Category Archives: survivor
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.
*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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As much as I’ve come to love all the writers, bloggers, advocates as well as the extraordinary people I’ve met online, there is nothing as sacred as the face to face contact that I experienced this week as I travelled 6 hours from my home to attend a day conference, full of people whom I’d never met, at Safe Space Day. Full of trepidation, I willed myself to take the risk, knowing that this vital step of “coming out” was the obvious next step in my recovery. To say that I’m glad I attended is truly an understatement.
I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of love I witnessed.
I wasn’t prepared for the courage of each women I spoke to, cried next to or shared an auditorium with.
I wasn’t prepared to meet anyone as anxiety ridden as I, anyone else who had travelled the day prior in sheer terror to an unknown destination that called so directly to me, nor was I expecting to feel, once I’d arrived, such a kindred meeting of souls.
Souls who struggle with silence, victimization, depersonalization, isolation, mental illness, physical health issues, anger and gut wrenching sadness.
Yet, these same brave souls simultaneously expressed undying hope not only for their futures but for future generations as they sang bravely, spoke loudly, laughed spontaneously. They offered humor, comfort and a space so special that we, as survivors of childhood sexual abuse and incest, assembled courageously to entertain and embrace the concept of living openly. In essence, we had come to heal.
Dr. Rosenna Bakari is a survivor, educator, poet, visionary and the creator of Safe Space Day and Talking Trees Survivors. She defines living openly as this;
Living openly as a survivor means that survivors no longer deny or hide the fact that they have been sexually abused. They are willing to speak truth about the trauma of childhood sexual abuse from their own personal experience.
This may include identifying their relationship to the perpetrator(s), age abuse started and ended, attempts or non-attempt to disclose and emotional experiences associated with the abuse.
Disclosure never has to include specific details about type of physical contact, degree of physical contact, or frequency of contact. Living openly as a survivor creates space to let go of guilt and shame and walk proudly with other survivors to move humanity forward by shedding light on an ugly issue that plagues our society. The shame of incest and the ugliness of sexual abuse must be redirected back at the perpetrators rather than remain lodged within survivors……Read more
Dr. Bakari has taken the concept of “living openly” to create a safe space for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and created a community. A community where safety replaces fear, acceptance diminishes shame and the groundwork of true healing is established.
The day was filled with oozing love and valuable information. Speaker after speaker empowered us on political and legal issues, healing our bodies and minds, all things related to the specific and unique characteristics of a sexual abuse survivor. For one glorious day, we tossed our shame aside as best we could because in that Safe Space, we weren’t the outcasts or the ones ostracized. We were the ones that were honored.
The absolute icing on the cake was the evening theatrical performance of Talking Trees. I’d felt very content and pleased with the day’s events, as many of us were, and looked forward to an entertaining nightcap with my tribe of new friends. All I knew was that Dr. Bakari had written and directed this theatrical performance based on some of her poetry and writing. I figured we’d have a relaxing evening concluding the day’s events, maybe some poetry or personal testimony. Nope, not even close.
Again, let me say, I was not prepared for this. This was freaking powerfully intense. It was like a poetry slam meets The Vagina Monologues meets Roseanne Barr combined with Madea on steroids. I was captivated and mesmerized that the performers were speaking from me, like me, as me. And judging by the audience response, they were speaking for many of us. I tumbled from silent and spellbound to yelling “yeah”, “testify” and other various words I didn’t know I possessed. My feet stomped as Dr. Bakari preached poetry like I’d never heard it slammed before…she stomped and I stomped. A young woman lurched for the door sobbing. College students were wide eyed. People grabbed out for each other. Sniffling was everywhere. It was an hour of emotions ricocheting throughout the performance space. I thanked God for intermission to go outside and collect myself as many of us did. We stood as we shook off the emotions while mumbling repeatedly…WOW…WOW…WOW.
I left that day feeling more happy tired than I had in a long time. I had a notebook stuffed full of business cards and e-mail addresses of new friends and notes from the day. I’d been hugged on and loved on. I felt a certain glow of acceptance radiating within me. I felt full.
I have no doubt that I will return next year to experience another Safe Space Day. In the meantime, I follow the suggestions of Dr. Bakari to create my own safe space at home, in my community, for others who have had similar experiences. I gratefully extend my hand to others because in their healing I will find more of my healing.
I invite you to visit Dr. Rosenna Bakari on:
Website – Talking Trees
For the complete video of this performance – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7Bo8xBog7c
Reblogged from Heal My PTSD by Michele Rosenthal.
PTSD makes communication difficult. Many survivors can’t find the words to express what they’re feeling. Even when they do, it’s very normal for them not to be comfortable sharing their experience. Elements of shame, fear, anger, guilt and grief often get in the way of a calm, focused discussion.
