My kids have had questions about my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through each stage of their growth and development. Throughout each phase, my question has always been, “How much do I tell my kids about my PTSD?” While I have not come up with the ideal answer to that question, I have come up with some ideas that have helped me. ~Kelly Wilson
I have been a life long soldier in the fight to find common ground, subconsciously trudging in other’s boots, or attempting to drive through the bends and breaks in the road that led them where they are today before I make judgement. But I am struggling ya’ll. My heart feels flipped inside out over what has occurred in our country over the past week.
By Wednesday afternoon I was such a mess I decided I had to just give in to what ever this was that had a hold on me. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was…anger? confusion? sadness? Because of my extensive experience with loss, I eventually recognized the feeling to be grief. I actually laughed at the thought that what I was feeling was grief. I mean how dramatic. But after awhile, I couldn’t deny that familiar sadness in my gut I know to exist when I have lost someone or something I love. I gave myself a pass to just feel whatever the fuck I was feeling on Wednesday, and knew that the following day I’d pull myself up by the bootstraps and carry on.
That plan didn’t play out the way I had imagined. I sit here almost a week later, heart still hurting, fear still lingering.
I heard a radio dj say the morning after the election that because he is not a female, and because he is not a minority, and because he is not a member of the LGBT community he is ok with the decision. He feels ok about it because it doesn’t directly effect him. He said this while sitting next to his partner of the morning radio show who is female and gay. They have worked together on this show for years and often talk about how much they value each other. I felt such a pain in my heart when I heard him say that.
He was sitting right next to a person that he claims to love and said what happens to her has no bearing on his life. If she has to live in a world where she doesn’t have control of her body, if it is ok for it to be used as an object only for the pleasure of another person, even without her consent, that’s ok with him because, hey, it’s not me. If her life is uprooted because her marriage, the family she has built with her wife and son is ripped out from underneath her then that’s just fine, because it isn’t his wife and kid.
When did we become such a calloused culture?
If I heard about a car salesman who will get me the best deal I could imagine, who orchestrated a financial success story with his bare hands, but was a man that bragged about sexually assaulting women and openly expressed racist, homophobic, xenophobic views, I would not go to that man to buy a new car. I don’t care how much money he could save me. I would not say yeah he’s a horrible human being but I mean, he’s a great business man so I choose him. I can’t sacrifice my values for a dollar.
It comes down to being honest.
Trump has claimed he wants to “fix” the broken mental health system. He preaches that in his first 100 days, he will create a plan to put more services in place to treat those with severe mental illness. He scapegoats a population of people to ignore the real issues behind gun violence in this country. He promises he’ll create programs to address the cracks in the system, but he refuses to admit that the Obama administration has already made significant strides in this area. Systems that help identify higher risk individuals and connect them to services like care management (what I do!), so they have someone to reach out to for help when issues like housing, connecting to doctors and therapists, or barriers in the way of accomplishing their goals arise.
If Trump repeals what has now become known as Obamacare, he is cutting the kind of services he is promising to create. Trump’s stance on government’s role is loud and clear…the smaller the better. So if government is to no longer have the funding necessary to create programs to help our most vulnerable populations, who will? The private sector? I don’t think so. There isn’t much profit in giving of oneself. The agencies that do the best work are non-for-profit for a reason. Money cannot be a motivator. Because the cash flows heaviest when playing off of people’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses, not in the effort to help repair them. This election has re-taught us that lesson.
Trump preaches about using his financial genius to change governmental practices that he himself took full advantage of. What in the hell makes someone think that his priority is going to be closing those loop holes that have allowed him to support the kind of life he has grown accustomed to living. I hear people ask well who wouldn’t take advantage? A lot of people. A lot of hard working, compassionate people with a conscious, that’s who.
It comes down to character.
I have worked in the mental health field for the last decade. I have helped a lot of people go through the motions of applying for and being awarded social security disability benefits. “These people” are often referred to as leeches sucking on the tit of society with their free money and all. Through the process of helping those that geniuenly need it, I know that a person can create a paper trail and manipulate the system. It happens. So then am I entitled to use that knowledge to get a check in my hand every month? No. Why? Because it’s dishonest. Because it’s bad character. Because it would take away from someone else that really could use a break. The only different between taking advantage of the loop holes in the government welfare systems and taking advantage of the loop holes in the government tax systems is one is justified as smart and the other as fraud, manipulation, wrong doing, even criminal – as both really are.
