Cross Country Saved My Life

I know, I know. It sounds so melodramatic. 

It’s true though. I’ve written before about my Jr. High Cross Country Coach being the first adult to tell me that my life could be different, and that I didn’t have to live the same life as the adults I was surrounded by. Coach B was the first adult to push me to look beyond what I had always known and embrace all that I could be. 

I haven’t written at length about my High School Cross Country experience. Many people think that I am so vulnerable with this blog, talking about difficult experiences so openly, but there are many things I don’t give details about. There are things happening in my little hometown regarding Cross Country and Track that have prompted me to finally share just how significant Cross Country was for me. 

How Cross Country saved me. 

How Coach K saved me. 

Last year, I had the opportunity to speak at a fundraising banquet for JFive Ministries. JFive is a local sex trafficking organization based here in my little hometown. I speak publicly quite often, but this one was different. This time, I was sharing a story that I had never shared publicly before. In fact, prior to that JFive event, I had only told a handful of people about this experience. 

I’m not even sure Coach K. knows exactly what was happening when he intervened. 

When I was 15, I was trafficked. I went through a breakup with my first ever boyfriend and I was devastated. I was vulnerable, for the first time in my memory… and for the last time in a very, very long time. I turned to an adult that I should have been able to trust and that adult drugged me. That adult told me that I was being given medication that was similar to taking tylenol and benadryl mixed together- that it would help my headache and help me rest. I was in and out of consciousness for at least a week as a result of the vicodin I was then given regularly, around the clock. I don’t know how many men had access to my body, although I remember one distinctly because I knew him. I heard the conversation about drug debt. I will never forget the weight of his body over mine when I was so weak that I couldn’t even really hold myself upright. 

I don’t know how long I was there. I do know that Coach K.  is the reason I got out. 

You see, Coaches have a unique point of view with their athletes. They see into the lives of their athletes in a way that many others do not. They see their families, their homes and their environments. They know who shows up and who doesn’t. They know who gets them to and from practice, who makes sure they get water and shoes and who just pops by the games to offer the appearance of parental support. They have a closer view of bruises, malnourishment, poverty, support and needs. They have a unique and specific opportunity to speak into the lives of their athletes that others don’t share because of this perspective. They meet athletes in those gaps. They don’t just get students to athletic scholarships and championships- they help athletes become active, contributing and effective members of society.

 I am who I am because of Coach B. and Coach K. I do what I do because my coaches taught me to take a breath and keep going when it feels like I am being stabbed beneath the ribs. I am able to advocate, to cheer, to encourage, to fight and to do what some think is impossible because I was taught, by incredible men, that there is no such thing as impossible when you lean in, lean on and put one foot in front of the other. Today, I still retreat to the woods, running the trails when I need a minute.

Coach K made a phone call. I don’t know what was said, I only barely registered that the call was made, but I was given no more medications after that. Nobody touched me after that. That Saturday, I was delivered to the Cowden-Herrick Invitational without any explanation except that “Your coach said you are needed by your team.” 

I don’t think I ran that meet. You don’t run if you miss practices, after all. But Coach K. said, “Glad you’re back, Kid.” and I got to be there, with my team. I rode the bus home, and Coach ensured I was returned to my dad’s home, where he knew I was safe. I was never trafficked again, and I saw the way Coach watched closely any time the person who had trafficked me was around. He may not have known what was happening, but he knew something was- and he didn’t let it go. That person KNEW Coach had eyes on them. 

That is what a coach does. It’s what my coach did, and my coach mentored and chose the person he was passing the baton to after decades of building a program rooted in THAT kind of coaching. The kind that raises up champions, sure, but also empowers survivors, giving the voiceless back their voices and reminding this community’s future leaders the value found in coming together for one another and with one another while still working hard independently. 

Coaches help create the future. 

I don’t know about anybody else, but when we find a Coach like that, I believe we should trust him. Listen to him. Value him. 

When a Coach like that pours himself into a mentee, literally raising up someone to carry on a tradition like that, I want to listen. 

We need more people like Coach K in the world. We need Coaches like him influencing the next generation. Why wouldn’t we want THE Coach that he has influenced since high school, that he has spoken into, mentored and supervised and hand-chosen as a replacement, to be the one to step in? 

For me, there would need to be an egregious offense to disregard the recommendation of the Coach who was all of this for me. 

