On Grieving the Loss of a Parent Who’s Still Alive

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Last year I turned 41. I am now officially middle aged. Apparently this is the point in time when my generation’s parents start dropping like flies. In the past two years, I have lost count of how many of my friends, neighbors and acquaintances have lost a parent. Each time, I have watched the ritual unfold. Condolences are offered, funerals are planned. The sordid mess of sorting through a lifetime of possessions and settling wills is dealt with. And everywhere the bereaved adult child goes, they hear the words “I am sorry for your loss.”

Whether their relationship was loving, strained, or a mixture of both. Whether the parent was nurturing or neglectful. Still the words “I am sorry for your loss” are offered up. A benediction for mourning. A recognition that the passing of a parent marks a particular shift in one’s life journey.

I have watched as space is made for the adult child to grieve. How it is understood that it will take a while to return to “regular life” after such a loss. I have watched as the bereaved talk openly about their grief, which comes in waves, over the course of years. And I have been jealous. Because this kind of understanding will never be given to me. And it’s my fault, isn’t it? Because it was my choice.

The decision to permanently cut off contact with my parents was almost anti-climactic. After years of trying off and on to figure out how to have a relationship with them without sacrificing myself, I realized that I was trying for the impossible. I was embroiled in yet another abusive drama, in which I was somehow to blame for a parent’s alcoholic misbehavior. This familiar ebb and flow of dysfunction had played out so many times in so many ways that I realized I wasn’t angry any more, I was just sad. I looked into my future and saw it play out for the rest of my life and I knew I just couldn’t do it anymore. My husband and I were planning to have a child. Was this what I wanted my child to grow up watching? Were these people going to have a positive impact on my child? No.

In the 10 years since I made that decision, I have never once regretted it. I am a happier person without them in my life. It’s sad, but true. However, there is no rite of passage for the child who has had to make a choice between her mental health and a relationship with her parents. There is no supportive community gathering around offering up condolences and casseroles. There is just a long, lonely adjustment to the reality that you are, in a way, an orphan now.

When my parents pass away, I will get a call, or an email, from some relative. I will be asked if I will attend the funeral, but I will not, because I have already done my grieving. I have grieved the parts of that relationship that were good. I have grieved for what could have been. I have grieved for all the ways I needed them to show up for me that they were not capable of. And I am done. And I am angry that I did it alone, with no one to turn to me and say “I am sorry for your loss.”

I am angry that in addition to losing my family, I lost out on the rite of passage, on the support of community, on the acknowledgement of this very significant transition in my life. There is no ritual to support a child who has lost her family in this way, and there should be. It takes incredible bravery to do this in the face of cultural backlash, to give up the comfort of the known pain for the unknown.  To believe in spite of all previous evidence that I deserve better, and to walk away from people who will never love me the way I want them to.

I will never regret the decision I made, but I wish that it wasn’t such a lonely choice.

 

The writer of this article has chosen to remain anonymous.

 

A Second Wound: A Survivor’s Decision to Cut Ties with Family

Many survivors mourn the loss of the life they feel they were born to live, as the ripple effects of abuse lead them in a different direction. Often times, as they heal, survivors have to cut toxic people out of their lives to continue on their path to recovery. Sometimes, that entails another major loss – the loss of his or her family. This is a dilemma many, many survivor’s face and we’re very grateful to share Miranda’s story and powerful point of view on this topic today, as part of the #SurvivorsEmpoweringSurvivors Series.

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I have come a long way. From the fractured child who was silenced when I tried to speak up about my abuse to the whole and healthy woman I am now. I rose from confusion and pain, and faced what I knew to be true. But like many other abuse survivors, I paid a painful price with regard to my family of origin. I tell my story not just because it helps me heal, but to help other survivors who recognize my struggles in their own lives – in the hopes that they will feel less alone.
It was always complicated with my family. When I was twenty-five, I revealed that I had been sexually abused by my older brother as a child. My mother and older sister believed me and even expressed regret that they hadn’t prevented it. The brother who perpetrated the abuse wrote and told me he was sorry, at least at first.

