How I got through sexual abuse and the death of 7 people in two years with Sonia Trefflich | POP 746

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A photo of Sonia Trefflich is captured. Sonia Trefflich is a Licenced Clinical Social Worker and therapist. Sonia Trefflich is featured on Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.

What sustains you through life’s toughest challenges? What makes kindness unforgettable? Can you pursue the help that you need?

In the eleventh episode of the How I Got Through It series, Joe Sanok speaks about getting through sexual abuse and the death of 7 people in two years with Sonia Trefflich.

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Meet Sonia Trefflich

A photo of Sonia Trefflich is captured. She is a Licenced Clinical Social Worker and therapist. Sonia is featured on the practice of the practice, a therapist podcast.Sonia Trefflich is a Licenced Clinical Social Worker and therapist. She helps clients find peace by diving into their deep-rooted ideas about what life is supposed to look like. She works with them to build the skills to feel empowered in their lives and relationships with others. Sonia utilizes evidence-based approaches to walk with clients as they become a better version of themselves.

Visit Resilient Journey Counseling and connect on Facebook, Instagram, and Psychology Today.

In this Podcast:

  • Coping with all the loss
  • Losing loved ones
  • Getting help
  • Sonia’s advice to her younger self

Coping with all the loss

Grit. I’ve always had grit in my life. I have this passion and perseverance to somehow endure for a long-term goal. (Sonia Trefflich)

Sonia’s grit helped her get through some of the most traumatic experiences of her life.

It helped her to become who she is today, and to appreciate the life that she has now with her partner and her children.

Losing loved ones

At the time it was almost as if we were … it sounds terrible, but it happened so much, that we were almost just waiting for who’s next, and what’s going to happen. (Sonia Trefflich)

Because so many loved ones died in succession, Sonia’s grieving process was halted, because she felt as if she was in a state of waiting for more people to die.

She knew that this was too much to deal with, and started therapy.

Getting help

Get the help that you need. If you recognize that you need help, pursue it.

It can be powerfully healing to find the help and support that you need. Sonia started therapy and could finally begin to process her loss and grief.

It became natural and supportive to have somebody there that could hold that space for me. (Sonia Trefflich)

Remember that true self-care is not an option.

Sonia’s advice to her younger self

You are amazing as you are. It is going to get better.

Useful Links mentioned in this episode:

Check out these additional resources:

Meet Joe Sanok

A photo of Joe Sanok is displayed. Joe, private practice consultant, offers helpful advice for group practice owners to grow their private practice. His therapist podcast, Practice of the Practice, offers this advice.

