Category Archives: depression

When Will People Stop Blaming Survivors Of Sexual Trauma For Surviving?

I’ll Never Stop Being Resilient & Fighting for Truth

** TRIGGER ALERT **

BY RACHEL THOMPSON, REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR ON TIR


I’m sorry you have to read what’s next. It was hard to write and I hope you will stay with me for the rest.

Do you know what it’s like to be ordered to lick a man’s penis ‘like an ice cream cone’ when you’re eleven years old? I can’t imagine most of the population can comprehend that. 

I can.

Because a man forced me to. More than once.

When the police eventually questioned me, after more than a year of various forms of abuse, I didn’t tell. Terrified this giant of a man, an army sergeant with a gun who lived next door, would kill my baby sister, I kept quiet. But my eyes dripped tears of tales untold, an admission of guilt owned by the intentions of men.

Eventually, I did tell. Two trials — taunting, haunting, harrowing, narrowing my world between him and me once again. “How will I ever escape the confines of this man’s world?” I wanted to scream, in words I didn’t know how to utter as I testified, twice, before God and man and him, specifying in impolite, forensic detail the ways he abolished my soul.

Telling isn’t justice, and justice isn’t handed down when victim blaming is first on everyone’s mind. Why are survivors forced to own our abusers’ intentions? He got eighteen months, then moved back home — right next door and mere feet away from my window — for another eight years. Long, slow days full of his kids’ accusatory stares and his wife’s accusatory lips.

How will I ever escape the confines of this man’s world?


HOW DO SURVIVORS BECOME RESPONSIBLE FOR CRIMES WE DIDN’T COMMIT?

People tell survivors we are somehow complicit if we don’t tell. We are told he will hurt someone else if we keep quiet and it’s somehow our fault he is a criminal who will continue to commit crimes. We are to blame for the behavior of men.

It’s all very easy for non-survivors to make these statements. Do this, do that, and done. One, two, three. They cannot comprehend why we wouldn’t want to tell.

Have you been online lately? The myriad of reasons survivors don’t report is justifiable and lengthy: shame, fear of job loss, not being believed, minimizing our own experiences, bullying, ranking the abuse…it goes on. The worst part, however, is the verbal abuse people pile on, full of judgment about situations of which they know nothing.

The immensity of survival isn’t so facile, though, is it? The ulcerating pain in my stomach that reminds me of the terror, even forty years later. The powerlessness as I slide into a dissociated state of nothingness, the only area of my being he cannot invade. The daily flashbacks, something I’ve learned from an early age to redirect to happier thoughts so I don’t break down into numbing blankness or worse, go back to his world. Again.

What were you wearing?
What didn’t you stop it?
Why didn’t you tell anyone when it happened?
Why didn’t you fight back?
Where’s the proof?

What’s amazing is the questions people ask me and other survivors of sexual trauma (particularly rape survivors), as if we had the intention of becoming the victims of sexual predators. Let’s flip that language, that paradigm, that fucked-up thought process. Let’s ask these predators: Why did you do it? Why didn’t you know it was wrong? Why didn’t you tell anyone you raped her? Why didn’t you stop?


THE REALITY OF REPORTING OUR ABUSE

If you look at the statistics of reporting, most sexual crimes go unreported. Those that do are rarely prosecuted. Lawyers go out of their way to discredit witnesses for lying, wanting attention, or being unreliable (particularly if they had been drinking). What’s so terribly sad is the end result: victims don’t come forward and report because who wants this kind of attention?

Given that not every sexual assault victim is raped (and even if they are, not every victim undergoes the invasive rape kit procedure, and even if they did, not every rape kit is processed), how can we possibly provide the proof people need to believe us? And my god, why should we have to?

Why is the assumption that survivors (regardless of gender) are lying? For all that awesome attention people give us? In all studies of false reporting crimes, false rape reports are lower than other crimes, despite what the Internet and MRA groups tell you.

I’m not here to debate statistics, because people are not stats. I’m here to focus on survivors.

 

UNDERSTANDING SEXUAL ABUSE

When will people stop blaming survivors of sexual trauma for being survivors of sexual trauma, and start focusing on why this happens? Do those who blame survivors understand that the crime itself is not about sexual gratification but about power?