As overcome as I am about the election results, I am just as much or more saddened by the assumption that I am accusing all Trump supporters of being racist or vile individuals. Those people do exist, and some have even just recently been revealed to me, but that doesn’t mean I am slapping a label on every person I know that voted for him. Part of my confusion and unrest is due to knowing the hearts of people that support him — tender, caring, intelligent hearts that have never consciously hurt another person. Hearts that go out of their way to defend others and help build people up.
I’m confused and fearful that these same people are now defending principles that go against their own actions, but rationalizing it because it’s the kind of “change” we need to make America great again. Women that would never tolerate their children talking the way Trump does, that lead by example when teaching lessons of love, acceptance and equality are rationalizing his message based on saving a dollar. I don’t assume these people’s hearts are now jaded and ruthless. It’s because I know this about them that I am still walking around stunned that they would choose to put a man of Trumps character in a position of power, and continue to defend him until red in the face.
It’s about the message we are sending.
My daughter was particularly interested in this election because she heard so many adults talking about it. She is an inquisitive child and asked many questions, including who are you voting for Mommy and why. I was gentle with my convictions and only spoke of reasons I chose not to vote for Trump based on ideas that I could back up. I didn’t tell my daughter that I think Trump is a self absorbed pig, instead I revealed to her his stated beliefs that women should not be in control of their own bodies, that he believes that because of money and power, he has the right to take advantage of women. That he makes broad, dangerous assumptions that certain groups of people are dangerous because of their skin color or where they come from. That he believes he can “fix” this country because he is a business man despite his numerous failures to run a business successfully, and manipulated many people on his rise to the top.
My daughter is an old, quite reasonable soul. So when she woke up on Wednesday morning and asked me who won, and I had to look her in the eyes and say Trump, I could see the confusion fall over her. I could sense the message sent to her that she was trying to process. She was bummed that she didn’t get to celebrate the first woman elected president but more so, she was confused that people would choose a man that went against the values that her mother has instilled in her since they day the chord was cut.
It comes down to personal responsibility.
I don’t believe that it was Trump’s intention to open Pandora’s box and permit citizens of this country to draw lines in their dorm rooms separating space based soley on the color of their roommates skin. I don’t believe he asked that guy driving his truck down Broadway in Saratoga Springs to attach a large Nazi flag to his truck and wave it proudly, nor did he ask people to intimidate others to the point that a woman would shy away from holding her girlfriend’s hand in public for fear of the reaction of others. But that is exactly what has happened.
Personal responsibility is something I preach on the daily and I don’t fault Trump for these and many other people’s disgusting reactions; however, he chose to send a message of entitlement through out his campaign that initiated this. He is responsible for opening the lid and permitting people to feel justified in spilling their hateful speech whenever and where ever they choose, because that is the example he set.
And this is the part where my bleeding heart explodes…
You can go ahead and call me a delusional bleeding heart, illogical elitist, libtard or any other derogatory language you choose to describe someone with conviction for the better of we, not just I. In fact, please do. I have zero fucks to give if I am viewed as a woman who doesn’t understand the reality of ‘everyone for himself.’ It is 20-fricken-16…don’t bring blatant hate to my front door and tell me you’re just calling it like you see it. No, sir. Not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow.
I was born a fighter. I had to come out swingin’ to survive the shit shows I’ve lived through. I know the only way to get through a storm is to stand right in the middle of it. So I will plant my feet, and hold the fuck on with the rest of my army. And I will continue to reach out my hand to any one that is feeling like they have no fight left in them right now. As a Woman, a Mother, an American, as a fucking Human Being I will continue working to break dysfunctional, generational cycles that use fear to fuel change. No one person holds any higher value than anyone else. Once that can be agreed upon, then maybe we can start meeting each other half way.
Sometimes all it takes for a person who is suffering to reach out for help is to see the face of someone they can identify with. By doing something you already do, nearly every day, you can help make that happen. Let me explain.
Right now, if a person uses an online search engine (Google, Bing) to search “PTSD”, he or she will be directed, almost exclusively, to sites offering information on veterans of war. An image search will lead you to believe only men in uniform get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What’s troubling is that if that person searching is not a veteran, instead a survivor of a different kind of trauma, and is looking for information or face to identify with, she is possibly left feeling even more isolated and defeated.
