Survivors Empowering Survivors

The Power of Community: 3 reasons you need a tribe, and how to get one.

I was at a neighborhood party a few weeks ago. It was a celebration of the successful completion of our annual block party. I sat down with a glass of wine to chat with one of my neighbors, and she told me during our conversation that her daughter had died under tragic circumstances at age 30.

“You probably read about it in the news” she told me.

She also told me that across the hall from her lived another woman whose daughter had died at the same age, and that when she was having a hard day she would walk across the hall and knock on the door, knowing that there was someone who would understand.

A week later I was talking to a friend of mine who confided that she was starting the process of separating from her husband. We talked about the overwhelming list of practical details she had in the weeks ahead, including finding a full time job and a new place to live. And I thought of another friend of mine, who is also going through a separation. I thought they would probably get along really well, and could both use someone to talk to. Someone who would understand. So I put them in contact and they got together over coffee.

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Human beings are a funny species. There are billions of us on the planet, and yet many of us live our lives feeling alone. We often feel that no one else could understand what we are going through, or no one else has the crazy thoughts that we have. This feeling of separation makes us sick, both emotionally and physically. We are a social species, we are meant to live in connection with others. But in order to be truly connected, we have to be vulnerable. That’s the scary part. We have to admit that we need help sometimes.

Before I became a parent, someone told me that parenting was like turning the amp up to eleven. Life is just more intense. The highs are higher and the lows are deep abysmal valleys. As a survivor of childhood abuse, my experience of becoming a parent certainly fit that description and more. I was suddenly confronted with the reality that no matter how much healing work I had done prior to having children, a whole new level of issues were arising for me. Anxiety, depression, and PTSD all reared their ugly heads. I knew it was related to my childhood trauma, but I couldn’t find any information about how other parents survived this. Until the day that I did. When I read Dawn’s article on Scary Mommy about Raising a Daughter as a Survivor, I knew I needed to talk with her. I did, and together we formed a community for other parents like us. Because when we are “in the rumble” as Brene Brown would say, with the hard things of life, we need to talk to someone who will understand.  And the ones who understand best are in the rumble with you.

Thinking about my experiences in the two years since Dawn and I started the Trigger Points community and anthology project, I realized I have learned so much about the power of community, and why we need it. Here are my top 3 benefits from forming this community:

  1. It normalized my struggles

Before I had the Trigger Points group, I didn’t have a baseline to compare against. I could talk to other moms about the developmental transitions my child was going through, but I didn’t feel like I could talk about what I was going through. And I really needed to hear that what I was experiencing was perfectly normal for someone with my history. Now when something comes up for me, I know exactly where to turn.

  1. It gave me a place to talk freely without censoring myself.

Have you ever had one of “those” days and then been asked “How are you?” by the grocery store clerk? And you really want to tell her “Actually I feel like total shit right now and I would like nothing more than to curl up in a ball and cry or better yet punch something, but instead I’m here buying fucking groceries.” But instead you just mumble out a “Fine”?  I hate those days. As a survivor, I learned from the reactions of people around me that my story was too much for most people. So as I grew older, I self censored. A lot. Now I have a place where I don’t have to do that, and it is such a gift.

  1. Advice & Resources

The Trigger Points community has been an amazing resource for me. Books to read, therapy modes to try, and more have been recommended. Even something simple like a playlist of songs (link to post) to listen to on hard days has made a huge difference.

Some other amazing things have happened in my life since Dawn and I started the Trigger Points Community. For instance, I shared my story in a spoken word performance at She Talks, and learned that not only could I speak publicly about being a survivor, but I would receive a standing ovation for doing so. That was so incredibly healing for me.

And one of the best things to happen after creating this anthology and community, is getting messages from other survivors that say things like “Thank you, I felt so alone and now I don’t feel alone anymore.” Knowing that Dawn and I have created this safe space for others is so incredibly rewarding.

I have always had a strong pull to create community, because I have seen the benefits of it in my own life, and in the lives of those around me. I have learned that I need different tribes for different phases and stages of my life, and that if I outgrow one tribe, I will find or build a new one. So I urge you, if you are feeling alone in any part of your life, go find your tribe.

