The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

Not All Wars Take Place on the Battlefield

There is a misconception in our culture about who suffers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and what they look like. A quick Google search will lead you to believe that the majority of those living with PTSD are men in uniform. The reality is that women are twice as likely to develop PTSD than men, and not all wars take place on the battlefield.

ptsd campaign

We have seen great progress in the last few years in mental health awareness related to PTSD among veterans. We would like to expand on that progress to include all who suffer with PTSD. It’s time to accurately represent the thousands of women and men of all colors, ethnicities, ages and socioeconomic background 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 change the face of PTSD.

Last week a friend of mine, Christine White, wrote an article describing her irritation when a PTSD Google search resulted in the vast majority of the information being war-related. The image search results displayed men, almost exclusively, despite data evidencing that women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD.

Christine’s article sparked a conversation about this misrepresentation among a group of us. We asked, “What about the survivors of childhood sexual/physical/emotional abuse, those who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, war (as a civilian) and even murder, those who have been involved in fires or accidents or those who carry traumatic grief following the loss of a loved one? Why do people not associate traumas outside of war with PTSD?”

PTSD post collage

Having worked in the trenches of the mental health field for the past decade, I have witnessed firsthand how undiagnosed PTSD affects those in treatment. In my personal life, I survived ongoing sexual abuse for eight years, witnessed years of domestic abuse, was estranged from both of my biological parents by the age of two and lost my mother to cancer less than two years after reconnecting with her at the age of fifteen.

I spent my high school and college years in and out of therapy. No one suggested that I might have PTSD until, as a twenty-four year old adult, I interned under an elementary school social worker who noticed a pattern: without exception. I would call in sick the day after we had worked with an abused child. She told me she suspected I was experiencing PTSD. She also said I wasn’t ready to become a social worker. I was pissed, but she was right, and that changed my life.

Trauma as a whole is ignored as a key factor to mental illness, despite a growing body of evidence to show there is a direct correlation between trauma and chronic mental and medical illnesses. The body remembers what the mind—or the survivor—forgets. Harvesting our experiences, good and bad, our bodies collect it all, and the energy created can manifest in ways that aren’t easily identified as a symptom of trauma, but rather, as unexplained mental and medical malfunctions.

We need to start asking people, “What happened to you?” Not, “What is wrong with you?” Only then will we get to the root of peoples’ experiences, and identify and treat PTSD. Google’s search results reflect our culture’s perspective on mental health issues, which only feeds shame and misconceptions.

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Here’s the good news!

We have the power to change it. We really do. It may take a little effort to convince ourselves (those of us who identify as having PTSD) that we carry scars—not blame—and it’s ok to talk about it. But it can be done.

How you ask? Easy peasy. If you have, or currently are experiencing PTSD, share a picture of yourself on social media and add #FacesOfPTSD. Show us your everyday self, with whatever emotion you are wearing that day.

Yes, it may feel uncomfortable, and yes, people may ask, “Really? You don’t act like it.” But isn’t that the point we are trying to make? Most who deal with the effects of PTSD suffer internally, and in silence, alone. Most do not risk the judgment that comes with saying, “I’m not over it,” or “I can’t get past this.” That admission, in our society, is a sign of weakness, and very unwelcomed.

We go to work, despite flashbacks, and carry on even when we’re not sure we can take another step. We raise our children, navigating triggers. We live a “normal” life, because we have been conditioned to “deal with it” instead of recover from it, so at times, hidden away from the world, we fall apart. We self medicate, or do whatever we can to swim through the suffering, and the cycle continues…

If we can do one thing to help break this dysfunctional cycle of pain and suffering, shouldn’t we do it?

 Join the movement.

Like, join and share the #FacesOfPTSD event page. Let’s kick off this campaign May 6th, 2016 with as many images as possible. Share to the event page and/or to your own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc pages. When sharing, be sure to add the hashtag #FacesOfPTSD. Let’s do this one little thing to help show the world what PTSD really looks like, and perhaps alter search engines to more adequately capture the faces of PTSD.  Maybe then our culture will start to understand that not all wars take place on a battlefield, and all struggling with PTSD need and deserve representation.


**Please feel free to show your support for the #FacesOfPTSD campaign by sharing any of the images included in this post. If you would like to help us share the event page, here is a link to do so: https://www.facebook.com/events/1000290716727551/permalink/1000292133394076/

**If you would like to join our community of parenting-survivors, like our Facebook Page and join in the conversation. To read personal essays written by parents, about the challenges of parenting as a survivor of childhood abuse, get your copy of the Trigger Points Anthology on Amazon.

