It seems like so much and so little all at the same time.
Eighteen years ago this May I graduated from high school. It was supposed to be the best summer ever, but instead I experienced my first real battle with depression. I’ve had a few major depressive incidents in my life, but this was the first one and it nearly cost me my life.
That entire summer was a blur. I won’t go into all of the details of the personal circumstances that preceded the depressive episode. Depression is a disorder that is generally understood to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Those two things crashed together in an epic fusion that left me…not okay.
I had come to believe that I would never be enough. I believed that no matter what I did and no matter how hard I worked, I would always be viewed in a negative light because of things beyond my control.
I believed I would always be a failure. None of my efforts would ever prevent that, ultimately. Every success was just delaying the inevitable and lifting me higher so that the fall to the bottom would hurt even more. After all, that is what was said by an adult that I deeply respected. Maybe all that I had worked to be despite my environment was just like a kid playing dress up. Maybe I would never fit in or be welcome anywhere but trap houses and abusive relationships.
Maybe that’s what I was worth. Maybe it wouldn’t ever get better.
I was in a pit. A bottomless pit. I remember four people from that summer who offered me slices of hope. Four people who chose not to leave me alone in the darkness that WAS that summer. My memories are muddled and vague, but there are glimpses of light and peace that I still remember.
Falling asleep on Aaron’s couch when nowhere else felt safe enough to sleep. Stephen sitting with his knees at his chin, on the floor next to my bed. I don’t even remember why, but he was there. Donna, who never stopped showing up.
Alex, who took away the razor blades and the pill bottles. Alex, who made me eat when I began to starve myself. I weighed 85 pounds when I started college that fall. Alex, who came over every day and refused to let me sit alone, who believed in my worth for me when I couldn’t believe it for myself.
When I look back and reflect, the number of times I tried to die that summer is staggering. I did not see light. I did not have hope.
Eventually, though, the light broke through.
It was gradual. The way Alex laughed when I called him out for manipulating me into eating. His smile would would break and then spread across his face when he knew that I knew but he still wouldn’t give up. His joy was contagious and his persistence relentless. The sight of more books than I could ever dream of reading in 5 lifetimes when I walked through the campus library. The sun peeking through the dying leaves in the fall. Why do we see such hope and beauty in dying things? Road trips and soccer games. Snuggles from my then very little sisters. The idea that maybe, just maybe, hope existed.
It took time. I can’t say that enough. And sometimes it just strikes me- the gravity of what it must have been like to to experience first love alongside someone battling a major depressive episode hits me and my breath catches. I am even more grateful for Alex. He saved my life, over and over again, until I was finally in a place where I was able to value it myself.
And now today, I can hold my own heart, and cherish my own life in ways that he did in my stead so many years ago.
Because the reality is that there will not always be an Alex. Major Depressive episodes are brutal and grueling and if you don’t know what is happening, they can be lethal.
May is mental health awareness month. Awareness is something that I didn’t have back then. Maybe Alex did, or maybe he just had some combination of instinct and love. I guess I will never know. What I do know is that is that I did not know what was happening inside of me. I did not know that there was hope. I didn’t know that there would be light again. I didn’t know that there was help.
I didn’t know, and it could have cost me everything.
Knowing is such a huge part of the battle. Because now, today, I know. When the darkness closes in, I can call it by name. It doesn’t get to consume me anymore because awareness has led me to the tools that I need to keep it in check. A great therapist, who has taught me to be more aware of what is happening inside of my body, as well as healthy coping skills and self-care. Anti-depressant medication. An incredible support system.
If you or someone you love is fighting this battle, please know that you are not alone. You do not have to stumble through this blind like I did- or like Alex did, as someone loving an individual struggling. There are resources and supports that exist. Don’t hide in silence, pushing it under the rug.
It’s time to talk about something that is going to make all of us uncomfortable. When does sexual perpetration actually begin? It is commonly understood that predators often have multiple victims prior to actually being convicted of sexual assault, but we rarely talk about when and how this emerges.
According to the US Bureau of Justice, the age with the greatest number of reported sex offenses was age 14.
Half of adult offenders report that their first offense took place during adolescence- the average age reported? 12.
Even adolescent offenders often have numerous offenses prior to their perpetration being discovered. The numbers range from 1 to 15 prior victims.
This is hard to digest. We want to believe that the danger lies with strangers in vans, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults happen at the hands of someone known the victim.
Even more concerning is this fact: Most predators begin perpetration as young teens.
Treatment and intervention with juvenile offenders looks different, and the therapeutic process includes the assessment/educational phase. During this phase, juveniles complete a detailed sexual history and complete a polygraph. This educational/assessment phase is considered the most effective point in treatment for perpetrators to disclose additional victims.
Some people believe it’s because of the looming polygraph.
However, other things happen during this phase. These juveniles are educated about the nature of sexual offending. They are taught about consent and violation, and many actually disclose additional victims because they didn’t know their behavior constituted a sexual offense. They learn about healthy and appropriate sexual expression as opposed to violation and exploitation. They are then expected to give a detailed sexual history with the help of their therapists.
Children who engage in sexually offensive behaviors often have substance use, domestic violence, poverty, intergenerational abuse, physical abuse and a family history of denying responsibility. They are often exposed to sexual aggression, sexual abuse, physical violence and blurred boundaries. Often, there is a family history of difficulties coping with abuse perpetrated against children.
Over 90% of the juvenile offenders in one study not only had experienced sexual victimization themselves, but their own abusive behaviors paralleled their victimization experiences.