Sexual abuse, assault, rape and harassment aren’t political acts. They are acts of control and they all cause harm.

There is no scale of best to worst. It’s all bad.

We see much made about this candidate did this, or this director did that. The #MeToo stories these past few months are both heartbreaking and yet, empowering for many of us.

For those who continue to make it a Democrat or Republican thing, please stop. Hold abusers accountable not because of their politics, but because of their crimes.

What is behind this phenomenon of blaming victims at all? We don’t blame people for being robbed, or shot. Why do we blame survivors for being sexually assaulted? There is no logic there. There certainly is no compassion.

Some tell us it’s on us, the ‘victim’ (in the legal sense of the word) to not put ourselves in high-risk situations. We should “know better,” particularly women, who may have worn a skirt one inch too high or a top one inch too low (because clothing creates the situation for rapists to rape, apparently, or who may have taken a business meeting that put us in a high-risk situation. This always makes me laugh ruefully as if we can predict when someone will make the choice to sexually abuse someone else. As if men are mere animals who see a flash of skin and turn into mindless monsters without thought or free will or the choice not to sexually assault or rape.

How disrespectful is that to the good men of this world?

The issue here is, again, people relentlessly placing blame for a criminal’s behavior on his victim, thus removing the responsibility for the crime from the criminal. In fact, the language here completely removes the criminal from the sentence. The onus is on the victim to not get raped, as opposed to the rapist to not rape:

Rachel is molested.

– versus –

The neighbor molested Rachel.

See the difference between those two sentences?

In my situation, at the age of eleven, I, along with a bunch of other neighborhood kids, would take turns getting scooter rides with the Pied Piper. This guy had grooming down: he’d give us candy—it was fun and not something our parents would do with us. Most non-survivors won’t understand or take into consideration something like grooming, yet it’s always part of an abuser’s arsenal, particularly with young children. They make us feel special, wanted, and cherished. Said the spider to the fly.

Sexual abuse of any kind is a conscious decision made by an abuser. Child molestation, sexual assault, and rape are crimes, make no mistake about it, and what happens to survivors is criminal. Regardless of what happens to our abuser, our sentence is lifelong. The effects of sexual trauma are long-term: PTSD, anxiety, depression, migraines, even immune disorders.


So why didn’t I speak out initially, unprompted by police?

  • Terror, for one. I truly believed he would kill my baby sister, or worse, my entire family. He had a gun, and he told me he would use it.
  • Grooming, for another; convincing me nobody would believe me Why would I have reason to doubt an authority figure? He used my naiveté against me, as most abusers do.
  • And finally, my introverted nature. Never a loud, gregarious child, I withdrew further into myself and my safe, imaginary, quiet world of stories, where little girls destroyed monsters, not the other way around.

In this impossible situation, this sick abuser steals my innocence, my being, my soul.

Eventually, I find all the scattered pieces and pull myself back together; broken, chipped, yet still capable of breaking through the enormous barriers of fear and shame to tell my story and help others feel less alone.


WE ALL HEAL DIFFERENTLY

How? Therapy and meds helped immensely, but I didn’t get the help I intensely needed until my mid-thirties after the birth of my daughter when my world came crashing down — how could I keep her safe? All my carefully swept carpets broke apart and I became an anxious, panic-stricken shell (you can read more in my books and posts about how I worked through that).

What helped me most? I gave myself permission to write my first book dealing with my abuse experiences, Broken Pieces. With prose and poetry, I delve into what it was like to live the pieces of who I became after the abuse, not understanding how the abuse affected me as a girl, a woman, and a mother. Releasing Broken Places a few years later, I continue sharing my story of survival and the after-effects of the abuse.

The response was astounding – people (primarily women, but many men, too) contacted me with their own stories of sexual abuse and still do almost daily. I released the first book in 2013, the second in 2015. I’m writing Broken People now. With the initial release, I felt blessed by their gift of trust, yet stymied by how to help them (beyond giving them information to RAINN, a wonderful organization for rape, assault, and incest survivors), as I’m not a shrink.


