Tag Archives: PTSD

Mental illness and service dogs

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A woman living in my home city of Fargo, North Dakota is seeking a new Service Dog, and she’s going to need help to get one. The following is an excerpt from her Go Fund Me page:

… My current Service Dog is well into retirement age and can no longer perform certain tasks that I need her to do. It is time that she is allowed to just be a dog.

I have Severe Complex PTSD and Bipolar Disorder. Since Sadie came into my life as my Service Dog I have had so many doors opened to me that never would have been opened… The first time I started to have a flashback she started pounding on my chest until I fully connected with her, thus grounding me in the present and thereby diffusing the situation… She knows that I am going to have an anxiety attack before I do! She will paw at me and let me know I need to remove myself from a situation when I am getting anxious.

These are only 3 of the many things she did for me (waking me up from night terrors or nightmares, forcing me out of bed to walk and feed her when I am gripped by depression, telling me when to take my meds , alerting me when I was driving anxiously/recklessly b/c I was anxious or manic).  Other tasks, or explanations of tasks can be found here.

Now this amount is no where near how much it will cost me to adopt, fix, train, and buy equipment (vest and patches) for my new Service Dog, but it will help. Adoption fees are $175, the low cost spay & neuter clinic told me it would cost $115. Then there is training. $10 per session of one on one training… Also, though not required, the ADA prefers that all Service Dogs pass the Canine Good Citizenship test.

If you wish to contribute, head to Go Fund Me to help this lady meet the payments and access the resources she needs.

 

Do you have a service animal?

If so, how do they help you with your day-to-day life?

Do they aid you with a physical disability or a mental disability?

What are the challenges you’ve faced in having a service animal?

 

Answer these questions in the comments if you wish!

 

– Särah Nour


Post-traumatic Growth: Cynthia’s Story

Hello everyone!

This April is has been my goal to feature stories about post-traumatic growth as opposed to post-traumatic stress. Sometimes, the two happen simultaneously, one helping heal the other; this is such a story.

Cynthia Bland was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Like many victims, she held onto this horrible secret for years, where it caused all sorts of chaos in her life and relationships. Finally, at 42 years old she revealed it to a therapist, and her recovery journey began. The pieces of her shattered life began to fall into place, and there was a name for what was happening to her: PTSD. As she worked in therapy, an idea began to form about how to help other survivors of childhood sexual abuse. What if there was a way to help society understand the effects of childhood sexual abuse on its adult survivors?  she asked herself. What if people understood that the often the root cause of drug abuse, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, perfectionism is a result of childhood sexual abuse?  The more Cynthia looked at the problem, the more she realized that we need to be teaching adults how to prevent sexual abuse in the first place. One of the best ways to do this is through the Stewards of Children prevention workshop, created by the organization Darkness2Light.  Putting all of this together, Cynthia created Voice Found, a national non-profit organization that is committed to the PREVENTION of Childhood Sexual Abuse and the support of adult survivors. Voice Found is an important way for Cynthia to deal with PTSD…it gives the ‘ugliness’ some positive purpose. She never wants to be seen as a victim – instead, she wants to be victorious over what happened to her.

I believe you are Cynthia!

Voice Found is now a registered non profit and their charitable status is pending. Cynthia’s blog is http://voicefound.wordpress.com/. Their new website is  www.voicefound.ca and will be launching very soon!


Post-traumatic Growth: Lorin’s Story

This April my goal is to feature stories of hope and personal growth after trauma, as a way of showing that PTSD and self-destructive coping mechanisms are not the only necessary outcomes. This is one such story from a brave woman named Lorin Leatherwood, who used her experience to raise awareness and to raise funds for her local battered women’s shelter and rape crisis center. In this blog, she describes her journey from a young, distraught rape victim into a strong, wise rape survivor. She has done the work and has much to be proud of; I deeply appreciate her allowing me to share her very personal blog here on Writing for Recovery to help others.  Thank you Lorin!!

Stand Up. Speak Loud. Finding My Voice So You Can Too

Also, I wanted to add a new image to go with these stories, and I think that of the Phoenix rising from the ashes is quite appropriate.


Positive Outlooks: Posttraumatic Growth

 

This year for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and Child Abuse Awareness Month I really wasn’t sure what I was going to focus on, until my dear friend Shannon turned me onto this article from the New York Times. This article happens to be about veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder, but the main concept that caught my eye was one I have not explored much: the concept of posttraumatic growth.