So, what can we do?
I would suggest that we intervene preemptively, rather than waiting for catastrophe to strike. Often juveniles offend against their family members, which can have a significant impact on the family as a whole.
We start by believing children when they tell us something is off. Unfortunately, children (especially teens) are often not believed when they share that they have been offended against. Even worse, they are blamed and shamed.
Oftentimes adults will disregard a child’s disclosure, chalking it up to “normal exploratory play.” While most children do engage in some sort of sexualized play during childhood, that play is mutual, consensual and it is not coercive in nature. Perpetration is characterized by secrecy, coercion, and exploitation. There is an element of vulnerability and often some sort of power difference, whether that be size, age or influence. This isn’t two kids that are the “playing doctor.” It’s one juvenile using force, bribery, coercion, secrecy and/or manipulation to get sexual gratification from someone more vulnerable than them in some way. It is important to be aware that if one child feels uncomfortable, manipulated or exploited, then the interaction should not be dismissed as mere “play.”
In addition to believing, we also have to preemptively ensure that our children understand consent and healthy boundaries, even from a young age. We need to ensure that children understand that “No” means “No,” and “stop” means “stop.” We have to be intentional about teaching children that nobody is entitled to anyone else. This is difficult for us, as parents.
Our kids don’t have to give hugs they don’t want to give. They also aren’t entitled to hugs.
Our kids don’t have to share. They also aren’t entitled to other people’s things.
Our kids don’t have to play with people that make them uncomfortable. They do have to be kind. They are not entitled to other people’s play.
We have to teach our children to say “No” in a way that is kind and gracious, but also clear and direct.
We have to teach our children to accept the word “No” long before they even understand the concept of sex. Before sexual consent is even on the radar, children should understand consent and autonomy.
If the educational phase of intervention with juvenile offenders is so successful largely because of the understanding it provides regarding consent and autonomy, let’s provide that information before offenses occur in the first place.
Let’s be intentional. Proactive, rather than reactive. Let’s better equip our children to create a kinder, more Christ-like world.
Be Bold. Live out loud.
Jon A. Shaw et al., Practice Parameters for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents Who are Sexually Abusive of Others, 38 J. Am. Acad. Adolesc. Psych. 55S-76S, ¶2 (1999 Dec. Supp.)
Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.701(b)(2)
Fla. Stat. ch. 985.01.
Howard N. Snyder, Juvenile Arrests 2001 (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention), December 2003, at 3-4.
Howard N. Snyder, Juvenile Arrests 1996 (Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention), November 1997, at 2-3.
Sharon K. Araji, Sexually Aggressive Children: Coming to Understand Them xxvii (1997).
Are you aware that gastroparesis awareness month is in August.
What about National Pediculosis prevention month? Do you know when that is? What that is? (Lice and September.)
Many of us are vaguely aware of some of the more well publicized awareness months. We might have ribbon magnets on our cars or pinned to coats.
Sexual assault awareness month falls in April. Every April. Unless, of course, you’re a sexual assault survivor. Then you are aware of that fact, acutely, every day. And without adornment.
If you are a survivor, you likely know some of the statistics. Numbers the rest of the country will tut and gasp over for a couple weeks are already etched on the inside of your eyelids so that even sleep can’t make the facts disappear.
-1 out of every 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
– every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted
– 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male
– 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide
-less than 1% of rapes lead to felony convictions
In most cases, the victim knows her attacker.
In most cases, she is assaulted near or even inside of, her home.
In this era of #Metoo, rape is no longer the untouchable, unbroachable, unspeakable cousin to sexual harassment.
We’re aware. Enlightened.
And we believe women.
Isn’t that what we purport?
FBI crime statistics indicate that only 2% of reported rapes are false. This is the same rate of false reporting for other major crimes.
So, with all this “wokeness”, we would expect that comments like “If she’s telling the truth, why did she stay silent for so long?” or “She wouldn’t keep that baby if it was really rape” would be unheard of.
Yet hear them, we do.
We pretend we don’t.
We pretend that skepticism doesn’t spread like dandelion seeds in the wind. That doubt, hearty and resilient, doesn’t settle into every crack and tear in our carefully constructed facade of confidence, burrow into our skin and germinate. That self loathing isn’t a continual insidious threat.
We try not to question what we were wearing, how hard we fought, or the devastating consequences of our silence.
We say we believe that we bear no responsibility. We will tell you that we aren’t ashamed as our eyes drift over your shoulder and then affix to a place just above your head. Of course we know it isn’t our fault.
We exchange stories among ourselves, all too often mumbling an introduction of “What happened to me wasn’t as bad as what happened to you…” just to give ourselves permission to speak.
A wool cocoon coat with one of those oversized cowl hoods. An infinity scarf that hid my face from an unusually biting January wind. A skirt that was so long it hid the ribbon detailing on the top of my boots.
That’s what I was wearing.
It was around 8 in the morning.
My own versions of “But what if I” and “Maybe I could have” lie dormant 11 months of the year.
But they blossom in April.
And maybe? That isn’t such a bad thing. It puts the demon front and center. Forces us to face our collective biases and ignorance. Discomfort and disillusion.
The stories shared surrounding Sexual Assault Awareness month are horrible to listen to.
They are devastating to accept.
Accept them anyway.
It’s impossible to fight an enemy we can’t or won’t see.
It’s impossible to heal from a wound we haven’t treated.