And I am only one. There are countless other stories of the impact Coach K and his Mentee and assistant, Chris have had on those they have worked with. 

A quality Coach is worth so much. Don’t let one get away. 

Thanks, Coach.

Boundaries Aren’t Easy

An Introduction To Cassi

“I no longer make allowances for abusive people. I no longer justify it under the banner of, “but they’re family…” I’m not a child anymore and I’m certainly not naive and helpless. I have a choice here too, and I choose not to participate.” 

Recently, I drew a hard boundary. To be honest with you, it was one that I should have drawn a long time ago. I sent those very words to individuals who have been central to the abuses I have experienced throughout my life. Many of you know me, but some of you don’t. I have shared parts of my story here with you, but to be frank it would take a book to tell it all. Suffice it to say that I grew up in the midst of significant abuse. I have an ACES score of 10. I experienced environmental neglect, pervasive inadequate supervision, extensive exposure to drugs in the home, extensive physical abuse, sexual exploitation and substantial psychological abuse. While I am the oldest of a plethora of children, In the home where most of this took place, I was the oldest of 6. Throughout my adult life, I have had guardianship of numerous family members; many I have had more than once. The first time, I was barely 19 and my sister was 4. Currently, I have 4 children in my home who have been impacted by the generational trauma of this family. That is in addition to my own 4 living children. We also lost a baby girl to late missed miscarriage in 2016. We carry so many children in our hearts. 

I have complex PTSD. While PTSD is generally related to one significant event like a war or a natural disaster, complex PTSD is an anxiety disorder related to repeated trauma over the course of months or even years. It can include nightmares, flashbacks, hyperarousal, avoiding certain situations and a belief that the world is very dangerous and people are generally untrustworthy. While I function well in the world, I certainly operate from this place. It takes a lot for me to trust someone and I have always kept a few close friends and even less very close friends. I can get along with most anyone, but I am not afraid to fight back because in most situations I already saw the worst coming and was ready for it. I’m usually more ready for bad things to happen than for good things to happen. I’m almost certainly going to cry at a wedding or a birth, but when something awful happens I am generally stoic. I am not shocked. I know how awful and scary the world can be and the devastation never catches me off guard. 

Joy does though. 

The Abuser(s) 

 These individuals continue to insert themselves into the lives of their victims in a way that gives little but takes constantly with no concern, remorse or gratitude. They take, demanding that those giving be grateful for the opportunity to do so. These individuals claim responsibility and proclaim their pride for the successes of others, yet spend their time berating, belittling and finding new and creative abuse and control tactics. 

When victims are young, abuse can take a variety of forms. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect, etc. 

The psychological component is just as damaging, if not more so. It lasts. Assuming a child in an abusive home survives, they can eventually escape. They get bigger than their parents, they get stronger, they get access to employment and housing and have the opportunity to get away. Many don’t. 

Why? 

Because the abuse gets more creative and more insidious. After all, their victims aren’t children anymore so the violence and threats that DCFS will take them away and separate them no longer work. Now it’s more malicious. 

It’s psychological. 

And it’s not really surprising. After all, isn’t this what we, the survivors, have been groomed for all along? 

The Survivors

Those of us who lived through this- who have come out the other side battered and bruised but able to talk about it… we know. 

We were groomed to believe that we are helpless, dependent and incapable. 

That we are nothing without our abusers. 

Some, like me, fought back hard. Ultra independent, never flinch, never let them see a crack in the armor. The best solution to not need the abusers, according to logic like mine, was to not need anyone. And yet, I was used to being needed. The oldest of the children, I had spent my entire life keeping other people safe..keeping kids away from violence, away from knife fights (a gun once) and shut tight in bedrooms when the aggression escalated, making sure everyone ate when there wasn’t an adult around and food stamps had been sold again, and lying to cover up the abuse so that we wouldn’t get separated by DCFS. 

Someone had to take care of things and I considered it my job. 

Avoidant-dismissive attachment (with a little fearful attachment sprinkled in for funsies.) Unable to actually rely on anyone, but not knowing how to not be needed. 

Attachment Types

Others, like many of my siblings, froze or fawned. They went along because what else was there to do? They numbed with substances to forget. They appeased abusers, thanked them for the scraps and believed the lie that they were the problem. They were at fault. These survivors, stuck in the abusive environment, learned how to continue to exist within it. They developed escapist behaviors, they lied, cheated, stole. Drug use became pervasive. Avoidant-Fearful attachment wreaked havoc on their relationships as they desperately wanted intimacy but were terrified of more abuse and abandonment at the hands of someone they were supposed to trust. The lack of understanding of healthy relationships and what love looks like doesn’t help. 