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

[JOE SANOK] Welcome to the show today. Just a trigger warning about things that we are going to cover; we are going to be covering the death of loved ones, miscarriages, rape and sexual assault, of a child witnessing domestic violence, complex trauma and an alcoholic parent. So wanted to make sure that you knew what we’re covering in the show today so that if that’s something that you were interested in skipping or not skipping that you at least knew ahead of time. Enjoy the show. This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 746. I’m Joe Sanok your host, and welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. This summer, we’ve been doing a series all about how I got through it or how I’m getting through. It would probably be more accurate because whether it’s trauma or tough things in our lives, oftentimes it’s not just a neat package that we wrap up in a bow and send away. It’s often, it goes through waves and we know that as therapists, so just interviewing people all about what they’ve been through. If you missed my telling my story episode 736 that aired in late June of 2022 LaToya Smith interviewed me talking about my uncoupling and becoming an unexpected single dad and really this series comes out of just wanting to hear other people’s stories and knowing how they got through it, building my own skillset and having you come along for the ride. [JOE] Today I am so excited. I have Sonia Trefflich with me today and Sonia’s going to share with us all sorts of different stories from her life and then also how she got through it. Sonia, welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. [SONIA TREFFLICH] Thank you so much, Joe. [JOE] Well, tell us a little bit about yourself professionally and personally. What’s your life look like? [SONIA] I am mental health therapist. I have an office here in Las Vegas and I’m also licensed in California and Texas where I do therapy via telehealth or video. I have, well before, let me backtrack, I’m a trauma therapist. So this topic is very close to my heart. I work with survivors of child abuse and neglect, primarily women, but I do have some lovely men that I work with as well. I am in a single practice and I’m hoping this year to bring on an intern so I’m excited to expand. That’s in the works personally. I am a military spouse. My husband is in the air force active duty and I have four wonderful, active, brilliant children that keep me very busy. I have three girls and one baby boy. [JOE] Wow, you are busy. [SONIA] Yes. [JOE] Wow. Well, when we were talking before we got recording about where to start, and this is obviously a conversation I had with everyone before we get going, really for your story starts in utero. Tell us what was going on as you were developing inside your mom. [SONIA] So I grew up in a little beach town on the west coast of Guatemala. At the time when I was born, my parents were early teens, early teens to early adults. So they were around eight, 19 years old when my mom was pregnant with me and first of all, it was an arranged marriage, so none of them really wanted to get married to each other. So already that started a very conflicting marriage and so when I was born in utero, my father developed alcoholism. My mother’s also a survivor of severe child abuse and neglect and you put those two combinations together and it’s never a good thing. My father from, for several reasons, he felt like it was appropriate to blame my mother and was extremely physically and verbally aggressive from the moment I was in utero. [JOE] You said some things happened when you were a toddler. Share with us what your toddler years were like. [SONIA] My experience is a little similar to the immigrant experience. In the home where my parents and I were trying to be raised, it was actually my grandmother’s home and my grandfather’s home and it was a packed house. My mom realized her father had actually given her this advice decades before to immigrate to the US because he didn’t, he had never been here, but in his mind, we would have a better life. She would have a better life. So she decided that would become her goal. Then I was left to be cared for in this home where my father was around. He was not my primary caregiver. My mother immigrated when I was two years old and at the time, we had people that were around to help nannies, but I was neglected. I mean, there’s even a joke that I would walk to the beach as a toddler and somehow that happened and nobody was really looking out for me because we lived so close to the beach. I could walk there. So during that environment I was, there was a lot of alcohol, there were a lot of parties, a lot of alcohol going on and I was sexually assaulted by several different adults starting at around age three. That continued throughout my teen years, but specifically during my toddler years, my formative years that happened as well. [JOE] Man, I just, I want to jump right to the, how we got through or how you got through it part but I mean obviously we want to hear your whole story first, but dang, I’m so sorry. I mean, there’s just not even words for that sort of abuse and that sort of experience. When did you move to the United States? [SONIA] My mom did the best she could to, she would send money and at some point, my grandmother, her mother, she was a go-getter and she offered to bring me to the US. To this day, I actually remember that night, even though I was around four and a half, almost five, as I mentioned, I’m from Guatemala so the water isn’t all that sanitized and just the night before I actually had parasites. I remember that moment where they picked me up really early in the morning, maybe