 

The problems with my family started when it became clear that I had a lot more to say. I needed to focus on what had happened to me in order to heal. Living in the truth meant holding my brother responsible, examining the environment that allowed it to happen, and trying to prevent further abuse by pointing out red flags and problematic behavior that still existed within our family.

With hindsight, I was probably naive to think that we could address dysfunctional patterns together, learn from them and go forward. Instead, my family members seemed increasingly aggravated with me as I refused to move on from the subject. My sister suggested that I be grateful for my brother’s apology. “What more do you want?” she asked. What I wanted was more than a closed door and a singular acknowledgment of an event that changed my world forever, instilled me with shame, stole my innocence and shook my sense of trust.

I felt like I had become the family troublemaker. As a child, I had been taught to be quiet, to read the temperature in the house and adapt my behavior to avoid conflict and chaos – if that was even possible. I was an adult now, with my own family and out from under their power. But when I spoke up, I still felt shut down. I had pointed at the Emperor and declared that he had no clothes. It was not a popular move.

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I began to stand up for myself more than ever. I pushed my mother to hold my brother more accountable for his treatment of me since I had revealed the abuse. She defended him, insisting that he was a “good person,” even after he said he pitied me, told me to stay away from him until I changed back to the way I used to be, and suggested I get a refund for my therapy. In certain moments, my mother’s capacity to understand my stance and provide empathy appeared to be just out of reach. She seemed to grasp the truth she’d been denying as she acknowledged her mistakes with words of regret. But these flashes of insight never seemed to last.

The abuse had long ended. The shame and self-doubt that had haunted me through my childhood and adolescence were healing nicely with therapy and time. Yet, my pain was still alive and well. Now it was centered in a desperate desire to gain my family’s understanding and support. I would never accept feeling that my voice was being ignored again, just as it was during my childhood.

I loved my mother and wanted to continue our relationship. But to do so felt like I was betraying myself. Eventually, I found a way to live with this dilemma. I decided that I could love my mother for her many positive qualities (including her love for my children) without accepting that she couldn’t see what I needed, and why it mattered so much. I kept her in my life and we maintained a level of closeness. Of course, I made a point to speak up and stand my ground whenever I felt the need, even if it brought about discomfort or confrontation. For a long time, this arrangement worked for us, more or less.

Throughout this journey with my family, it occurred to me that there must be many more people like me: sexual abuse survivors whose family relationships added to their pain. I wanted to shine a light on this subject and create a community of support. I decided that I should write my story.

Not really knowing where to start, I practiced my writing and learned more about family reactions to sexual abuse survivors. There were doubts and concerns that slowed me down, though. I was hesitant because I knew that going public with our family secrets would likely cause greater conflict with family members. Perhaps they would even retaliate against me.

While my goal has never been to stir up trouble, sometimes it can’t be helped when standing up for what I believe is right and just.

I worried about my kids too. I have always focused on giving them the kind of safe, nurturing home that I never had and I was reluctant to tell them my abuse while they were still young. I wanted to protect them from the darkness that I had left behind. Also, I worried that if I wrote about my story while they were still in school, they would feel embarrassment or shame among their peers. I also feared that they would lose their grandmother.

As it happened, I ended up feeling that I had no choice but to break most of my ties with my mother. She and others in the family had attached themselves more intensely to the brother who abused me, aligning with him in ways that I experienced as deeper levels of betrayal. At the same time, I felt my mother’s opposition toward me increase. Finally, I reached the limit of what I was willing to accept. I was exasperated, infuriated and just plain tired after a lifetime of feeling dishonored by the people who were supposed to love me the most.