What better time than this month of Awareness to ask ourselves what we’re really aware OF?
And what we have yet to face.
Wishing all my fellow survivors a life far beyond simply surviving.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the position where something that didn’t ever apply to you suddenly hits you like a ton of bricks. It just happened to me. I was sitting in my substance use disorder counseling class, completely shook, as my professor walked us through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
I’m not in recovery, after all. I have never identified as addicted to anything except maybe caffeine, but that is a conversation for a different day.
I have not struggled with substance use disorder. In fact, I spent a large portion of my childhood and adolescence surrounded by those who did battle substance use disorders, so I committed to myself a long time ago that it was a path I would never walk down.
So how was it possible that I was sitting in a class discussing the 12 steps of AA, completely spinning out?
I quickly snapped a photo of the twelve steps, sending them to my husband. “I have been in recovery without realizing I have been in recovery,” I texted.
“???” He responded
“Replace the word ‘alcohol’ with ‘trauma responses and defense mechanisms.’ I have been going through this exact process over these last two years without even realizing it.”
“WOW,” he responded, followed by numerous shocked emojis.
Defense mechanisms and trauma responses can take over your life without you even realizing it… kinda like addiction.
I came to a place where I had to admit that I was powerless over these trauma responses and defense mechanisms. They had taken such control over my life that it had become unmanageable and I needed help. I could no longer power through it alone, pretending that I had it all together. This was so difficult for me because I have always had it all together. However, the recognition that I couldn’t do this alone was the first major step of my healing journey.
I knew that God was capable of restoring me. I had to come to a place where I recognized that the collective church was not the same as God. The church may have been complicit in causing me harm, but God was not. The church, and the people in it may have made it more difficult for me to heal but when I separated the people and the institution from who GOD truly is, I was able to recognize that God could give me restoration in ways I hadn’t previously understood. This led me to a deeper exploration of God and a willingness to go where God leads regardless of how that is received by those around me.
Steps 3 and 4
Because of this, I came to a place where I was willing to set aside everything I had been doing in my own power, my religious practices and my sheer will in order to accept that I couldn’t get it all together myself. I needed God’s will to dominate, and that meant starting with owning my ultimate vulnerability. This was, by far, the hardest part. If you know me at all, or if you have been following Find Your Roar for any length of time, you know that vulnerability is not my jam.
I found a therapist. I needed one anyway due to some of the struggles I was having, but through the work I began (and continue to do) I began what AA calls a “searching and fearless moral inventory.”
I didn’t call it that, of course. I wasn’t in AA. But I began to look at situations with more nuance. I began to truly analyze myself introspectively. I looked at the things in my life causing resentment and fear; guilt and shame. I identified “stuck points” and worked through them, honestly reflecting upon the areas where I held responsibility and letting go of the areas where I didn’t. This wasn’t a one and done process. It is ongoing.
It didn’t stop there, though. Over the course of the last few years, I spent a significant amount of time in reflection regarding the role I personally played in the dysfunction and heartbreak that has existed in my life, as well as the struggles I (still) have letting go of the things I have no responsibility over. I am overwhelmed with gratitude as I think of the role Jen, Deb and other close friends have played in this process for me. It is hard enough to process all of this internally within myself and with God. Adding that additional layer of trustworthy people (who reciprocally trust me) to work through it with continues to be incredibly cathartic. These people are priceless. If you are working your way through this yourself, who are your people?
Steps 6 and 7.
I have changed the way that I pray and the way that I worship. This has been a significant shift, and those closest to me can attest to the difference. I no longer treat prayer like an ask and answer session, nor do I treat prayer like a genie-in-a-bottle session. I don’t rattle off a list of the ailments and injuries of every person I know, followed by a quick, “Amen” My prayer ultimately looks like “Make me more like you. Help me reflect you. Show me the way to bring Heaven to Earth in this moment.” In those moments of prayer, my goal is to change the patterns I have been stuck in for so long.
Trauma responses and defense mechanisms served me at one point in my life. At one point- back when I was consistently existing within violent and dangerous circumstances, these responses were helpful and protective for me. They are not anymore. Now, when I engage in these reactions and responses, they do not serve to reflect Christ, to bring Heaven to Earth or the further the kingdom of God. Instead, they actually hurt those around me, damage relationships and cause confusion. If I want the world to be better, I have to humbly accept that I need to be made better too.
Lord, make me better.
Steps 8 and 9.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t make any lists of people that I had harmed. However, as I processed through all of this, I became very aware of the role I had played in pivotal situations in my life, and I became acutely aware of the need to take responsibility for that.
Some of these conversations were harder than others. Some were simple. I am certain that more opportunities for me to take responsibility for my role in a variety of things that have happened over the course of my life will present themselves, and I pray I can have the humility to embrace them.
In one instance, I wrote a letter. It was one of the hardest letters I have ever written, and giving it to the recipient was even harder. I am so glad that I did, though. It didn’t change anything. It didn’t solve every problem, it didn’t make everything better and it didn’t magic-away all of the history… but the weight I have been carrying for years and years is gone. I no longer have to live my life drowning in a sea of regret and self-loathing for the reactivity that was born out of my trauma. Not only have I owned that part of me, I have intentionally committed to turning away from it.
It’s crazy to me that this is an active step of the AA 12 step process, but I just did it because I knew I needed to. As I reflect, it affirms to me that these 12 steps are naturally healing, even though the evidence to support that is limited.
