The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

Big Book News!

Parenting_with_PTSD_postcardWe have some big news to share! In the past year we have gotten a greater understanding of who we want to reach with this book, and with that in mind we will be re-releasing the book with some additional content, more resources, and a new title. As of June 2017, Trigger Points will become Parenting With PTSD. We hope that the new title, combined with an awareness raising campaign, will help us connect with more survivor parents who need us.

We will be filming a book trailer, re-vamping the website, and creating new social media accounts over the next few weeks. Please follow us on Twitter and Instagram and sign up on our newsletter through the form below to keep up to date! We will have a free book day when the book is released, and if you want to make sure you don’t miss out, the newsletter is the best option for that.

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Survivors Empowering Survivors

Is Personal Advocacy Worth Risking Professional Backlash?

“Don’t you worry an employer will see the personal stuff you have shared online?”

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When I began writing publicly about my life and experiences with depression, and as a parenting survivor of sexual abuse, my career in the mental health field was already on hold. At the time, I was a stay at home mom who needed an outlet. Now being back in the field, I sometimes get asked the question above. Truth is, yes, I do worry. But not for the reasons you may think. It has more to do with my feet, than a fear of compromising relationships and employment.

I “came out” as a sexual abuse survivor online a year before I resumed my career as a mental health care manager. I wrote about my experiences on a personal blog and for popular sites like Scary Mommy and Huffington Post. I talked to other survivors and supporters online, and face to face with people in my personal life that never knew.

I went back to work about six months before publishing a book on the topic of parenting as a survivor of abuse. I didn’t tell anyone at my new job about my blog or the book, and had no idea if anyone had Googled me before I started. I felt like I was walking around with this hidden identity tucked away. Which wasn’t much different than the way I’d always felt.

Survivors are professionals at covering up the scars that society uses to brand them broken.

The difference now was I had exposed myself online, leaving a part of my identity and reputation in a new place of employment vulnerable to judgment. I leaked a “secret” safely from the comfort of my own home, and it was only a matter of time before I had to come face to face with it in public.

There came a point when I mentioned in casual conversation at work that I enjoyed writing. I could feel my feet turn to stone, and start spinning like the roadrunner at the same time. Before the last word fell from my mouth, I was formulating a plot to run. I knew I had just opened the door for someone to ask, “What do you write about?” Inevitably, the question came up and I directed a few people towards essays I wrote about the trials and tribulations of motherhood, with only a dash of my “crazy” sprinkled in.

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Slowly but surely the word started to trickle out that I was co-publishing a book, in and outside of work. I started to talk about what the book was about – parenting as a survivor of childhood abuse – and had to answer “Yes” when asked, “Are you doing this because it happened to you?”

And again, frozen but fidgety feet.

I felt empowered by being in control of the conversation, but it stung my insides a little, as if the word sexual abuse sent a message to every nerve in my body to go electric for a split second. Before then, I had only written about my experiences. Being exposed like that, on purpose, looking someone in the eye as pieces of my story willingly poured out is something I had never experienced. It set my heart free, but imprisoned my feet in a constant state of “Freeze” and “Run!”

Even though every single person around me was supportive and championed my goal to speak about and for parenting survivors, I worried. I worried that I was breaking the unspoken code that people in the mental health field aren’t suppose to open up their own baggage and allow others to see what’s inside. We are suppose to draw firm lines in the sand, because exposing ourselves could make others uncomfortable, damaging the chance for advances in your career, and/or jeopardize relationships with clients. I kept waiting for the backlash.

Two years later, it hasn’t happened yet.

Trauma, more often than not, is at the root of the psychological and medical illnesses mental health workers help people manage. I have become someone who is recognized as having the ability to understand what that means in regards to a person’s recovery work. I am at times sought out to work with clients who have extensive trauma histories, because I am capable of acknowledging pieces of their stories that aren’t commonly recognized as important, while helping them to navigate recovery through medical, mental health and community services.

I’m able and willing to share so much about myself and my story because I recognize the reality of how prevalent my story is. I know this not only from the hundreds of charts I’ve read and the countless mental health patients I have worked with throughout the past ten years. The confirmation that my experiences are far from rare show in the lingering eye contact among those I’m speaking to – the unspoken coming out among survivors.

I’ve been contacted by college professors, stay at home moms, a neurophysicist, administrative professionals, those living in houses surrounded by a white picket fence and those that are constantly chasing a rent they can actually afford – all with stories about how being a survivor of childhood abuse has affected their ability to be a parent. I have experienced and witnessed the abuse a person experiences bleed out as mental health symptoms, ranging from full on delusional thinking, to unexpected panic attacks, to not a fuck given about living or dying.