Friends and family (and anyone else who is not the source of the PTSD but is standing by while someone attempts to heal) need something that translates PTSD language. Armed with knowledge, insight and awareness you’ll have an easier time knowing how to react, respond and relate to your PTSD loved one during the healing process. The more you appreciate things from the PTSD perspective the more helpful and supportive you can be. Now is the time for empathy, compassion and patience.
The list below will give you an overview of things to understand. For more in-depth information – plus content specifically geared for you, the caregiver – check out the free archives of our radio show, CHANGING DIRECTION, which features professionals and experts weighing in on what you need to know about PTSD and your role.
#1 – Knowledge is power. Understanding the process of a triggering event, the psychic reaction to trauma, the warning signs and symptoms of PTSD, and available treatment options for PTSD allows you to help recognize, support and guide your PTSD loved one toward diagnosis, treatment and healing.
We need you to be clearheaded, pulled together and informed.
#2 – Trauma changes us. After trauma we want to believe —as do you—that life can return to the way it was; that we can continue as who we were. This is not how it works. Trauma leaves a huge and indelible impact on the soul. It is not possible to endure trauma and not experience a psychic shift.
Expect us to be changed. Accept our need to evolve. Support us on this journey.
#3 – PTSD hijacks our identity. One of the largest problems with PTSD is that it takes over our entire view of ourselves. We no longer see clearly. We no longer see the world as we experienced it before trauma. Now every moment is dangerous, unpredictable and threatening. Gently remind us and offer opportunities to engage in an identity outside of trauma and PTSD.
#4 – We are no longer grounded in our true selves. In light of trauma our real selves retreat and a coping self emerges to keep us safe. Believe in us; our true selves still exist, even if they are momentarily buried.
#5 – We cannot help how we behave. Since we are operating on a sort of autopilot we are not always in control. PTSD is an exaggerated state of survival mode. We experience emotions that frighten and overwhelm us. We act out accordingly in defense of those feelings we cannot control.
Be patient with us; we often cannot stop the anger, tears or other disruptive behaviors that are so difficult for you to endure.
#6 – We cannot be logical. Since our perspective is driven by fear we don’t always think straight, nor do we always accept the advice of those who do. Keep reaching out, even when your words don’t seem to reach us. You never know when we will think of something you said and it will comfort, guide, soothe or inspire us.
#7 – We cannot just ‘get over it’. From the outside it’s easy to imagine a certain amount of time passes and memories fade and trauma gets relegated to the history of a life. Unfortunately, with PTSD nothing fades. Our bodies will not let us forget. Because of surging chemicals that reinforce every memory, we cannot walk away from the past anymore than you can walk away from us.
Honor our struggle to make peace with events. Do not rush us. Trying to speed our recovery will only make us cling to it more.
#8 – We’re not in denial—we’re coping! It takes a tremendous effort to live with PTSD. Even if we don’t admit it, we know there’s something wrong. When you approach us and we deny there’s a problem that’s really code for, “I’m doing the best I can.” Taking the actions you suggest would require too much energy, dividing focus from what is holding us together. Sometimes, simply getting up and continuing our daily routine is the biggest step toward recovery we make.
Alleviate our stress by giving us a safe space in which we can find support.
#9 – We do not hate you. Contrary to the ways we might behave when you intervene, somewhere inside we do know that you are not the source of the problem. Unfortunately, in the moment we may use your face as PTSD’s image. Since we cannot directly address our PTSD issues sometimes it’s easier to address you. Continue to approach us. We need you to!
#10 – Your presence matters. PTSD creates a great sense of isolation. In our post-traumatic state, it makes a difference to know that there are people who will stand by us. It matters that although we lash out, don’t respond and are not ourselves, you are still there, no matter what.
Don’t give up, we’re doing our best.
What have you experienced that you feel should be added to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments….
Michele Rosenthal is a PTSD survivor, author, speaker and Post-Trauma Coach. She is the author of Before the World Intruded:Conquering the Past and Creating the Future and Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices for Reclaiming Your Identity
In January 2014, best selling author, Rachel Thompson and therapist/author, Bobbi Parish, both survivors, began a Twitter chat #sexabusechat as a forum for support and healing for survivors of sexual abuse. With that resource quickly becoming so popular, they teamed with success coach and mentor, Athena Moberg to offer a Google Hangout on the evening following the chat to further process the topic of the week.
From there, these women have formed the NoMoreShameProject offering support, coaching services, publication and more. Within this project, there are many opportunities for a survivor to thrive, an opportunity which I find in short supply.
I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble upon these incredibly warm, inclusive, determined and very smart!! women. I’d like to pass this resource on to anyone touched by the issue of sexual abuse, child abuse or family violence. When we actually begin to find our voice and begin to hold each other’s hands, a miracle happens. Shame is released giving us long desired acceptance and freedom.