I stepped away from my relationship with my mother and decreased the little contact I had left with other siblings. For about a year, I grieved for the loss of my first family and the lifelong hope that they would ever protect or truly support me. Then I took my first steps forward with a lighter heart – and a mission. I am writing now. I hope that through my story, I can offer solace and a sense of recognition to others like me. I recently created a Facebook page and Twitter account to offer support and solidarity to fellow survivors, called The Second Wound: Coping with Family while Healing from Sexual Abuse. I have blogged for other sites, including Trigger Points Anthology.

Now that my kids are older and know the truth, I’m working on larger projects as well.  It still takes courage to put my story out in public, but it also feeds my spirit and gives my pain a purpose. The wound of losing my family never subsides – it just loses its sharp edge in increments, and some days are definitely worse than others. But every message of solidarity or support reminds me that I am raising an important aspect of the effects of abuse, and that survivors like us don’t need to be alone in our struggles. We can join together in the truth and create a different kind of family.


Bio:  Miranda Pacchiana is a mother of three and a social worker who lives and works in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. She has started a Facebook page and Twitter account called Second Wound: Coping with family while healing from sexual abuse.

Twitter: @SecondWound

Walking Each Other Home.

jodiI belong to a club.

This club is called the trauma club.

Trauma survivors share an unspeakable bond. In their face I recognize the familiar pain that can easily go unnoticed by non-survivors. We are relieved to be given space to talk and be understood without the burden of explanation. We feel at ease to show our pain, rather than hide it for the sake of others who find our suffering unbearable to witness. In short, survivors often times need the kind of understanding that only a fellow survivor can give you.

We survivors have a lifetime membership to an inclusive club we didn’t ask to belong to and there’s no way to leave. We speak a language we never wanted to learn but somehow became fluent in it, replacing our native tongue. We seek out others, whether publicly or silently, who speak the same language.

At first glance, the trauma club may look like a pretty shitty club to belong to, but it is full of the most bravest souls I have ever known; extraordinarily courageous and insightful souls who have risen above the countless judgements of others.

And yet we all wish we could jump ship– that we could have met another way– any other way but this.

Over the past three years, I have had the honour of knowing and working alongside these life-changers, game-changers, relentless survivors and thrivers.

Every member in this club redefines the word brave. They are not victims, they are heroes; heroes of their own story.

The brave souls in this club move mountains every day in honor of their childhood gone too soon, in honour of those that did not get the chance to survive and thrive and in honour of those who have chosen to not break their silence publicly.

With our collective wisdom, us members of the trauma club start movements, lead trauma informed yoga classes, and spearhead crusades of tireless activism.

We create tightly knit support groups of four or ten who meet in one another’s homes during the week or in our local community centres.

We create paper trails of letters to journalists and politicians.

We volunteer our time to conduct abuse prevention workshops, raising awareness in schools, empowering children and youth about their bodies.

We conceptualize and bring to life healing retreats, campaigns, and fundraising events.

We dedicate our time working alongside the government to dismantle a broken justice system by creating institutional changes.

We form alliances with other activists, developing local, national and international networks.

We educate others within the universities we teach, becoming the spark that starts the dialogue.

We push for tougher laws in order to create safer communities for those yet unborn.

This club will stop, listen, and act while the world carries on.

Why?

Why do we do this?

So that LESS people join the club.

I dream of a hypothetical situation where there’s a big sign outside a town hall meeting for the trauma club that reads;

“Not Taking Any New Members”

One member is one too many.

If you’ve ever wondered who some of the greatest world changers are, spend some time with a couple of members of this club and watch how they live, see what they do in a day, a week, a lifetime. Watch how they alchemize their pain into a force to be reckoned with, watch how they transform inconceivable trauma into victory.

We are relentless. In the face of adversity, we are and will continue to be relentless.

Because if it takes a village to raise a child, then it also takes a village to heal an abused one.

Get to know a survivor in your life.

You will see that their healing paths are no doubt filled with false starts, obstacles and messy residue from the past, but they will endure, push through and thrive in spite of them. You will see that they lead extraordinary lives putting others before themselves. You will see that they are beyond “surviving”.

Get to know us.

