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.

**photo credit


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The Voices Of & For Parenting Surivors

Trigger Season

Still awake at 2:43 a.m.

Third night in a row.

I could easily stay up all night until dawn, but I have to try and get a little rest, at least, so I can be the mom that I need to be for my children tomorrow. When I do finally fall asleep, it is restless and disturbed, full of half-lucid dreams and recurring nightmares. I get up several times to check the lock on the windows, the front and back door, as well as the porch light.

Before I can go back to bed, I have to make sure that the curtains are drawn, the kids are okay, and the phone is within arms’ reach. It is a task.

A cool draught blows through the room.

I am reminded that summer is nearly over and start to cry in the dark. I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. On the wrong side of myself. I feel ugly, exhausted, out of sorts, on the outside of everything.

I bumble through my morning routine in a fog. Easily exasperated, far too impatient, I sigh and mumble under my breath as I rush the kids to get ready for daycare, my words stumbling over themselves in an effort to appear normal, whatever the hell that is. It is bad enough that I had to leave the sanctuary of my bedroom today at all, really, but is it truly necessary for me to be normal, too?

If so, I think, epic fail.

I smile harder, because I do not know what else to do, and keep going.

I take my meds. Remind myself that a bad day is just a bad day and not the end of the world. Keep going. Keep going, yes, but with a belly full of fanged butterflies determined to escape. Usually, the medication settles the rush of wings, but today—these days—it barely takes the edge off. On the balcony, catching the last rays of the summer sunshine, I try to figure out why.

 

Then it occurs to me. Fall is on the way.

It’s in the air, at night, I can smell it. Trigger season.

fall time

After a number of incidences in my childhood involving various forms of sexual abuse, I was raped at the age of seventeen, in autumn, by a boy I had previously dated. Every year since then, without fail, as soon as the first leaves begin to fall, the first chill touches my nose, the first hint of pumpkin spice arrives, I start to feel it, all of it, again, in my throat, my chest, my breasts, my guts… all over. Anxiety, panic, fear, depression, sorrow, angst, a sense of impending disaster, an urge to run, hide, avoid, disappear.

One by one, they arrive, like uninvited guests to the worst party ever.

And I’m the unwilling host, shackled to the floor and gagged, unable to get rid of them.

Oh, they will leave when they are ready, I know. By December, the dreaded gang will have gone, for the most part, leaving only a few stragglers behind—nothing I cannot manage with help from the Christmas Spirit—but for now, oh, for now, as my PTSD symptoms start to slowly worsen day by day, I find myself holding my breath, waiting.

Maybe it won’t be as bad this year, I tell myself noncommittally.

Guess we’ll see, I reply.

Since opening up about my experiences and sharing my own story, I have come to know countless other survivors, many of whom also experience a Trigger Season, a particular time of year, associated in the recesses of the mind with a past traumatic event (or events), which leaves them feeling unusually vulnerable and susceptible to flashbacks and triggers. For some, it is the high heat of summer; others find discomfort during the colder days of winter.

I feel paper thin from late-August through to late-November.

If you know someone who suffers from PTSD, please be aware that certain times of the year may be more challenging than others, and while we may not be able to express what we need, you can still ask.

Understand, we may be utilizing every ounce of available energy just to get through a day. We do not mean to be short, snippy, cranky, or rude, so if it happens, we probably feel worse about it than you do. Forgive easily. Since we are used to feeling less than and not enough, remind us to be gentle with ourselves, and be gentle with us. Show your love and support by checking in.

PTSD can be very isolating and lonely, and it helps to know that, even on the days when we do not want to face the world, we are not alone and we are loved.


This post originally appeared on Lilacs in October.

Bio: arwen park

Arwen Faulkner currently resides in Canada with her husband, their four children, and a few family pets… but she still hasn’t given up on the idea of moving the whole family to a deserted tropical island one day.

A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, adolescent date rape, and intimate partner violence, Arwen has begun to overcome the legacy of fear and shame left behind by her abusers, and to share what she has learned along the journey from victim to survivor. An emerging writer and dedicated warrior in the fight to end violence against women and children, Arwen is hard at work on a biography of the late Canadian poet and social activist, Bronwen Wallace.

 

 

Fathering as a Survivor Interview Series

Fathering as a Survivor – Jeff Glover

Today, We are sharing with you an interview with fathering-survivor Jeff Glover. Jeff is a father to two, an active member of the malesurvivor.org community and a writer of poetry at rendered heart. Jeff’s answers to our questions open my eyes to many ideas I had never considered, which is exactly what we had hoped for with this interview series. Thank you Jeff, for being a part of this important conversation.