Posttraumatic growth is defined as “the positive changes individuals may experience following a traumatic event. For example, following a traumatic event, some people report positive changes in their goals, priorities, relationships with others, and spirituality as a result of re-evaluating or modifying their assumptions about the world and their life.”  This actually happens more commonly than you might think. Much more commonly than PTSD; often in tandem with it. In all the treatment centers and group therapy I’ve been through, I’m honored to have been witness to this over and over and over again. The women (and some men) that I’ve been in treatment with—my fellow travelers, as I call them—are all remarkably brave, at the same time that they are extremely vulnerable. It’s part of the process, to hear each other’s stories and learn from them; we grow with each other through the bonding of that deep communication. Sharing personal experiences of early childhood neglect and violence, sexual and physical abuse, the shame and rage and pain and guilt; one must open and raw. Yet, in the telling, there is so much power. We begin to feel the helplessness lift as we realize that speaking and naming our experiences is the start of transforming them. I have watched women who came into treatment quiet as a church mouse and trying to make themselves just as small, find their voices and stand up straight and realize they deserve to take up space and ask for what they need and have those needs met. I have seen women who believed the abuse they went through was pointless suffering and were in the darkest of places, transform those experiences to something meaningful and find a foothold in spirituality. These are examples of posttraumatic growth.

For me, posttraumatic growth happened at the same time I was processing my PTSD. I believe I grew and developed positive changes more from some traumas than from others. I know that the trauma of nearly dying at 22 from pneumonia, having part of my lung removed, being in a coma, my heart stopping in surgery, and everything that went with that, changed me for the better. I think about that experience every day. It taught me to value my body more, to respect the amazing resilience and capacity it has to heal after such a traumatic surgery and deadly illness. During my eating disorder recovery I remembered the feeling of just wanting to live. It taught me that I can handle more physical pain that I ever imagined. It also taught me that my mom would walk through fire for me- she never left my side the entire time, she fought for me, helped with my treatment (as a nurse), and I would not have made it through without her. Other traumas were not so clearly beneficial. Like being raped when I was 16; I do not see how that helped me change or grow. But as a child, surviving the chronic and severe sexual violence inflicted on me by my father, some skills developed that were helpful. A vivid imagination; places I would go in my head during the abuse. The ability to assess people’s moods and psychological states; I used this with my mom too, who had her share of depression and anxiety and my sister who had her own issues. A thick skin; nothing could get to me and I never cried as a child. A large intellect and vocabulary; to escape, I read every book I could get my hands on, even my parents’ medical texts (my father was a surgeon). These things were and are useful. I also always had a relationship with God, which has grown and changed over time. It’s a personal relationship, solitary and maintained through meditation and prayer; I never really needed a church or other group setting to feel in touch with the divine.

What I’d really like to know in this month that’s dedicated to awareness of child abuse and sexual assault, is how any other survivors feel they have grown through their trauma. Do you feel you have experienced posttraumatic growth? If so, in what way? Did it happen through therapy or on its own? I think this is a very hopeful part of post-trauma life, and I’d love to hear about it! Please feel free to share your story here or e-mail me at write4recovery@aol.com.

Also, click here to take an assessment by the American Psychological Association on Posttraumatic Growth!


We Should Have Heard You: Ashley Billasano’s Final Words Uncut

Ashley Billasano was a girl just like me. So much like me, that this story has affected me in a deeper way than perhaps it would have otherwise. Ashley and I both grew up in the Austin area. We both were sexually abused by our fathers, raped other times, and used eating disorders and self-harm to cope with this. Both of us were failed by Travis County Child Protective Services, who neither served nor protected us. We both attempted suicide more than once. 

The difference is, I survived.

Eventually, someone heard me. Eventually, I received the help I so desperately needed. Tragically, no one heard Ashley or was able to help her before she succeeded in taking her own life. I can’t explain why I was spared and Ashley wasn’t. I can’t explain why someone intervened on my behalf and no one got to her in time. And I can’t imagine how Ashley’s friends and family are feeling right now.

But I can imagine what Ashley was feeling. I remember vividly what it felt like to think that no one believed me and no one was going to help me and I was all alone with my hellish pain. Ashley left us with a record of her pain, a record of her experiences and reasons for taking her life. She made it public for a reason. And when I heard that Twitter took those messages down I was angry, because she wasn’t heard when she was alive. She deserves to be heard now. So I am publishing her tweets just as she wrote them, unedited and uncut. Ashley wanted the world to know what she went through and she wrote it rather eloquently. Perhaps her writing will encourage other survivors to come forward with their own stories. There have been far too many deaths due to silence. Let us remember Ashley Billasano and how the system did not work for her. Let us do better the next time a victim has the courage to report. Please, let us  do better. 