If “women and PTSD” is searched, one is left believing a female with PTSD is in a constant state of falling apart.
That is another misrepresentation. Those who suffer with PTSD usually do so while raising children, working 9 to 5 and/or taking care of necessary day to day tasks.
Survivors are professionals at looking “normal” on the outside.
Anyone who goes searching for help deserves to see images that look like PTSD in the real world – faces of moms, dads, children, teachers, social workers, cashiers, nurses, etc. They need to see the real #FacesOfPTSD. Faces that look like mine.
What is the #FacesOfPTSD campaign?
#FacesOfPTSD is a social media campaign that will run May 24, 2017-May 31, 2017.
If you identify as having PTSD, share your picture on social media, along with the hashtag #FacesOfPTSD.
To alter the current landscape of social media and search engines (Google, Bing) to include all trauma survivors, particularly women who are rarely represented, in order to reflect more accurately the #FacesOfPTSD.
If only one of these images ends up on the first page of search engines, then this will have been a success!!
It’s important to accurately represent the thousands of women and men living day to day, while doing the best they can to manage flashbacks, constant triggers and the debilitating medical and mental health effects of this disorder. It’s time to recognize the many #FacesOfPTSD.
A gift? How could she say that? There is no silver lining in someone that I love being murdered. I don’t understand how she thinks I could have possibly benefitted in any way from this tragedy.
A month before my cousin was murdered, I started therapy again with a woman who is very skilled in trauma-informed recovery, to help me work through an increase in PTSD symptoms. With feet that are always bare, she radiated peace. She taught me how to breath through anxiety and frustration. She reminded me that I am safe now, each time my body responded to a memory with tension.
About a month in to our work, we began digging in to the trauma that was my childhood using EFT tapping, also known as psychological acupressure. It was awkward at first but halfway through the session I started to sink in to the motions.
When I returned the next week, my therapist had an unusual posture and air about her. She said, “I have to be honest with you. I have been doing trauma work for many, many years and I have never seen anyone respond to EFT the way you did.” I thought Oh that must mean I did something right!
She continued on to say, “I watched you going through the motions, but there was no emotion or reaction at all. You didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just trying to understand your response and what is blocking you. You show incredible insight and resilience with what you say, but I’m feeling like despite that, I am getting very little to no emotion or feeling from you.”
Immediately, I responded with “Well, I think…”
“Stop right there” she said. “I’m asking you to feel, not think. How do you feel right now and where in your body do you feel it?”
I became frustrated right away. What does she mean?
I told her that it’s very difficult for me to hear her say I have no emotion. I am a very emotional person. I pride myself on my sensitivity and ability to empathize. I’ve built a life and career out of these strengths and I’m not sure where she is coming from.
“Dawn, you rationalize instead of feel when it comes to you. You keep yourself safe by staying in your brain. You learned at a very young age to disassociate from what you’re feeling in order to survive. You knew how to protect yourself and that is a miracle. But you don’t have to do that anymore. This coping mechanism has allowed you to tap in to helping others heal, just not yourself. You empathize for others, but not yourself. In order for you to work through the trauma, you are going to have to give yourself permission to feel.”
Her comment left me confused, angry, sad and defeated. I knew she was right. And it was a physical feeling that assured me of that–the tightness of my muscles, the hotness in my chest and shoulders, my short breathing pattern. Anxiety–the high alertness that I function on. It’s the one feeling I recognize within myself as confirmation of something–vulnerability. And I felt incredibly vulnerable in that moment.
It was less than a week after that session when I got the call that my cousin was maliciously and methodically murdered. I walked around that evening in a complete fucking haze. I didn’t cry and I could barely talk. I eventually took something to help me sleep.
As the sun began to beam through the window above my bed, tears began to pour from my barely opened eyes. The realization of what I was told yesterday hit me like a direct blow to my chest. I sobbed. I knew I had to travel back to my home town for his funeral, even though that meant coming face to face with my childhood traumas, including my abuser.
As I started to see the Georgia red clay out the airplane window, the pins and needles started to race up my arms. I began mentally preparing to barricade my tears. I had to be strong for the those who are hurting, unaware of what I was denying myself of in the process.