I share my story not because it’s easier for me, but because I choose to use empathy and validation to establish connection. Experience has convinced me that connection permits scars to evolve into re-birth marks.

Setting appropriate boundaries is a priority in my line of work. I recognize that disclosing personal information to clients can be counterproductive in their recovery, but that doesn’t prevent me from allowing my own experiences to join me quietly in interactions with clients. Allowing all of me to be present enables authentic eye contact, compassionate body language and an empathetic attention span. That can speak volumes to a person sitting across from you.

I don’t worry that I am going to be fired from my job, or that I won’t be considered for a different one in the future, because my personal advocacy work exposes pieces of my life most in my position would keep hidden away. I worry about those damn feet of mine.

quote_2I worry that with even the slightest indulgence of vulnerability, I’ll feel the hangover that always follows. I’m worried that my feet will never be still and calm.

That my volume button is defective and I can’t or won’t talk loud enough or often enough to actually make a difference. I worry that my feet will give out.

I worry that the chatter in my head will convince my feet to give up on carry the weight that comes with advocacy.

You see, my brain gets it. My body doesn’t yet. I still have work to do. It’s daunting to stand at the top of one mountain you just conquered and realize there is an even bigger one in the way of where you’re going. My feet are tired. Some days, I don’t think they will ever get the message that it’s ok to stand still, tall even, when the sting of vulnerability hits.

So back to the original question – Do I get nervous about the amount of personal information I share? Yes! There is a risk involved when exposing personal aspects of my life while professionally working with the public. However, to me, it is more of a risk to not acknowledge where my empathy and knowledge comes from – especially in today’s cultural and political atmosphere.

And as far as those damn feet go, I can only hope that in time, as they carry me further and further into the public view, they will keep me grounded in spirit, and not fear.

The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

Get A FREE Signed Copy of the Trigger Points Anthology!!

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Even with Joyelle living on the west coast of Canada and Dawn living on the east coast of the US, the authors of the Trigger Points Anthology have arranged to offer you a FREE SIGNED copy of their book!

It’s easy to enter. Just click the ‘enter giveaway’ link at the bottom of this post. Easy Peesy.

Already have a copy? Enter to win a copy to give to someone in your life that could use the support and knowledge OR donate it to a local human services agency.

Much love to you all and GOOD LUCK!!

~♥Joyelle and Dawn

*Enter Giveaway*

Faces of PTSD · The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

Why Aren’t Trauma Survivors Warned That Parenthood May Be a PTSD Trigger?

For many survivors of childhood abuse, symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may re-occur, or never arise, until they become a parent. A significant number of parenting survivors do not recognize the increased depression, anxiety, or onset of flashbacks as symptoms of PTSD, weaving in and out their journey to raise a family. Instead, many will internalize debilitating shame and question  their ability, and even their right to parent.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crimes, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will be a victim of sexual abuse. The abused children all have one thing in common – they eventually become adults. Naturally, most of these adults become parents, many whom have never spoke about what happened to them, leaving trauma symptoms to lie dormant, festering, until acts of Parenting 101 expose them to triggers which send them spiraling. Most suffer silently, alone, and confused. It doesn’t have to be that way. And in fact, it shouldn’t be.

One night, as a new mom, I walked into my daughter’s bedroom to kiss her goodnight before heading to bed myself. As I went to my daughter’s bed, I was halted by a physical reaction to what I was doing. I had this sudden, unexplainable sickness in my stomach and felt panicked. I had this thought that I was violating her personal space by being in her room while she slept. I felt repulsed by the idea of kissing her on her cheek. In that moment, I was able to recognize my thoughts and physical symptoms as irrational and was able to kiss my baby girl goodnight; however, I had yet to understand where this was all coming from.

Following that episode, I started to recognize that same mental and physical pattern while performing basic acts of care with my children. The sickness and panic was there when I changed diapers, bathed them, gave affection, when affection was requested, when I breastfed, when I disciplined either of them – it became the norm for me to feel “off” anytime I was in the role of Mom. But who do you turn to with this kind of revelation? How does one ask for help because her children are making her physically and mentally sick? I often asked myself, “What the hell is wrong with me that I feel like this?”

This is the PTSD I have had to learn to cope with as I raise my children, because I was sexually abused as a child. I’m now able to recognize that panicked physical reaction I experience stems from the eight years my abuser walked into my room at night, and the lack of protection I had from others in my life. I was told “I love you” by my abuser, every time he abused me. I believe that is the reason that I felt ill when I went to kiss my daughter goodnight and tell her that I love her.

