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Showing posts from April, 2017

The ACE Study

A while back, I heard a bit on NPR about the ACE study, which can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site, here.  ACE stands for Adverse Child Experiences, and it studies the long term physical impact of early childhood traumas. The findings link between childhood trauma and adult chronic diseases, particularly obesity, headaches, depression, and autoimmune disease.

A quick summary of the findings, pulled from this site include:
childhood trauma was very common, even in employed white middle-class, college-educated people with great health insurance;there was a direct link between childhood trauma and adult onset of chronic disease, as well as depression, suicide, being violent and a victim of violence;more types of trauma increased the risk of health, social and emotional problems.people usually experience more than one type of trauma – rarely is it only sex abuse or only verbal abuse. The test includes a short list of questions and score from one to ten. T…

C-PTSD

I have survived abuse of every kind. I now having a loving family and an otherwise peaceful, fulfilling life. I am proud of who I am and what I have overcome. But recently, I've also had to embrace that I have a disability. Because I spent so many years feeling pressured to be problem-free in order to avoid punishment, and internalizing that my thoughts and feelings don't matter, it's hard for me to accept this reality.

I developed Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from prolonged exposure to emotional and sexual abuse as a child. Where PTSD is typically classified as an anxiety disorder caused from witnessing a traumatic event or events over a short period of time, C-PTSD is caused from prolonged, repeated trauma over the course of months to years. It is more common for childhood trauma to develop into C-PTSD than PTSD. One way to picture it is like this. Imagine you are in a dunking booth, and at any moment, someone will hit the target and you will be submerged into…

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"I'm not sick, you're sick!"

This is what my brother barked at me, eyes glowing with contempt, when I confronted him about his behavior. After a psychotic episode in his twenties, he had been diagnosed Bipolar with Delusions of Grandeur, but rejected the diagnosis. His outward behavior ranged from catatonic to aggressive, and always anti-social. He was also a hypochondriac, until, conveniently, he saw a self-proclaimed exorcist who healed him of all his diseases. He then believed he was a prophet, and was performing his own exorcisms and faith healings on anyone willing to let him.

"He's not sick, you're sick!"

This is what my mother shouted at me, indignant that I would suggest my brother could use some psychological help, and maybe meds. She had a long history of enabling an abusive, alcoholic, narcissist, one of the many sick men she kept in her life to take care of. My brother now lived with her, rent and responsibility free. A psychologist I w…

Good Enough

Most of my professional work revolves around writing, and subsequently, marketing my writing. There are certain commercial pressures that go along with my job that I want to be free from here. I don't normally share my work unless it's polished. This blog is my unedited, first draft thoughts and feelings loosely surrounding the topic of abuse. I'm not going back to fix a stray comma or awkward sentence. I will mix past and present tense, because the experience of abuse simultaneously occurs in both past and present. I am not going to overthink, or self-edit too much. I will not worry about how my writing is perceived by those who want to get all judgy about those things. 

Of course, in making this decision, I become instantly aware of how much I worry about this stuff. Part of it is my training. Editing and proofreading make good sense, and I am an advocate of it in almost every case. However, the spirit of this blog is to shine a light on the areas in which I feel vulne…

It's a (not so) Wonderful Life

I love inspiring movies, I really do. Give me a (deserved) happy ending any day. I believe in the power of storytelling to transform hearts and minds, and point people toward what's good, beautiful, and true. But a satisfying ending in a story is what Aristotle would call "better than the real." Stories can offer insight, but they can't be the literal answer.

Take It's a Wonderful Life, for example. Inspiring, right? George's friends come through in the final hour. An angel gets his wings. Everyone leaves the theater (or living room) happy and fulfilled because the story ends on a high note and all seems right with the world. They've forgotten that, UM, HELLO, FIVE MINUTES AGO HE WAS TRYING TO KILL HIMSELF.