CONNECTING WITH OTHER SURVIVORS

So, I reached out and connected with the fabulous Bobbi Parish, herself an incest survivor and author, and founded #SexAbuseChat, which Bobbi and I co-host every Tuesday on Twitter, 6pm pst/9pm est. All survivors are welcome. Each week we discuss different topics affecting survivors. You can view previous chats by going to our public Facebook page (likes welcome!), so even if you’re not on Twitter, feel free to look through our chats.

I also started @SpeakOurStories with Dr. Shruti Kapoor, founder of @SayftyCom (whose goal is to help keep women safe worldwide). The SOS platform is to give all survivors, regardless of gender, a safe place to share their stories – anonymously is fine – and offer resources to get help. Submit your story here.

We all heal in our own way. We all deserve to recover in our own way. What survivors don’t need is for family, friends, and total strangers to blame us for crimes we did not commit. We don’t sexually abuse ourselves. We don’t want pity; we want support, compassion, help, and love.

For one tiny second, put yourself in my small shoes at the very beginning of this piece. Close your eyes, and feel what I felt. Now open your eyes. Poof. Gone. It’s nice to make that go away, isn’t it?

Survivors can’t do that. In the best of circumstances, we work through it, creating a good life just like anyone else. We can and do thrive.

Believe us. That’s all we ask.

Rachel Thompson, Author
Rachel Thompson, Author

If you have been sexually assaulted or know someone who has, please connect with RAINN.org here.

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How to Speak to Someone About an Unspeakable Loss

unspeakablelossfeature

 

Reblogged from Linda Carroll at http://www.lindaacarroll.com/blog.php via Uplift

 

Five Ways to Help When You Feel There is Nothing You Can Do

“It’s not about saying the right things. It’s about doing the right things.” ~Unknown

 

Years ago, my family and I moved to a bucolic little town in New Zealand, where we were immediately swept up into a group of ex-pats and locals. We felt deeply connected to this community by the time I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy in the local hospital.
When our son was three months old, a doctor heard a heart murmur. Twenty-four hours later, he died.

In the days and weeks that followed, I wandered in my own fog of grief as I went about the necessary tasks of ordinary life: shopping for food, taking our other kids to school, doing the usual mounds of laundry.

Meanwhile, my new friends kept their distance. I saw them take great care to avoid me: to cross the street, switch supermarket aisles, literally do an about-face when they saw me coming.

Invitations stopped coming. The phone went silent. My grief was marked by a deeper isolation than I’d ever known.

Later, many of these people apologized. They told me they were terribly sad and distressed about what had happened, but hadn’t known what to say. My loss was so enormous that words seemed inadequate, even pitiful.

They said nothing, out of fear that they would say the wrong thing.
This sort of experience repeats itself in many different forms: a friend gets dumped by the love of her life, a colleague is given notice at a job he’s held for two decades, or a loved one receives the dreaded news that she has inoperable cancer.

What can you say?

While it’s not an easy question to answer, one thing is certain: It’s worse to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. Here are five ways to respond helpfully to people who have suffered an enormous loss.

 

1. Manage your own feelings first.
When we learn that disaster has befallen a loved one, we initially feel shock. Our heart rate increases, our thoughts either speed up or slow down, and we may experience nausea or dizziness.

The anxiety we feel is real and personal. Our instinct, though, is to ignore it, find ways to numb it or minimize it. That’s a mistake.

If we address our own anxiety first, we’ll be in a much stronger position to respond well to the person most directly affected. Do the things you know how to do to manage stress. A walk in the woods, some meditation or yoga, or talking to a trusted friend can help.

Make sure your own body and emotions are regulated before you turn to the person in grief.

 

2. Now focus on the other person.
Remember that the isolation they feel is almost as painful as the shock and the sadness of the loss itself. If you avoid them because you don’t know what to say, this avoidance serves only your needs.

Our friends and other loved ones need our comfort, support, and involvement during times of sorrow.

Although there isn’t a right thing to say, there are some things to never say. They include the current favorite, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “I know just how you feel.” How do you know there’s a reason, and what difference would it make to a grieving person, anyway? And you don’t know how they feel—only they do.

 

3. Admit that you don’t know what to say.
That’s a good start. Try something simple that breaks the ice and starts a conversation, or at least sends a message to the other person that they’re not alone.

“I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I wish I could say the perfect thing, but I know there’s nothing to fix it. I just wanted you to know I care and am here with you.”

