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Helping Survivors and Victims Heal: Things Not to Say to Someone Recovering

AnoraE started this conversation

This is a repost from another forum I'm a part of but being a suvivor of abuse, I felt it important to share here.

Helping Survivors and Victims Heal: Things Not To Say To Someone Recovering

The subject of abuse is one of the hardest things to talk about when it comes to survivors and victims speaking out. For a survivor or victim to take the chance to break their silence and reveal the truth about what has gone on in their lives takes so much courage on their part. Yet, for those who do speak out and break their silence, they are often judged and put down by those who haven't been abused and even by those who have been abused. There are so many phrases that people say to those who share their stories of survival that don't help them heal but actually hurt them more and sometimes cause survivors and victims to completely shut down and not say another word about what they've experienced. For those who claim they want to help others heal, there are some pretty ignorant things that are said to those speaking out. Survivors and victims have gone through so much all ready that they don't need negative remarks and assumptions made about them, especially not from those who have gone through abuse in their own lives. As a survivor, I've heard many phrases that were judgmental. Now, I know that sometimes people say things that they think will help others to heal, but you have to be careful in what you say because as survivors and victims, we are still fragile from what we've been through. I can always tell the people who are bitter about their past and the ones who think they know everything by the things they say to me on here. Even as a survivor, I still hear from people how I am a victim. I'm not a victim though and I often disregard those remarks they make because they apparently don't really know me or what I've gone through. But I wanted to make a list of things that should not be said when you are trying to help victims and survivors heal and not to say to someone who is recovering from the past. These are things that I have been told and have heard and I will give the reasons as to why they should not be said.

"Stop being a victim"

This phrase is something I hear a lot. That's so easy for people to say who have never been through abuse in their lives. They don't know what all abuse does to someone and all the battles that we survivors have to fight long after the abuse is over. When someone says "stop being a victim" it's the same as someone saying "shut up and quit whining about what you've been through." Survivors are not victims! There is a difference between survivors and victims. A survivor is someone who has escaped their situation and has broken the cycle of abuse. A victim is one who is still trapped in their abusive situation and still suffering and enduring it daily. Survivors do not act like victims. Just because they are expressing their feelings and emotions does not mean that they are in any way a victim still. They are just releasing those feelings that have been locked up for all that time they were being abused and lived in silence. Never tell a survivor to "stop being a victim." Even for those who are victims that you are trying to help, do not say that. For some victims, it is very dangerous for them to leave their situation right away and they have to be smart about how they make their escape by making plans and plotting the best time to leave and how they're going to leave without their abuser finding out. This phrase causes many victims and survivors to shut down and not want to talk about what they go through or have been through because this is often taken as a degrading remark.

"You didn't have it as bad as I did so quit whining and complaining about your past"

First off, when a survivor or victim tells their story, they are not whining and complaining. They are reaching out for help by sharing their story and some survivors use their stories to help others out there. How do you know that someone didn't have it as bad as you when you weren't even present in their lives when they went through the abuse? Everyone has the worst case of abuse because every case of abuse is bad! There is no way anyone can sit there and tell someone else they had it worse since none of us have ever been in someone else's shoes. Sure, we've been through similar situations, but everyone's background is different and the pain that we feel is not the same because everyone feels and deals with pain differently. No one has the right to tell someone else they didn't have it as bad. When people write their story or share their story, it doesn't mean they are whining and complaining. It just means they are letting things out that they need to let out. Otherwise, if they keep holding it inside, it hurts them even more.

"Why do you make surviving all about being abused? Is that all you hope to be and all that you are about?"

Surviving is about dealing with the scars from the abuse we endured and overcoming the pain from the past as we allow ourselves to heal. When it comes to spreading awareness, survivors use their stories of how they were abused to open people's eyes to the truth about what really goes on behind closed doors. Survivors are not all about being abused. No, we are about shedding light on the truth and we reach out to others by sharing our own experiences. We're about educating people on the dangers of abuse and exposing the truth for all to see. We're about giving other survivors and victims hope and faith that they can have a life after abuse and live an abuse free life. That it is possible. There would never be any change and none of us could ever make a difference if we didn't share our experiences with others. The life of a survivor and victim is not all glitter and glam. Abuse is not pretty and neither are the battles we face after we go from being a victim to becoming a survivor.