Becoming a mother added a whole new, difficult layer to my recovery. I became triggered by things that I did with, around, and for my children. I was triggered by certain people around my children. I was triggered by their sheer existence, in that I now could see how innocent of a child I was, at the time my abuse began.

I have worked in the field of mental health for the past 10 years and invested a significant amount of time working through my trauma before becoming a mother. Even with professional and personal experiences in recovery work, I was unable to recognize what I was experiencing as PTSD, nor was I ever forewarned this may happen.

With research such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACEs) beginning to come to the surface, we are learning that there is science behind how survivors of childhood abuse experience adulthood and parenting. Prolonged abuse and the toxic stress that follows distorts connections in the brain that associate things correctly, like love and fear. Also, a survivor’s nervous system develops in an abnormal manner, leaving the survivor with a faulty fight/flight/freeze response.

It wasn’t until I connected with other parenting survivors of childhood abuse online that I shed the belief that I was broken and not worthy of being a parent. Through sharing my experiences, I learned how common this is for parenting survivors. Once I was able to break through the shame, I was able to re-enter therapy and talk truthfully about what I was experiencing. At that point, I began learning about PTSD and triggers. Even though the process of acknowledging my reality as a mom was brutal, it finally started to make sense.

It isn’t always a choice for an abuse survivor to associate “normal” feelings with “normal” things. For example, a parenting survivor may experience a desire to push her child away when the child asks to snuggle and watch a movie, despite wanting to participate in the loving act. Intellectually, she may understand that this is a normal way of showing affection; however, her body recognizes that kind of touching as stressful, unpleasant, or even harmful.

Bessel A. van der Kolk, in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, teaches us that “Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies.” He further states, “The mind needs to be reeducated to feel physical sensations, and the body needs to be helped to tolerate and enjoy the comforts of touch. Individuals who lack emotional awareness are able, with practice, to connect their physical sensations to psychological events. Then they can slowly reconnect with themselves.”

That’s what makes being a parenting survivor so difficult. Survivors do not often experience parenthood as their peers do and often feel alone because of this. This can add one more layer of fear, frustration and shame to their day to day experiences, especially when they have never heard anyone speak about parenting as they are experiencing it.

It takes an incredible amount of energy and conviction to weave through PTSD while raising children. For many, the child is the trigger, meaning you can’t avoid it.

One has to be willing and able to work through the incongruent feelings she experiences while parenting, and choose to analyze and process her reactions at a later time in order to continue healing. That is incredibly difficult to do when already experiencing sleep deprivation and other exhausting demands of parenthood.

I think most parents feel like they are winging it, but growing up in dysfunctional families often leave a person without a visual of what a “good” parent looks like. Add trying to understand PTSD symptoms to that process when no one ever talks about this and it is a recipe for the cycle of dysfunction to continue.

A parenting survivor has to commit to raising her children, while at the same time re-raising herself. Often times, this is done with little to no support.

There are so many missed opportunities for providers to prepare new parents for what may occur. First and foremost, Ask! Looking back, I was never asked by my primary care physician if my childhood abuse was affecting me as an adult or parent. The lactation specialist never asked if I had experience with childhood sexual abuse when I struggled to breastfeed my child. My previous therapist never warned me that this may be one more thing I may need to learn to navigate when we discussed my plan to start a family.

I remain shocked that with all that is written about and for survivors, and about and for parents, no one has recognized and addressed parents who are survivors. As an advocate for parenting survivors, I am continuously amazed at the response I get when I speak on the topic, by both professionals and parents in the communities. The most common responses I get is “I’ve never heard anyone talk about this before” or “I didn’t know this happens to other parents.” It’s a shame.

Understanding what triggers are and why they occur has saved my life, and allowed me to parent in a break-the-cycle fashion. It has allowed me to use the triggers to assist in my recovery, and no longer hinder it.

It is my goal to increase awareness on the topic of parenting as a survivor by educating community medical, mental health and human service providers on the role childhood trauma has in becoming a parent.

The good news, as Bessel A. van der Kolk and other leading trauma and forward thinking experts like Peter Levine (Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma), Judith Herman (Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror) and Brene Brown (Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead) are proving that there is hope, if you are willing to do the work. And believe me, it is work!

With trauma-informed care becoming a buzzword of sorts, and with the ACEs study adding science-based evidence to validate the actions and reactions of abuse survivors, I can only hope that the 1 in 5 girls and the 1 in 20 boys will be more prepared for the role PTSD may have in their lives, as they become new moms and dads.

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The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

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.