This battle is won, but the war doesn’t end. I will always have a history of trauma. My ACES score will not change, regardless of the amount of internal work I do. I will always need to be aware of the possibility that my trauma-responses and defense mechanisms could show back up, especially in moments of high-stress or activating events. Continuing to own my reactivity is critical.
I know that this is an ongoing journey. This started for me, about two years ago when panic attacks began to take over my daily existence. Since then, I have drawn closer to God. Every day, I release a little more of that need to control the end result. I am continuously aware that I cannot do this on my own, and I need the supports that have somehow, miraculously, been placed right in my path.
The spiritual awakening that I have experienced these last few years has been incredible, and my desire to carry the message of healing to others that have experienced significant trauma has increased tenfold. That is why this blog exists. That is one of the reasons “Find Your Roar” exists, despite everything our team has been through over the course of the last year.
We believe that God is ultimately good, and that you were created in God’s image. We believe that you were created to bring Heaven to Earth by living and loving the way that Jesus did when he walked this earth, and that doing so may mean taking a “searching and fearless” look at how your own trauma responses and defense mechanisms may be impacting that calling and design.
I didn’t know that I had been in recovery. I guess I still am, because once you are in recovery, you are always in recovery…right?
So, thanks for doing this with me, my fellow roar-ers. Thank you for being my “sponsors,” my “sponsees” and most importantly, my people. I couldn’t have gotten through all of these steps without you. And I know that when we, as survivors, continue to stand together arm-in-arm, we can continue to cycle through steps 10-12 over and over again, holding one another to account, holding one another up, and being stronger, united.
It starts with an inoccuous phone call. The curveball’s been pitched, plans change, life seemingly unravels.
Fight, flight, freeze, fawn.
One inoccuous phone call somehow morphs into the catalyst for a crashing world. Emotions run high and in the moment, it all seems so logical.
Because, for your fractured mind, it is logical. Especially for those survivors with complex trauma, your brain has been trained to see catastrophic risk and danger in the loss of control.
“Where does pride fit into this?”
That’s what my therapist asked me a few weeks back. Right now, I’m not sure. All I can see is the shame.
Do you ever feel that, too? The shame that reaches its claw-like fingers into the spaces of your mind, digging in and taking hold.
You can’t control this? You don’t have it all together? You’re a failure. This can only end horrifically and it’s all your fault. You’re such a bad person/caregiver/leader.
And then we hide in shame, we run in fear, or we fight with the aggression of someone who cannot find the grace love themself completely.
But are those true? Our inability to account for every potential curveball, shade of grey, or circumstance doesn’t dictate our value and worth. Our ability to control every outcome doesn’t negate the unique light we bring to the world.
There is pride in needing to always hold full control, yes. But there’s also so much shame. Shame that isn’t ours to carry but was laid on us through the actions of others – an unspoken lesson in a time of extreme vulnerability when we needed to take hold of anything that could keep us safe.
And doesn’t that make so much sense? Because pride so very often covers our shame.
But this shame isn’t keeping you safe. It never did. It isolates and alienates. It whispers lies into our ears that hold us in the depths of our trauma. It slows and halts our healing.
It needs to be called out by name.
And when you do, you take that first step, reaching forward for healing. You open yourself up to the hard but so very worth it work of vulnerability and truth-seeking.
You learn to lay down the shame and pick up the reality of who you are.
Activation Warning: Part of a birth story is shared in this blog. While it was a healing experience for me and is being used to demonstrate what trauma-informed care can look like, it may resurface painful or traumatic memories for some readers.
“Do you want to feel him crowning?You can just reach down.”
That’s what my midwife said as I began to deliver my third child. A few months earlier, I had realized there wasn’t a single OB in the practice that I felt safe with now that the doctor who delivered my second baby had moved. I fired my OB practice and moved to a highly recommended midwife.
“You can do this, Debbie. I know you’re tired but you’re strong enough.”
I had labored at home for almost 4 excruciating days of the slowest progressing labor ever. Then, my body sped through transition.
“When you feel safe and comfortable, why not try pushing?”
And a few minutes later, “I think you could deliver him. What do you think? If you want to try, give me your hands. I’ll help you catch him.”
And I did. My body. My strong, powerful body brought my son into the world, passing from my womb directly into my arms.
“I did it, Kelly. I did it!”
“You did, mama. It was all you and your strength. Look what you did! He’s so perfect and all I had to do was watch.”
Over and over throughout the last few hours of labor that I spent in the hospital, my midwife reiterated how strong I was and that I was powerful enough. Then, when it came time to usher my son into the world, she handed the reigns to me, entirely.
I’m tearing up remembering it. As a sexual assault survivor and a child abuse survivor, there aren’t many memories I hold in which I didn’t feel like my body, itself, is a weakness and betrayal. But birth? This birth? It was the most healing experience. It may have taken until my third baby to fully experience the empowerment of creating life, but nothing accelerated my healing like the birth of my son.
In a simple Google search of sexual assault and childbirth, link after link after link on page after page will appear detailing how re-traumatizing childbirth can be for a survivor; studies on how to provide trauma-informed care; advice for doctors and healthcare providers; experiences of survivors who needed to heal again, after childbirth. It’s a necessary conversation. Childbirth can feel entirely out of control, much like sexual assault. Rather than someone forcing their will on your body, nature takes its course and your body moves, ready or not. The doctors, midwives, and birth team can inadvertently say things that activate trauma memories, especially for survivors of childhood sexual assault where comments like, “you’re doing such a good job. Keep breathing,” during an internal exam may bring back a flood of memories. Just the experience of an internal examination can reignite the memories our bodies hold.