George Bailey is a hero because he sacrifices all his hopes and dreams in order to help other people.  Admirable, right? When he wants to explore the world, he stays home to take care of the family business. When he still wants to explore the world, …

Breaking the Cycle

"Just wait 'til you have kids. You'll see!" Wink wink, nod nod.

Ah yes, the adage that you'll truly know the struggles your parents went through with you when you have children of your own. We've all heard it, haven't we? In a way, the realization that we were once snotty and irrational, and now the tables have turned, is in itself a rite of passage between parents and children. There is something sacred and complete about putting away your own childish ways to tend to the needs of children. You'll get to be the person who says, "Just wait 'til you have kids!" and then your children will get to say it, and so on.

My parents said it, too, but ironically, in my home the roles were switched. As a child, I was expected to be the one to manage my parent's snotty and irrational behavior. I wasn't allowed to be the one to act that way.

For a long time, I didn't want kids. I was terrified of the unknown, but I was even more terrifie…

I'm fine. Really.

Since going public about the abuse, I've felt the urge to go back and explain myself to friends and (moreso to) acquaintances that, really, I'm fine. The fact that I am in a place where I am making this information known is a huge step toward releasing it and moving on. I don't want to burden anyone with it, or to for them to worry about me. I may sound sad and hurt and angry, but really, I'm OK...

That is, until I'm not OK.

The happy, positive, take-it-all-in-stride mask of mine is screaming to go back on. It's safer there. Pretending I don't have any problems feels comfortable.  I do believe there is some value to the attitude of "fake it till you make it." A positive attitude can take you far, and it's a heck of a lot less annoying to be around than a negative one. However, in my case, pretending to be fine used to be my only option. There wasn't a time or place where I was safe enough to stop faking it, until now. I have "made it…

Trusting Again

I married the kind of person who talks to strangers. Willingly. If someone I don't know tries to approach me, a million thoughts race through my head in the split second when I am trying to decide  whether that person is going to rape me, kill me, or ask where the bathroom is.  My husband is the kind of person who always takes the flyer from the guy on the street while I push past, avoiding eye contact. My husband is open, transparent, and generally trusting. It's one of the many reasons why I love and admire him. But I'm not like that.

I have my reasons. Perhaps it is partly due to my gender. Women are wary of getting harassed by strangers in ways that many men never think about. Or perhaps it is because my husband is an extrovert and I am an introvert. But I also think there is a learned hesitation that I developed from my abusive childhood. I need to gauge how "safe" a person is before I share any part of myself, whether it's a simple glance or my life st…

It Runs in the Family

When my grandmother died, I found some papers from the 1940s from a psychiatric institution, along with a few letters. I asked my uncle about it. He told me that my grandmother's sister had been hospitalized, and then died from a lobotomy. My grandmother felt guilty. She was the one who authorized the procedure, so she never talked about it. He added, in my grandmother's defense, that my great aunt had been "out of control," so there was "nothing else to do." I'm not sure what constituted "out of control." The only example I was given was that she would take off her clothes and run outside, which of course mortified my family.

This information haunted me for a few reasons. At the time I had several family members, still alive, who struggled with serious mental illness. Yet this was the first documented evidence I discovered about it. It was all around us but never discussed. We no longer lived in a time where lobotomies were considered an op…

Loving Yourself as much as Your Neighbor

It's known as the second part of the greatest commandment. "Love your neighbor as yourself." It's a solid way to live, right? For most people, it's a good reminder to think of others and treat them well. But for survivors of narcissistic and emotional abuse, it needs some clarification.

Growing up in a toxic home, "neighbor" meant the narcissists in my life. I've always been an overachiever at loving, caring, and providing for others, but I am still learning what the "as yourself" part means. I was expected to shoulder my parent's burdens while having zero needs of my own. I was expected to be vigilant about what I said and did so it wouldn't offend or upset them. I was to protect their egos at all costs. I was to serve them. I wasn't to expect anything in return, because having a self meant I was being selfish.