three in the morning and I still had the struggle, medically issue with my stomach and the parasites and sounds so graphic but I remember like I literally threw up and my grandmother took me and I remember getting into the bus and we did the trip from Guatemala to the US and we crossed the border. That happened around May, June and then I started kindergarten in August and then I was reunited with my mother in Los Angeles, California. [JOE] Wow. So then, you had told me before we got going and also on your application that you got pregnant at some point, how old were you when you got pregnant? [SONIA] I was around 23, 24 around there, the first pregnancy I had. [JOE] Tell us about the first pregnancy. I think also you said the second pregnancy before we got recording, what happened? [SONIA] So the first pregnancy I had, I was really excited and I actually suffered a miscarriage. That was extremely difficult because this whole time, when I got married to my spouse. Given my history, I really just wanted to create my own family. I wanted to, in some ways make things right and to suffer a loss, that was very difficult. So then I had my daughter, my rainbow baby after that, and I had my second child and everything was going well and I was pregnant again and I lost that baby as well. [JOE] It’s just like loss after loss for you. I mean, I can’t, just when we were talking about this episode, it was, do we cover all of it or do we just drill into one of the things and I think you had mentioned that as a trauma therapist, the idea of shedding light on things, telling the stories, revealing it all so that we understand the whole context, but I mean to be in your early twenties and to have been through all that, and then suffered two, miscarriages just feels so unfair, I mean, to have so many things hit somebody at such a young age. I mean, at that point, how did you even conceptualize all that had happened to you at that point because I feel like a lot of the clients that I worked with, especially foster kids, for example, that had been through severe abuse and trauma oftentimes dissociated, made very poor choices were like just trying to escape through drugs and alcohol. How did you even get through that, up to that point with so much trauma and change that you had had? [SONIA] I was thinking about that. I got up early and I did a bit of a run on my treadmill and I thought, okay, what am I going to tell him? I’d been thinking about that throughout the week. The first thing that I thought about was grit. I’ve always had grit in my life. I have this passion and perseverance to somehow endure for a long-term goal. My long-term goal was actually to be where I am today, to have my family, to have my children and to turn back all of what was handed to me by life, by people and show people that they’re going to get it, to help people heal. I remember I was, I’ve always had this intuition and just observation of people. I think I was a little therapist before I knew it because I was also bullied throughout my elementary school years. I remember thinking, little me thinking, wow, this is inappropriate, this behavior, my parents or these people are displaying that’s not healthy. That’s not okay. So the ability to be able to stand up for what’s right even if it’s just inside of us because I would never be able to just come up to my parents and say your behavior’s inappropriate. But in my mind, I knew better, like there’s more to life than this I’ve had that hope, the faith. God was extremely important to me, even though I wasn’t really religious growing up. I knew he existed and I knew that somehow some way with this grit that I had and this goal that I had to be free of the dysfunction and of the abuse that he would make it happen somehow some way and that I would be where I am today. [JOE] Now, how old were you when you set that goal of wanting a family, wanting to be healthy, wanting to have a career that you helped people? How early was that seed planted inside of you, would you say? [SONIA] Honestly, I would say around kindergarten to first grade. I think I was fairly young. I don’t understand how that could happen now looking back, but it definitely was around, and I think a lot of it had to do with education. I would get grounded and part of my grounding would be to go read books which I had to thank my mom for. And so I became very much interested in how people, other people led their lives and cultures, different cultures, customs, how people do things and I realized there was another way to do things and there was another lifestyle that I could have. That became part of my goal. I knew that education was the gateway, was that thing that was going to open a lot of doors for me. So I became very much invested in my education and realized that one of the ways that I could get away from it all was through school. So school was a lot of times, even though I was bullied, once I got to middle school, I wasn’t really bullied that much. I made friends and it was okay, but I realized then that that’s what I had to do for myself so that my sacrifice would not be in vain. [BiOptimizers] If you’re like me, not only do you try to optimize your private practice, but I also try to optimize my body with healthy eating, organic food usually. For me also adding enzymes in as I age is really helpful to help me with my digestion and assimilation of food. That’s why my friends over at BiOptimizers, I’m so excited that they’ve put together an awesome offer for you that’s totally free. You’re going to get a free bottle of their best-selling enzyme supplement called MassZymes. You also get a copy of their book Sick to Superhuman, another copy of a book, Ultimate Carnivore Cookbook and