Tag Archives: therapy

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!

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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


Declaration of Independence from Stigma

I have something important to share with you all. Earlier a friend of mine gave a very brave statement when she said: “I have PTSD!! I’m not ashamed to talk about it!” Taking her example, I want to say this:

I have bipolar. I had eating disorders and PTSD, I cut myself and attempted suicide. I was a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse. I grew up in domestic violence. I was raped.

And I am not ashamed.

I have done nothing wrong. I am not to blame for the abuse I suffered or the psychiatric disorders I am diagnosed with. I got therapy and take medication and that does not mean I’m crazy. I will not be silenced or shamed by stigma or societal pressure to keep these things hidden. They are part of my story, and I know they are part of your stories too. Join me in declaring that you will not be silenced by stigma!!! ♥


Domestic Violence Story Project: My Story- Sarah

Hi everyone, thanks for joining me once again for the final story in this series. Everyone who has contributed to this project has done a wonderful job and I am grateful to all of you, but each story has been from the perspective of a survivor in a violent relationship. I really wanted to include at least one story from the perspective of a child who had grown up in an environment of domestic violence, but unfortunately I didn’t receive any stories like that, so because I believe it is such an important perspective to include, I thought I would volunteer my own.  I will caution you, this story may be triggering and is not easy to read. But I decided not to pull any punches, and to really lay out the truth about what went on in my home growing up. Even people who know me may be surprised at the extent of the violence; I just want to be clear that I am not ashamed of anything that happened. I did nothing wrong. My mother and sister did nothing wrong. We were the victims, we are the survivors. And I am ready for the world to hear our story. 

Thank you to everyone who has written, commented, and read these stories. Just by witnessing these words, you are making a difference. 

Growing up in a violent household isn’t easy to explain. It isn’t all like what you see in Lifetime movies; it isn’t all as obvious as black eyes and screaming fights. Sometimes- many times- violence is much quieter than that, much more insidious. It was that way in my house

I think the number one word that comes to mind when describing my childhood home is this: confusing. Damn, was it confusing.  It’s not just that it was chaotic, though it certainly was. It’s that no one had a clearly defined role in the family. Mother, daughter, wife, big sister, little sister, friend, adult, child, lover, whore, caretaker, confessor, victim, savior, and others were all interchangeable roles for the three females in the family; that is my mom, my older sister, and me. We shifted personalities at the whim of my father, who also had his own little cast of characters that he played: father, husband, surgeon, family man, abuser, pedophile, rapist, philanderer, and general, all-around sociopath. We spent our days and especially our nights in a mixture of terror and exhaustion, wondering who was going to be what next.

As a child, I got extremely mixed messages from both parents, but especially my mom. On the one hand, she was very careful to make sure that she raised me to be a feminist, equal to a boy in all the opportunities I was given and the things she said to me. She gave me trucks along with my Barbies, made sure I admired Cinderella and Sally Ride, and said I was so smart I could be anything I wanted to when I grew up- no one could stop me.

Except while she was telling me all of this, I was watching her wither away in an abusive marriage. My father stopped her from seeing friends and her family, from taking a job outside the house or even working from home, from using any of the degrees she had earned. My mother is a brilliant, talented, educated woman, and he convinced her that she was worthless and stupid and couldn’t even do housework correctly. I watched him treat her like less than shit you wipe off your shoe my entire life. He slowly took away every little bit of control and happiness and sanity from her. I watched him screw other women behind her back. I dealt with him abusing my sister and me behind her back, which he knew was the worst way possible to hurt her.

When you grow up with a tyrant who rules your home like this, things are never safe. You don’t even know what that word means. Stable and secure are pretty meaningless too. Because one night your father might come home, get pissed off, and threaten to kill your cats. Or, just because he thinks it’s funny, he’ll hold an empty handgun to your six-year-old head and pretend to fire. Or while you’re doing your homework he’ll walk into your room completely naked and act like it’s no big deal. He’ll make dinner for himself and forget to feed you and your sister. He’ll pinch your ass. Pull your hair. Shove you into a wall. Molest you. Rape you.

And that’s just the stuff he did to me. He pretty much did the same to my sister. I don’t even know everything that he did to my mom, and I don’t want to. I know he abused her verbally, emotionally, physically, sexually, financially, and even reproductively, by forcing her to have her tubes tied which ended up in a hysterectomy after a post-op infection. It was horrifying.