 

The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

It’s a Shame About Shame

Shame has a crushing feel to it. I think to those that have felt or continue to feel shame, it’s suddenly having a spot light aimed on you. It’s the turning of your stomach, like a cement truck, endlessly twisting what’s inside. Shame is that instant jerk of my head, so as not to force another person to have to look me in the eyes. It’s the belief that I am damaged goods, and everyone knows it.

Shame is a burden I have carried most of my life. It seems to come with the territory of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It wasn’t something I identified as a consequence of the abuse. Growing up, I didn’t know life without it. I felt like I walked around with a neon, flashing light on my forehead that said, “Don’t look, I’m gross.”

Shame is still present in my life. It doesn’t consume me, but becomes an occasional reckoning force. Nothing turns that spotlight on as bright as talking about being a mother suffering with depression and suicidal ideations.

When people talk about suicide, it often lacks an empathetic tone. I don’t fault people for this. It’s not my wish that anyone should feel a pit so deep in their soul, that they crave to feel nothing at all instead.

I’ve been in many conversations where the word “selfish” has been used to describe someone’s decision to attempt and/or succeed at suicide. People say things like, “He has a good life – why can’t he just see that?” Believe me, he can. That’s what makes the coat of shame so thick. In spite of everything he may have –  family, money, love – his brain will win every time.

I used to immediately slouch my shoulders and look away from others when the topic of mental illness or sexual abuse would come up. I would feel as if I was burdening others to know they were talking about me. The secret that I am that tainted person, may upset them, so best to just sink in to the pavement.

Shame makes you feel like it is not your choice whether or not you can openly talk about what was done to you, or what was etched in to your DNA. I never felt like I was allowed to let anyone know that I genuinely have felt like suicide was an option. I didn’t know how to not put someone else’s comfort level above my own.

I’ve learned though, that drawing attention to the fact that I can empathetically talk about the subject of depression and abuse actually heals me. Discussing it has become one of the most effective tools I own. I can help control the conversation when I use the unfortunate knowledge I have. Even so, it doesn’t come without a strong pull on my chin to look at the ground when I actually do join a conversation. I try my best to fight it.

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People talk about fighting stigma but go about combatting it in a processed, packaged way. The stigma exists because of the shame. Lets start accepting that to be worrisome or embarrassed over what you can control, is to be ashamed. Feeling shamed, is what happens when something is done to you. One is always without choice. Understanding the difference is critical, and can in fact save lives.

**Originally featured on Crazy Good Parent

trigger points cover~Breaking the Silence, Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

We hope you’ll join our supportive Facebook community, where the challenges and successes parenting-survivors of childhood abuse face are brought to light. You can read personal stories written by mothers and fathers about their experiences of parenting as an abuse survivor in the Trigger Points Anthology, available on AmazonDawn and Joyelle are currently running a call for submissions for the Fathering as a Survivor Interview Series.

 

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.

Survivors Empowering Survivors

I’m Giving My Children the Life I Never Had, and Allowing Them to Take It for Granted.

mpacchiana1.pngI was going to be a savior of children. As a little girl, I dreamed of growing up and creating a safe haven for lonely orphans and foster kids, set on an idyllic farm in the country where pets and farm animals filled out my brood of dependents, and satisfied my aching desire to nurture.

There was a husband in my fantasy, too. He would patiently co-parent our children, biological and otherwise, and adore us all with a fierce, protective loyalty. Even then, I think I understood that I was pining for the chance to give other kids the kind of family environment that I yearned to live in myself.

Growing up as the youngest of six kids, I never felt safe at home. My blended family was a source of love and fun, but it was also chaotic, short on boundaries, and volatile. The trouble usually stemmed from my father’s frightening bipolar rages that transformed him into an angry creature, who lashed out with words and sometimes hands.

Just as unpredictable was the hostile behavior that might spill forth unchecked from my older siblings. Sexual boundaries were nebulous and confusing in our house, adding to my confusion and anxiety. My misery only increased when I was seven or eight years old. My older brother began sexually abusing me, a secret horror that continued for the next couple of years, and which I kept secret throughout my childhood.

Whenever possible, I escaped to my friends’ houses where I envied the kind of structured, consistent atmosphere that allowed me to feel relaxed. Always on my guard at home, I sought out sources of comfort.

With my dollhouse, I acted out the traditional family I desired and released the frustrations I normally had to hide. Under the soft warmth of my blankie, I felt comforted and secure. And in my daydreams, the promise of a future home and family brought the chance to create safety and protection for others, even if I would never know that kind of upbringing.

