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…
“A discussion on the effects of the abuse that resurface, or suddenly arise, when we become mothers is something we need to talk about. I feel like it’s vital to our ability to raise healthy children ourselves.”
I am thrilled that Huffington Post chose to feature this article. Mothers and fathers who are survivors need to hear that they are not alone in the struggles they may face as parents. Even if you have never experienced abuse yourself, you know someone who has. I hope you will help me in starting a discussion on the topic of parenting as a survivor. Share, share, share my friends. You never know whose life could positively be affected when you do. Much love ~Dawn
I’ve spoke about being a one in three statistic before. Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse isn’t something that you file away somewhere and dispose of the negative affects. In time, I’ve learned how to manage the unwanted flash photos and broken record moments that plague my mind but it still, and probably always will, influence how I think about things. I can’t help but feel I’m being disingenuous if I didn’t admit the origin of some of my thoughts that occur because of that experience.
I’m sitting here, trying to write about a topic that I sort-of, kind-of know what I want to say about and an ASPCA commercial, high on drama and Sarah McLaughlin, comes on the tv. I rolled my eyes. Not because I don’t feel for stray, hungry, abused little pups but because it’s odd to me to see a campaign so heavily supported regarding our pets but nothing of that level or even close is done about the one in threes that are right in front of us. The younger me’s that are disregarded.
Could you imagine, and why aren’t there, commercials that show children who are hit, neglected, raped? Ugh … it’s hard to even type those words let alone consider the need to watch something like that. In comparison though, it just seems odd that we can stomach one televised version of neglect and abuse but not another. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m too close to the issue or just because I’m simply human.
A study conducted in 1986 found that 63% of women who had suffered sexual abuse by a family member also reported a rape or attempted rape after the age of 14. Recent studies in 2000, 2002, and 2005 have all concluded similar results. This is reflective of a breech of trust. A misrepresentation of value. How is a child, a being that is in the midst of learning the value of trust and love, suppose to value any part of her mind or body when a person that is recognizably a part in teaching her those values, violates and negates the ethics being “taught”. Like respect. If a girl or boy is taught to disrespect his or her body by it being disrespected against, they will certainly fall victim to those that are inflicted with the need to perpetrate them. It’s a toxic cycle that I can’t understand how has fallen so far off the radar.
The affects of the epidemic that is sexual abuse are basically ignored. People shake their heads and say things like, “Pedophiles should be hung by their balls” and “How could anyone do that to a child” but the truth of the matter is the people that violate children get a minimal punishment and very little, if any, psychotherapy to address why this perpetration happened in the first place. No one wakes up one day and decides to be the kind of person to violate a child. That kind of dysfunction is bred from somewhere. I’m not making excuses for an abuser or placing direction of blame by any means. I’m just saying that the identifiable parts we have come to know as a convicted sex offender are ignored almost as much as the invisible scars that they leave behind. And that is part of the problem.
I previously worked in a community that is plagued with sexual offenders, most of which are level 3s. When you look this particular city up on the convicted sex offender registry, it is hard to differentiate how many actually exist in one single area because there are so many red dots. I’m not exaggerating…click here. But lets not talk about that because it makes our skin crawl.
Why don’t wesee the sort of magnitude of awareness around the issue of childhood sexual abuse that we see regarding neglective/abusive pet ownership? Is it a cultural lack of value for the well being of children? Is it a higher empathetic nature for animals over children? I can’t believe that. It feels ridiculous even suggesting it. Is it because it is just simply too hard to recognize that perpetrators are both the skeevy alcoholic, dirtbag you see within your own circle of friends and/or acquaintances and the “upstanding” members of our communities that go to church on Sunday and hold higher education degrees? I really don’t know.
We will sit through and absorb commercials that list things like “loose stool” and “oily gas” or “nipple leakage” as a side effect to something that is suppose to make us feel better but we wouldn’t be able to sit through a 30 second block of time that gives us the warning signs of a child that is being sexually abused. They are far less disgusting. A list would probably read like this:
low self esteem
possibly engages in self harm
prone to depressive symptoms such as crying spells, abnormal mood swings, thoughts or attempts of suicide
experiences violent outbursts
That’s not a list I pulled off of Wikipedia (I resisted the urge), just my own educated guesses.
We are bombarded with visually stimulating charity requests for children with cancer and rightfully so. I’m not disregarding the epic need to find a cure for a life depriving disease such as cancer. I’m just wondering why the epic failure to recognize the lasting affects of sexual abuse with such compassion and vigor. PTSD is a cancer on the mind if you ask me. I don’t know why that is so hard to understand. I just don’t get why there is such a lack of response and outrage to something that could be prevented if we would just admit it exists.