You will see that we are a welcoming community full of caring, non-judgmental souls who offer support and compassion that extends beyond our own personal experiences. Through the sharing of our trauma, we take those stories and weave it into a strong and supportive safety net, providing each other a fighting chance today — and tomorrow, and the next day.

I am certain we will leave an imprint of our profound sense of courage, our strength, our wisdom and our sincere desire to be of service to others.

You will be profoundly impressed. Our survivor instincts will render you speechless.

And maybe then, through getting to know one survivor, you will finally cease in calling us victims.

The truth is, we need each other, and we are all basically trying to walk each other home.


Bio:

Jodie Ortega is a Hip Hop dancer turned advocate, spoken word artist, and TEDx Speaker (Take that, PTSD!).  She has been able to flip the narrative of victim hood into a unique brand of storytelling, combining the arts with the celebration of surviving, thriving, and everything in between.  Her work has been recognized by Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter and her TEDx talk has caught the attention of UN Women, Greater Los Angeles Chapter.  To date, Jodie has publicly broken her silence in Vancouver, Toronto and San Francisco. Jodie is excitedly preparing for the Love Your Body Summit in Port Moody, Canada on February 6, 2016.  She will be sharing her story and facilitating a slam poetry workshop at a day that is dedicated to empowering girls and women to love their bodies.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dontrunbabygirl

Instagram: https://twitter.com/dontrunbabygirl

Happy Anniversary to Us

trigger_points_book_givaway_ig_image_2To celebrate the one year anniversary of the Trigger Points Anthology, we are giving away the Kindle version of the book on Amazon for FREE November 18-20!

The Trigger Points Anthology sheds light on a topic most parenting books never address: what is it like to raise children when you were abused as a child? With contributions by 21 writers, this anthology and workbook covers the common triggers that arise as parents navigate everything from pregnancy to the teenage years, and helps to let survivors know that they are not alone. As Brene Brown says, the two most powerful words when we are in struggle are “Me too”. This book is a me-too for all the parents working to break the cycle of abuse.

Buy now on Amazon US at: http://amzn.to/2fRMwGC

Buy now on Amazon CA at: http://amzn.to/2eTCNLy

The Essential Drives of Love, Peace and Purpose

elisabeth-coreyMeet Elisabeth Corey. Elisabeth is a contributing author to the Trigger Points Anthology and one of the most accomplished, driven advocates I know. She uses personal and  educational experience to offer services for survivors and parenting survivors, the kind of practical, soul-healing work we need in the pursuit to breaking generational dysfunctions. And now she has authored her first book! Elisabeth, you are an asset to the survivor community, and what the #SurvivorsEmpoweringSurvivors series is all about.


As a survivor of family-controlled sex trafficking and abuse, I have always known my purpose would be tied to my childhood experiences. But for many years, it wasn’t clear what that purpose looked like. It was marred by my past trauma. My beliefs that safety and security were the most important priority were holding me back. But over time, I discovered my understanding of dissociation and inner parts could help others heal. With Beating Trauma,  my personal blog, I helped others understand how their inner conversation was impacting their lives.

I expanded my offerings to including virtual one-on-one and group life coaching. At first, it was terrifying to offer my services. I heard my doubts telling me I was not worthy. I could not help others. But I proved them wrong over and over. As I helped others, I realized I was indeed taking steps toward living my purpose. But there was an elusive goal which seemed out of reach for me. I wanted to write a book. As a matter of a fact, I have wanted to be an author since I published my first poem in a kid’s magazine at 8 years old.

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And in October, I achieved a huge milestone in my life. I released my first book. When I started this journey, I thought the hard part would be writing enough words for a book. I figured since I knew how to blog, I would just write more words. Right? That sounds logical. I hate it when I try to be logical. In reality, the past two years (yep, two years) have been an obstacle course of self-sabotage and defense mechanisms. In fact, writing the words was the easy part. Getting out of my way was a nightmare. I heard constant phrases like:

“Who do you think you are?”