"It's your fault that you were abused and you must have done something to deserve it."

NO!!! IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!! No one does anything to deserve abuse. No one does anything to ask for it either. Oh this is one of the remarks that really makes me upset. I have had survivors come to me and tell me that when they tried to tell someone about the abuse they went through, they were told that it was their fault and that they asked for it. My ex told me that when I told him about the abuse my father put me through. He told me I must have done something to deserve it. When I told him that I stood up to my father and wasn't afraid to stand up to him, his reply was that since I talked back to my father, I did deserve the abuse. It is never the person's fault because people do not have to abuse other people. I believe that we are responsible for our own actions and we can control our anger instead of letting it control us and taking it out on others. Those of us who go through abuse or have gone through it had no control over the situation we were in. We were innocent lives caught in the middle of someone else's anger and instead of them getting help for the things they went through, they chose to take their anger out on us. We didn't tell them to hit us or abuse us or hurt us. Trust me, none of us want to go through that pain and live with it.

"I hope that you close that chapter of your life and learn to forgive so you can move on"

Forgiveness is a decision that one has to make for themselves. When it comes to the ones that have hurt us, it's not easy to just forgive them for what they did. For me, it took awhile until I finally forgave my abusers for what they put me through. With forgiveness, you have to be ready to do it on your own; no one can make that decision for you. For most survivors and victims, it's hard to forgive the person who beat them every day, who tore their spirit down, who shattered their dreams, who made them grow up too fast, etc. Some people can forgive easily while others struggle with it and never forgive their abusers. But that is a personal choice and it doesn't make someone a bad person if they don't forgive right away or at all. As far as closing that chapter of our lives, well that's a part of our history that will forever be a part of us. We cannot run away from who we are and what we've gone through just like we can't deny what we went through. Those chapters are all ready closed once we find ourselves away from the abuse. Just because we write about it does not mean that we have re opened those chapters. It just means that we are reflecting on those experiences and if we want to help others, sometimes we have to go back to those chapters. It's like in a book that you read. Sometimes to understand something, you have to go back to a place in the book and re read a part to understand the next part. In our lives, we use parts of those closed chapters to help people understand the present chapters in our lives.

"The past is the past, it's over and done with, so get over it all ready"

Sure, the past may be done with, but the memories stay with us forever. Even as survivors, we still have to fight battles that come our way because the past has a way of coming back and taunting us or haunting us. Some of us have flashbacks from what we went through. It's so easy for people who haven't been abused to tell us to just block it out but we never can fully block out the memories from those days. We never forget where we came from. Everyone heals in their own time and the healing process is not something that happens over night, either. You can't just tell someone to get over it. Everyone has their own ways in which they heal and for some, it takes longer.

"You must have gone looking for an abusive relationship or you must have had a target on you that attracted an abusive partner"

This one I have heard many times. I've been told before that those who have had abusive relationships or been in abusive childhoods have some kind of target on them which attracts other abusive people. I've heard that abusers can tell who's been a victim before by the way they act. I personally don't believe that anyone goes looking for an abusive relationship. Most of us dream about that happily ever after and meeting that special someone who will love us and cherish us for the rest of our lives. For those of us who have been victims before, we don't want to repeat that part of our lives. As far as abusers being able to tell who's been a victim in the past, I really don't know about that. We don't enter abusive relationships intentionally and unless we tell someone about the abuse we've been through, then how do they know we were victims before? Okay, my ex didn't know about that part of my life until after we got married. In fact, to everyone around me, I appeared to be a strong, confident woman. The man I married saw me as someone confident and strong and that is one of the things he liked about me. I never suspected that he'd turn out to be like my dad because he didn't show that side until after we got married. Some of the strongest, most confident women have entered abusive relationships but I don't think it was because of the way they acted or because one could tell they'd been abused before. Most people don't ever talk about being abused. I think it has more to do with people are good at hiding their abusive side and keeping things about themselves buried so the can lure others in. Obviously, they won't show their true colors right away because then the person would know to run away and an abuser doesn't want the person to run away. I mean, when I look at the people around me when I go out, unless they have a black eye or bruises which most people conceal, I wouldn't be able to tell if someone has been abused simply by looking at them and watching them interact with others.