Stepping inside the funeral home, I saw more familiar faces than I ever cared to see. It’s not that I don’t care about these people, it’s just easier to live my life across the country from them because to no fault of their own, they trigger me. I’ve stayed away from this place and these people because my mental stability has depended on it.
Despite that, I passed out hugs and offered my shoulder to catch tears because I wanted to help others hurt less. When I spotted my abuser across the room, I froze. I fled to the bathroom and tried to ward off the burning in my chest with deep breathes and an internal pep talk.
Don’t lose it, Dawn! You need to stay strong.
I walked out of the bathroom as they were inviting family in to a private room to view the body. There he was. Lying there so still. I held his sister and father as sorrow seeped out of their every pore. My body shook as I tried to hold it together. All the memories became an avalanche on my heart and my mind began to release it’s grip.
The pain and grief I felt in that moment extended from my heart to my entire body. I could feel myself losing it. The childhood memories, the only good ones I have, involve the young man that is now lying lifeless in front of me. I wanted to run out of there. I wanted to run as fast as I could away from the vulnerability bubbling to the surface.
I don’t know what my uncle was thinking when he reached for me in that moment. He looked into what I imagine were hollow eyes. Being the only positive male role model in my life, I felt security and protection as he hugged me. He said, “It’s ok to cry.” A stubborn fear of feeling was shattered by his permission to grieve, and I came undone.
It’s been almost seven months since my cousin’s passing and my journey back to my roots. Many, many tears have fallen since that time. Tears for his life, and mine. Anger has crept in and out. Sorrow has brought me to my knees. Memories have at times flooded me with emotion; I have accepted them, unapologetically.
There is truth in my therapists observation. My cousin did give me a gift. The loss of his life has left a gaping hole in my heart, but in his passing, he gifted my spirit with permission to feel – the pain, the love, the angst, the truth.
So now, when I recognize my old patterns creeping in, and I find myself fighting to feel, I give in. I strip off the emotional armor and embrace the moment — good, bad or ugly. Randall had a way of always making me feel safe. As I carry heavy grief with me on this day, the day he would have turned 34 yrs old, I will not let myself check-out any longer. In his honor, I will feel — without fear.
In any given moment, I have to make a decision that you will learn from. I have to pull from a very dry well of parental guidance. I have to fight the urge to react to my initial responses to you, more often than I would like to admit.
When Hasty reached out to me, asking if I would like to write a post for her relationship series, I was excited to be a part it. And then my nerves kicked in. I had been thinking a lot about how being a survivor of childhood abuse has affected my relationship with my children, especially my daughter, and knew that was the relationship I wanted to focus on. It was difficult to be true to authentically evaluating our relationship, and avoid sugar-coating the tough spots. Fear of judgment with this piece and negative self talk was the most difficult space to crawl out of in order to write this. But I did it. And I can only hope others can relate, and feel a sense of relief knowing they are not alone in raising their children, while re-raising themselves.
With the release of the Trigger Points Anthology today, I am a bit overcome with pride, grief, elation and a touch of fear. I’m reflecting on the past year working with Joyelle to create the anthology, and all the blood, sweat, tears and energy that went in to this. I’m thinking about this powerful tool that we and the writers have created, and the possibility that it can change lives. And honestly, I’m fighting the urge to crawl under my blankets and hide from all of it.
My desire for invisibility started on Monday night, after I met with a local arts group board members, in hopes that they will host a book signing for me. I knew I would have to speak, but I prepared nothing. I spoke off the cuff and actually did very well.
But here’s the thing, I have never said the words “I am a sexual abuse survivor” to anyone outside of my therapist and those I am close to. My voice cracked a bit but I would not let myself break eye contact with the people sitting around the table. I kept my composure and talked openly about my experiences as a parent survivor and the book. When I got home, I felt like a wet noodle. Every part of my being was exhausted. It’s amazing to me the energy it took to say those six little words out loud.
I can’t and I won’t hide though. I’m going to sit with my emotions today. I’m going to remind myself that I deserve to feel pride and that the fear I am experiencing is a result of the false beliefs I have carried with me for too long–I am not broken, I have a right to tell my story and there are others out there that need to hear it.