Emotional birth trauma is real. Emotional birth trauma is so painful. Emotional birth trauma should never be dismissed by any person in any field. I know. I experienced it when my then-undiagnosed PTSD reared its ugly head after my first child was born.
However, birth healing is real. Your body is capable of so many beautiful things. Creating life is one of them. You, survivor, are so strong and so is your body. I know most conversations around pregnancy and labor for sexual assault survivors center on the trauma and re-experiencing that can so easily occur. As a survivor, trying to mentally prepare for that can be terrifying. Sometimes, these conversations can be eye-opening, too, as we realize in retrospect what we’ve felt before had reason. But there’s also hope.
Bringing new life into the world can be the most healing experience in the life of a survivor.
As traumatic as it can be for many survivors, it doesn’t need to be that. We don’t need to be afraid, we need to be empowered, we need to be honored, and we need our autonomy, no matter what labor and delivery look like.
Survivor, if you are pregnant and you feel any sort of disconnect from your maternal health provider, do not second guess yourself. Your instincts are there for a reason. That gut feeling that personalities just aren’t matching or that the practice just doesn’t fit your needs, as a survivor – it’s valid. You can listen. Let me empower you to make the choice to find a new provider. One who is trauma-informed. One who will support you. One that will help your pregnancy and childbirth be the most empowering and liberating experience, regardless of how it plays out. Because it should be beautiful. You, survivor, created life and you are worthy and deserving of feeling the strength of that feat. You, survivor, are going to do the difficult work of bringing that new life earth-side. It’s your body, your strength, your power. You deserve a care team who will honor your resilience and grit.
Survivor, please don’t feel afraid of what you may experience. Talking about how difficult pregnancy and childbirth can be for survivors is necessary. But so is the discussion of how healing it can be. It’s possible that it may be both, simultaneously, and that’s okay.
Survivor, if you’ve experienced this activation throughout the course of pregnancy and bringing a child into the world, know there are safe places for you to process this experience and to heal. You are not broken. You are not bad. Your healing should have been supported through trauma-informed care and our culture failed you. But there is space for you to work through this re-traumatization and find empowerment in your own body – your strong, warrior body.
There is an account I follow on Instagram – a Holocaust survivor and her granddaughter. Both of these women are light and love in dark spaces. The grandmother’s, a story of fight and resiliency. The granddaughter’s, one of love and inspiration.
A few weeks ago, someone responded to my comment on one of the reels they shared. It was just string of swastikas. To say I was appalled is an understatement. Who does this?
Today, I noticed a number of comments from those who want to deny the reality that was the Holocaust and I. Am. MAD. Seething. WHO DOES THIS?
And then, I realized, I’ve watched it play out over the last few months. I’ve watched it play out for my whole life, really.
See, for trauma survivors, it doesn’t matter how much proof they have. It doesn’t matter how much proof they’re willing to share. It never has and it never will. There will be some for whom the reality that trauma exists so deeply threatens their own presuppositions of the world, that they’d rather attack the credibility of a survivor and try to silence us all than to acknowledge the truth in front of their eyes.
With world history corroborating the reality of the Holocaust, survivors and their families still receive comments like these, calling their lives “fictional.” Flat out stating these deniers won’t believe the truth. Calling true life accounts of concentration camps and Nazi-ruled Europe “ridiculous.”
How? How can we still have people who refuse to accept the reality that millions of Jewish people experienced – The reality that still impacts their families, nearing 100 years later?
The truth is, for some people, all the proof in the world will never be enough. Perhaps it’s self-protection against the reality that it could happen again, to them. Perhaps the reality that horror exists in human form strikes too closely to the soul of this human and rather than evaluate who they are as a person, they choose to lash out at the one who has already survived so much. Perhaps, the account of so much evil is too clear of a mirror into the soul of these people so to preserve the picture they see of themselves, they turn the survivor into a villain instead.
Whatever the reason, the reality exists – the proof will never be enough.
And so, survivors of all kinds learn to guard their histories. They learn to share only what is necessary and feels safe, no more and no less. Because why would you bare your entire spirit, stripping yourself of all dignity to appease a person who will not be satisfied?
A world where Holocaust deniers exist despite decades of documented proof is a terrifying world for all survivors. It’s a world where so many will choose to ignore letters from doctors, medical charts, and written communications that are nearly a decade old so they can paint a sexual assault survivor as a liar; a world that first asks, “but what was she wearing,” before asking if she’s okay; a world where people are most concerned with whether or not you locked your doors and windows; where abusers are platformed and applauded because accountability takes more effort than silencing a victim – It’s a world that cannot be a safe place for survivors to share every inch of their soul.
This is our world.
But where darkness exists, those who carry light will shine so much brighter. That’s why we’re here. Our world does have Holocaust deniers and ruthless keyboard warriors fighting the wrong side of the battle. Our world does need people speaking truth into loud, angry spaces.
Today, that truth is this – our proof will never be enough for some. Those some might yell loud, but we know truth and truth doesn’t buckle. We owe no one our histories but we’ll share them with those who need them. We’ll share most with those who honor them.
So when we tell you no, ask yourself first if you’ll respect that consent.
If your answer is no, you’re the reason we guard what we share.
My kids are OBSESSED with Disney’s new movie, Encanto. Or, as my 3 year old lovingly calls it, “Encanto with the cracks.”