"What's wrong with you that you would find yourself a victim of abuse" or just "what's wrong with you"

Believe it or not, this is one I was asked a few years ago. There is nothing wrong with a person who has been a victim of abuse. As I've stated before, no one asks to be abused and no one does anything to deserve it. To ask someone what is wrong with them that they would find themselves a victim really puts all the blame on them. It makes them feel that the guilt belongs to them and that they must have done something to deserve it. Then they start having feelings of shame over it when they shouldn't be carrying guilt and shame for things that were never their fault. You don't ask someone "what's wrong with you". There's a difference between asking "what's wrong" and "what's wrong with you". What's wrong implies that you are there for them to talk to and that you care about what they are facing. What's wrong with you suggests that you are saying they have qualities that made them become a victim and that according to society, they are not "normal" which you cannot define the word normal when it comes to people.

"You're not normal like everyone else because of what you went through"

Don't compare a victim or survivor to others who have not gone through abuse. This is one of the things my ex also did to me all the time. He compared me to his first love and his friends and even his friends' wives who had never gone through abuse. He would sit there and tell me that I deserved to be locked up and that I wasn't normal because I suffered abuse. I believe that when it comes to people you can't define the word "normal." I hate the word "normal" when it's being used to regard people. I believe everyone is unique, special, beautiful and one of a kind despite what they have been through. Everyone in life has been through different things and unless we've gone through what they have, then I don't think we'll really understand what it's like. We can be there to listen but as far as knowing how it feels, we'll never know since we aren't them and don't live their lives.

"Well, you didn't suffer the abuse long enough to really know how the pain feels"

Time has nothing to do with the pain someone feels. There are survivors out there who really believe that for those who went through abuse for a shorter time than they did, they can't possibly know what the pain is really like and that they've been through even more pain. The abuse in my marriage went on for 9 months. Yeah, to some people, when they look at my age and how long I was abused in my marriage, they think that I can't possibly know what the pain is like since they went through their abuse for 9 years, 19 years, etc. Those 9 months may not seem like a long time to other people, but to me it felt like an eternity. Those 9 months left behind so many scars and to this day I still feel pain from it. It doesn't matter if one has suffered abuse 9 hours, 9 days, 9 weeks, 9 months, 9 years, 29 years, etc. because abuse, any form of abuse, leaves behind scars and after effects that stay with a person and that the person has to continue to battle and heal from after they leave and it's stopped. All forms of abuse, no matter how long they last for, hurt. No matter how long someone endures it, they feel pain from it.

"Your story isn't as important because there are others who have been through so much more"

Every story is important. Every story is different. Don't tell someone their story isn't important and don't tell them that others have had it worse. When we go through abuse, do you honestly think we are thinking about who has it worse? No! Our mind is on the pain we feel and to us, we do have it worse. Every voice deserves to be heard and every story deserves to be told. Why do we insist on using stories as a way of comparison and why do we make being abused a competition as if we are making it a game of who has the most scars and battle wounds? Come on, that is stupid! Yeah, it's okay to be proud of being a survivor but why brag about the abuse you have gone through? Stories should be used not to brag and boast but to help spread awareness and reach out to others. We can all learn from one another. But being abused should never be used as a competition.