A website and foundation have been set up in Ashley’s honor, their mission to help victims of abuse deal with the effects and prevent more tragic suicides. www.ashleymariejustbreathe.com

 

10:50PM Nov 6th: “I fuckked up my own suicide” yeah tell me about it…

6:44AM Nov 7th: Staying home today. Can I reach 1000 tweets??? I’m thinking yes!

9:45AM Nov 7th: just woke up

9:45AM Nov 7th: Don’t feel too well

9:45AM Nov 7th: There is somebody in my dreams

9:46AM Nov 7th: I want them gone

9:46AM Nov 7th: How can we control our dreams?

9:46AM Nov 7th: Hummm wish somebody would text me

9:47AM Nov 7th: Kinda lonely right now

9:47AM Nov 7th: There was so much more I wanted to do

9:48AM Nov 7th: Ahhh well time to move on

9:48AM Nov 7th: My thought process is too crazy

9:48AM Nov 7th: I totally think I’m bipolar

9:49AM Nov 7th: Or just crazy

9:49AM Nov 7th: Idk.

9:49AM Nov 7th: Humm I remember why we broke up

9:50AM Nov 7th: I shall do it again

9:50AM Nov 7th: Because this time I don’t have a bf

9:50AM Nov 7th: And I really don’t care anymore

9:51AM Nov 7th: I should get ready then

9:51AM Nov 7th: Should have gotten everything last night

9:52AM Nov 7th: Still just trying to raise my numbers

9:52AM Nov 7th: So I met this boy

9:52AM Nov 7th: He was very cute you see

9:52AM Nov 7th: Quite popular too

9:53AM Nov 7th: Me and this boy started talking

9:53AM Nov 7th: Then we talked a lil more

9:53AM Nov 7th: Then he let me in his front door

9:54AM Nov 7th: We walked up the stairs where everything was quite

9:54AM Nov 7th: And he whispered ‘you look beautiful’ into my ear

9:55AM Nov 7th: Shivers moved down my spine

9:55AM Nov 7th: And then he began to kiss my neck

9:56AM Nov 7th: I know you’re thinking ‘why did she go’

9:57AM Nov 7th: And all I can say is my father told me so

9:57AM Nov 7th: So he kissed me sweet and laid me down on his bed

9:58AM Nov 7th: I started to shake he said ‘give me head’

9:58AM Nov 7th: I laughed at him and said ‘I’m a vegetarian’

9:59AM Nov 7th: Then I wondered why I had really come to him.

9:59AM Nov 7th: See I’ve been in this situation before

10:00AM Nov 7th: When a boy I loved said he would leave if I didn’t give it up

10:00AM Nov 7th: And I told my friends I had done it even though it wasn’t true

10:01AM Nov 7th: Because he was telling everybody the same things too

10:01AM Nov 7th: But here is the honest truth

10:01AM Nov 7th: I never did it till I was sixteen

10:02AM Nov 7th: I did not know the boy

10:02AM Nov 7th: And I never got to know him

10:02AM Nov 7th: He was older stronger and high at the time

10:03AM Nov 7th: He probably will never admit I was a crime

10:03AM Nov 7th: His breath smelt sour like smoke and his kisses became rough

10:04AM Nov 7th: Then I tried to sit up and say ‘I’ve had enough’

10:04AM Nov 7th: My attempt of getting free were feeble

10:05AM Nov 7th: I decided to scream ‘please stop’

10:05AM Nov 7th: but he just took a pillow to my face and put me in the dark

10:06AM Nov 7th: First to go were my shoes. I feel my feet go cold

10:06AM Nov 7th: Next my pants, he was so bold.

10:07AM Nov 7th: It hurt so much as he entered me

10:07AM Nov 7th: Guys I’m telling you my first time was taken from me

10:08AM Nov 7th: He noticed and said ‘are you a virgin?’

10:08AM Nov 7th: I nodded through tears as he kept barging in

10:09AM Nov 7th: He finished and was done with me

10:09AM Nov 7th: I lay on his bed lifeless

10:10AM Nov 7th: He let me stay there and sleep

10:10AM Nov 7th: Then he offered me some weed

10:10AM Nov 7th: I said ‘no thank you I don’t do that either’

10:11AM Nov 7th: He said ‘girl you’re no fun. See you later’

10:12AM Nov 7th: I started to get dressed and he came back in

10:12AM Nov 7th: He came close; i tried to get away from him

10:12AM Nov 7th: He told me ‘dont be scared’

10:13AM Nov 7th: and like an idiot I believed him

10:13AM Nov 7th: He asked if I liked it

10:14AM Nov 7th: I shrugged my shoulders

10:14AM Nov 7th: He leaned in for a kiss, and I let him

10:15AM Nov 7th: He laid me down and rubbed my back

10:15AM Nov 7th: I cried in his pillow. He cried back

10:15AM Nov 7th: He said he was sorry

10:16AM Nov 7th: I said ‘it’s okay’

10:16AM Nov 7th: we laid there together just bathing in our fears

10:17AM Nov 7th: I don’t know why. But I saw the human in him.