How to find your tribe:

  1. Start with who you know and ask around. You may be surprised to find that a friend of a friend is in the exact situation you are, and is also looking to connect.
  2. Look to Facebook groups, Meetups, and libraries. Librarians are some of the best people to ask, they know everything!
  3. Start one yourself. If you can’t find what you are looking for, then the world needs you to step up and create it. You are never the only person going through anything. Never. Someone out there is wishing that they could find you, I guarantee it.

I know it can be scary to show your vulnerability and admit you need help, and often we are afraid to reach out because we don’t want to be a burden. But we need each other. There is someone out there who will hear your story and it will not be a burden at all. It will be a gift. Go find that person.

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Author: Joyelle Brandt

Joyelle Brandt is a radical self love warrior, on a mission to help women understand that their ugly is beautiful. As an artist, author and speaker, she uses the creative arts to help women heal their relationships with their bodies and recover from abuse trauma. She is the author/illustrator of the children’s book Princess Monsters from A to Z, and co-editor of the Trigger Points Anthology, a groundbreaking collection of writing by parents who are survivors of childhood abuse. Joyelle believes that her purpose in life is to be a beacon of light, and that the three most important things are love, kindness and gratitude. When she is not busy raising two rambunctious boys, she is most often found playing her guitar or covered in paint at her art desk.

Website: www.joyellebrandt.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/joyelle.brandt

Twitter: www.twitter.com/joyellebrandt

Instagram: JoyelleBrandt

 Tomorrow is the big day! For our one year anniversary we are having a Kindle giveaway of the Trigger Points Anthology!

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

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

 

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The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

The #FacesOfPTSD campaign launches today!

Today we are launching the ‪#‎FacesOfPTSD‬ campaign to raise awareness and start a conversation about survivors mental health. When we can talk about it, we can heal.

How you can participate:

· “Attend” and share the #FacesOfPTSD event scheduled for Friday, May 6 th

· On May 6 th , share an image of yourself—or if you don’t live with PTSD but still want to show support, share one of the images posted on our page—and be sure to include the hashtag #FacesOfPTSD

· Use any of the #FacesOfPTSD campaign images if you publish a blog post or any articles about PTSD

· Know the facts. Women and children get PTSD. Women get it twice as often as men. Children get PTSD.

Men get PTSD and women in the military get PTSD, too, typically from sexual assault rather than combat.

Let’s make a change!

It’s important to accurately represent the thousands of women and men living day to day, while doing the best they can to manage flashbacks, constant triggers and the debilitating medical and mental health effects of this disorder. It’s time to recognize the many #FacesOfPTSD.

 

 

The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

The Body Remembers

the_body_remembersThe Body Remembers

 

Just get over it.

Why can’t you just get let it go?

Because it has not gone anywhere. It is still here.

 

The first time I did yoga I cried.

And every time after that for six months.

At the mat, I came face to face

with my self hatred.

At the mat, I discovered the way

I hold my trauma in the space between my pelvic bones.

 

Some people brought towels to class

to wipe away their sweat.

My towel wiped away my snot and tears,

as a lifetime of holding trauma was released,

in sudden waves that washed over me,

salty memories licking my skin.

 

The body remembers.

 

I have a safe home now.

I have a gentle, loving husband who adores me

and would do anything to protect me from harm.

 

But I still have to ask him not to stand in doorways

that block my exit from a room,

because blind panic crawls up my spine

like a thousand tiny spiders.

 

The body remembers.                                   (Even if the mind does not.)

 

Because the truth is,

I really don’t remember much of what happened.

I do remember the aftermath.

The fall out.

The shame and blame.

 

But of the initial acts, I recall a game of pretend,

played out under covers.

Memory has kindly laid a fog around the specifics

of how my vulva became rubbed so raw as to require

antibiotic ointment.

I guess it must have hurt at some point.

I don’t recall the pain.

At least, not the physical pain.

 

But the body remembers.

 

Yesterday a toddler

full of joy and cheerful abandon

ran full tilt into my back

and shockwaves echoed my trauma.

