Tag Archives: treatment

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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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!


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!!! ♥


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 Poem: “Affliction”

Hello Recovery Writers. So the Story Project is almost over and I think it’s been a success! However, as you know, in months before WfR has done dedicated poetry. And you know me, I couldn’t resist- I had to include one poem for National Recovery Month! This is a poem I began quite a few years ago and just recently picked up again to finish. I hope each of you can identify with it a little bit. Take care everyone and as always, thank you for reading! Peace, Sarah

 

1/4/08

 

Affliction

 

I’ve spent most of my life doing battle

With this cunning and baffling affliction

 

It’s so common yet each one’s unique

The disease that we call addiction

 

What a tragic waste of a girl

Who had potential to do so much

 

To spend her young life believing

She needed a chemical crutch

 

Hers came in the form of starvation

Then puking and cutting and pills

 

It seemed there was never an end

To her frightening array of ills

 

What no one knew was the cause

The reason she had to stay sick

 

To distract from her internal pain

Nothing else did the trick

 

Everyone has their own reasons

We all started because we were hurt

 

We needed to numb the feelings

Make those toxic emotions inert

 

Whatever the substance is

The disease is exactly the same

 

It’s rooted in pain and dysfunction

In guilt and trauma and shame

 

Addiction does not discriminate

Anyone can fall into its grip

 

Before you know it you’re loved ones are gone

And all that you own has been stripped

 

 

This is so disturbingly common

Yet people don’t like to talk

 

Even though it’s a routine affliction

When I ask them to speak, people balk

 

I have asked for people’s stories

But so much shame comes with this disease

 

I have not gotten many responses

Who are we trying to please?

 

The more that we’re open about this

The fewer people will die

 

Addiction’s a fatal disease

I was fortunate to survive

 

I was given a second chance

So I’m doing all that I’m able

 

To spread hope for recovery

For lives that are happy and stable

 

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011

 

 

 


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