion of what was happening to her. Over the years, she found solace in nature, particularly among the orange blossoms, where she sought refuge and discovered the power of healing through self-expression.

Cindy’s path to healing was not linear, as she faced numerous challenges and setbacks along the way. Through an array of modalities, including mantras, visionary work, journaling, and alternative therapies, she embarked on a journey of self-discovery and self-love. Her story showcases the strength of the human spirit and the transformative power of finding one’s voice after enduring profound trauma.


Cindy is the author of Under The Orange Blossoms, an advocate for sexual abuse survivors, and the owner of a luxury event company.

Watch the episode:

Connect with Cindy Benezra

Transcript of Interview

Transcript of Interview

Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast

Podcast Host Dr. Doreen Downing

Free Guide to Fearless Speaking Doreen7steps.com

Episode #115 Cindy Benezra

“Don’t Speak and Don’t Tell: The Burden of Trauma”

(0:35) Doreen Downing:
Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing and I am excited today to talk with a new guest of mine. We were speaking briefly before the show. She is from the West Coast up in Seattle, and I am, a little bit closer to San Francisco. I don’t know why I’m starting with that today, except that there were many little pieces of connection already.

Cindy and I have not met yet, but already it feels like we have a heart-to-heart connection. I’m impressed by her backstory, which I will get to or she will get to share today about how she is such a brilliant person nowadays who helps sexual abuse survivors. Cindy. Hello. 

(01:23) Cindy Benezra:
Hi. So great to be on your show.

Thank you. Yes. 

(01:28) Doreen Downing:
You sent me a brief bio and I want to read that first, just so that people know what’s up for today and where you come from and why you do what you do. Today we have Cindy Benezra. She’s the author of Under the Orange Blossoms, an advocate for sexual abuse survivors and the owner of a luxury event company.

Wow. That’s a lot in one concept, I’m excited to get started here today. Cindy, I always mention I’m a psychologist, and so when people first talk to me, I’m always curious, who are you? What’s the puzzle and where did you start and what were the earliest challenges you remember about being who you are and finding your voice?

(02:18) Cindy Benezra:
So I have to start. I think there, I had an epiphany when I was a young girl. I come from a home where my father was my abuser and he was a very dominant, very intelligent man. And, he would molest me. And then my form of sexual abuse was more pornography and I wasn’t sure if this was the right thing or a wrong thing, but I figured out as the years went on because this went from five to ten years old and I realized that it was wrong, but in the meantime, in the very beginning, I wasn’t sure what was happening.

I just thought he was taking pictures of me. And then he also fondled me. So there was some actual physical sexual abuse. But as I was growing up and from birth to five, that’s your developmental years. That’s where you’re forming your personality. And how are you in the world and your surroundings and who, how do you feel safe in the world?

And what’s your personality like? You’re developing all these new stages and, it really shifted who I was as a person and it impacted me severely. This, the abuse ended at ten and I could share that later, but it ended at ten. But it took me a lifetime to recover and heal, and I’ve been very proactive in trying to find ways to heal myself and align myself with other people, who have gone through just trauma in general.

Because when you go through trauma in general, there’s a lot of common themes to it. In traditional therapy, I had to branch out and do many alternative things. And, I was born in the sixties and so way back then, the only type of therapy, I was accessible to having, was just traditional therapy.

But I realized there’s a lot, we’re a lot more open now. Meditation isn’t like this crazy. You’re from outer space where, you know, like onset. So I think, That’s where it originated from. And so when I would try to find solace or some, try to find some sanctuary so that I could run away from my father in the household, I would run to the orange blossoms.

And that’s why I, or the orange orchards, which was a dangerous bike ride, but it was truly like a place where I could escape. And I have to say, it wasn’t even the safest place for a little girl to be running to. I just didn’t know where else to turn to. And it was just so beautiful that I would run in there, I would sweat, I would work it out.