 

1.  Before becoming a father, did you look forward to becoming a parent?

As a young man I totally wanted to be a dad. It seems odd to say but I wanted to know it could be done. My father was verbally and emotionally abusive and even outside the sexual abuse my life was confusion …chaos really. I had tremendous fears about it but I wanted kids much more than a wife! Dealing with adults has always been more difficult for me and especially women because my first abusers were women. By far the hardest part was finding a woman who could deal with me where I was then.

2.  How did you feel when you first learned you were going to be a father? Did you have any specific fears and/or joys?

When I found out my wife was pregnant my biggest fear was that my wife and I might not remain married. The thought of not being there always to protect my child, and the idea of someone else touching them or caring for them was terrifying. Further along in the pregnancy when some difficulties came along, the guilt was unbearable.

3.  Were there any triggers that came up for you while your partner was pregnant?

Sex did this… I did this and now it was going to destroy the one person who could love me. Once again sex had proven dangerous and ultimately an enemy. I hated myself for doing that to her. Any real joy about the pregnancy was shut down immediately. I knew that if something happened to make us lose [the baby], I could never bear that and so I wouldn’t engage. There was a constant fear that I was not good enough to be a dad, that I would become a victimizer. And all of the medical touching and probing of the body it was like I gave her to the abusers. To this day the day my first child was born is to me …. The worst day I EVER lived through.

“I learned that as I teach my child, I learn a lot more myself…. If I will listen”

4.  What has surprised you most about parenthood?

What surprised me most was that I was good enough. It surprised me that the do over was possible and that because I knew so much of what not to do it helped me to know what to do. It surprised me that even though I would freak at ANY imagined inappropriate touch or anything like it. I could play with them and wrestle and give them the attention I so wanted. It surprised me that there are ways to keep myself sane and still see them grow and be healthy.

5.  What acts of parenting have led you to be triggered? Have you learned anything from these triggers about your own fears, or the parts of you that still need healing?

I found that being angry with the kids was triggering to me. I never allowed myself to discipline the kids while angry and felt compelled to explain in great detail what the discipline was all about. My own parents, my mother specifically lashed out in a rage and hit me with anything that was handy and it made the whole experience insane to me and touching was nearly UN allowed. I found that I was compelled to hug my kids and show intense affection. All of the interactions with my children taught me a LOT about areas of my life that were still raw. Unfortunately, it took me many years to seek help.

6.  What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your child(ren)?

I have learned more lessons than I can count. I have learned what trust looks like, and love that is truly safe. I learned that what I can manage to give to a life can pay back many fold. That God exists and that he is amazing. I learned that as I teach my child, I learn a lot more myself…. If I will listen

7.  What would you tell another survivor father who is expecting their first child?

I would tell him to brace himself! The journey has been the most intense that anyone could imagine. But for all the pain and fear and yes face it the vampire syndrome you are not destined to be like them. In fact, the do over is possible. We can imagine what it might have been like to be untouched and give our kids that opportunity, but do beware there is an odd jealousy that happens sometimes, a longing for our past to have been different.

Bio:

jeff glover2Jeff is a father of two and a moderator for malesurvivor.org, where men from around the world come together to share their experiences and help each other heal from the trauma of sexual abuse. He is also a writer, using poetry to express the chaos of emotions felt by many survivors of abuse, helping others to connect with deeper hurts they find difficult to express. Through his talent with words, strong faith and the support of his loving wife, Jeff works with the team at malesurvivor.org to help forge a path to healing for thousands of men. To see more of his work and connect with other brave survivors, please head to www.rendedheartpoetry.wordpress.com and look out for Jeff’s first book which he is diligently working toward finishing”


To hear more about the unique challenges parenting survivors face, get your copy of Trigger Points: Childhood Abuse Survivors Experiences of Parenting, available on Amazon.

Trigger_points_square_thumbnailHere’s what readers are saying:

“The book so many of us looked for and craved and ached for. And couldn’t find.” ~Christine W.

“I work as a psychologist and a researcher. …This book made me a better researcher because it gave me dozens of hints to study different aspects of abused parents’ emotions.
But most importantly, it made a better father because it helped me reflect on my experience as a parent through the memories of my own childhood.”  ~Luca

“This book has been a life changing revelation for me!”

“What I find most impressive – aside from the raw, honest writing – is how the editors chose to include journal prompts and several different types of resources for readers. This is a workbook, really. Incredibly well-written and thoughtfully arranged.” Beth T.

Finally a book where parents who have experience CSA can go from essay to poem to essay and say “me too.”    ~Lara 

Join the Trigger Points community on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

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.

me for post

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.

source
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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.