Check them out, grab a hand of a survivor friend and let’s circle the world!
I’ve been thinking a lot about privacy. Privacy from the perspective of a memoir and personal essay writer who is revealing family secrets, breaking silences that were intended to protect (or at least that’s what I’ve chosen to believe) but have done more damage than good.
I’m thinking about my aunt, my Titi who is very much a surrogate mom to me. When I told her I was writing a memoir, she said, “Be careful what you write.”
“I’m not being careful.”
“I know.” She looked at me with those loving eyes of hers, no judgment, but no understanding either. Then she walked out of her kitchen, a plate of food in her hand. The heaping plate she’d just served me sat on the table, heat rising off the rice in smoky tendrils.
Two years ago, I showed her the picture I found in Meryl Meisler’s exhibit, “Bushwick in the…
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I just enjoyed the heck out of this post.
It’s part stand-up comedy, enough vulnerability to make Brene Brown proud and teeming with great points about flashbacks.
Survivors live in the world of flashbacks. We experience them often in our day-to-day, hour-to-hour lives until our heads hit the pillow and then they often dominate our unconscious dream time.
What appeals to me here is that it gives us an element of control to our otherwise uncontrollable lives. Many of us owe our past a debt of gratitude for making us a fierce, strong warriors of the present. We’ve endured some major shit and can often yawn in the face of adversity as adults. But this gives us the tools to pull the meat of those experiences off the bone and finally end that pointless blabbering of our flashbacks.
Kudos to Kristen Lamb for this gem.
This week we have been discussing flashbacks. What are they? Why do readers, agents, editors generally want to stab them in the face? Is it truly a flashback or is the writer employing an unorthodox plotting structure (The Green Mile or The English Patient)? Shifting time IS a legitimate literary device, but like ALL literary devices, it has strengths and weaknesses.
Theme is wonderful. But if we lay it on too thick, we can turn off readers because our story comes across as preachy or lecturing. Symbolism? Love it! But overdo this and readers can get irritated. Can the drapes JUST BE BLUE? Deus ex machina IS a legitimate literary device. Feel free to use it. I wouldn’t recommend it, but knock yourself out.
As I like to say, Have fun storming the castle! *waves and grins*
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Somewhere around the end of last year, right around the holidays, the bottom fell out of my world. Emotionally, spiritually, physically. Actually, it had been falling out for over a year but the accumulated stress hadn’t taken its final blow.
It wasn’t the first time or the second but what felt like the hundredth, thousandth, millionth time. All my coping skills had been used over the last year surviving several huge hurdles and I now found myself with what felt like an empty bag of tricks.
The number of times I’ve bottomed out or the trauma of my childhood isn’t the point of this blog post, its about what I did in that situation. What I did was succumb. Psychically unplugged from life. Flat. out. gave. up. It had won. I just couldn’t pull myself up one more freakin’ time to stare down the demons again and again and again. Wouldn’t do it for my daughter, my husband and or for my dogs, which if you knew me is saying a lot.
After limping through the holidays on about 25% of myself, the final layer peeled off in early January and took my physical health with it. For months I was gone. Lost in that circular, downward spiraling, free falling haze. The demons recognized its frazzled, stressed out host with parasitic vigor. They seized that opportunity to invade my body with long buried memories of abuse and violence. They haunted my dreams, robbing me of much needed rest to heal and recover. They invaded and eroded my skin, giving me huge welts across the backs of my legs reminiscent of beatings with the belt. My skin itched and burned at the slightest touch, wearing clothes or any contact with a piece of furniture was a challenge. I lost the ability to be comfortable in my own skin. I had no where to go.
But mostly, they intruded upon my feminine parts with a vengeance. The little girl parts that took the abuse, tried to adapt and scar over, the parts that became swollen almost beyond recognition, the parts that tried and tried to stretch but couldn’t….eventually giving way to rips and shreds. Those parts were the target again. What the little child couldn’t tolerate at that time, she buried deep and then systematically began to hand back to the adult woman in bits and pieces over the years. Somewhere in our collective unconscious, we must have bargained. I must have made a deal with her that if she survived the early trauma through whatever means she needed to, then I, the adult, would deal with the suppressed memories and physical sensations later.
And that is what happened. For weeks turned into months, I rode the edge of the razor’s split. Burning, stabbing, swelling, searing pain. Urinary, vaginal, rectal. My every orifice that was violated contained sensations that rose to the surface. Over and over and over and over. The cascade of symptoms was never ending. Urinary swelling turned into infection which spread to my bladder and kidneys. More crying and screaming than my husband could handle.