"No one will ever want you since you've been abused"

That's not true. There are people out there who don't look at the past but look at the present and the future. They don't care about your past because the right one will love you for who you are. When they look at you, they don't see flaws and imperfections. The scars fade away out of sight because in their eyes, you are the most beautiful person they have ever laid eyes on. They appreciate your outer beauty as well as your inner beauty. They notice the things about you, the qualities about you that others are blinded to. Even when you do tell them about what you've gone through, they don't run away but they help you fight through it. They choose to stay because they love you and care about you and to them, you are someone worth fighting for. If someone is only focused on your past, then don't waste your time on them. If they can't handle the truth when you tell them, if you choose to because that's up to you, then they don't deserve you. Be with someone who can handle it and who loves you, cherishes you, protects you, and fights for you. The one that you can be yourself around and don't have to hide anything from. That's the person that is worth being with.

"You're nothing but damaged goods"

I hate the term "damaged goods.
" According to www. urbandictionary. com, this is one of the definitions of damaged goods, 2)Someone who was once healthy and/or normal but isn't anymore due to unfortunate, traumatic events in his/her life (i.e. physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, drug abuse...u get it). Again, people love to use the word normal and stick labels on survivors and victims. Labels are for products, not people. Being a survivor is not a disease and it's not a bad thing. We're the fortunate ones who lived through the abuse and lived to tell about it. Many don't survive. Survivor is a title that we should wear with pride and honor and not be ashamed about it. So we're not healthy because of what we went through and we can't function properly? I mean seriously, what is this? They treat us as if we are outcasts and if we are non human because of those events. This shows you how ignorant society is. Even for those who haven't gone through abuse, they have gone through hard times in their lives before too. But you won't hear anyone saying they are damaged goods . No one is damaged goods. We survivors are tougher and stronger than people give us credit for. I admit, I have anxiety attacks and flashbacks; I used to self inflict, I used to drink a lot, I used to be a tease and look for love in the wrong places, but does that make me damaged goods? No! I am happy with who I am today and those things I went through in my past helped make me stronger. I believe that survivors are not damaged goods but are warriors healing from the pain of the past. We're finding our way in life and rebuilding it. Just like anyone else, we have a chance at love and happiness in our own lives, too. Don't let anyone tell you that you are damaged goods. I have found survivors to be the ones who have hearts filled with compassion towards others hurting. That in my mind makes them stand out and makes them some of the most beautiful people there are.

These are just some of the phrases I have heard that I don't believe should be used when helping survivors and victims heal. Listening is the best thing to do when helping those recovering. The ingredients needed when reaching out to victims and survivors are empathy, insight, compassion, care, understanding, love, and patience. Be careful how you word things and don't say something that can hurt someone and make them just shut down and not talk about what they've gone through. It hurts them more when they don't talk about it. Don't treat them the way their abusers treated them by saying things to tear them down. Every story deserves to be told and every voice deserves to be heard. We need to encourage survivors and victims to speak out and talk about it whether then being the cause as to why they remain silent.