Today, I have three wonderful teenagers and a husband who’s a pretty close match to that ideal guy I once imagined. We live in a rural town where neighbors are kind and the crow of roosters is a common sound.

Of course, this is real life and not a fantasy. Our family has had its share of struggles and difficult times. Even so, the life we built is everything I once hoped for. While my husband and I never did foster or adopt, we have managed to create a nurturing, healthy family environment for our kids and ourselves. For all of this and more, I am incredibly grateful.

I am also aware that I need to allow my children to take all these gifts for granted.

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My resentment creeps in  at times when I consider that I was once desperate to live like they do — a cozy, warm house stocked with snacks, siblings whose main offenses are rudeness or cleaning out the chocolate stash, the comfort of appropriate boundaries, and most of all, the knowledge that their parents can be trusted.

The problem is that I am remembering my dream, not theirs. It isn’t fair to expect my children to walk around grateful every day for a way of life they have always known, a life that they – and all kids – deserve. While I won’t tolerate rudeness or entitlement, I keep in mind that they have their own legitimate struggles, and that includes having an imperfect family.

Their dad and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way, and we are still learning. For my part, I am an emotional person. Due to my background, normal family problems can sometimes feel like crises to me, which causes me to overreact. For this and other reasons like impatience and moodiness, I can be difficult to live with at times.

I also keep in mind that my children contend with the regular factors that make kids grumpy –teen hormones, academic and social pressures, and fatigue brought on by having to get up early for the high school bus. There is also the simple fact that they are deep in the process of learning how to live, love and work with others. Heck, we are all works in progress when it comes to understanding and expressing our emotions and getting along with our fellow human beings.

Part of adolescence involves sizing up one’s parents and deciding which qualities to emulate and which ones to reject. Though it might be nice if our kids were a little less vocal about the qualities they want to scrap, we owe it to them to respect their needs to individuate and forge their own paths (even when it’s tough not to take their criticisms personally). In fact, there is comfort in knowing that our kids feel safe enough to behave like normal, ungrateful teenagers.

The truth is, I know full well that my kids appreciate their home and family. I feel it in their spontaneous hugs and when we get the giggles together over our shared brand of humor. I observe their thoughtfulness when they eat the dinner I prepared without complaint, even if it’s not their favorite. On occasion, they openly voice their gratitude; like the day my teenage son told me “I really hit the jackpot with my parents.”

It helps to realize that creating a healthy family is a gift I gave myself, too. Correcting my past has helped me heal from my trauma. Through the support of my husband, therapists and close friends, I eventually learned how it feels to be safe, respected, and loved without condition.

Creating the opportunity to share these gifts with my children has, in a sense, set me free. That scared little girl grew up and found her real home and family. While I still have my issues (just ask my kids), I am genuinely happy today. I am also extra appreciative of my gifts because I know what it’s like to live without them.

For my kids though, home is just home. While it can feel to them like a safe haven, family life can also be annoying, unfair and at times feels impossible. Other days though, home might just be their favorite place in the world. In fact, now that I think about it, I feel all these ways about our home too — and that’s okay.

miranda text1

Bio:  Miranda Pacchiana is a social worker and writer with a blog on the Huffington Post. She lives and works in western Connecticut with her family.

 

Survivors Empowering Survivors

Why I’m Not A Total Piece of Shit

In searching for fathers to contribute to the Trigger Points Anthology, I came across Byron’s blog Trauma Dad. As soon as I finished reading his post I Am A Killer, I emailed him because I felt compelled to help him share his voice as far and wide as I could. Although he was unable to contribute to the anthology, he has remained a friend to the Trigger Points community. Good things are happening for Byron and I am so thrilled that he has chosen to share an excerpt from his upcoming book I Am a Killer for the #SurvivorsEmpoweringSurvivors series.

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“I think “I Am A Killer” will help people.  More than that, I think the raw acknowledgement of my corrupt instincts, and how I turn them into positive action, will help stop people from being abusers, and will help them come to love themselves.” ~Byron Hamel

Choice.

There are times in our lives when we have choices, and times when we do not.

When we are children, we are led by those in charge of us.  They tell us to do things.  Mostly, we do what they say.  We believe what they believe, and behave how they behave.  We observe, and emulate.  It’s part of how we learn.  It’s human nature.

A mother is like God to a child.  Her will is destiny.  Fate.  “Do it, now” says the father.  And the child does.  The master teaches the apprentice.  This relationship between parent and child is a sacred trust.  A way to maintain safety, build character, and establish vital life habits and skills.  IF -and I mean a very big IF- the parents use their power correctly.