And can someone – anyone – please tell me I’m not the only Mom bopping around the kitchen to a mental soundtrack from the movie? Some days, cleaning house is almost a Broadway style production with a one-man (read: one-Mom) cast, my older kids hiding their entertainment behind groans and eye rolls as they watch me re-enact the screenplay while scrubbing the toilet. Which… I gotta say… it does make it easier to do gross jobs.
Disney opened so many doors (did ya catch my pun there? Definitely intended) for discussions about dysfunctional families. I’m here for it. I see you out there, connecting with the pressure of expected perfection in Isabella or the role of carrying the family as the strong one, like Luisa.
But can we talk about Bruno?
Or better yet, let’s talk about Bruno.
I kind of wonder if the reason we don’t see nearly as many TikToks and IG reels of people who saw themself in Bruno is because of the lifelong impact on the confidence and self-assuredness experienced by family scapegoats. Because Bruno is clearly the scapegoat.
I see you, Bruno. I feel you. For one parent, I was the scapegoat. And while I was the golden for the other, all too often, he’d buckle to the accusations from my Mom to prevent WW3 or to keep our dirty laundry hidden from the world.
It’s interesting having come from a home where mental illness and egos ran untreated, undiagnosed, and unaddressed. Our roles, like those in many dysfunctional families, were not so clear cut as the roles in Encanto. The golden child for one parent could be the scapegoat for the other. The responsible, nurturing one could also be the rebellious child. And, like many dysfunctional families where narcissism controlled any of the parental dynamics, roles could change based on whether or not the child behaved in a disappointing manner.
In these homes, achievers must achieve higher, the nurturer needs to clear his or her schedule to manage the entire home, the peacemaker better just stay out of the way.
But what does it mean to be a Bruno? A scapegoat. The child on whom all sins, transgressions, and problems within the family as individuals and as a whole are projected. The child who lives as a sacrifice to protect the adults from recognizing where the real dysfunction exists.
In reality, the scapegoat role can be given for any number of reasons. An awkward child, like Bruno. A boundary-setter. The child who’s determined to break generational traumas (Mirabel was clearly also a scapegoat in the movie). A child who reminds a parent of someone they don’t like. The child who calls it like it is. Scapegoats aren’t chosen by chance. They’re often highly empathetic with a strong bend for justice. They can see the situation for what it is and they shake up the family dynamics by not conforming to one or both parents’ expectations.
For that child, it means growing up constantly questioning your worth. It might mean believing you might as well never try because you’ll fail anyway. It can look like constant people-pleasing so others won’t abandon them, like their family did. They may come to believe their life is nothing more than a trashcan for all of the world’s garbage to fill.
Did you catch how Bruno was anxiety ridden? That he left the physical presence of his family because he believed that without him there, everything would be okay? He believed his presence alone would be enough to ruin Mirabel’s life.
Interestingly, his presence, his skills, his talent, and his love were all necessary to the process of healing and creating unity between Abuela and her family. If his other family had been as supportive and encouraging of his gift and ability as Mirabel had to be, there’s a good chance the problems in Casita never would have gotten as far as they did.
But Bruno couldn’t see it because, as the scapegoat, he’d been well-groomed into self-loathing and self-doubt. And the dysfunction was so strong in the family – Abuela, like so many other dysfunctional matriarchs and patriarchs, was so good at manipulating appearances – that even the town’s people believed Bruno was a malicious character. How could Bruno not grow to believe he was the problem in the home?
Disney really managed to reflect the issues present in dysfunctional families, even down to the way the family can fool their community.
The truth is, we need to talk about Bruno. The Brunos of the world grow and grew in homes that failed them through dysfunction by giving a label that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is, many of the Brunos in the world grew and grow to fill their expected role of scapegoat because it’s all they know of themselves.
But our world… our world is capable of helping the Brunos find their space for healing. If we choose to see beyond the rough and splintered exterior of the man or woman who may present in any combination of lazy, unmotivated, aggressive, argumentative, overachieving, or overly sensitive, we might see the broken inner child who is convinced he or she cannot. We might learn how to be the encouragement each Bruno needs to step into their talents, passions, and skills. We might find that each Bruno can learn their own style of success with the right encouragement and support…
This first part’s for you. I see you. I feel you. This hell you’re walking as you struggle to step out of the victimization brought onto you and into the survivorhood this walk calls you into – It isn’t forever.
This is the hardest part. As people learn and question the facts of your history and you’re retraumatized and revictimized with every doubt and accusation-filled comment hurled, it can weigh even more than the person that initially hurt you.
But, Survivor, I promise you’ll find us. Your brothers and sisters who know this walk too well. Those of us who are going to come alongside you, standing around and under you, supporting you until you find the strength to support yourself. We’ll amplify your voice and we’ll join your fight.
You’re going to get through this.
I know you don’t feel it today, but there’s a strength and resilience sparking in the depths of your soul. The light is small, but it’s going to join our fire and you’ll find yourself again.
Hang on for that day. Keep still being here.
And one day, you’re going to meet another survivor standing in the place you’re in right now. You’re going to know how to love and support them because you’ve lived it.
In that moment, you’ll know you’ve found your fight.
Once you know it, you’ll see that strength I see in you now. You’ll know you’re not just a survivor. You’re a fighter, an overcomer, and a thriver. You may never choose to share your story the way I have and that’s okay because you don’t owe it to anyone.
But you’ll know how to be bold and live out loud.