I was riding so hard, my tears would stream and pull into my ear lobes and, I would get out into the orchard, and throw my bike down. And once I was there, I also realized that nature became my teacher. That they had a purpose, and they produced fruit. They were always there, and they were always there for me.

It smelled beautiful. The leaves encompassed me, and I could sit. After kicking the mud and screaming and shouting, I didn’t get hit back. So it was like a place where I could just scream and vent. And then it became a place of sanctuary where I could do this. And I also, in this place, I realized that.

I was just a little cog in the wheel, just like watching the ants down below me. And, even though I felt trapped and I didn’t have a say in what was going on because father threatened me that if I said anything, then the two people who I loved the most were my mother, my sister, they would be hurt and he said he would hurt me, which was terrifying.

I thought, oh my gosh, I might die. But I was more terrified for my mother and my sister. I was a little bit more rebellious, rambunctious in my child’s mind, I felt that they couldn’t push back or do anything. So that was the role that I took on as a young girl. And in this process, I used to pretend I was the wallpaper.

I used to pretend that I had no say, no voice, no feeling. I was just as silent as the wallpaper in the house. And so I practiced this. This would become my new mantra and a mantra that kind of stuck with me and became ingrained in my life. Up until, probably until I had children and I had children in my thirties and, I think as a mother, as a parent, I had to find a new voice and I had to become more vocal and also more vocal with my husband.

So this was a new emerging skill that most people have innately. Where they start formulating this at five, and I started in my thirties. So it was a, it was an interesting, weird process to start backward. But I guess what I realized is that it doesn’t matter what order it is. You can always find that order and you could start in your own time when you’re ready if you’ve had significant trauma.

And that is a good thing. That is the hope. That anybody who had walked around on this earth was just the wallpaper, and I believed that I was the wallpaper. I remember practicing so that my teachers would not look at me, that my dad would not look at me, and that I would bring no attention. I was so indoctrinated with this concept that even singing Happy Birthday to me, I just wanted one verse and that was all like, Happy Birthday, and that’s it. But that’s all I wanted to feel the joy in because I could not handle the attention. So I truly lost my voice. And then later on when I did have to speak, it was a true challenge.

I went on medication. I took a beta blocker and, I had anxiety going into crowds and I had to go on medication for that too. And, I just enjoyed it. People enjoyed being around people so much, but I just couldn’t speak or say anything. And then really until later on, I think my kids were already in middle school, high school.

I had to step up and truly find my voice and my husband and I, we have four kids. We’re in the throes of parenthood. There’s a lot, there is so much goes on with parenting that I was really like, okay, like I need to find my voice and I notice in my household I could do it, but I couldn’t do it outside, like really efficiently do it outside.

I like small groups. It was very comfortable, but I noticed also in my social groups that other people would say things about other people or, have political opinions and I was always very, quiet about mine. I just thought it doesn’t matter what I have to say. They are so much more interesting.

So very dismissive of myself and eventually when I would speak because I felt so compelled to, I would say something and I don’t know, maybe some of the listeners can relate to this when you do not speak. And then finally I speak, and everybody’s quiet. What? What is she saying? And I realized that people were interested in hearing my opinion even if they didn’t agree, it was just oh my gosh. She speaks oh, let’s listen. And it’s the worst feeling in the world when you’re not comfortable. Everyone’s quiet because you rarely say anything. And it was a very awkward thing. I remember going to the doctor and I was on Gabapentin at that time.

I’m like, can you up my dose? Because I feel like I’m going to dissociate. So that’s what happened a lot. When I was younger, I would dissociate. I was overwhelmed with my senses that I could hear the ringing in my ears and I couldn’t say anything. It was like true stage fright.

And I think the message was don’t speak, don’t tell. And it was a very hard transition to go from that, until later on into my, so I was in my forties then, and when I did speak, I noticed that there was a self-love that grew in me. I noticed that I had a confidence that I never possessed before.