Being selfless is my default comfort zone. I deny myself things before I can even acknowledge I want them.  If I …

How Much Is Too Much Abuse?

I've known for a long time that I grew up in a dysfunctional home, but it was only recently that I decided to fully accept that I was abused. Accepting it meant that I was willing to take that knowledge out of the dusty back corners of my mind where I had been storing it, and finally put it on display for others to see. It's like discovering you inherited one of those (Margaret) Keane "Big Eyes" paintings that you know is considered valuable, but to you it's some worn out, tacky/ freaky tchochke that directly contrasts with your contemporary tastes. I know for my own healing, I need to expose it, but I don't know where to put it.

I had been minimizing it for so long, I really don't know how "big" it is. I vacillate  between thinking I'm over it and ready to move on, and then I am blindsided with a debilitating memory or emotional flashback. I get restless and I want to go back to my usual way of coping, which is to push it away and keep mys…

Too Smart to Get Caught

When I was growing up, I was taught that abuse was something that happened to disadvantaged people. Uneducated people. Trashy people. People who, because of their social status, "didn't know any better." If a woman was hit by her husband, it was too bad that she was too dumb to be with him to begin with. If a child was beaten, it was also too bad, but we all know how kids can be annoying. When I was a kid, physical abuse was the only kind of abuse I ever heard about. Sexual abuse was too taboo to mention. Emotional abuse simply didn't exist.

My parents were reasonably well educated. They had professional careers. We lived in the suburbs. Therefore, in their minds, it was impossible for them to be abusive. After all, we had a roof over our heads and we were not starving or bleeding. Usually. My parents had created all sorts of complex ways to barricade themselves from the truth of their own behavior. They were (and still are) incapable of understanding that abuse c…

The Story of What Happened

I run into people looking for a sound bite length version of what happened to me. Here it is. I was abused. That's it.

For some, that's not enough information. They want to know the juicy details. They want me to tell them a story. They are looking for some shocking piece of information that they can visualize immediately and succinctly. They want the cliche of the mom hitting the kid over the head with a frying pan.

I get it. I am a storyteller by trade. I have written about abuse in narrative form, directly and indirectly. There are all sorts of interesting character choices and metaphors to work with in storytelling. But storytelling is not real life.

There is a saying that the difference between story and real life is that a story has to make sense. Stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. What I want to write about here often makes no sense and often has no end.

I did not experience one major traumatic event, but thousands of events over a long period of time. It&…

A Proud Victim

It's time to reclaim the word "victim." It's time to reclaim it because we are told it's something we shouldn't be. Victims make people nervous, as if we had leprosy or see-through leggings. People don't like victims, and they are quick to point that out to anyone who suggests they might be one. Victims are weak. They are at fault. They have a certain mentality that is bad and wrong.

A victim is a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event. Being a victim is a statement of fact, not a worldview to be criticized. Why would saying "this happened to me" be cause for others to shame, belittle, or deny?

Being an actual victim is different from a victim mentality. Yet, even though they are not the same, let's take a moment here to address why people who have a victim mentality are so despised. A victim mentality is when one's perspective has become skewed and feels powerless. But here's the thing. I…

The Empath - Narcissist Connection

I feel the feelings of those around me. I always have. If someone scrapes their knee, a tingle will shoot up my leg. I get headaches around anxious people. I get knots in my stomach around angry people. I completely short circuit around liars. I know what people are feeling, whether they are in the room or a thousand miles away. I am an empath.

I used to make a living at it, years ago. I put myself through college as a professional psychic. I could tell others where they had been emotionally, and where they were going. I had lots of repeat clientele. People feel validated when they know someone understands what they are feeling. My spidey-sense has been helpful in steering me toward kind, compassionate people, and away from jerks. It is a part of who I am, and I value being tuned in to others. The very best parts of me can be attributed to the fact that I feel and care deeply for others.