If anyone needs big pockets and/or grass root efforts to help fill a need, it is the local mental health clinics and those that work in the communities to support mental health services. The additional social workers these places need to address the “side effects” of abuse is astounding. It is an epidemic in this country that is evaded mostly due to the population that is predominately conflicted. This population contributes less financially to the economy and votes less.
We are visual people and I understand marketing enough to know the visual effect trumps all. It’s pretty hard to profit off of damage you can’t see. That’s the thing with sexual abuse. There are usually no visual effects. No heart wrenching physical scars. No observable damage. The damage lives and wrecks havoc inside of you. And the small amount of people that devote their lives to verbally bandaging those wounds are not supported enough.
I have worked with wounded adults. By the time I, as a mental health Intensive Case Manager, entered their lives’, the damage had been done and it was my job to assist them in adapting to it. There are far too few people to accommodate the need to prevent the children from getting to the point that I helped manage as adults. It’s senseless really. The enemy and the environment that breeds them could become so easily recognizable. But the opportunity to expose it just isn’t. Because it makes people uncomfortable. How disgusting is that?
I didn’t tell my story for nothing. It is a part of my being. It needs to be acknowledged to understand other perspectives I share. I will from time to time talk about this topic. It’s not easy and it’s next to impossible to put a humorous twist on. But for me, putting it out there initially has shed the shame in talking about it openly. I feel like if I have a thought that derives solely because of that major and unfortunate experience in my life, than I need to speak up.
November 18th, 1995, 18 years ago today, I boarded a plane in Atlanta by myself. I was finally getting away from the abuse. However, it took me years of on again/off again therapy and just simple time to finally free me of it. Perhaps that is still a work in progress.
At 14, I was handed a plane ticket and told I was going to live with my Mom and sister in NY. I was so conflicted. I was finally getting what I had always wanted, which was to be with my Mom, but at the cost of leaving everything and everyone I ever knew. As an adult now, I see this decision for what it really was. It was the coward’s choice. It was easier to send me away than admit and deal with the now exposed fact that for the last eight years of my life, I had been sexually abused by a family member, a man that was supposed to be my main protector. That choice taught me that I wasn’t worth fighting for.
Since becoming mature enough to understand the significance of that move in my life, I have dubbed today my re-birthday. This year I’m choosing to celebrate big. I’m choosing to unload the weight this secret has put on me. I know a lot of people will ask why tell such a secret? I tell it because secrets that hurt people aren’t supposed to be kept. This particular secret is hurting me. This shameful secret is a cancer on my spirit and it’s just finally time to let it go.
I’m tired of whispering about it. I’m tired of the misconception that what happened to me is rare. I am the statistical 1 in 3. Let that sink in for a minute. 1 in freakin’ 3. I’m tired of not acknowledging that being sexually abused has effected almost every aspect of my being including being a Mom. I’m tired of making sure the spine of my survivor self help books are not showing to ensure my company does not suspect I am damaged goods. I’m tired of this being the one subject that I won’t talk about.
People that could ignite a conversation about this are not seeing ignoring the correlation between sexual abuse and addiction, self harm, psychiatric disorders and generational dysfunction. Between working in the field of mental health, and personal relationships, I have witnessed the common thread. I would dare say at least half of the “mental health patients” I work with have a history of being sexually assaulted. It is no coincidence that survivirs rotate through the broken mental health system.
At 32, I have learned how to mourn the girl I was at birth. I’ll never truly know her because the abuse killed any chance of her becoming who she would have been, in a sense, it killed her. I can’t say I’ll ever be “ok” with that but I have made progress on making peace with it. Being sexually abused at six years old, and for such a long time after that, created grooves in my brain that were never suppose to be there. It caused my system to go haywire at an age that I wasn’t able to process it being any thing other than normal. It created confusion and a lack of understanding of what safety, love, self worth, and healthy sexuality is supposed to be. Becoming a teenager only heightened everything and the residual affects of my child hood abuse led me down one too many dangerous paths. It poisoned me with shame, fear, anger and a lack of self worth that has lingered for far too long.
The abuse made me not who I am but how I am. Who I am is more than the parts of what happened to me. Figuring that piece out allowed me to make the transition from victim to survivor. Letting it all go has been the hard part.
For today, I will celebrate…maybe even get crazy and bake a cake. I will recognize the blessing that was that horrible, poor decision made 18 years ago today. I will let myself acknowledge the hell I went through and recognize the woman I have become, only in part, because of it.