I noticed that I felt whole and maybe something was taken away from me in the process of this horrific act as a kid. That was the thing that was holding me down. Maybe it wasn’t, maybe  I healed in other ways, but this was something that I needed to go through. And when I had another epiphany like, oh wow, like this is the part that is going to feed me.

And I felt, I have to say there was an incredible gratification, almost like I came home and I started to work on my voice, and I realized that our voice, our opinions, our thoughts, the way we are in this world and how we move and how we vibrate with others and communicate with them is vital and it’s vital.

The way we walk and it starts to become a new belief system. And I thought, wow, this is magic. This is truly magic. But I didn’t think about like how to go, why we have, if we have these blocks, like what is the core thing underneath that prevents us? The medicine didn’t help me and, it was just that core belief that I am silent. I am the wallpaper. I may die. That was the truth, and I had to get through those layers and want to get through those layers to find that. That was gone. 

(13:19) Doreen Downing:
So, already I have not wanted to interrupt you. Usually, I do a conversation and we talk back and forth, but I just felt like you were covering all the points that are necessary for what I want to bring to listeners today, and such articulation and like weaving, watching you do a tapestry from how the early because it is true those first few years is when we first, find our voice and then the accommodation that you made to just, shut up, but also be protective of other, of your sibling and your mother, and then moving through life in the way that you’re talking.

Finding your voice finally. But there was a point you made that I think is so profound. You’ve made lots of points that are profound today already, Cindy, but this idea that just because you didn’t come out as a youngster or somewhere along the line, it doesn’t matter. Your voice is in there and it always has this opportunity to come out.

And somehow it happened when you were a mom, when you were caretaking and having to stand up, for your children or even speak up for your children, whatever it was. But the whole idea, I think that’s one of the main lessons I want to tell people is that it doesn’t matter if you don’t right now, those of you out there who feel like you don’t have a voice. 

What Cindy said is she was in her forties. So what matters is that you can hear her story today. And what I want to do is first take a break so that, I could come back and ask some more specific questions. So let’s take that break right now. 

(15:21) Doreen Downing:
Hi we’re back with Cindy Benezra, who has very eloquently, described her journey from early life and the horrific is the word she used trauma, having been abused by her father, and, the way it shut her down and helped her, not helped her, but, prompted her to become the wallflower. Yes, you are now in the world, obviously here on my podcast, telling your story and you’re bright and brilliant and beautiful with a smile.

For those who aren’t able to watch you, I just can reflect that there’s a radiance about you, and that is also what I think is so thrilling about recovery, is that no matter what has damaged us, early on, our wounds inside of us, there’s always a precious core that is, or voice that is waiting to be released, heard and ushered out into the world.

So you mentioned lots of modalities and it wasn’t just therapy that helped you find your voice. Tell us more about the different modalities. 

(16:36) Cindy Benezra:
Let’s see here. I’m going to start in my earlier years. So I lived abroad. After 10 I moved to Iran. My dad was a petroleum engineer, and then later on I moved to Spain and that’s where I had most of my years, my mom’s Mexican, my dad’s German, and my mom didn’t want to raise children in Saudi, especially teenage girls in Saudi Arabia where my dad was. So we ended up, in Spain because she could speak Spanish. And I thought, as a child, as a teenager you’re thinking, oh, that sounds great.

It’s a beach. We’re like, how bad can that possibly be? I was able to recreate myself. However, I don’t believe that you need to go to a different place. You could recreate yourself at any time, and you could, you can create yourself at any year or any stage in your life.

Being so young, I was able just because it was so foreign language, foreign, everything, was able to recreate myself. And in this process though, I didn’t speak the language and I didn’t read the language. Back then, we didn’t have the internet. So you had to go to the library and I had to travel like an hour into town to go to the library and hopefully find a book on psychology or something that could help you.

I read lots of books on, I. Ugh, just books that would re-traumatize me. Just hoping that I would be able to find something that could educate me on how to heal. And then I ended up picking psychology books or anything that I could learn, but I was very ashamed. So I would wrap everything up in like garbage, like newspaper or anything to cover the book and then design it so that no one could understand.