you’re going to get a free copy of their Plant Based Superfood Delights. I mean, this is just a bunch of free stuff that they are sending to you that usually cost $81. Would just love for you to check it out. You just have to pay shipping for this stuff, that’s it. This isn’t one of those opt-is where you then have to give a whole bunch of email information and you get upsold and all those different things. It’s genuinely just free stuff from my friends over at BiOptimizers. If you head an over to masszymes, that’s M-A-S-S, again, that’s, there’s no strings attached here. There’s no automatic subscriptions or renewal, so there’s nothing to cancel. Just head on over to to get this totally free bundle. [JOE SANOK] The last couple years you’ve had even more loss that’s hit your family. Tell us what’s happened over the last couple years since 2020. [SONIA] So it just became a little bizarre where the first one to pass away was my uncle, my mom’s uncle’s son, so he was my second cousin, which I knew, and whenever we would visit Guatemala after, after I was in the US, he was always the one that we would be around and he would take his places. I really came to really become really grateful for him. He ended up passing away first of COVID and maybe a few weeks later, his father passed away. Then the following year in 2021 another, a mom and a son again, and then the grandchild. They were just coming in series. One of them in particular, the mom that passed away was as close to a grandmother that I was ever going to have. When you go through the trauma that I’ve been through, I was surrounded by dysfunction and I’m just going to say it a lot of evil. This individual offered me so much love and compassion that I felt safe with her so when she passed, it was extremely heart for me because I could look back on my life and realize, sometimes we forget how much people impact us and how these act of kindness, how they’re so important to us, especially to those of us who’ve gone through a lot of pain and experience a lot of pain in the hands of other people. So when we encounter kindness, at least for me, I never forgot it. [JOE] Wow. I mean, when you have someone that was such a big part of your life or people that maybe had the potential to change or shift, or I mean to lose so many people in such a short period of time, how did you get through that? How did you conceptualize what was happening? [SONIA] At the time it was almost like we’re all, we were, it sounds terrible, but it happened so much. We were almost just waiting. Who’s next? What’s going to happen? We were definitely not even starting our grieving process. So for me, I realized at the time, I’m a therapist, I know what to do. I know that this is far too much to deal with. So I put myself in therapy and I started working with a therapist to address all of the losses that I’ve encountered. [JOE] Now, when you think about going through therapy and going through some grief counseling or trauma counseling, were there mindsets or habits or things that stood out to you that were more helpful? [SONIA] I think so. Just the importance of having my story be heard, as we talked about earlier, it’s just having to tell somebody how painful it is to lose these people or the process, or having a listening ear can be so powerful. My therapist knows that I’m a therapist and so it just became very natural and extremely supportive to just have somebody there that could hold that space for me. Because one of the things I realized through COVID is we’re all tired. We’re all exhausted and are exhausted of so much change, so much adjustment we’ve had to go through and in different areas of our life, so much loss. So I felt like I can’t really call a friend up and tell because they’re tired. For me, best option was to really go to a professional because I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been having to hold space for my clients and how important that is. [JOE] Now when you look at your daily life or things you do in your week, I think that sometimes when you have four kids or kids at all, and especially in your situation where your husband’s deployed, active duty or going through all that and just life’s busy, I think one of the tendencies can be in that busyness to not focus as much on healing, healthy habits, staying grounded. It’s just like sometimes you’re just in survival mode. I know that sometimes I get into that as a single dad and just keeping track of lunches and school things is enough to drive you crazy. So I’m wondering for you what is it that you do to make sure that in a very busy life, that you’re able to still focus in on your own mental health, your own grounding, your own sense of recovering from some of these things? [SONIA] Yes, that’s a good question because I’ve actually realized in the past around four years since we’ve had a couple moves, every move for the military and for military families is different and it comes with its own challenges. At the time, you mentioned deployment, so in the past four years, my husband has done different trainings and deployment and trips here and there and I’ve been in survival mode. So the past end of last year, early this year, I just realized I need to submit. I need to submit and I need to put myself through the program that I recommend to others, whatever that is. For me, the program was healing, accepting that it’s okay to get help, because as you said, going through trauma, it’s not going to look pretty. It’s not going to be this cute little bow. As much as I want it to be this cute little bow it just doesn’t. Every loss for some reason may or may not trigger something else in our lives. Especially for those of us who have that complex trauma, it’s just