 

4. Listen.
If the person is willing to talk, listen. It’s the single most vital thing you can do.

Listen to their story without interrupting. Don’t turn the conversation back to you with statements like, “I know what you’re going through—my dog died last year.”

Don’t tell them what they will, or should, feel. Simply acknowledge their pain and listen to what it’s like for them.

We all have different styles of managing shock and distress. Some people are angry, while others seem numb. Still others turn to gallows humor. Your job is not to correct them but to give them space to be the way they need to be.

 

5. Rather than saying, ”Let me know if I can do anything,” offer to do something practical and specific.
Taking on an ordinary task is often most helpful. Offer to shop for groceries, run errands, drive the kids somewhere, or to cook a meal or two. Ask if you can call tomorrow, or if they want to be left alone for a few days.

When Survey Monkey’s CEO Dave Goldberg died suddenly, his wife, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote the following:

When I am asked, “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, “My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?” When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

Today, as I recall the loss of my own infant son, I think about the one person who did truly comfort me. She arrived at my house with a bottle of fine brandy and said, “This is everyone’s worst nightmare. I am so, so sorry this has happened.”

Then we sat on the lawn and she poured me a drink as she listened to every horrible detail.

As I look back now, I still feel how much her gesture helped me cope through those early days of pain. She didn’t try to fix me or try to make sense of what happened. She didn’t even try to comfort me. The comfort she gave came through her being in it with me.

You can’t fix what happened, but you can sit with someone, side by side, so they don’t feel quite so alone. That requires only intention, a willingness to feel awkward, and an open, listening heart. It’s the one gift that can make a difference.

 

About Linda
Linda Carroll was born in 1944 in San Francisco and adopted into an Italian Catholic family. Very early, she discovered poetry as a form of prayer and a window into an expanded life. In 1961, when Linda graduated from high school, San Francisco was already buzzing with counterculture music, arts, and style, and Linda found herself selling beads and going to peace marches.
After finishing her bachelors degree in Oregon in the seventies, she moved to New Zealand, where she raised children on an 86-acre sheep farm. She returned to Oregon in the eighties and received a masters in counseling, and began practicing as a therapist.
In the nineties, she and her veterinarian husband, Tim Barraud, began to teach a couples course based on the Imago work of Harville Hendrix, the PAIRS training of Dr. Laurie Gordon, and their own insights, study and practices. They continue to offer retreats and seminars all over the world; Linda’s third book, Love Cycles, newly published, is based on this work.
As an adult, Linda found her birth mother, the novelist Paula Fox, and began to understand her deep-seated love of poetry anew. In 2006, her memoir, Her Mother’s Daughter, was published by Doubleday. In 2008, Remember Who You Are was published by Conari Press.
Linda’s new book, Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love, is now available. Sign up for her mailing list to learn the latest news for this terrific book. And follow her on Facebook.
Linda has five children and ten grandchildren. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon, with her husband and three Jack Russells* and continues her lifelong path of spiritual seeking.

 


Spirit in the Sky

In wanting to pay tribute to a wonderful woman whom I barely got to know and her partner, Ed, I’m re-blogging his post.  This beautiful post reflects on love and loss, particularly to suicide.  But as you will see from the content, these issues are complicated and layered with many issues stemming from childhood sexual abuse and how it can steal one’s soul.  I’m proud of Ed Kurtz for loving her and having the courage and language to represent her with such sacred beauty.


Dark Souls Are Not to Fear, But to Love

Darkness

 

These words are not mine but instead, those of a courageous and insightful fellow warrior.  I’m fortunate to find these souls who in the absence of my words coming together to provide hope and compassion, they take over and provide us with comfort.  Please visit the link below to see the full article and more of Matthew’s beautiful writing.

In fact, do better.  Follow his blog and mine.  Spread the word as kindly as you can about the specific limitations and ultra-sensitive delights of a sexual abuse survivor.  We are worth it.  In this age where we strive to embrace the issues of racism, bigotry, violence, LGBT, transgender, bullying, etc., let’s begin by getting to know one another, the history we’ve experienced and the path on which we forge forward.  I’m ready, are you?

 

Dark Souls Are Not to Fear, But to Love

From Matthew Eaton: Writer, Child Sexual Abuse Survivor, Blogger

 

Do you languish in the darkness, or do you thrive in it?