Eventually by late Feb, the symptoms began to subside a bit thanks to Marilyn and Betsy, two women energy healers who encouraged and tolerated appointments with me; half dressed in nightshirts due to my sensitive skin and sporting ice packs for my swollen parts. Week after week, they lovingly helped me on the table and began to spin their healing magic. We began to make progress that continues at this writing.
That’s the backstory, here’s the point.
What it takes to get writing…. again….is LOVE. Four women emerged as a cosmic lifeline who carrying me out of the physical and emotional pain. Four women who I’d come to know online but never met, shared many conversations with over the years, created a small online support group for me. Just for me. Each day and often several times a day, I’d come to the group page to see beautiful images, unfailing words of support and love as well as space just to let me be. It was beautiful. I nicknamed them the “Fabulous Four” because I’m not sure I would have emerged from those dark depths without having these angels to carry me. And I’m coming up short with words to describe how it feels to be loved and cared for with this level of compassion, especially when one isn’t familiar with that level of support. Again, it was just beautiful.
As I plunged to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, my writing and words died. It was impossible to write, think straight of have any type of creativity when coping with issues of basic survival such as pain. The bottom and largest portion of Maslow’s pyramid describes needs such as breathing, food, water, sleep. He suggests that one must be secure in the basic needs before being able to move up the hierarchy. Creativity is characteristic of the very tip-top of the pyramid and during this health crisis, far beyond my reach.
So, this is my debut….again. I have scaled the pyramid with the LOVE and support of four extraordinary women as well as my energy practitioners. My words are coming back as the crisis fades. I see hope again and crave being present on this blog and with my sojourners in healing. I’m confident that many more layers of the health crisis will be revealed when the time is right. As the accompanying image depicts, not only have I been lifted from the level of most basic needs, I’ve been infused with the energy of a Goddess-Priestess-Warrior vibe. The power of our hearts beating in unison, multiplied. I stand at the top of the pyramid with my arms wide open. I feel my power again.
Photo credit, used with permission from Sarah Durham Wilson, DOITGIRL .
I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. It’s ordered and on its way.
The full title is Go Only as Fast as Your Slowest Part Feels Safe To Go: Tales to Kindle Gentleness and Compassion For Our Exhausted Selves written by Robyn L. Posin Ph.D. If I hadn’t had the enormous good fortune to have crossed paths with Robyn before I knew of her book, the title alone would have been enough to have grabbed my attention. My soul seeks out and especially loves words like this. Safe. Compassion. Gentleness.
You see, I’m a slow person in the ways that most of our world deems important to be fast. I drive slowly, like an elderly couple on a Sunday afternoon, I’m the one who is leading the parade down Main Street, holding up traffic and keeping folks from their ever-present tendency to rush. Yes, I get honked at a lot and am okay with that. I like the feeling of peace that travels with me now instead of the gut tightening experience of rushing from one destination to another.
My movements are slower now also as I’ve come to realize that my serenity lies within me. No longer am I chasing the carrot dangling in front of me, going ninety miles an hour inside, always reaching, grasping for the unattainable that is out there, somewhere out there, just slightly out of my reach. I now know and try to practice a mindful lifestyle based on the innate wisdom that resides within.
But it hasn’t always been like this. It wasn’t until my body broke that I fell into bed and took stock of my life. Perhaps through lack of any other choice, I acquiesed to the cruel fact that I had fractured and splintered, used and abused, pushed and prodded myself almost to death. I quit my job, dropped out of life, accepted the AMA’s diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Immune Dysfunction and slept for an entire year. Summer, fall, winter, spring. When I went to bed, my daughter was a high school freshman. By the time I began to come out of my physical fog, she had nearly completed high school.
But this conversation isn’t about my poor choices or the ramifications of traumatized children or even the physical effects of abuse. This is about a woman, who is a part of a movement, that exists to open our eyes to the possibility of acceptance and compassion in relationship to ourselves. It is about physical slowing and emotional stillness. It is about granting ourselves permission to honor the parts of our psyches that are smaller, littler, slower or feeling unsafe. And taking that recognition to a level of loving acceptance.
Even though I haven’t read her book, I’m certain the gentleness of her words will blow me away. I’ve found that to be true when I’ve visited Robyn’s website, For the Little Ones Inside. Her writing and art struck a chord and I felt the immediate desire to slow down, let go, relax my body, relax my soul. My exhausted self needed her. We exchanged a few e-mails, she’s on my blogrool and I’m on hers. Perhaps I just needed to know that beliefs such as hers really exist. That we can, in fact, lovingly accept our smallest parts and don’t have to hide or push them away. That it’s okay to be confused, unsure, distracted, cautious. That it’s okay to just be.
Suggested Link: Words, images and tales created by Robin Posin, Ph.D. at Compassionate Ink