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.

Survivor, I’m With You

by Deborah Schiefer

Dear Survivor,

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.

We won’t let evil win.

Find your fight – D.S.

An Open Letter to Turning Point USA

By: Cassi Cox and Deborah Schiefer

Turning Point USA and Alex Clark,

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. 

Sincerely,

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)

Nahleen, S., Nixon, R. D. V., & Takarangi, M. K. T. (2021). Memory consistency for sexual assault events. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 8(1), 52–64. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/…/cns0000195.supp (Supplemental)

“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 ([21]) and Hiskey et al. ([19]) who reported that even distant trauma memories can be experienced as intense and with vivid sensory components.

Brewin, C. R. (2016). Coherence, disorganization, and fragmentation in traumatic memory reconsidered: A response to Rubin et al (2016). Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125(7), 1011–1017. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.1037/abn0000154

…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).

Hardy, A., Young, K., & Holmes, E. (2009). Does trauma memory play a role in the experience of reporting sexual assault during police interviews? An exploratory study. Memory, 17 (8, 783–788. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/…/09658210903081835

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, [27]).

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.

I Won’t Be Silenced

by Deborah Schiefer

The Little Lawyer.

That was one of my nicknames as a child, given proudly by my Dad when he realized that when I know I’m right, no one can convince me otherwise or force me to back down. When I know I’m right, I’ll push until you also know that I know I’m right (whether or not you’re willing to accept that fact). Sometimes now, spoken sarcastically when he and I go toe to toe.

Growing in a home full of abuse and dysfunction, my voice was all I had. I learned to use it and use it well. And because I was the focused target of abuse by my Mom, I also learned to use it to stand for justice. I experienced so much injustice, I couldn’t stand to see others walk the same. I never shied from an opportunity to use my voice to stand up for someone else and each time I did, I knew abusive people weren’t winning because vengeful bitterness wasn’t being given a home in my spirit. The desire to see goodness overcome took up too much space.

Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to process what happened in November. My voice wasn’t stolen. It felt like that, but no. Instead, my voice was weaponized against someone I love. If I spoke, if I didn’t, whatever I chose was twisted like a jagged dagger in Jen’s heart. Speculations that I abandoned her turned into using my presence as an excuse to share things without their context to humiliate her.

“If they can get to you, they know they’ll crush her. They’re trying to turn you or shatter you.”

That’s what I was told by someone very close to the sources.

When I realized the only way to end the manipulation of my voice was to leave entirely, I did.

Well, not entirely. You all know that because I’ve been here, finding my fight, all along.

Maybe it took so long for me to find a way to use my voice again because I came closer than I’ve ever been to allowing bitterness the space to take root. I’ve spent so much time finding my way back while also guarding my heart against the anger and self-righteousness that can so easily consume your soul when you’ve experienced or witnessed something so cruel.

That’s what my journey has been since November. People I trusted gave information about me to an abuser, allowing the abuser the knowledge of how to break me and in doing so, break Jen. I’ve been finding my way back.

My fight back has always been my voice. My ability to fight with and advocate for justice, truth, and a world that is better educated on trauma and abuse. I’ve had to find my fight all over again because the very thing that had been my source of safety and security had, without my consent, become a tool for manipulation in others’ perverse drive to break the spirit of a fellow sexual assault survivor. My voice may not have been stolen, but the only way I’ve ever known to fight for what’s right was being manipulated no matter what move I made. In the time since, I’ve had to learn how to process that. I’ve had to address the trauma buttons that were pushed, the activation, and the anger. I’ve had to find my fight again, but I’ve also had to find my way back to me. And to do that, I needed to see that Jen was going to be okay.

(Spoiler alert: She is. She’s not just a survivor, she’s a fighter, a role model, inspiring, and her Christ-centered heart is still so full of love)

I’m not speaking now to convince anyone of the truth. Those of you willing to see a mountain of evidence have already seen it. Those who prefer or find entertainment in the maliciousness and drama of a public attack on a survivor have chosen where you’ll stand. The latter can kindly see themselves out – I have no time for you.

I speak today because I’m finally finding a strong enough place of healing to know that no matter who attempts to use my words or my presence, my voice is still my fight. My voice is still mine and the way I choose to use it is still in my control. I cannot control how others represent or try to use me anymore than I can control a stranger in a grocery store. But my voice is still my fight and I can use it the way I’ve always known how – to educate, to advocate, and to bring light into dark places.

For those wondering, I’m here. I’ve stood beside Jen from the start. Behind the scenes, Jen, Cassi, and I have been working together to strengthen, encourage, and empower each other. I have my tribe and I’m not stepping away. I have my voice and won’t stop using it. When I know I’m right, no one can convince me I’m wrong.

I know I’m right.

I know I’m strong.

And I won’t be silenced.

I won’t go speechless.

Find your fight – D.S.

Hurt People Heal People, Too

by Deborah Schiefer

Hurt people hurt people. And I suppose that’s true, but isn’t it an oversimplification of a bigger issue? Hurt people do hurt people but is it only because they’re hurt or is it really because they won’t do the difficult and often painful work of self-reflection and self-awareness? Growth can be so excruciating.