This question lingers in my mind as I recall a conversation in my idle time.

“You know, the stuff you post is dark – really dark – but you’re always coming in here all cheery and happy.”

I discussed some people’s need to make me be something I am not. Instead, I learned a little more about myself.

I didn’t think anything about this statement at the time, but as I worried over it like a priceless possession, I wondered if it was possible the world was wrong and I, indeed, was correct in my darkness.

I live in the darkness, laughing at my disaster.

Dark souls are not to fear, but to love

What brought this post around was recalling a devotional my mother and I read when I was young. We were still members of the Foursquare church in Scotts Valley, and we weren’t the best of advocates to the holy life. No deep bible studies, no real praying or bonding with other believers, but we did invest in small devotionals that were to be ready daily. We read them in the morning.

They were filled with allegories and mental iconography galore.

So what made this particular devotional stand out? It contained the scientific knowledge (and commentary) on plant growth and the toxicity of continual exposure to light.

Since the beginning of my time as a God-ite, I questioned being in the light all the time. The thirst my other god-ites at the time held was rather interesting and confounding. They would shun people going through darkness, in fear the darkness would get into them like some sort of transmuted disease.

Nevertheless, here we were, reading a god-ite sponsored piece regarding the value of light and dark cycles with plants.

This is paraphrasing the work itself: “Too much time in darkness, and the plant withers. It is unable to reach any potential. Too much time in the light, however, is dangerous as well. At first, the plant thrives, but eventually it also withers and dies, burned beyond the point of recovery.”

Full article here

 

 

 


Going in for residential treatment

Dear beautiful souls and loved ones,

Due to recent and horrific dips in my coping abilities combined with increased self harm and suicidal tendencies, I’m going for treatment at a residential facility.  I will take each and every one of you with me in my heart and cherish greatly the friends and tireless supporters that I’ve met here.  It is my hope that I will come through this stronger and more resilient than ever.  Until that time, live greatly and peace be with each and every one of you.  Aho. images


Grieving out loud…

For those of you that can’t handle my extreme and unbridled rage right now, let this serve as a TRIGGER WARNING.  And here is a picture of a bunny to give you the opportunity to get the heck out of here.

Hey, I'm a hot mess, time to scramble...

Hey, I’m a hot mess, time to scramble…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the rant begin.  This moment, right now, I’m furious.  I’ve snapped with grief and I’m tired and exhausted and insulted and unwilling to hold it in any longer. The music is on full blast with Janis Joplin screaming I’ll say come on, come on, come on, come on and take it!
Take it!
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby.
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now

I’ve cleaned and cried and smoked cigarettes as I look at my home that I’ve finally decided has to be divided.  How the hell did I get here?  Did I not try hard enough?  Did I not bleed enough for this relationship?  When did my beloved home turn into a cold gilded cage?  Where are my plants going to live now?  The wisteria planted in the early days of love that is deeply intertwined among the trellis and surrounding trees, how do I tell it to unwind, that there is no place for it here now?

I’m full of rage as I look at the items deciding what’s mine and what’s his.  I hate his socks right now.  They are everywhere, haunting me from the place where they were discarded at the foot of the couch for an intimate moment.  His socks are mocking me.  I still love, he doesn’t.

I’m seething at any person, at any time, for any reason has questioned my sanity.  My brain, while different and reacting unlike normal people (whoever the fuck they are) is not crazy.  It was changed.  It was changed as a child when my father and my uncles for numerous years raped the children in my family.  They forever and permanently changed the way that I see the world and severely limited my ability to trust.  But they never stole my ability to love because that I do fiercely, deeply and with loyalty to a fault. But back to crazy, I’m not.  And I’m fucking tired of folks too ignorant and lazy to become informed before slicing me and other survivors open with insane stupid comments and blatant arrogance that you know better.  You don’t.

