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.

 

 

 

 

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

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
source

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

Trigger Points to Present Fathering as a Survivor Interview Series

Our intention with the upcoming Fathering as a Survivor interview series is to give male survivors the opportunity to explore the effects childhood abuse has on them now as parents. We want to help fathers educate our society on what their particular triggers and struggles are, as they work to break the cycle of abuse.

When we set out to raise awareness on the challenges abuse survivors face as  parents, we absolutely intended to address the point of view of mothers and fathers. Hearing from fathers has proven to be much more difficult than we imagined. It has made us even more determined to extend the opportunity for father-survivors to be heard.

male survivors
Photo Courtesy of http://www.oprah.com: 200 brave survivors stand with pictures of their younger selves, working to lift the veil of shame.

Because of the few brave fathers who have written for us, we know that male survivors transitioning into and experiencing fatherhood have their own unique challenges and triggers. We want to help bring these challenges to the surface, so that male survivors who want to become fathers, or already are fathers can have the information and support necessary to address this particular part of their healing. We want to offer a platform to speak from that offers safety, support and the option of anonymity.

So what are we looking for and what you need to know…

  • It is absolutely acceptable to remain anonymous. Please make this decision very clear us so that we can respect your choice.
  • This series will be an interview format that will run through out the month of June, in honor of Father’s day.
  • Each participant will be answering the same questions, but will be free to elaborate on the questions as you understand them. Every question will need to be answered in order for your submission to be considered.
  • While we cannot accept every submission, we will work hard to allow every voice to be heard.
  • We reserve the right to edit for clarity and brevity.
  • We will be monitoring comments to ensure a non-threatening, safe environment.
  • The deadline for submissions is May 15, 2016.
  • Please copy and paste the questions (see below) in to the body of an email or word document. Please send finalized submissions to Triggerpointsanthology@gmail.com, with submission for interview series in the subject line.
  • If you do not wish to remain anonymous, please include a brief (3-5 lines) bio with your submission. Please include a head shot and any other images that you would like to add, if you are comfortable doing so.
  • Although we regretfully cannot offer financial compensation at this time, we will be offering a free PDF copy of the Trigger Points Anthology to those whose submissions are included in the series.

Here are the questions we are looking for responses to…

  1. Before becoming a father, did you look forward to becoming a parent?
  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?
  3. Were there any triggers that came up for you while your partner was pregnant?
  4. What has surprised you most about parenthood?
  5. What acts of parenting have led you to be triggered? Examples could be disciplining, bathing, showing affection/touching, etc. Have you learned anything from these triggers about your own fears, or the parts of you that still need healing?
  6. What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your child(ren)?
  7. What would you tell another survivor father who is expecting their first child?

Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or concerns you may have. This can be done either with a post/message on the Trigger Points Facebook page or via email at triggerpointsanthology@gmail.com.


trigger points cover

The Trigger Points Anthology is now available for Kindle and paperback. Click the link to get your copy today!!

Trigger Points Anthology paperback

Trigger Points Anthology for Kindle

Become a member of the supportive Trigger Points community on Facebook and Twitter to connect with other parenting survivors.

 

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/