The present and the future may not look the way you planned in the before, but you’re going to make it back to okay. Life surprises us and while you may or may not feel like healing is possible right now, I promise you can find your way to it.
Together. With us. You are not alone.
And to the abusers,
This part is for you. Do not underestimate us. We’re called survivors for a reason. We’ve lived through hell and learned how to find our way back. We’re fighters. We’re overcomers. We’ve learned that our voices are amplified together. Our fight is stronger when we stand arm and arm.
And we don’t stop until every survivor finds the strength they carry within themselves.
On Friday, January 29, 2021, your Youtube show published with an interview in which you blasted a rape survivor discussed a controversy surrounding Jennifer Christie’s testimony. I am choosing not to discuss the fact that you formed an opinion and cruelly maligned an individual, feeding into slander and libel without reaching out for information directly from the source or making any efforts to fact check the gossip that was shared in this interview. That has already been covered here and here.
No, today, I want to discuss a statement you made, in which you emphatically claimed that, “anyone who goes through a traumatic attack like that, whether that’s rape or anything, like you know. You know the day that happened.” I think it’s fair to note here that Abby stated she was going to give Jen the benefit of the doubt. “Like, trauma, maybe,” she said. She didn’t necessarily agree with you. Did you notice that? She didn’t agree with you that you can, in fact, get the date wrong because that’s how trauma works. I won’t give her many passes here, considering the fact that she has publicly lied about her mental health credentials and spent the entirety of this segment spreading misinformation about Jennifer, but I will acknowledge the fact that she finally publicly recognized that your brain may not store memories in correct order with fine details in traumatic events because that’s how the brain is designed to work.
But you, Alex, didn’t correct yourself. You didn’t address the fact that you emphatically stated that anyone would know these things. You didn’t fix your wrong. You both allowed that statement and the damage it does to be brushed off, dismissed, and swept under the rug like it’s no big deal.
It is a big deal.
In that sentence,You did not just invalidate Jennifer’s trauma. You did not just invalidate the trauma her husband experienced. You did not just invalidate the trauma that her children lived through. You invalidated all traumas lived by all people who do not remember the fine details of any traumatic event.
I (Deborah) do not remember the date my Mom tackled me, sat across my chest and slammed my head into the floor until I saw stars. I remember it was the first time I fought back and hit her. I remember running away to a safe friend’s house because I knew the trouble I would be in when my Dad found out I hit my Mom back. I don’t remember what I was wearing. I don’t remember what month it was. I don’t remember the date. I don’t remember any of the dates she hit me in abusive rage.
I (Deborah) don’t remember the date when a grown man in my church complained that my body was too attractive and the ladies in my church stood by him, sexualizing a minor and told me I would not be allowed to return until my clothing was so baggy, my body was invisible. I was somewhere between 15 and 16 years old. I don’t remember the date they took me shopping and made me buy men’s cargo pants because they were the only thing loose enough to conceal the curves of my butt. I don’t remember the date they protected a predatory man instead of protecting the minor he lusted after.
I (Cassi) don’t remember the date I was sex trafficked. I remember that it was fall. It was cross country season and I should have been competing instead of lamenting my first breakup. Instead of focusing on upcoming competitions,I turned to an adult that I trusted to help me through the breakup. The medication that I thought would just help me fall asleep was something else and after a week…maybe more… of blurred bedsheets and bodies, I finally got out of there. Not only do I not remember the date, but I don’t even remember how long I was there. I don’t remember how many bodies were on top of me. Was it just one? Were there more?
I (Deborah) don’t remember the date a young man I had never before seen showed up at the campground my friends and I were staying at, followed us down to the beach, grabbed my arm, and told me my “boyfriend wouldn’t care if we had a little fun,” as he tried to drag me back toward his tent. I remember begging and pleading. I remember him grabbing for my swimsuit. I remember another male in our group punching him to get him off me. I remember the panic attack that came next. I don’t remember the date. I’m not even sure of the month, though I think it may have been November.
I (Deborah) don’t remember either of the days I was sexually assaulted by one of my best friends. I remember red plaid. I remember the smell of Axe body spray. I think I remember it was night, but I’m honestly not positive. I’ve always attributed January 27th to one day, but that’s only because I needed a day to remember and grieve. I needed a day to hate because hating people felt too dangerous. But I don’t actually remember the day. I don’t remember the weather. And in reality, I know it could have taken place anytime between late-December and late-January.
I (Cassi) don’t remember the first time I shut the bedroom door, closing my siblings inside while I stood outside, bearing the weight of violence upon my own body while trying to protect them. I also don’t remember the second, third or last. I can’t tell you how old I was when the scar on my knee was formed, from a grown man hurling a beer bottle at me. Domestic violence is an ugly thing, and even as a child and teenager I was standing between abusers and their targets. Not only do I not remember the date, I can’t even give you an age. Tween, maybe? I could tell you where we lived, but I couldn’t give you a number. ANY numbers.
See, Alex, your brain isn’t designed to latch onto logic and reasoning in a threatening situation. Your brain is designed for survival. The impulsive areas of your central nervous system (CNS) jump into overdrive and can override the rational areas that allow you to slow down and consider your best course of action. Think of it this way, if an angry mama bear is running at you, are you going to pause, memorize your surroundings, think through the steps necessary to take each path of escape available, and then act? Or are you going to run? If you pause, you’re going to die. You weren’t designed to pause. While some survivors of trauma can do that and do, not all will. Many won’t experience a pause or an ability to lock in every detail. In the case of PTSD, that pause is prolonged. You remain in a state of CNS activation which can disable your ability to track time, dates, and events in chronological order on a long-term basis. Time slows down. Stands still. Speeds by. Dates and numbers get jumbled while sensations are forever seared into your memory.