It’s hard to really make someone understand what it is to live under the constant threat of violence unless they literally have. It’s terrifying, but it is also exhausting; physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Because you’re not only having to live with it, you have to keep it secret. You’re all living in this silent warzone, this strange compromise gets struck where you can be fucked up inside the house, but once outside it’s all pretend. It’s like a bomb in a Tiffany box; it may look pretty on the outside, but when you open it up, the contents will still kill you.

For those of you who have children who have lived in violent homes and are concerned about how they will be affected, I can tell you one thing: they are aware of so much more than you think. You think you are hiding the stress and trauma from them but you are not. They understand what’s happening and they want to help. They want to protect their parents and themselves and make it all ok. They think it is their fault that things are falling apart. They think this so they can have some control over a situation in which they have no control. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to “stay together for the kids’ sake.” The kids do not want two miserable parents together. They would so much rather have two separate, functional, happy parents, BELIEVE ME. They would rather have a struggling single mom in a safe home than a rich, extravagant home that is filled with chaos and violence. Do whatever you have to do, but make your kids feel safe. That’s all they really want.

As far as how I was affected by growing up like this, it’s hard to tell. I ended up with severe anorexia and bulimia, a dissociative disorder, self-harm issues (mostly cutting), a prescription pill habit, and horrifying posttraumatic stress disorder. But how much of that was due to witnessing domestic violence, and how much of that was being a direct victim of sexual violence myself? There’s really no way to know.  Both affected me in deep and profound ways, ways that I still deal with to this day.

So how, you’re probably wondering, did my family’s violent situation end? Well, it sort of ended because of me. I finally went off the deep end at 15. I couldn’t take it anymore and I tried to commit suicide, which landed me in a psych ward, which began the process of family therapy with the therapist who recommended my parents get divorced, which finally began when I was 17 and ended when I was 19. It took many, many years of therapy for all of us and a lot of moving around and of course, cutting my father out of our lives completely to be where we are today, my mother my sister, and me. And where we are is a pretty good place: moving forward, looking to the future, hopeful, peaceful, and free.

Finally, gratefully, free.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011


National Recovery Month Stories: Alli

Hello everyone and thank you for joining me for our final Recovery Month Story! This account comes to us from a brave young woman who is facing an interesting challenge: how to stay in recovery herself while taking on a challenging career in the medical field. Alli is a registered nurse who works to advocate for her patients and keep them healthy, while at the same time trying to stay in recovery from her own eating disorder issues. I identify with her greatly, since I too am recovered from an eating disorder and am currently in nursing school; it’s interesting to hear about how she feels towards the profession of nursing and her daily struggles with recovery. I hope you find it interesting too. Thank you for staying with me through this month’s Story Project, and I hope you’ll join me on the first when Writing for Recovery begins the Domestic Violence Awareness Story Project. Thank you again! Peace, Sarah

Let me introduce you to someone: She is a bright-eyed intelligent young woman full of enthusiasm for nursing sick people back to health.  This has been her passion for longer than she can remember, and it took her more years than most to reach just the bottom rung of the ladder–a license to practice as a Registered Nurse.  Setbacks forced her to put the dream on hold and learn to let others nurse her back to health before she herself could be the caretaker.  But she achieved these first necessary steps of living her dream and is on the verge of changing lives with her career finally in her hands staring her in the face.  She embraces the challenge despite the feeling of terror that comes with knowing she will be responsible to care for human lives.


She didn’t sign up for this.  They told us it would be hard, but didn’t prepare us at all for the magnitude of suckiness that is the life of a floor nurse.  No, what they told us was a joke compared to the war we face every day. This job, this career, has been one giant disappointment.  After all the time and effort I’ve put into it.  Seems like a waste.  I’m good at it.  But just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you’re happy doing it.  I have to wonder if I’ve even given it a fair shot though.  If I have even stepped into the ring.  Maybe I’m holding out for something better that doesn’t even exist.  Maybe this is it for me.  I’d always wondered if I was destined for greatness.  But I am swallowed up by a feeling of limbo; this is the most I’m ever going to be, to do.  Who ever said I deserved better anyway?

Who is this chick?