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I was physically, mentally, emotionally abused by my mother from the time I was 3. daily beatings, sometimes several times a day. with her hands or whatever was near. being attacked while sleeping. it ended when I was 19. I ended up punching her in the eye...and that stopped her. this page is EXACTLY what I tell people who try to act like they know better than me about abused people, yet they don't' know any but me, they aren't a clinical therapist...
today I was told by my own brother, who grew up with me but wasn't abused, to keep it to myself, his wife also said the same thing. they are trying to shame me for speaking out about the abuse. I gave them this link so they could read it and get a clue. the memory of the abuse is part of me. I am not ashamed, I did nothing wrong. I will not keep quiet. I will speak out, maybe some needs to hear my story to come to healing themselves. I forgive my mom, and I love her. but those memories are always with me.
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woman in a shoe   in reply to RZimmy
I was in two abusive relationship with two baby's the first one for 2 half years. The number 2 was for 3 mos I said than that no man would ever hit me again.number 1 broke my baby's arm back than if u call the cop oh they would come but only take a report and leave u there with the person that was hitting u. There was no help back than for anything but welfare. I hope u the best good luck
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I stumbled across this page and definitely felt it was worth a bookmark. All survivors should read this. I lived through a personal hell for 13 years......with a highly emotionally and verbally abusive husband. I finally got up the nerve to leave him. Now I'm trying to rebuild only to find just how deep the damage is. Healing will definitely take a while......But the aforementioned comments are all too common and people who've not gone through this sort of thing have no idea how their 'well meaning' comments hurt. This simple page should be a 'must read' for friends and family of abuse victims.
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Poppyday13   in reply to missjanie
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missjanie   in reply to Poppyday13
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Poppyday13   in reply to nevermoregirl52
Well done. It will take time , but one day you will share the deepest part and then you will feel a big weight lifted off you . I hope that day comes soon.
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nevermoregirl52   in reply to Court22
I can only imagine, I think with my own personal experience it helped me to talk to others who had been through similar circumstances, now in group, still have flash backs from time to time, but using coping skills helps, i still find it hard to completely open up dont think I have ever truly told everything but I am a work in process,
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woman in a shoe   in reply to Buckley
Please don't give up on her I know its heard on u but u got to very unstand with her and one day she will come around for u can't post that much right now my husband gets mad when I am on here but Mon morning are before 7 pm post to me and I will post a lot to u
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Poppyday13   in reply to Buckley
Hi , I found this for you , so maybe if you follow the lead somebody will be able to stop her testing you before her actions make you leaving a self fulfilling prophecy. If they cant help , then I hope that they can signpost you to somebody that can.
The challenge for the mental health community is to learn how best to help people who are suffering from ill effects of traumatic events. Within the past decade, a number of programs have been created to bring appropriately trained mental health services to trauma victims. Examples include:
The American Psychological Association developed its Disaster Response Network (DRN) in response to the need for mental health professionals to be onsite with emergency workers to assist with the psychological care of trauma victims. Over 1,500 psychologist volunteers provide free, onsite mental health services to disaster survivors and the relief workers who assist them. The APA has worked with the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state emergency management teams and other relief groups on every major disaster our country has experienced and many smaller disasters since 1992.
Under the auspices of The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) 15 state departments of mental health have initiated formal efforts to better address the needs of persons exposed to trauma with state-wide trauma initiatives and resources. Now "tool kits" have been developed to better help trauma victims.
The University of South Dakota developed the Disaster Mental Health Institute (DMHI) in 1993. Psychologist Gerad Jacobs, Ph.D., helped create the Institute in response to his involvement in helping airline crash victims in the 1989 Sioux City airline crash. The DMHI is designed to bring together practice and research in disaster mental health and help prepare psychologists to deliver mental health services during emergencies and their aftermath. Furthermore, educational opportunities exist for students to learn how to serve their communities in times of disaster. This undergraduate program includes working with the American Red Cross Disaster Service.

Pacific Graduate College and Stanford University created the National Center on Disaster Psychology and Terrorism (which has been renamed National Center on the Psychology of Terrorism), which trains doctoral students to help victims of catastrophic events.