However, there is a dark side to feeling so much. It is difficult to turn it off. Toxic personal…

Missing Attachment

I am the mother of three young children, and it inevitably comes up in small talk on playgrounds and Sunday school, or wherever moms congregate. "Do your folks live nearby to help out with the kids?" I usually deflect with a comment about my in-laws, who live out of state. I throw in a reassuring word about how much we miss them, which is true. They are normal grandparents who love and care for their children and grandchildren. Sometimes that will be enough to satisfy the person and I can change the subject quickly. Other times, I brace myself for the next question. "And where are your parents?"

The in-law deflection bought me time to consider how much to share. If they are a total stranger, I usually say something vague, like, "Oh, they're not around." It's awkward enough for most people to stop asking, but the obnoxious ones will persist. If I'm feeling bold, I might continue. "They're mentally unstable, and I don't feel safe a…

The Burden of Achievement

My go-to method of coping with abuse is to achieve. School, and eventually work, were my escape. They were the places I got positive reinforcement for doing a good job, and I was always eager to please. At home, if I did a good job, it would either go unnoticed or there would suddenly be some alternate criteria that meant I failed. To escape at home, I read. I was less likely to be a target if I made myself invisible with a book.

In Kindergarten, I read at a fourth grade level. I was told many years later by my mother. She added that she made sure to play down my aptitude so as to not upset my older brother who struggled to read. My mother had a way of shutting me down and enabling my brother. I was expected to do well in school, but my parents never asked me about what I was studying or bothered to look at my homework. It never occurred to either of us that they could, and maybe should, engage me intellectually, or at all. They expected me to be totally independent, which was fine b…

The Confusion of Denial

I am a (sometimes overly) considerate and empathetic person, and my natural desire to honor the dignity of others sometimes gets in the way of admitting what happened. I was conditioned to protect my abusers and not myself. I put far too much care into what would happen to their "feelings" if I told the truth.  Writing about abuse is difficult when my abusers continue to deny its existence. I have been accused by my abusers of wanting revenge, while at the same time maintaining that I have no reason to seek it. I don't want revenge. I want honesty. I want transparency. I want peace.

For my own healing, I need to admit what happened. But "what happened" is not as pertinent as how it felt, and how the effects played into virtually every aspect of my life. I will share some details to give context, but it is not my intent to describe what happened so much as it is to describe how it felt to me, and what the effects were. My hope is that others who have struggl…

When Your Mom Is Not a Good Mom

They are everywhere on social media, those sentimental memes about mothers. But because I was  abused, to me they read like my worst nightmare:


 My mother actually does stalk me. I cut off contact with my mother over ten years ago because I did not feel safe, and because I decided it was more important to protect my child from her manipulative behavior. Whenever I move, she finds my address. She will send cards to my children, acting as if everything were normal. Two of them were born after I cut off contact, yet she knows their names and when they were born. She will not engage directly with me, or address any of the issues, but she will let me know she is there attempting to control me. Recently she sent me an email with "Urgent -Response Needed" in the headline. It was not urgent. It did not need a response. It was an attempt to manipulate me once again. "Hoovering" is the term, borrowed from the vacuum cleaner, whereby a person tries to suck people in to thei…

I Have Something To Say

It's time for me to come out. I wish there were rainbow flags and parades for things like this, because maybe it would make it more fun. When my friends who are gay come out, they get to say, literally, "I'm happy." But the news I have to share is not happy. In fact, it represents a lifetime of overwhelming grief.

I've lived with it for over forty years, but it wasn't until a few months ago that I could say it out loud: I was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused.

Over the course of my life, I spent countless hours ignoring it, minimizing it, and overcompensating for it, but I carried the truth in a heavy knot in my stomach. The terror, the guilt, and the shame I felt were not even mine. I was conditioned to wear the ragged, cast-off emotions of my abusers. It was not just the instances of abuse themselves, but the systematic piling-on of misplaced burden and blame that cloaked me in silence.

I physically escaped my abusers over ten years ago, but …