And by the way, disassociation is a thing. A real fucking thing.  It happens because its the wondrous coping mechanism of the human under attack.  When the pain becomes too traumatic, too difficult, too much for tiny little children’s minds to process, it splits.  Bam, just like that.  You go somewhere else, someplace safer than the place you are in where your uncle is raping you at gunpoint. And guess what, when you’re gone, you’re gone.  And to the major asshole who said that my disassociative episodes were a ploy for attention, well simply put, go fuck yourself.  You speak with ignorance and venom.  Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I try and try and then I fucking try some more to be the best, intact, whole person I can be given my history.  To say anything less than that of me is cruel and unforgivable.

No, I’m not done yet, there’s more. I’m enraged at any person, for any reason who turns a blind eye to pain.  This happens in so many ways; through denial of wanting to acknowledge a person’s pain, therefore maybe having to deal with it OR being frustrated that said person struggles a lot so you offer a platitude in order to get the hell away from this person you’ve judged as insane.  Again, look at the above bunny and leave me the hell alone.  You don’t have to hurt me just to get a safe distance away.  I get it, of all people I understand that this is tough fucking shit and not everyone has the stomach for it.  BUT…there’s always the option of offering love and leaving anyway.  Bottom line, I’m left here to deal with this confusing mess of neurons on a daily basis and it’s no walk in the park. It takes hourly awareness and diligent practice to stay centered and even heal from these traumas.  Don’t add to them.  And especially don’t pretend it’s in the name of love.  I’m calling bullshit on that one.

While I’m ranting, I may as well cuss the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture drugs to make lots of money that are prescribed by asshole doctors.  My anti-depressants are giving me such incredible suicide ideation that the ideation is now taking form and making a plan.  And getting off this shit is a bitch.  Again, another mind-bending bitch to contend with.  And yes, suicide ideation and self harm is a real thing too.  It’s not just words that we in a secret meeting of the I’ve-been-molested club got together and invented.  These are real psychological phenomena.  Google it, you’ll see.  We don’t just get up in the morning, feed the dogs, have a cup of coffee and say “I think I’ll go slice on myself today and maybe for fun, I’ll go sit in the garage with the car running and see how fast I’ll puff up from carbon monoxide”.   But seriously, people talk to us as if we do this self-loathing, self-harming shit for attention.  Really?  Do you really believe that I’d prefer that method of coping to say…. working at the dog rescue shelter or taking some flowers to the old ladies at the nursing home?  If you believe that, you need a quick reality check and a good therapist.

The rant winds down here.  Be kind, everyone is struggling.  If you don’t know how to help and you want to, ask.  It’s that simple.  Is there anything I can do to help?  If you don’t care or are just socially awkward, flash a peace sign, say Kumbaya my Lord or offer a hug.  If you don’t have more, that’s fine but if you think you can fake concern, use condescension or just toss a crappy cliche’ toward me, you’re wrong.  Because here’s the other thing that develops in survivors as we are fending off our nasty fathers and uncles, we became ultra-sensitive.  I’m talking over-the-top, can practically read-your-feelings-without-you-knowing-it, living and floating in an emotional bizarre dimension that few know anything about.  We know when you’re lying and we know when you’re trying to be cruel.

End of rant.  For those who stuck around to the end, well, thanks.  You’re tougher than most.  For those who didn’t stay, block me on FB and have a good life. Kumbaya.

Unknown-1

 

 

 

 

 


How Do You Honor Your Parents, When They Do Not Always Honor You? by Karen Hernandez

karenGod commands it – Honor your mother and your father.

I believe God passed down this commandment with the meaning that when you do honor your parents, you are honoring God, because, after all, God is our ultimate parent, considered “Father,” to many.

The question begged, however, is what if your parents do not honor you? What if your parents are abusive? What if they treat you with disrespect? Are we, their children, still expected to honor them?

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The Familiar Pain

It is a brave woman that can sit with her pain. Sometimes it seems as if that’s all I do. But I will trust you on this and feel the hope again.

Beating Trauma

DSC_0079

*If you are sick and tired of hearing people tell you to “put the past behind you” or “get over it” or “move on with your life already”, I want to ensure you that this is not the message of this post.