 

No. Please stop that.

 

The body remembers.

 

And no, I do not want to hear about your magic therapy

or 12-step program that will “cure” me so I can be “normal like you.

And no, I do not want your pity either.

 

What I want is for you to see me.

To see my scars like you would see the scars of a burn victim.

As proof of my will to live and love

through un-imaginable pain.

 

Because my body remembers.

 

And these scars show the world that I survived.

 

© Joyelle Brandt 2016

This poem is part of a series of works Joyelle is creating called Written on the Body that explore how our bodies contain and reflect our lived experiences, and the map that trauma leaves on the body.

The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

Safe to Bloom: Trauma recovery and grace

magnolia_bloom

This is my magnolia tree. Today it has six blossoms on it. Compared to my neighbour’s magnolia tree, it is kind of sad. My neighbour’s tree has hundreds of blossoms. And the tree next to that, and the tree next to that. In a row of magnolias, mine is the least impressive this spring. But a few weeks ago, when I looked out my bedroom window and saw these six blooms, I ran down the stairs to my husband to tell him the exciting news. “Honey, the magnolia is blooming!” Because after three years of living in this house, this is the first time any blooms have come at all. Every year I watched the neighbour’s tree blossom while ours lay bare. So this year is very exciting for me. Because as I see this tree begin to blossom, I know it is mirroring my own healing journey.

The first time I looked at the house we now live in I was horrified. There was human vomit dried in a corner of the kitchen, and dog urine and feces stains all over the carpet. There were closet doors off hinges, one room was covered in graffiti, and the entire basement reeked of weed. I had already heard that the police had been called to this house repeatedly, but I didn’t realize just how bad things were until that day. I walked through the house with my 3 month old baby on my hip and my 5 year old following behind us, stunned by the negative energy the house emitted. So much dysfunction and pain. If it had been a house in any other neighbourhood, I wouldn’t have bought it. But our family had outgrown our current home, which was just across the street. We wanted to stay in our neighbourhood, which was family friendly, and these larger townhouses rarely came up for sale. So we made the plunge, bought the house, and started the process of renovating it to repair the damage. I cleaned every surface obsessively, we re-painted the damaged walls and replaced the destroyed carpets. And I sat in the living room and meditated, working to clean it on an energetic level.

A few weeks later we had moved in. I went to meet my new neighbour, the one with the beautifully blooming magnolia tree. And it turned out that his name was the same as my childhood abuser. He seemed like a very nice man, kind and friendly. But still.

I wasn’t prepared for how much this simple move across the street would rock my sense of personal safety. Despite all the work we had put in to make the house our own, I could not forget its past. Knowing the history of what had happened in this house, I worried that drug dealers would show up at the door. I had paranoid thoughts that someone had hidden a drug stash somewhere in the house and one day would break in while my family was asleep to retrieve it. Add in the neighbour with the same name as my abuser, and months of sleep deprivation from the new baby, and it was not good news for my mental health. Some nights I would lie in bed and watch the door of my bedroom, which I always left slightly ajar to listen for my kids. If the door moved an inch, I was convinced someone was coming after us. Writing this now, I realize how crazy it sounds, but here’s the thing. When your sense of safety is messed with as a child, it takes a toll. And all my unresolved issues from my childhood abuse, combined with postpartum depression turned out to be a toxic combination for me.

I didn’t feel safe in my home any more. It was horrible to lose that feeling of safety. But it was also really important for me to go through. Because it made me realize just how carefully I orchestrated my life. It made me realize how much I arranged the external circumstance in my life in order to avoid dealing with the scared child that still lived inside me. I had gotten older, but I hadn’t ever learned to let my adult self keep her safe. I just kept reverting back to the child self whenever anything in my adult life mirrored my childhood experience. Like during my pregnancy with my second child, when painful muscle spasms made me feel unsafe in my body because they triggered abuse flashbacks. Like after my son was born by C-section and I was too weak to get up off the floor, and I felt unsafe because my body was foreign to me. Like when my baby kept needing me to breast feed him when I was beyond exhausted, and I just needed to have my body to myself.