This chick is me.  Alli.  For over a dozen years I’ve been suffering from anorexia and bulimia, spending my days in and out of treatment centers, emergency rooms, therapists’ offices; wearing a mask that says to the rest of the world No matter what it looks like on the outside, I’m FINE.  But I’m not fine–on the inside I’m screaming.  On the bad days, everything in me is fighting to hold it all together but at the same time wanting to cry out Somebody please help me, I can’t do this anymore!  In between treatment stays I somehow managed to fight my way through nursing school and am currently working as a registered nurse on a cardiac floor.  Which is a sick irony–the years of abusing my body has created numerous medical complications; at any moment the tables could be turned and I could be (and have been) lying in that bed being nursed back to health.  Instead I am in the position to care for and to save lives.  When I can’t even save my own.  I give advice to my patients that seems hypocritical; who should be expected to listen to me educate them on living a healthier lifestyle when I’m not exactly the poster-child for health?  My career and the struggles I face every day in my job are reflective of the daily battle against my eating disorder.  They both involve waking up and facing my worst fears over and over and you have to be so strong to do that every single day. When I speak of the “fight” to get up and go to work, I’m also talking about the fight to walk around in a body I hate and try to ignore the self-loathing feelings all day long, to fight the desire to self-sabotage and fall back into a completely eating-disordered lifestyle.  There’s an eerily deep correlation–while growing as a young nurse, I have grown as a young woman and have learned that there really is no separation between my work life and my home life.  How I feel about myself as a plain old human being directly affects me in my career.  It is impossible for me to be strong at work and then go home and beat myself up.  If I can stand up for myself as a patient advocate, then I must stand up for myself as a me advocate. The strength it has taken to survive one of the toughest careers is the same strength that has helped me fight against my eating disorder for so long when too many times I desperately wanted to give up.  As hard as it is though, it is what I live for and now I am a nurse for life.  And if you have something to live for, then you have no excuse for giving up.

~~ Some people plant in the spring and leave in the summer.  If you’re signed up for a season, see it through.  You don’t have to stay forever, but at least stay until you see it through. ~~

Alli Eshleman, RN


National Recovery Month Stories: Jim

Hello everyone! Welcome back to the National Recovery Month Story project here on Writing for Recovery. Thank you for joining me once again as I introduce another account from someone who works on the front lines battling addiction. Jim is the executive director of a counseling center specializing in addiction, dual diagnosis, and trauma. Every day he works to bring people to a deeper understanding of themselves in order to help them find their way to a meaningful recovery. He has a wonderful perspective on what it takes to walk that path- and how patients and counselors can work together to accomplish lasting recovery. 

 

My name is Jim and I’m a recovery ally. People in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse don’t expect me to be able to understand them. I don’t blame them one bit. I’ve never been an alcoholic and my drug addictions are limited to caffeine and nicotine. These are not exactly conditions that make a person’s life unmanageable, at least not in any short order. Worse, I am seen as less likely to understand because I am a professional in the addictions field. My friends in recovery have too often received poor quality of services, judgment, and been generally shamed by people in my line of work. This must stop. Being a recovery ally means that I seek to be part of the solution to all of the problems associated with the disease of addiction.

In general, if a person hasn’t walked a mile in your shoes it’s hard to believe that they can really understand what it’s like to live with what you live with. I have found that most folks who haven’t been an addict or at least been very close to an addict can’t begin to wrap their mind around what it’s like to be one. I know that while I cannot relate to a person whose experiences I have not shared; I can understand to the best of my ability what it’s like for them and support them in overcoming their disease. All that this requires is that I get my ego out of the way. I listen and listen well. I ask dumb questions and I show a genuine interest in what it’s like for them. The addicts and alcoholics I know tell me that they find this unusual and refreshing.

I love working with people in recovery because I like people who are exceptionally genuine, motivated, and who seek to make great changes in their lives. Normal people bore me. Normal people do not generally make life altering changes. They do not often become something far greater than they are. People in recovery inspire me. I love their candor, their accountability, their integrity, their humor, and their willingness to go to any length to become happy, joyous, and free. I am blessed because people who are willing to make this kind of commitment seek me out.

The recovery communities of 12 step programs are vastly more effective than any professional intervention or organization will ever be. I see what I do as merely a compliment to the work of AA, NA, Al-Anon and others. I am one person working in one organization. Self help programs total tens of millions of people all over the world who genuinely care about their fellow members. Being a recovery ally means having the humility to know that what I do may be important, but it will never be a fraction as important as membership in a self help program.

Never have I been so welcomed by any group of people as when I have attended AA meetings. My colleagues do not receive me one tenth as well. Even after I explain that I am not an alcoholic, I am frequently thanked for attending, for showing an interest, for offering support, and for showing respect to a program that works exceptionally well. Amazingly these folks do not hesitate to share their experience, strength, and hope with me. They speak the most intimate and painful details of their lives in front of me, knowing that all attending have the opportunity to connect, learn, heal, identify, and grow based on these experiences.