Today, I had a small epiphany. I was thinking about what life would be like if I wasn’t sad, if I no longer carried the pain with me. In that moment, I felt a twinge of sadness about not being sad. I felt grief about living life without pain. I felt fearful about living with the faith necessary to open up my life. It was as if I might be saying goodbye to a long-term relationship, a dysfunctional relationship, but a relationship nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the pain. I push through it. I will my way through life with gusto despite it. I want…

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Still-face paradigm

Henry Avignon image

Image by Henry Avignon-Used with permission

 

The subject of this post is one brought to my attention by my therapist Cathy.  We often work on issues related to connection or lack thereof. We’ve been discussing my deep seated longing for connection, the elusive feeling of absolute safety knowing that I above all, feel merged with myself, with my tribe, with the divine, with my soul.  

She tells me of Dr. Edward Tronick‘s work and gently describes to me how children of mothers who are absent, abusive, drug-addicted, depressed or afflicted with other mental illnesses, show marked negative coping, often developing long term affective disorders.  I’m taken back.  Partly because I’m touched deeply by how she validates my pain and partly because her validation makes this real, an issue that will have to be explored and conquered.  

What this means to children of trauma and sexual abuse, among many other situations, is that we have extreme difficulty with trust.  Because most probably, we haven’t had a consistent, cognitive connection with an available mother, caregiver, or parent and haven’t developed the attunement necessary to function well.  We don’t know who to trust, who is safe, what situations to avoid.  It delays, distorts, prohibits and skews our innate knowing.  

What are the implications and negative effects to a child with an absent, depressed or vacant mother?  What are the long term effects of a child’s cognitive development when subjected to a distressingly unavailable mother?

In 1975, Dr. Edward Tronick, Ph.D. at the Child Development Unit at Harvard University presented the still-face paradigm addressing exactly this issue.  It continues to be one of the most replicated findings in developmental psychology referencing affective disorders on infants and child development.  Dr. Tronick documents an infant who experiences his non-responsive expressionless mother after three short minutes of “interaction” View video here.  

The child...“rapidly sobers and grows wary. He makes repeated attempts to get the interaction into its usual reciprocal pattern. When these attempts fail, the infant withdraws [and] orients his face and body away from his mother with a withdrawn, hopeless facial expression.”

This video is disturbing for me to watch.  Because I get it.  Because I’m ultra sensitive and I want to shake that mother and tell her to respond to her child even though it’s a research experiment.  Because I know what that baby feels like, as a young child, as a young woman, as a full grown mid-fifties adult.  It haunts a survivor to witness an empty person, giving us no social cues to process and understand, reminding us of our initial failed connections to our own mother or caregiver.  It fills us with anxiety as we try to connect, doing all sorts of things as the child in the video did.  We smile, cajole, reach out.  When unreciprocated, we recoil, withdraw, feel rejection, depression, shame. 

I serendipitously stumbled upon an artist who creates from one of the deepest places I’ve witnessed.  We’ve not met but have exchanged a few conversations.  I don’t know Henry’s background or childhood. But Henry knows something. He understands some place within that I’ve lived.  I don’t know how but he does.  This painting represents to me, the small child, fraught with fear, frozen in emotion, empty of connection.  It provides me with a place to be, a moment where the child can release, to be seen just as she is.  I can’t entirely change my neurological programming but I can choose to honor her in the place she was given to exist.

Here are the links to his work.  I bow in respect.

Henry Avignon Art

Margot Muto Contemporary Art

 


Robin Williams Lived

There by the grace of God go I….this could have been me, this is me. By posting this article, I reach out my hand to another person with mental illness, a brain disorder, trauma or depression. It’s time we make our families and neighbors talk to us. We won’t survive in silence.

Please take my hand and hold on,  stay with us. If you can, please stay.

We can share this together, the dark and the light, eventually circling the world with love and the new definition of who we are.

We will circle the world until we are whole and dancing again.

Sarah Griffith Lund

Robin Williams lived a life that brought laughter and joy to millions through his comedy and acting.

He died at his home from suicide on Monday, August 11, 2014, at the age 63. He battled a brain disease that included severe depression. Even with treatment, support from loved ones, and a successful career, mental illness still can be a deadly disease, especially when paired with addiction to drugs and alcohol.

I remember when I first learned that Robin Williams had a mental illness and I was encouraged by his openness. I loved his work in Good Will Hunting, The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, and his role as Mork from Mork and Mindy. My favorite work of his was stand-up comedy.

He had a brilliant brain. And he had a brain with a disease. He richly blessed us with his life.

May all of us find ways today…

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