The other part of my frayed nerves is due to an essay I wrote, published today on Hasty Word’s blog for her Relationships are Hard series. It’s a letter to my daughter in regards to the struggles I face and the worries I have because I parent her with trauma on my back. It’s raw, it’s honest and it’s not easy to speak about, but necessary.
This is the beginning of a new chapter in my life, and my recovery. I have so much gratitude in my heart for those that have helped me get to this place; my co-editor Joyelle, my husband, my sister and my friends all allowed me the space to talk about something that isn’t always easy to hear, and then championed me through out this journey.
To them and my followers who have written so many inspirational and personal comments and messages to me… Cheers!
And to all the brave survivors out there working to create a healthy life for yourself and your children…you are my heroes.
The Trigger Points Anthology is now available through Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle versions. I hope that you will check it out, read the inspiring reviews and add it to your own library. If you would like to purchase a copy, click here!
Joyelle and Dawn are survivors of childhood abuse working to break the cycle for their own families. Raising children as an abuse survivor is often a lonely and isolating experience, as the triggers and flashbacks of abuse can be hard for non-survivors to understand. When they were looking for stories of how other survivors coped, and couldn’t find any, they decided that something needed to change.
Together they started an online community specifically for parent survivors, and started collecting essays to create the Trigger Points Anthology. A book where survivors of all forms of childhood abuse could talk about what it is like to be a parent when your own childhood was so traumatic.
Parenting when you experienced childhood abuse often feels like walking back into a war zone as a soldier with PTSD. There are flashbacks and triggers everywhere, and most parents are completely blindsided by them because no…
We are kicking off the month long countdown to the release of the Trigger Points Anthology today with a cover reveal!! Isn’t it beautiful!
I was trying to visually represent how motherhood had taken my whole self apart, re-arranged all the pieces and put them back together in a completely new and un-recognizable pattern. ~Joyelle Brandt
You can read what else Joyelle has to say about her process of creating the image, and what the anthology means to her here.
With one month to go before the book release, I’m sitting here with a slight case of perma-grin, and tears filling my eyes. The irony of being able to make November 18th the release date has me feeling a bit raw, but proud. November 18th, 1995 is the day I got on a plane and the abuse was finally over for me. I was 15 years old and had endured sexual abuse for the past eight years of my life. I came to a place two years ago when I started to see how that day was a birthday of sorts for me. Happy Re-Birthday to Me: A Sexual Abuse Survivor’s Coming Out Story is an essay I wrote two years ago about learning to let go of the shame, and moving on. It was also the first time I ever publically (and by publically I mean speaking outside of like three people) spoke/wrote about the abuse.
So to now have the anthology be released on that day 20 years later…I’m convinced it’s the universe high fiving me.
For me, this is more than a brilliant collection of words. It’s a seed. It’s a very personal introduction to a parenting topic that needs compassionate attention; a resource for a parent to grab a hold of when he or she is triggered in the throws of parenthood, and feel less alone. The anthology is a collective example of what it looks like when a child who is abused grows up, becomes a parent her/himself and learns how to tune in to triggers in order to heal and break the cycle of abuse.
If you want to learn more about the anthology and the awareness Joyelle, the writer’s and I are trying to raise on the topic of parenting as a survivor, you can visit our website at TriggerPointsAnthology.com.
We also have a supportive Facebook community that has quickly taught us how not alone we really are. Like our page and/or follow our blog to keep up to date on the release of anthology, and take part in this journey right along with us.
If you are interested in providing an honest review of the book or have questions or comments for the editors, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
I reached a major goal this week my lovely readers. I had an article published on Elephant Journal! This is a personal piece with a universal message on healing. I dug deep to pin point the hard earned lessons I’ve learned along my own journey to heal my heart and spirit. Here’s a little tid bit of the article.
Much love to all of you. ~Dawn
There is a specific alley of healing that most walk down. I call it the check out alley. To some, myself included, intoxication is the key to checking out because it’s a way of creating a different version of yourself—a version where the “real” you leads, and the “broken” you gets to take the back seat for once. At the tale end of a buzz, greed and despair can take over, self medicating leaves one with a vacancy of pain and a temporary relief disguised as bliss. The ease of life and laughter flowing through my veins when I check out is a survivors false paradise. If we don’t figure out a way to get to an elated state of mind without first walking through check-out alley, healing will never be an option.