Essentially, as children, we are led.  And we follow.  When we are led poorly, bad things can happen.

Choices are steered by forces and circumstances beyond a child’s control or understanding.  Children neither possess the reasoning, nor the physical requirements to take command of their own lives in any responsible way.  Their views of the world are filtered through rules, limits, directions…

As children, we are sheep.  And we are vulnerable.  We are as helpless against the wolves as we are against the shepherds.  And that is why so many of us are taken advantage of as children.

We can not fight back when adults hit us.  We WILL not fight back.  We just get hurt.  And that becomes the reality of our lives.  If we are threatened into silence or submission, we will usually concede.  We will usually be victimized until, by some happy accident, a caring person intervenes.

The choice to end parental abuse is not our own.  Not while we are kids.

If we are lucky or clever enough to escape our abusive situations alive, we become adults.  And then we are called upon to make our own choices.  To behave in responsible ways of our own choosing.

But how?  How the hell do we know what to do, if nobody ever taught us correctly?

Maybe we learned when we were little that the correct way to respond to somebody denying us what we want is to punch them in the ear.  Perhaps we were taught that unsolicited fondling of another person’s genitals is the appropriate way of showing love.  It could be that we were beaten every time we expressed emotion, and therefore grew to hold our feelings inside, fearing punishment.

Now that we are adults, our understanding does not magically shift on it’s own.  If our minds and hearts become corrupted, they remain corrupted until we change them.  And change takes work.  Change takes wisdom.

But we are lost.  We truly have not been led to a place of responsibility.  But here we are, tasked with being adults.  Surrounded by other people who seem to be doing just fine.  But we’re not like them, are we?  We don’t GET IT.  We still need to learn all that very basic stuff.

And there’s a lot of it.

We are left to lead ourselves.  To teach ourselves.  But we haven’t been trained to lead.  And we don’t possess the knowledge to teach.

So what do we end up doing?  Well, we follow.  If we do not take control, we continue doing the things we learned how to do, the way that we learned how to do them.

And that is not a good thing.  It is a bad thing.  It is what monsters are made of.  But we’re not monsters.  We’re just grown up kids who got a raw deal.  And now some new kid is smiling up at us.  And we are God to that kid.  That kid is our chance to do the right thing. That kid is why we are not going to follow.  We are going to choose for ourselves.

We the abused stand on the edge of decision.  And we need to make a vital choice.  We can do the difficult thing, and learn how to parent properly.  Or we can do the horrible thing, and continue the cycle of abuse.  We the abused to do not have the luxury of inaction.  We must choose.  One, or the other.

Now that we are the adults, we have the power to choose.  We can end parental abuse before it even begins for our own children.  It may seem impossible to you.  That makes sense.  Ending a cycle of abuse is hard to do.  And I mean VERY difficult.  But the alternative is the continuation of abuse.  And that is worse.  Further, it is unacceptable.  It is inadmissible.

We need to take control.  We need to take the reigns, and choose for ourselves.  We need to parent ourselves.  Correct our damaging beliefs and behaviors.  We need to become the source of love, safety, wisdom, and security that we wish we had when we were children.

This does not happen overnight.

It will take time.  We will need help.  We will need, perhaps, medication and therapy.  We will need to be kind to ourselves.  Patient and persistent.  If we are to succeed in this, we need to learn to love ourselves in all the ways that we were not loved as children.

With this effort, we find our voices.  We make our own choices.  We take our own actions.  We refuse to emulate the wills and ways of those who damaged us.

Choice.

I made a good one.  I make good choices every day.

That is why I’m not a total piece of shit.

————-

BIO

Byron Hamel was raised by a violent man who got the death penalty for torturing and killing a baby.  As a result of his upbringing, Byron dedicates his life to fighting child abuse.  He lives with Complex PTSD, Depression, and Anorexia.  Despite his obstacles, he’s an amazing dad to his two lovely daughters.

An award-winning Canadian journalist, and television producer, his documentary film, “A Breaking Cycle”, is a powerful journey into the world of tough bikers who protect abused kids.

Byron is currently writing for his blog Trauma Dad, and his book “I Am A Killer”, to be released in 2016 by the Gravity Imprint of Booktrope Publishing.  This post is an excerpt from his work in progress.  His writing challenges readers with both depth and simplicity.  It’s raw and funny, but leaves you feeling hopeful and inspired.

http://traumadad.blogspot.ca
https://www.facebook.com/traumadad
https://twitter.com/byronhamel
https://www.facebook.com/GravityImprint