Survivors Empowering Survivors

It’s Time to Write the Wrong.

After Laura’s article He Wrote It Down, the story of Laura and her cousin’s plan to dance on their shared abuser’s grave went viral, they quickly realized the healing power of permitting others to tell their story. …and Say It, Survivor was born.

Laura and Mary are committed to using their experiences as survivors and writers to facilitate people telling their stories as a way to empower and heal themselves through workshops, public speaking and offering a safe space for survivors to anonymously share their story.

Today, Laura shares with us the path that led to the creation of Say It, Survivor. Be sure to check out their upcoming events!


lauraI can’t say exactly when my abuse began.

Most abuse is insidious. It’s like the lobster in the pot. You just turn the heat up bit by bit, tiny increments- and before the lobster knows what’s happening it’s being boiled alive.

I know it didn’t begin where it ended, violently, on a cold, linoleum utility room floor- a dish of wet cat food near my head, the smell overwhelming

It’s funny, the things I remember.

I’m sure it did not start with an overtly sexual act. I’m sure it was with little boundary violations. I remember being held in a lap while I squirmed, trying to leave. That forced affection my first indication that my “no” was not enforceable. I remember being barged in on in the bathroom and pool cabana, again and again.

All easily explained.

Accidents. Misunderstandings.

I don’t remember much about life before my abuse. I don’t remember who I was, really. I’ve heard accounts. I can piece together a composite of the little girl I was. My nickname was Leave-me-lone Laura.

That was not to be my path. I was not to be left alone.

I told, eventually. My mother believed me, my father did not.

My cousin Mary had been abused as well. After I disclosed, Mary heard I’d told and tried to tell the adults in her life that she too was being abused. Her cries for help fell on deaf ears. She endured years more abuse. I did not.

Mary and I did not see one another again except for at our grandmother’s funeral. No one talked to me. Not my aunts, not my uncles, not my godfather. My grandfather gave me wide berth. It was as though I was invisible. A ghost. But I remember locking eyes with Mary. She’s the only one who looked at me. It was a knowing look.

That made sense, actually. I always knew Mary had been abused.  She’d tried to warn me, but I was too young to understand what she was talking about.

I think I laughed, actually.

When I think back and realize that in that moment at the funeral she was still in it, that she was still being harmed, it breaks my heart.

We would not see one another again for thirty-five years. We went from being very close, to being cleaved from one another. It felt like a punishment for telling.

Over time, I stopped talking about it. Make no mistake, though, I may not have been telling my story, but my story was being told.  Every day. It was being told in addiction, unhealthy relationships, promiscuity, anorexia, insomnia perfectionism. All of those things were my story being told- it was just my abuser telling it.

The Thanksgiving before last, I awoke to find a Facebook friend request from Mary. I hesitated to accept at first, not knowing what she’d been told, what she remembered. I decided that worst-case scenario I could un-friend her and be no worse for the wear.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself on the phone with my cousin. The decades disappeared. We began to catch up on each other’s lives.  The parallels were staggering. Same sense of humor, similar interests and talents. Same self-destructive behaviors.

At a certain point, Mary expressed confusion. She said, “I know your parents got divorced, but I don’t understand why we never saw each other again.” I was afraid to rock the boat- afraid to lose her again, so I hesitated. Then Mary said, “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.”

And so we told each other our stories.

say-it-survivor

Two months later, we reconnected in person. We stayed up all night talking, looking at photos, filling in the missing pieces- trying to make sense of things. Laughing. Crying.

The next day we set out to dance on our grandfather’s grave. We got lost on the way to the cemetery and pulled into a police station to ask for directions. On a whim, we decided to report him, though he’d long been deceased.

The officer assigned to us, Officer Paul, treated us with such kindness, and such dignity. He led us through our story and filled out a formal report. He investigated and found another victim of my grandfather’s outside of the family. We met with her mother the following day.

I wrote about the experience, published it on my blog, and the post went viral. Overnight, I began to get inundated with people telling me their stories. People saying, “Me too.” Many strangers, yes- but also people I knew well. Women and men whose stories I’d have said I knew. It quickly became apparent that this was no longer just our story. It was bigger than that. We became determined to do something with the experience, to give our pain a purpose.

I’ve come to understand that whatever story you aren’t telling is the one that is running the board.

It’s the one to which you’ve attached the most shame and it is in charge of your whole life. You either integrate that story as A fact of your life, or it will be THE fact- and our abusers do not get that. They do not get to tell our stories. They do not get to write the ending for us.


Bio:  Laura Parrott-Perry is the single mother of two amazing children and is devoted to a very handsome dog, indeed. She is the author of the popular blogs, In Others’ Words, and The Golden Repair on DivorcedMoms.com.  Her work has been featured on Huffington Post and in Boston Magazine.

She is also a survivor of sexual abuse.  And she’s talking about it.  Shamelessly.

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Survivors Empowering Survivors

I Spoke About Parenting as a Survivor, Because I Was Asked.

cissy whiteEven though I’m a socially awkward introvert with post-traumatic stress, I gave a talk on parenting after trauma last month. Why? Because I was asked.

Someone read the Trigger Points Anthology and wanted a keynote speaker who is a trauma survivor and a parent. Let me say it again. I spoke because I was asked. That never happens.

My experiences were treated as though they are useful, valuable and important. As though they matter. As though survivors matter. As though I matter. I didn’t have to scream or beg or fight to be heard. I was asked.

I joked with one friend, “The only time I ever get to talk about my childhood is in therapy, and I have to pay someone to listen. This time, I’m being paid.”