“You’re not good enough.”

“Nobody’s going to like it.”

And for a while, I believed it. But I kept pushing anyway. I changed direction a few times. I wrote several outlines. I started writing several concepts only to put them aside. It wasn’t the right topic, not yet, not now. But then, I had an epiphany.

I woke up to a new understanding that our inner parts are driven by something greater than trauma.

It came to me as I wrote a blog post and I knew this had to be the basis for the book. To back it up, a mentor emailed me after reading the post and said, “You should write that book now.” But even from this point, there was plenty of self sabotage to overcome.

A year later, I have completed something I always thought was impossible. And I’m proud and terrified at the same time. Today, I want to share with you an excerpt from that book in which I introduce the essential drives.

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An excerpt from One Voice

Discovering unconscious beliefs was one of the most important early steps in my recovery. I started questioning why my life had taken so many disastrous turns. And I started to take responsibility for it. Before I knew it, I was getting a sense of the beliefs I was carrying. And it was shocking. I had always seen myself as an independent, smart and reliable person in my conscious mind. I had no idea what those conscious thoughts were covering up. It was a mine field of unworthiness and self-hate. I was blown away.

After many years of struggling through those beliefs and the memories that created them, I became aware of my inner parts. I realized my beliefs and memories were held by parts of myself, and these parts had certain ways of viewing the world. I spent time building relationships with these parts, and they shared more and more information with me. That said, I didn’t always have the highest opinion of them, especially the parts who liked to curse me out and send me down the wrong roads.

But last year, I had a new epiphany. It spurred an idea so pivotal, this book is based on it. It also led me to a new relationship with my inner parts, a better relationship. I came to understand that my inner parts were not just trying to ruin my life with their crazy belief systems. They had a plan. There was an end goal to the ridiculousness. They were attempting to achieve something. This came to me when I was writing a blog post about the belief of “not enough”. I realized these beliefs are based on something innate within us. The beliefs are there to support our reason for existence on the planet. I refer to these reasons as the essential drives.

I came to understand three key reasons for being: love, peace and purpose. Are there more? Of course there are more. But I could always categorize them under love, peace and purpose. As I wrote about them, it became clear how they were driving my own beliefs. My essential drive for love was fueling my beliefs about losing myself to find it. My essential drive for peace was driving my beliefs about self-blame and control. My essential drive for purpose had birthed my beliefs around unworthiness and not being enough. These beliefs existed for the purpose of getting back to those essential drives.

There was a problem. My inner parts were going about it all wrong. The beliefs were encouraging behavior that would never lead to true love, peace and purpose. The trauma was skewing my approach. The trauma was fueling some bad choices in my attempts to do the right thing, to come back home. In some cases, it was making my essential drives mutually exclusive. I could only have one, but not all three. When I figured that out, I was able to work with my inner parts in a different way. I knew their end goals, so I could facilitate their journey by providing a different perspective on how to get there. And I think my inner parts knew it. They started responding differently to me, as though we had connected on a deeper level.

Now, I can share those ideas with you. Now, you can ask those questions of your inner parts. What is it you really want? What is your goal? How can I help you get there differently? I am hopeful this perspective changes your understanding of your inner relationships and leads to breakthroughs in your work. In reality, your parts mean well. And you have what it takes to help them come home to their essential drives.

An excerpt from One Voice


Bio: Elisabeth Corey is a life coach for trauma survivors. She offers one-on-one guidance, virtual groups and workshops to help survivors build awareness of their inner conversation and heal their trauma. Her guidance is informed by her personal recovery from a childhood of family-controlled child sex trafficking and abuse, her life experiences as a parent breaking the cycle of inter-generational trauma, and her education in social work. She helps survivors take life back from their dissociative defense mechanisms through memory recovery, emotional expression, awareness of unconscious beliefs and inner parts work. Elisabeth’s writings and offerings can be found at BeatingTrauma.com.

Connect with Elisabeth on Facebook and Twitter

 

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