The truly sad part of this is that all of this information is readily available on all sorts of platforms for mental health, trauma, PTSD, and sexual assault. You don’t need access to journal articles, like those referenced here and cited below. You just need a willingness to educate yourself.
I’m not going to blame you for being uneducated. In a country where 6% of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives (which doesn’t even touch the number of people who experience a traumatic event but do not develop PTSD), we have far too many people who are not trauma-informed.
You are, however, responsible for what you did in your lack of education. When you went to the extent of making such an emphatic statement based on opinion, not fact or evidence-based research, platforming someone with a history of abusive behavior, you became responsible for your lack of education. You not only didn’t do your research regarding this case in particular (Abby’s accusations are easily refuted and her lies are clearly outlined in the links provided) but you did little to no research on the topic of trauma, PTSD and sexual assault. The way you handled this has the potential to do significant damage to the community in which I belong.
Situations like this exist also as opportunities. This is yours. It’s an opportunity to educate yourself and to share with your followers what you’ve learned. It’s an opportunity to grab a hefty slice of humble pie, acknowledge where you were wrong, where you fell short, and the impact it could have on the community you were discussing. It’s a chance to apologize. As it stands, that video currently has 1.6 thousand views. The number 96 for you may only exist as an estimation of the 6% of that population who may be experiencing the very thing you invalidated, but to us… This is our lives. Sexual assault is not a partisan issue.
We’re two individuals with very real trauma histories who do not remember the dates. We are the people you invalidated with your naive and ignorant statement. We represent a community of others, like us, who remember our trauma in snapshots and smells – the way so many trauma survivors remember. While we’re both secure in our place of healing from our trauma, we both have fantastic therapists who help us walk our healing, and we’re both capable of validating our own experiences without your commentary, not all of us are there.
Too many trauma survivors heard, “You’re a liar because you don’t remember.”
Alex, you can fix this. I hope you do.
The world of people like us – We’re worth it.
Cassi and Deb
References and Quotes for Trauma and Memory
Ward, C. V. (2021). Trauma and Memory in the Prosecution of Sexual Assault. Law & Psychology Review, 45, 87–154.
Meanwhile, research in memory science suggested (1) that memory is much more susceptible to distortion and deterioration than had been previously supposed; 268 (2) that, in addition, memory is vulnerable to iatrogenic influences; 269 (3) that false memories can be created and then experienced by people as things which actually happened to them;270 and (4) that traumatic events, rather than being banished from consciousness, tend to be remembered nic)re clearly than non-traumatic ones.(pg 137)
Finally, recent research reaffirms the main findings of memory science over the past three decades: “The brain is not a videotape machine. All of our memories are reconstructed. All of our memories are incomplete in that sense. „305 Memory, including traumatic memory, can be changed by time, by subsequent events, and even by the process and circumstances of recall. (PG 145)
“Critically, victims’ recall of traumatic events is often treated as completely accurate during reporting and treatment; our findings show that people make errors during recall. This should not be interpreted as stating reports of sexual assault are always inaccurate or fabricated, rather that some trauma reports may not always be a reliable indicator of all aspects of actual trauma exposure.”
Blix, I., Birkeland, M. S., & Thoresen, S. (2020). Vivid Memories of Distant Trauma: Examining the Characteristics of Trauma Memories and the Relationship with the Centrality of Event and Posttraumatic Stress 26 Years after Trauma. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 34(3), 678–684.
These results show that traumatic experiences can be experienced as vivid recollections decades later both for individuals who were exposed to a highly life‐threatening event and for individuals who experienced a traumatic loss. This is in line with Porter and Peace () and Hiskey et al. () who reported that even distant trauma memories can be experienced as intense and with vivid sensory components.
…at the global level, and when the individual is producing a general, well-rehearsed narrative that focuses on the outline of the trauma story, trauma and nontrauma memories are essentially similar in their levels of coherence. This is in line with predictions derived from Rubin’s (2011) account. An event for which the person has a coherent memory can nevertheless represent a turning point or mark a discontinuity in the life narrative (Berntsen et al., 2003; Horowitz, 1976; Janoff-Bulman, 1992). At the local level, however, amnesic gaps, other types of fragmentation, and evidence of disorganized thoughts will be present when a highly detailed narrative is elicited that includes a focus on the most frightening moments. Some of these effects may be produced by spontaneous reliving interrupting the expression of the trauma memory (Brewin, 2007). This is in line with the observations and proposals made by Ehlers et al. (2004).
As far as we are aware this is the first study to demonstrate that, contrary to the expectations of the criminal justice system, victims of sexual assault apparently experience genuine difficulty coherently recollecting what happened during trauma. Furthermore, the findings suggest that trauma memory-related processes (peri-traumatic dissociation and memory fragmentation) may play a role in attrition (Office for Criminal Justice Reform, ).
The findings indicate that considering trauma memory-related processes may be useful in improving how the criminal justice system deals with sexual assault, and could potentially help to address the high rate of attrition. Assessment of trauma memory-related psychological reactions may assist the interpretation of evidence provided by victims, particularly with regard to judgements of credibility, and should be integrated into decisions about whether cases should proceed to court.