No one would know what I checked out from the library. So, as wonderful as the psychological books were worth, they didn’t say in layman’s language what I needed to do. I didn’t understand the technical aspects of it. I’m like, going through the dictionary, looking up these words.

It was very tedious. But I did get some basic help. But what I realized was that without any information and without sharing what had happened to me because I kept this up until my early teens, I had to find a way to find something that was within me, and I challenged myself because I was suicidal.

I, the truth came out. I, this started to formulate in dreams and, I started to journal and through the journaling, I could put the whole full story together. It was like recreating a mirror that would have been shattered and I was putting all the pieces, but I wrote it so many times that I could put the whole mirror together.

And I thought, oh yes, this is my life. And I was just devastated because I thought my life was about, I don’t know, Barbies and swimming pools and, I don’t know. Kickball and I didn’t even know that this had happened. And so when I realized this had happened, I was so depressed and I just felt like it had taken me.

I never realized why I felt so stunted and what was going on, and this felt like it was just taking me back another step. And I felt like in life in general, as I grew up, I would get to the next plateau and I would have to walk 10 steps backward or 20 steps backward. And so when I’m saying you can start and recreate, I have done this, I’m going to exaggerate, hundreds, but I am sure I’ve done this 20 times. Truly recreated and rebooted, and go, okay, I’m going backward now. I’ve been in this pattern. Now let’s pick up those pieces and let’s go forward.

(20:50) Doreen Downing:
The thing that you’re talking about there that I think listeners are relating to is the pieces and that even when you talked about writing the journal and having it be a mirror, something of a self-reflection.

And so what would you say, I’m getting that writing is a powerful one, but what would you say is one of the most powerful tools and techniques to recreate yourself that you discovered?

(21:20) Cindy Benezra:
So at sixteen these are the ones that I came up with mantras, so I would write my mantra, something that resonated with me, that I wanted to change it.

It wasn’t very creative, but I started writing mantras on little sticky notes. But later on, it was sticky notes. We didn’t even have sticky notes. I would just tape ’em to the mirror. I would say them. 20 times. Every time I would go to the bathroom, every time I’d wash my hands, every time I look into the mirror, every time I brush my hair.

So mantras. Then I started doing visionary work and I noticed visionary work, it started to go into meditation and I would alternate, I would also make visionary boards. And so for me, it, I wasn’t focused on voicing myself, I was focused on just living and surviving and feeling finding some kind of internal peace or something that was beautiful on earth to keep me here, a reason to stay. So I would, my board was, whatever inspired me, and then I would put my board away, but I would never throw them away. Because I realized that when I would take out my board, a lot of times I had seen that accomplished, or felt that experience that I was trying to portray on that board.

And, in my mantras, I shifted those two because they didn’t resonate. After a while, they weren’t as magical. So I shifted those. In journaling, I continuously did that. I had a thing where I would rip it up and tear it into a thousand little pieces and that just felt amazing. And then some of it I saved, because it had real value to me and which is also little pieces of that later on became my book.

What else was the other thing? Exercising. I noticed that if I could shift blocks out of my body and move those stagnant blocks, that helped a lot too. And then later on when I, grew up and came back to the States, I started going through traditional therapy. And then I found out that there are so many different kinds of counselors.

It just blew my mind. It’s not there were counselors to help my children, counselors to help me, counselors to help my marriage. I was just blown away. Trauma therapist. I was just like, wow. And not only that. I had control if I didn’t resonate with that therapist, that I could ask them and say, Hey, I think we’re at the end of our journey, or I feel like it’s coming to an the end of the journey.

What extra work do I need to have? But can you refer me to somebody else? And they were always willing. I. Always happy to let me go and they would refer me to the next person and I thought, wow. All it took was just a few sentences and I got to go on my journey. I didn’t offend. If I didn’t mean to, but I realized they were very willing to let you go.