10:17AM Nov 7th: He was probably just as broken as me

10:18AM Nov 7th: He drove me to my park

10:18AM Nov 7th: I got on the swirly slide. I just laid there and cried

10:19AM Nov 7th: I finally walked home

10:19AM Nov 7th: My father opened the door

10:19AM Nov 7th: Asked me ‘how was it’

10:20AM Nov 7th: I said ‘i’ll never forget it…’

10:20AM Nov 7th: as he pressed for questions. I grew impatient

10:20AM Nov 7th: Said ‘dad in so tired can I just go to bed’

10:21AM Nov 7th: he dismissed me and I trudged up the stairs.

10:21AM Nov 7th: My legs hurt. And my heart was filled with despair

10:21AM Nov 7th: I went to the bathroom and locked the door

10:22AM Nov 7th: I took apart a razor I had just gotten from the store

10:22AM Nov 7th: I did what I had to do to forget.

10:23AM Nov 7th: It seems it’s been my only way since sixth grade

10:24AM Nov 7th: When the kids called me fat even though I was a double zero

10:24AM Nov 7th: And I began to watch my weight like it was a MTV show.

10:25AM Nov 7th: I cried as I remembered how I’d starve for days

10:25AM Nov 7th: And my parents never noticed

10:26AM Nov 7th: So I laid there and watched the blood gather on the floor

10:26AM Nov 7th: Then my weak hands reached for the door

10:27AM Nov 7th: I ran into my little sister she saw and shook her head.

10:27AM Nov 7th: Then she looked at me and said. ‘Just don’t let them see sissy.’

10:27AM Nov 7th: she kissed my head and walked away

10:28AM Nov 7th: I swear after that night I was never the same

10:28AM Nov 7th: My dad became to want ‘favors’ from me too

10:29AM Nov 7th: He would use it to bribe me if I wanted to hang out after school

10:30AM Nov 7th: I didn’t know that I should have told somebody what he was doing to me

10:30AM Nov 7th: Sex just became second nature to me

10:31AM Nov 7th: My father let me as long as he got details sometimes I’d even have to let him see

10:32AM Nov 7th: I was just a young girl. Who quickly became afraid of men.

10:32AM Nov 7th: Then years past and it never stopped.

10:32AM Nov 7th: Finally on day I began to pop

10:33AM Nov 7th: I sent a boy away

10:33AM Nov 7th: And told my father enough was enough

10:33AM Nov 7th: He cried and said ‘I’m just so weak’

10:34AM Nov 7th: I looked at him and saw the brokenness too

10:34AM Nov 7th: I took pity on him and became the fool

10:35AM Nov 7th: Things never changed they just got worse

10:35AM Nov 7th: Till one day I met a boy who in the end hurt my heart worst

10:36AM Nov 7th: We met in my typical situation

10:36AM Nov 7th: We were both undressed within a matter of seconds.

10:37AM Nov 7th: But I could tell he was different.

10:37AM Nov 7th: I pledged myself by not hooking up with complete strangers.

10:38AM Nov 7th: But for him I was eager

10:38AM Nov 7th: But there was something different about this guy

10:39AM Nov 7th: He returned the favor and actually said goodbye

10:40AM Nov 7th: On the bus ride home we sat next to each other. Talked for hours on end

10:40PM Nov 7th: We held each other’s hands and told each other our favorite bands

10:41PM Nov 7th: He looked me dead in the eyes and asked if I would please consider seeing him again

10:42PM Nov 7th: I went home filled with smiles and cheer

1:01PM Nov 7th: Annyways. The guy eventually asked me to be his girl

1:02PM Nov 7th: And things were great for a while

1:04PM Nov 7th: But my dad got in the way. And ruined everything. One day I just couldn’t do it. So I told my boyfriend my secret

1:06PM Nov 7th: What happened next was a blur. I told him not to tell. We tried to act normal. We had been dating for over a month when I took his virginity

1:07PM Nov 7th: I fell in love for the first time. But my secret was too much for him. He needed time to think. I thought I was going to lose him.

1:09PM Nov 7th: A lot happened. But all that matters is that my secret was about to become puplic. Him & my friends made me tell

1:10PM Nov 7th: All my efforts to keep a normal life were crumbling right before my eyes.