As a teenager, when I told my mother I was abused, she didn’t believe me. Not being believed almost ended me. And I can’t speak articulately about that yet or recovering from that. I can say that being asked to talk about my childhood and how it has impacted my parenting was medicinal. It was also liberating, terrifying and healing.

The opportunity for us to have conversations about life and trauma and parenting as peers, sharing the experiences we had as children and the way we live with them as adults and parents now, is very rare. It’s very different than our conversations as patients or clients. So often our lived experiences, opinions, insights and expertise are rarely heard, valued or sought. That silence and shame stuff is still pervasive.

So I said yes when invited to speak because it’s so radical to be asked. Just like I said, “yes, please” when asked to write about my experiences for the Trigger Points Anthology.

Because we need to hear each other to feel less alone. Being asked is powerful and life-changing. 

I made very conscious decisions about which parts of my life and experiences I would speak about. I talked mostly about the present and how the past impacts the present all of the time. I did not speak in detail about the abuse I survived.

Sexual abuse isn’t my story. Sexual abuse is the story of those who abuse. Being an adult child of an alcoholic isn’t my story. That’s the story of the person who drank. Having a homeless father doesn’t tell you a bit about who I am or how I parent.

These things all shaped me. They did and do impact me and how I parent, and sometimes explain why parenting is challenging. They contribute to my post-traumatic stress and contribute to my high ACE score. They are some of the reasons I do advocacy work, but they aren’t my story.

Nope. No way.

My story is about me and the choices I make. My story is about how I use, express, make sense of and recover from all of my experiences. My story is about how I learn to parent, to love, to trust and care about myself and my daughter. My story is about how I learn to inhabit my body and attempt to show up and be present without shame or apology or numbness.

The only story I sign, autograph and own is my own. I reject the notion that what was done to me, by others, is my story.

When I joined the Trigger Points community a few years ago it was the first and only one I’d ever heard of with, for and by survivors. I was jumping up and down, elated to find others craving, creating and needing community and conversations. Not clinical talk, therapy or processing, but just sharing life and stories about day to day.

Photo Credit: Margaret Bellafiore
Photo Credit: Margaret Bellafiore

So I said yes and spoke at the Partnering for Excellence conference, even though I was afraid. I said yes because I was asked by people creating trauma-informed and collaborative approaches to the mental health system, to children and families in the foster care system and to the wider community as well.

At this conference, the Trigger Points Anthology was shared with staff in order to help professionals working to improve the lives of children better understand the challenges parenting survivors face. Professionals referenced our words, our experiences and the stories we chose to share. Our experiences mattered to others.

It's not trauma informed if it's not informed by trauma survivors is what I say. 

I chose to focus on how trauma in childhood was less an event and more an environment. How it was less a crack in the foundation and more the way the foundation was never poured. I was trying to explain how it feels as a child to live with trauma; as a child who has no adult concepts, words and language; as a child who might grow up to become a parent.

I spoke about how kids don’t realize, “This is trauma I’m living.” Especially young kids.

We don’t think:

I’m being flooded with toxic stress. My ACE score is rising by the second. I will probably need a lot of evidence based therapy.

Those are adult thoughts.

Kids think things like this:

I like animals. People suck. Get me the hell out of here. Here being the body, family or world.

Kid’s don’t have language or context or perspective. We don’t know what we are living would be easier without trauma. We don’t know that there’s an opposite of trauma to be had. As kids, it’s just life we’re living.

It's not so much that trauma and adversity are being minimized by us or our family members, it's that trauma is normalized. 

It’s the norm for us, and maybe for our parents too. It’s maybe been “traumatic” for months and years and decades. For generations. Day in. Day out. For many families, trauma and childhood might be synonyms. But I didn’t grow up thinking I was living with trauma. I thought I was just too sensitive or lousy at life. How we learn to live in a traumatic environment as a child is hard to unlearn as an adult when it’s your baseline.

Everyone brings the experience of being parented as a child to the forefront when becoming a parent yourself. And it’s hard to learn to parent differently when we didn’t experience a healthier and safe home and childhood. And when, as adults, it’s easier to find books on gluten free recipes than break-the-cycle parenting.

For so long, I’ve been in a fight, warring with shame and silence and what can seem like an indifferent world. Sometimes it can be futile and exhausting to volunteer or work hard to make social change, not knowing if we are making any difference.

Sometimes having not been believed as a child still stings my soul, leaving me feeling invisible and afraid to speak.

But here we are. We are here and we are hearing and seeing and supporting each other.

I know I'm not alone and feel it in my bones. 

We are supporting ourselves too and making the way easier for others who become parents after surviving childhood trauma.

And that’s my story, the one I author, autograph, share and tell again and again. For myself. For the kid I once was who had no words or language or support. And with the strength of this entire community I’m grateful to be a part of.


Bio: Christine Cissy White is a writer who believes it’s possible to live, love and parent well after being raised in hell. Possible, but not easy. She founded www.healwritenow.com and writes, speaks and consults about trauma-informed care from a survivor’s perspective. She develops Writing for Wellness programs and educates about the need for portable and affordable ways to heal traumatic stress at the Heal Write Now Center: Creating Hope, Health and Happiness in Massachusetts. She’s been published in Ms. Magazine online, Spirituality & Health, The Boston Globe and is a columnist at Elephant Journal. She’s writing a book with Nancy Slonim Aronie entitled: Your Childhood is Making You Fat, Sick & Dead: Write to Heal.