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Buckley   in reply to woman in a shoe
Thank you for your loving response. We have been seeing our 4th counselor in 3 years. Nothing seems to reduce her anger. She reacts when triggered. She says she is being dismissed, it is unsafe to talk to me and not trustworthy. She often threatens to leave and/or divorce. When we are doing well, she will create or exaggerate the condition to recreate the drama. She can not differentiate the true from the false. I know it is not all about me, but after years of the same behavior, I am losing hope and am depressed. We go to couples counseling, to learn ways to validate her feelings, which helps defuse, but I think she needs some one on one trauma counseling. Please give me some feedback. I am still in love and want to stay married, but not like this.
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Poppyday13   in reply to Buckley
Hi , Please check out some of the organizations listed above such as women helping women. You could also contact a womens refuge phone line , explain the position and ask them to advise you as sadly , they deal with it every day.. I really hope it works out for you as it must be very hard.
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woman in a shoe   in reply to Buckley
I was abuse from my 2 ex husbands it is heard for a woman to over come it I still not over came it. But for u got to be very under standing with her and let her know u there for her and u will do anything for her and give her all the love u can it will take her along time to come around but just keep tell her u love her and u will be not s thing like the others was to her. I would like to talk to her. If she don't want talk where everyone can see it I will talk to her on one on one and if u don't know how to do that I will tell u how to do
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How can I help my wife heal from her abusive relationships. She is suffering from the trauma of physical and mental abuse from 3 previous husbands. All alcoholic, drug addicts and rager, just like her father.
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Buckley   in reply to charles05
How can I help my wife heal from her abusive relationships. She is suffering from the trauma of physical and mental abuse from 3 previous husbands. All alcoholic, drug addicts and rager, just like her father.
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Possum76   in reply to colgate
Colgate thanx for that, I wanted to know if I would ever get over it. Bless you
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I was abuse when young, by a family member.. I have had people say to me, you need to move on and you did not have it that bad, it could of been worse.. Or you need to put it in the past and move on, or they compare you situation with some elses. You never get over being abuse, sexually, phsically and emotionally.
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rusherD   in reply to mothersscapegoat
Your words: "I am a hard-working, college educated, single mom who made the mistake of hoping my own mother would someday love me." Your words nailed me - in the chest - hard. I understand what you were communicating with these words in the context in which you used them. I do not intend to preach and/or correct you, and I write these words for myself as well, because what you wrote hammered me. How is it a mistake to hope the very person who carried you, bore you, and was to be 'mother' to you might one day love you? I believe that is an instinctive 'hope' or need, and I believe it would indicate just how normal you are to want that love. If there is a mistake here, it is that you are left to HOPE for the love that you have always deserved, and I do not believe it is you who made the mistake. I, too, was raised by a mother with a malignant form of narcissism. When you speak of evil, I hear you. I do not doubt there are things in your past that are nothing less than psychological/emotional torture. As far as it "really not being that bad" . . . living at the mercy of someone with a narcissistic character disorder is a brand of hell I cannot find words to describe. When it is a child at the receiving end . . . it is toxic, and not the "icky feeling in your tummy" toxic . . . it is the potent, poisonous toxic. I recently learned this truth about my mother. I know your hell, mscapegoat. It was real. It cannot be minimized.
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Court22   in reply to Desertguy
I was beaten and raped by my own parents and at age 17 I was finally able to leave. I had such a rough time the first few years and it took me along time to let someone touch me without having a panic attack. Still almost 8 years later I still sometimes have trouble falling asleep because of it. When I was 22 I told one of my good friends at the time about it and it was the first time I had told anyone. I still remember the look she gave me when I told her the things my father did to me. She just looked so disgusted and then said "You f***** you own dad!" and processed to joke about me being an incest freak. After that, instead of feeling relieved like some people say they feel when they tell someone, I just felt disgusted with myself and everything I thought I had dealt with re-surfaced. I moved shortly after that. I felt like I was the 17 year old girl who just ran away, I didn't solve anything I just buried it. I was a complete wreck. Shortly after I moved I had a horrible break down when someone bumped into me and I fell. I had a really vivid flashback in the middle of a grocery store isle and that when I realized I needed help because I couldn't do it alone anymore. It took a lot of time and I know I have a long road in front of me but I'm getting better.

This really actually helped me a lot! Thank you.
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I was in an abusive relationship when I was eighteen years old. After being beaten, raped, and tortured I returned home to escape my abuser. After telling my mom and trying to seek justice years later my mother said "why can't you move on? Obviously you must not be happy with your life now that you have to write about it and talk about it?" I was so mad she said that to me! My mother says she doesn't know anything about that kind of abuse and she now wishes to live away from me because I am not normal.
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ToniLB   in reply to Desertguy
Desertguy, that is very beautiful and really sweet....
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