1:11PM Nov 7th: I remember telling my closest teacher and CPS and the police and dectectives. I remember having to tell them everything about my dad

1:35PM Nov 7th: It was my boyfriend who told my mom. And she came to get me.

1:37PM Nov 7th: Weeks passed then I got the call. They said. ‘Sorry but there isn’t enough evidence’ I hung up.

1:38PM Nov 7th: That’s when I changed. I didn’t care anymore. And the people I was meeting gave me no reason to.

1:39PM Nov 7th: The guys I’ve been with, ha none of them care. They just look at me like I’m just some other hoe.

1:40PM Nov 7th: To that I say. I guess I am. I don’t know how else to be. It’s not my fault. Somebody else chose that for me.

1:47PM Nov 7th: Well that’s. The story of how I came to be who I am. Well the condensed version. I’d love to hear what you have to say. But I won’t be around

2:08PM Nov 7th: Take two. Hope I get this right

 


New Poem: “Passing On”

 

 

 

 

So after that last blog post about moving on and leaving my trauma history behind, I was inspired to write this poem. I hope you like it. Peace, Sarah

 

11/9/11

 

Passing On

 

I feel something, don’t know what

Dragging, needing to be cut

 

Dry old bones that I still treat

As if they’re covered with fresh meat

 

These fossils have a proper place

Buried beneath the earth’s dirt face

 

Dead things belong underground

Where they cannot make a sound

 

Cannot call back out to me

Flashing back my history

 

Chaining me to what is gone

Keeping me from moving on

 

Pulling one eye backwards to

The things that I once saw in you

 

Making me listen again

To threats and screams, wrists being pinned

 

I now refuse to hear those things

I will not answer when you ring

 

Your name is Past, I’ll leave you there

It isn’t that I didn’t care

 

I’ve honored your pain quite enough

I’m focusing on other stuff

 

Facing my future, with you behind

A new beginning peace of mind

 

© Sarah Henderson 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Unchained Memory: Letting Go of My “Survivor” Identity

My therapist suggested something really interesting today that got me thinking hard, and I had to share it with you.

I’ve been feeling stuck for a long time now. Today I had a breakthrough because of my therapist’s suggestion, and this was it: Perhaps I need to stop identifying myself so much as a victim, as a survivor. Perhaps doing that keeps me chained to my past in a way that is stopping me from moving forward in my life, weighing me down, keeping me stuck. I like the way that telling my story helps other people tell theirs; however, at a certain point, does telling my story keep me in the story? Does talking about it constantly keep it alive in a way that it doesn’t deserve to be? I have honored my past. I have looked at it, worked with it, worked through it, talked openly about it, shared it with the world. I have analyzed it to understand how it affected me as a child and how it affects me now. I have written poetry about it and written it as a narrative. I have acted it out in psychodrama, made collages and paintings in art therapy, built sculptures in sand trays, and voiced parts in family systems. It has moved through my body in dance therapy, and moved through my thoughts in meditation. I’m not sure there’s anything left do with my past.

Except, perhaps, to leave it behind.

That is the one thing I have not done. I have not allowed myself to put my past in the past. I have kept it in the present by writing about it, publicizing it, using it to help others. And I’m proud of that. But keeping my past in the present like this seems to be detrimental to my future. I can’t wear the survivor badge forever. Not if I want to move on to other ways of being, move on to play other roles on my life. For instance, I want to be a nurse. I want to be a wife someday. I want to be a mother. I want to continue to be a writer, but about different things. I want to be a good daughter. I want to volunteer. There are a lot of roles I want to play in my future, and it will be hard to do while carrying that weight of my old victimhood. I just don’t need it anymore. I can be other things. I am so much more than my trauma. I am so much more than a rape victim, an abuse victim, a victim of any kind. I am so much more than a survivor. I can use those skills that I learned in my past as a survivor without dragging up the past with it. I can be a fighter, a fast learner, an intuitive person, thick-skinned, all those assets, without bringing up their origin. I can just appreciate their existence.

I am saying I can do all these things, but even as I write this, I am doubting it. Changing my perspective, letting go of my past will not be easy, might take some work. But I think I am ready to do it. I wanted to tell you all this, because it means there will be some changes to Writing for Recovery. I probably will not be speaking about my own past experiences anymore if I am going to really attempt this. I hope you all understand. I think I have written plenty about my history; enough for a lifetime.

What comes up for you when you think about letting go of that victim/survivor role? How would that change your life? I’d love to know what you think.

Thank you for supporting me in this. I hope you all continue to write and tell your stories as much as you need to, until you are ready to let go like I am. All my love, Sarah