After all, love is NOT abuse, but the abused child often grows up to become an adult that doesn’t fully understand this. They DO love their families, and they have been taught to love and protect their families. They have been taught their entire lives that their families love them- taught in church, at school and through culture that families love their children. What they experienced as that love was abuse. This is not an easy concept to unlearn. 

Boundaries are Loving

I have maintained soft boundaries for the majority of my adult life. My family members don’t show up at my house at 2am, strung out.  People stopped asking me for money a long time ago. It’s well understood that we do not let adults just come “crash” here. If you steal from us, we WILL contact law enforcement. I have credit alerts and monitor my credit. I’m still recovering from the identity theft I discovered in my early 20s. 

Recently, though, I discovered that people only have as much power over your life as you give them. 

I am allowed to say no. 

I am allowed to protect my peace. 

I am allowed to protect the peace and safety of those in my home. 

And the truth is, I know the drill. 

Abusers don’t just stop. They don’t just suddenly one day decide that they are not going to exploit, manipulate and harm others for their own gratification and benefit. People who abuse others have significant work and healing that they need to do before they are safe. You are worthy of them doing that work before you provide them access to your life. 

I am worth that before I provide them access to my life. 

So I did the hard thing. I said the hard words. 

Because Abuse is not love. It never was. And a couple of kindnesses does not cover the abuse. 

Love is Patient

Love is Kind

It does not envy, It does not boast, It is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres

1 Corinthians 13

Abuse and love are incompatible.

Boundaries are hard, but you are worthy. 

We both are. 

Be Bold. Live out Loud.

-CC

Eighteen Years

By: Cassi Cox

Eighteen Years.

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.

And Alex.

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.

Step out into the light.

Keep Still Being Here.

Find Your Fight.

Be Bold. Live Out Loud.

Find Your Roar

Suicide hotline: 800-273-8255

For numerous resources regarding depression: https://nndc.org/resource-links/

It Starts Sooner Than You Think

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. 

The verdict?

 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. 

Why? 

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.

CC

References

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).

Stovering, J., Nelson, W. M., & Hart, K. J. (2013). Timeline of victim disclosures by juvenile sex offenders. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 24(6), 728–739. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.1080/14789949.2013.848461

Sue Righthand and Carlann Welch, Juveniles Who Have Sexually Offended: a Review of the Professional Literature (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention), March 2001, at 3.

Thomas Oakland and Claudia Wright, The Value of High Quality, Comprehensive Information to Decisionmakers in Juvenile Cases, 77 Fla. B.J. 55–60 (Nov. 2003).

https://icjia.illinois.gov/researchhub/articles/an-examination-of-juvenile-sex-offenders-in-the-illinois-juvenile-justice-system

Falligant, J. M., Fix, R. L., & Alexander, A. A. (2017). Judicial Decision-Making and Juvenile Offenders: Effects of Medical Evidence and Victim Age. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 26(4), 388–406. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.1080/10538712.2017.1296914

It’s More Than a Pretty Ribbon

by Jennifer Brierly

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.

Better.

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.

Listen anyway.

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.

Keep still being here – JB

A note from the author can be found here: https://fb.watch/cut86hkuAz/

But… I’m not an Addict

The Shock of Recovery Discovery

By: Cassi Cox

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.

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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. 

Step 5

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.

Step 10.

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. 

Step 11.

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. 

Step 12.

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. 

Be Bold. Live Out Loud.

CC

The Control and Shame Spiral

by Deborah Schiefer

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.

Valuable.

Beautiful.

Loved.

Find your fight – D.S.

Healing Life

by Deborah Schiefer

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.  

Find your fight – D.S.

Be Worthy of the Histories You Learn

by Deborah Schiefer

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?

For those who say people who talk like this don’t exist…

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.”

…I have some examples for you…
(For the record, this survivor is in her 90s, not 80)

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?

…Because they are said far more often…

…And far more vile than ever should happen.

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.

You are not the victim when a survivor tells you no

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.

Examine yourself.

Do better.

Find your fight- D.S.

Let’s Talk About Bruno

by Deborah Schiefer

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…

If we learn to talk about Bruno.

Find your fight – D.S.