How was I supposed to feel safe in my body and in my home after all of that? I found two resources that helped me recover my sense of safety. I built this amazing online community of survivors for the Trigger Points Anthology with Dawn Daum. And that gave me perspective and support that I had been missing. It gave me a safe place to talk about these moments when I am triggered. Because I realized through all of these experiences, I had made them worse for myself by not talking about it. Did I tell my husband, lying right next to me, that I was having a panic attack while watching my bedroom door move? No. I just suffered in silence. Having the Trigger Points community offered me the chance to start talking about these moments, and to hear someone else say “me too” has made a world of difference in my life.

I also took a course called Training in Power. I learned to trust that inside of me there was a capable adult who could protect the scared child. I learned to connect to a divine energy larger than myself when I didn’t feel I could do it myself. And through that class I connected to another community of amazing, supportive people who are committed to healing themselves.

I started to gain so much confidence and strength that I was able recently to give an 8 minute presentation on a stage in front of a full theatre about my experiences with trauma recovery. I talked openly about the shame of childhood sexual abuse, about body hatred, about postpartum depression. I talked about the long term impact that childhood abuse has had on me. I couldn’t have done that a few years ago. I can do it now because I know now that every time I speak, I am representing thousands of other survivors like me. And I know that I am capable of keeping myself safe now. And I know that every time I speak out, I make it safe for someone else to speak out too.

I look out my window at that magnolia tree with its six blooms. It is in recovery from all the trauma that happened in this house. It has learned now that it is safe to bloom. I look at my reflection in the mirror, and I know that I am blooming too.

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Joyelle Brandt Bio

Joyelle Brandt is a radical self love warrior, on a mission to help women understand that their ugly is beautiful. She creates Love Your Body events, workshops and retreats to help women make peace with their bodies and live a life they love. Her next offering is the BE KIND to your Body e-course, starting March 28th.

www.joyellebrandt.com

The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

Contributor News: Elisabeth Corey

Our contributors are doing some amazing things in the world. Last blog post we shared about how Cis White just opened the Heal Write Now Centre in Weymouth, MA. Which is lovely, but we can’t all just travel there easily to take one of her amazing classes (although maybe at some point in the future we could host a retreat there, who knows?) Wouldn’t it be great if there was some way we could do a class online? Well wait, because now we can.

Elisabeth Corey has recently launched an online course for parenting survivors. Let’s all just stop for a moment and appreciate the awesomeness that this is. Because this is what our community is all about. Survivors letting other survivors know that they are not alone, and sharing their healing journey for the benefit of us all.

In this article, she talks about the 7 main issues she addresses in her course. Read on to find out more.

Little cute girl walking in the woods

“I will not make the same mistakes my parents made.” It may be one of the most common sentiments in the world of parenting. But when we express this desire, it is often met with rolled eyes or some other doubtful response. Why is that? Deep down inside, I think we all sense it is much more complicated than we are willing to acknowledge. Changing our parenting approach from the way we were raised is extremely difficult. The only easy solution is to swing the parenting pendulum to the opposite extreme, which does very little to improve the situation. It is as though we are hard-wired to behave in the same manner. In reality, that may be the truth. Our brain has been wired to perceive reality in a certain way.

With that said, the sentiment should not be met with so much skepticism. It is changes in parenting that are largely responsible for any human evolution that has occurred thus far. If we were parenting the same as the first humans, things would be very different. But to make changes in generational parenting requires conscious choices and a honed awareness of the patterns we want to stop. That is not easy. There has to be significant motivation to make that happen.

In the case of parents who grew up with complex trauma, we have all the motivation we could possibly need. The complex trauma survivors I know have vowed they will never abuse their children again. And this is great to hear. There are a large number of parents who have agreed to stop the cycle of abuse. And I know they will.

But there’s a problem. While the sexual and physical abuse will stop with them, there are other patterns or habits that are harder to notice and change. These habits come from the belief systems within abusive families that are passed down to children. And they are exceptionally hard habits to break. But the first step is awareness. And I have made it my mission to bring these habits in to the light. There are seven habits that seem to be particularly prominent within the survivor parent community.