I came to work with people in recovery through a backdoor of sorts. I started out as a mental health therapist and found that many of the people I was serving also had problems because of drugs and alcohol. I quickly came to understand that as long as they continued to abuse drugs and alcohol, anything in mental health would be of limited value to them. In most cases I find the importance of being clean and sober as being foundational and of far greater importance than issues of mental health. Today I understand that depression and anxiety are normative experiences for a person who is active in addiction or who is in the early years of recovery.

Being a recovery ally means that I am an educator. I share what I know and I defer to those who know more than I. I am far more likely to refer my clients to people in local recovery than I am to refer them to professionals. I am able to do this because I know people in the local recovery communities. Being an educator also means that I acknowledge that as a society we are not effectively educating children, adolescents, and adults of the dangers of addiction.

The best recovery allies are advocates. We know that current systems fail to meet the needs of people in recovery. Punitive approaches to alcohol and drug abuse have consistently failed to deter or reduce recidivism rates. We need to bring attention to what works (self help, rehabilitation, abstinence) and challenge prevailing stereotypes (addicts and alcoholics as bad people, criminals, or only belonging to poor and working class). We need to demystify recovery (it’s not about religion, it’s not people sitting around just talking about their problems) through achieving direct knowledge of recovery. It’s not enough to encourage people to join self help. Having direct knowledge of local recovery means that we can share our experiences to motivate others.

The hardest part of becoming a recovery ally is learning not to enable. Those who do not understand alcoholism or drug addiction are often unwittingly helping their loved ones to stay mired in addiction. Enabling almost always feels like the right thing to do. It’s something we feel compelled to do. Not protecting our loved ones from harm is counter-intuitive. We had to learn that protecting those who abuse substances from the natural consequences of their actions is to do them a disservice. We learned that in general people stop using because they get sick and tired of being sick and tired. Suffering is a powerful motivator.

Finally, the most important part of being a recovery ally is the willingness to collaborate. The AA tradition of “principles over personalities” strikes at the heart of our lack of collaboration. We need all stakeholders to come together if we are to make a substantive impact on the disease of addiction. Too many of us as Adult Children of Alcoholics are afraid or disinclined to share what we know and what we’re doing. Agencies and groups often behave like alcoholic families. We compete with one another from the mistaken belief that there is not enough to go around. Sharing our knowledge of what works and combining our efforts will yield far greater results than we have ever seen.

Jim LaPierre, MSW, LCSW, CCS

Higher Ground Counseling Services


National Recovery Month Stories: Psych Nurse

Hello everyone, welcome back to to Story Project. This week we have a story from a treatment provider (who wishes to remain anonymous) and she has an interesting perspective on what it’s like to deal with addiction and recovery from the other side, to be the person who watches and guides patients through that process. I think her message shows that people who provide treatment really do care.

 

As a psychiatric nurse I deal every day with people who are trying to cope with anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, schizophrenia, or other mental illnesses. Many of them have been trying to cope with the distress of their illnesses by self-medicating. Some abuse prescription medications such as anxiolytics or pain meds, still others use marijuana and tell themselves it’s “not really a drug,” some drink excessive alcohol, and others take anything they can from LSD to mushrooms to crack cocaine to meth.

The one characteristic all these people have is that they come to treatment in pain. And just being in treatment doesn’t mean they are hopeful about being there. A large part of the staff’s job is to help the patients find that hope. Without it, nothing else progresses because the work in overcoming illness and addiction is hard.

If someone arrives still under the influence of drugs/alcohol they have to go through detoxification. We use medications to try to ease them through that process, but it is still not an easy one. However, almost always after detoxing the patient is much better able to consider other things on which to focus and be able to stay focused on those things that form the steps of recovery.

During treatment, other means of coping with stress need to be found for each patient, and better habits of responding in a new and less destructive way. The lucky ones find the right person with whom to explore, process, and resolve their underlying issues, particularly trauma. Without that process, relapse is all too common.

I admire anyone who makes that first step and starts some kind of treatment. I use the analogy that everyone has a little red wagon and we pull it around, carrying our emotional baggage. In treatment we try to help the patient unpack some of that baggage, put it in the right storage, or maybe even discard some of it, making the wagon a little lighter to pull.

Treatment is available but you may have to look for it. Some people are fortunate enough to be able to afford wonderful private facilities. Others have to hope they are lucky enough to find good care in a public system. Keep looking. Ask for guidance, but seek help if you are dealing with addiction or any mental illness. I have seen life-changing results from getting the right care. Best wishes in your recovery.

Anonymous, RN-BC, MSN