Yes, you be you. So that was very empowering that I could go to different therapists and when I felt like my journey was over then, or it didn’t resonate, it’s okay. You could come back, you could call them up. And what was, I did a lot of, The light work, E M D R, that helped me. That helped me with a lot of fear blocks.

I started going to just pretty much any kind of therapeutic thing that you could imagine. I did even reiki, anything alternative.

(24:53) Doreen Downing:
Oh, one of the things I’m getting from you is, I said, so what was the most, but there isn’t just one.

And I think that what I like hearing and what you’re passing on to listeners today is the fact that there are multiple resources out there. And I like what I heard about you about just finding what felt right for you. And so that there had to be a sense of, knowing, and because we’re almost at the end, I want to come back to your book, because some of what you’re saying right now in the way that you found yourself.

I remember when we first started and you talked about going to the orchard, the orange orchard.  The blossoms and the feeling like of all you could be yourself. And, it was a natural kind of discovery, self-discovery and to me already today, I feel look at you. Go, girl. 

You know how to discover yourself and, you were doing it way back then and our show today is all you’ve discovered yourself and which helps other people learn about how to discover themselves. But what would you say, now that we’re coming to the end, I want to make sure people know what you do and how to get ahold of you and what you offer.

(26:18) Cindy Benezra:
I’m an advocate for sexual abuse, survivors. I blog and, I have a website. It’s, www.cindytalks.com. And, I’d love to hear from you there. I also have a book. It’s on, any kind of, place that sells books, but I would probably check on Amazon. I think that’s the easiest to access.

But what I do want to tell listeners is that. There’s no shame in going backward to find your voice and stepping out and being who you are. It’s okay. I think that everything has to go in a straight line and it doesn’t. It goes in, it goes all over the place. Sideways, backward, and then forwards.

And I think the willingness to step up and just even think and entertain it. That’s the hardest part. And then the doing is less of a challenge. It’s just getting there. It’s just taking that jump. 

(27:25) Doreen Downing:
I feel like you have fed us so many good nourishing nuggets and I feel you are, very masterful at, helping people learn about how to grow.

It’s not just like you say, we don’t just start and develop ourselves. And the other thing I just heard you say is don’t be afraid of your own, where you came from. Look back and incorporate it. Use it to learn more about yourself, your approach. So do you do coaching with people?

Do you do groups? 

(28:04) Cindy Benezra:
No, that’s probably something that eventually I’d like to incorporate. I have to formulate, maybe I’m always open to collaborating with somebody else if there’s a need. Absolutely. Yes. 

(28:18) Doreen Downing:
I know you just, I’ve asked you to do one last word.

I’m going to give you a chance to say one more last word because, I was wanting to respond and, so let’s say goodbye, but let us have a final word with you. 

(28:31) Cindy Benezra:
Sure. I think, for those who have experienced that true fear of when they’re talking and that stuttering and that, uncomfortableness.

It just doesn’t flow because you’re not used to that flow. A tip for myself, I’ve never had any coaching experience with this, but it’s something that I practice and I like to envision something when I feel like I’m getting stuttering and a dry mouth and, the whole thing confused, flooded. I picture, water.

Something that’s, that I always find that is comforting to me and everybody has a comfort. Something they may picture, it might be a palm tree, it might be their bed, I don’t know. Water seems very calming to me and still water. And when I get that, it’s an instant picture in my head where I picture calm water and I picture being calm water.

And I realize the slower I go, the slower I think it might be annoying to somebody else. But that’s my process. And I don’t worry so much about being annoying. I’m not a quick talker. I’m not a quick thinker. That’s okay. That’s for somebody else. And I think you have to find that’s okay. That’s not me.

And so be the slow talker. Be the slow voice, be the slow whisper. It’s okay. And I think you have to find what you are and think about that. And that helps me when I’m talking.

(30:12) Doreen Downing:
Oh, Cindy, another golden nugget. Thank you so much.

[00:30:16] Cindy Benezra:
You are welcome. Was a real honor to be here.

Appreciate it.

Also listen on…

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.