 

1) We hover. I know what you are thinking. How else do we keep them safe? And I understand the sentiment. But we are sending the wrong message to our children. We are letting them know they can’t handle life without our help. We must prepare our children for life on their own. And we can do that by prepping them with the confidence and high self esteem that wards off predators. Hovering won’t do that.

2) We disconnect. Of course we disconnect from life. Dissociation was the only technique that got us through childhood. But now, we find it difficult to enjoy life and be present with our children. We may even feel like we are living in two different worlds. As we learn techniques to come back to the moment, we can dramatically impact our relationship with our children.

3) We struggle to set boundaries. Children are going to push boundaries even when they are set well. But with trauma, we struggle to set them and stick to them. Children may express emotions which can be triggering for us. Children may get aggressive which can be terrifying for us. But no matter what they say, children need limits to feel safe. And we have to find a way to tolerate their response to our limits.

4) We mistrust others. Let me cut to the chase, we don’t necessarily trust our children either. Why would we? We never learned trust. Our family taught us the opposite. So we may show a little more disbelief than the average parent. We may assume ulterior motives more than other parents. And we may be faced with a bit more lying, especially if we react strongly to it. It is important that we use trusting words with our children so they know we believe them. But that takes practice and awareness.

5) We respond from fear. I often hear from clients about how they lost control. I describe it as the “invasion of the body snatchers” phenomenon. We don’t want to yell. And we certainly don’t want to rage. But when the situation appears dangerous to our inner child, we are no longer in control. And it can take every ounce of strength we have to get it back. By that point, the damage is often done. And while apologies are a great thing, it sure would be nice to respond differently. So we must begin some inner conversations to curb that fear response.

6) We pass down our beliefs. We might not be passing down the traumatic abuse, but our unconscious statements and actions can make quite an impact on our children. And coming out of a dysfunctional family, there can be many. Children of parents with trauma can learn that they are powerless to make change, genders are not equal, maintaining control is safer, and emotional expression is not safe. If you are noticing anxiety in your children, they may be picking up on some of these messages.

7) We compensate for our insecurities. There is nobody who feels comfortable as a parent. I repeat. Nobody knows what they are doing. But survivors of trauma are convinced they are the worst at it. And there are so many reasons. Maybe there is no extended family around. Maybe there is only one parent. Maybe there is guilt because survivors have been taught that everything is their fault. But monetary and material compensation doesn’t send the right message. We need to find other ways to manage the guilt because more than likely, it is misplaced.

 

So what do we do about this? I wish there was an easy solution, but there isn’t. As I mentioned earlier, we are hard-wired and we have to make change slowly and deliberately. And if we have raised our children with these habits for a while, the children need to change too (although it is much easier for them to change). We have to build a daily awareness practice about how we are carrying the legacy we don’t want.

This is why I have developed an email workshop called The 7 Habits of Parents with Complex Trauma. Each week of the workshop, you can examine how one habit is impacting your life and what you can do about it. The first step is always awareness. And I can help you with that step. If you are determined to make positive change in your family, I can provide you with tips and journaling prompts that helped me in my own journey. So join me as you start this life-changing work. And let’s stop this cycle for good.

About Elisabeth

Elisabeth is a survivor of family-controlled child sex trafficking and abuse.  Her encounters with domestic violence and incest began when she was two years old.  After years of familial sexual abuse, her father started selling her to make extra money.  Through her bravery and resilience, she was able to survive and leave home at 18, but not without physical and psychological repercussions.  She was 36 when her first repressed memory was recovered.  She has spent the past six years recovering from her childhood experiences and earning her master’s degree in social work (MSW), while parenting two small children.

 

Elisabeth writes about the biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of recovery from complex posttraumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and dissociation on her blog at BeatingTrauma.com.  She intimately discusses issues that affect the daily lives of survivors, including breaking the cycle of abuse through conscious parenting, navigating intimate relationships as a survivor, balancing the memory recovery process with daily life, coping with self-doubt and overcoming the physical symptoms of a traumatic childhood.

http://beatingtrauma.com/