a lot. So for me, I used to think years ago that selfcare was great, like the concept of it, advocated for self-care until I realized you’re terrible, at self-care. So I have made it a point every week I will disappear, at least once a week. And I do other little stuff throughout my week, but every day, every week, one day a week, I go and do something fun, whatever that is. [JOE] What are examples of things that you do for fun during your self-care day or time? [SONIA] So I love to do a lot of, I’m trying to get back into doing a lot of physical exercise. For me the movement of the body really, really helps to decrease my stress. I’ve been incorporating a lot of different ways to move my body. I mean, growing up, we thought this was a luxury, but I’ll even do things like do window-shopping or I will go get a massage, even though I really don’t want to. I gently remind myself that self-care is not option. It is not a luxury. It is not, at this point in my life, I can’t afford to not do it. [JOE] Yes. I mean, I think that idea of self-care being a privilege versus something we need like obviously there’s people that have jobs or roles that it makes it more difficult, but for us to say we’re raising kids, we have businesses, we have so much on our shoulders, are we going to be more effective or less effective if we do some self-care? I mean, I think that’s awesome you’re doing that. For you are there certain exercises or things that you do that really light you up? [SONIA] Absolutely and I think that was one of the things. Music has been one of my life savers growing up. It’s been where I’ve been able to escape. I can ignore for that moment what’s happening in my household when I was growing up and just escape into this other world of harmonies of beats of lyrics. So for me a lot of what I do physically actually involves music. I love that. Actually, one of my favorite things to do is to go for a run, put my headphones on and listen to my favorite gym playlist and don’t stop. I do get the runners high and I love that. I also love doing yoga, Zumba. I love dancing somehow if I can incorporate that in music. I’m in my happy place. [JOE] Oh, so one question that I often ask is if you could go back to any age and give your younger self some advice, some tips, what would you go back and save yourself and what age would you talk? [SONIA] I think I would definitely talk to myself when I had the hardest time, which is probably in elementary school because I was witnessing a ton of domestic violence at home. Then when I would go to school, I was still learning English language and the culture. I was trying to simulate to the American school system and culture and I had a really hard time. At the time I was okay with being vulnerable and then I learned that’s not a good idea in the school system and so I would say looking back, that was probably the hardest time, one of the hardest times in my life, because I felt so alone. So if I could go back in that time and give myself advice, I would just say, you’re amazing. You’re going through a lot. It’s going to get better I promise you. It’s going to get better. You can do this. [JOE] You’re amazing. It’s going to get better. That’s some dang good advice. Wow, well Sonia, thank you so much for telling us how you’re getting through it, just the tips and things that are working for you and just sharing your story with us. We just so appreciate it. [SONIA] Thank you. I’m really grateful for this opportunity and hopefully it’ll help somebody else. Life is really hard sometimes, but you will get through it. There is a rainbow on the other side. Just have that grit, stick with it and ask for help because we’re not supposed to do this on our own. [JOE] Well, thank you so much for being on the show. [SONIA] Thank you so much. [JOE] Wow. I mean this series, it’s just amazing, the things that people have been through, the grit that people have and the vision from a young age. Even just hearing the last couple episodes before this of Azizi and Gen, who both lost their parents at age 18 and 21, it’s just to see how that reshaped the view of life. Even for Sonia, just now to talk going through such tough things and to have that somehow spur this seed of life can be different, whether that’s through education or raising your own family. It’s just amazing to just see the resilience of people and to not feel like we have to tie it up in a bow. I mean, that’s been a theme throughout this whole series of folks just saying, yes, there’s times this pops back up and there’s things that trigger it and to not feel like we have to have this Joseph Campbell’s story arc where it lands in a perfect way. That’s okay. It’s just really, for me, just affirming in regards to my situation, in regards to my learning, my growth, just the things in my life. We couldn’t do this show without our sponsors. That’s why my friends over at BiOptimizers, I’m so excited that they’ve put together an awesome offer for you that’s totally free. You’re going to get a free bottle of their best-selling enzyme supplement called MassZymes. You also get a copy of their book. Sick to Superhuman, another copy of a book, Ultimate Carnivore Cookbook, and you’re going to get a free copy of their Plant Based Superfood Delights. I mean, this is just a bunch of free stuff that they are sending to you that usually cost $81. Would just love for you to check it out. You just have to pay shipping for this stuff. That’s it. Just head on over to to get this totally free bundle. Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have a great day. I’ll talk to you soon. Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, the producers, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.