I’d argue that it isn’t hurt people who hurt people. More deeply and more honestly hurt people who choose to remain in their victimization rather than stepping into their life as a survivor hurt people. The fear of pain from introspection and having to admit that the things that once kept us safe now harm us and those around us can override the need for loving and meaningful human connection.

I am a hurt person. I am a hurt person who has lived multiple traumas (and yes, for those of you who have made it clear you only validate certain definitions, I do mean the PTSD criteria trauma). When I choose anger over healing, when I choose to focus on my victimization over my growth, when I choose to focus on my desire for revenge over my need for healing, when my self-preservation overrides everything else in my life, I easily become a hurt person who sees an enemy in everyone around me. I easily become a hurt person who defensively goes on the offense and finds people to hurt, claiming a role of righteous defender. Not because my true desire is to inflict pain but because it’s a self-protective mechanism. I hurt them before they hurt me or anyone else… sometimes even when they aren’t a dangerous or damaging person.

When I’m a hurt person whose fear of losing my safety and whose need for vengeance outgrows my need for healing and light, innocent bystanders can quickly become the focus of my paranoid anger. Anyone and everyone becomes a dangerous person no matter how dangerous or safe they truly are.

Hurt people hurt people.

But only sometimes. When I’m a hurt person who recognizes that good, light, and love still exist and they can still exist in me no matter what’s been done to me, I’m a hurt person who doesn’t hurt people. In those times, I become a hurt person who fights for my own healing, who chooses to be self-aware, who chooses self-reflection, who thrives in introspection and self-honesty. I become a hurt person who chooses to weigh the balance between my fear and reality. I’m a hurt person who uses wisdom and discernment to evaluate true danger and true threats from the safe people who want to see the world grow in strength and healing.

Finding your Roar is finding the balance between building walls and building boundaries. It’s learning how to embrace your history as a tool to bring light into darkness rather than wielding it as a weapon against the world.

When you Find Your Roar, you learn that hurt people don’t have to hurt people. Sometimes hurt people heal people.

Bind up the Brokenhearted.

Heal the wounded.

Choose Integrity. Dignity. Honor.

You learn that the person or people who hurt you can’t win when you refuse to allow their hatred and wickedness to consume you.

When you choose to be the light, you win.

Find Your Roar.

Find your fight.

And win.

– D.S.

The Phoenix

By: Jennifer Brierly

The Phoenix

A Spoken Word by Jennifer Brierly

My therapist suggested writing a “victim’s impact statement”

“A statement,” she says

As though words exist in dashes and lines

what my life consists of since that day

Passing years. Months. Weeks

where to begin, were I able to speak.

The cold hammer of trauma

tension and drama

has already met the faberge egg of memory

An impact itself may not be what it seems

Here, I’m wiping away the remnants

of last night’s dreams

still stuck to the insides of my eyelids

hazy, chocolate cobwebs

dazed, cold, my peace ebbs

And I have no fight

Not then and not now

But I’m starting to learn how much my voice matters

#Metoo

You too?

Him too?

Her too?

Do the echoes of our stories follow you?

follow you?

Do you pause to listen?

Do we break through?

Or does the beat just go on and you do what you do?

Statistics with faces

It’s uncomfortable, that’s true

Does our presence make a statement?

Does it have an impact?

As far as we’ve come, we still need so much more

We need women not scared to be labeled as “whores”

“Trashy” or “Easy”

I’m still called a liar

Chin up, sisters or brothers

Hold your head higher

Don’t let them see the rain fall.

If I could piece together this fragmented soul

Show tangibly, while incomplete

somehow

I’m still whole

purposed inhalation

a quiet determination

I exhale restoration.

and my pulse is morse code

tapping out the names of my mother. my daughter. my grandsons.

And you.

imagery transcends language

and I see the tiniest stitches deeply embroidered around the edges of my heart

Jewel tones creating the most delicate tapestry of promise.

Ashes buried over feather

lightening flashes in spring weather

Your consent taken

The ugliest violation

for that you grieve. you mourn.

But once evil gripped him, though he left a victim

It’s Then That A Phoenix was born.

Phoenix, RISE.

-Jennifer Brierly

—Keep Still Being Here. JB

It’s a Matter of Pride

by Deborah Schiefer

It’s okay to not be okay.

You’ve got to be familiar with that phrase. It’s all over Pinterest and Instagram. I imagine it hits Facebook and TikTok and other social media platforms regularly, but what exactly does that mean and do any of us really feel okay not being okay?

One of you out there is reading this, thinking, “Yes! I’m at peace with my brokenness. I’m doing the hard work of healing and I’m embracing where I am in every step of the journey.”

Maybe it’s more than one of you, you magical unicorns and mermaids of the mental health world.

And then I realize how unfair it is to say that. The breaking it must take to get to the point where you can embrace every step of your healing journey. The hard and painful work of self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-improvement.

You’re not magical and you’re not mythical. You’re doing the work and I respect you so very much.

Last week, my therapist challenged me to explore the pride involved in trying to control every aspect of my own life and refusing to give myself the space to not be okay. I’ve tumbled this around in my mind for days, now. Pride… there is pride, yes. I *know* this. It’s been uncomfortable to feel – there’s been this concept dancing along the edges of my consciousness, my awareness maybe not quite ready to touch it or not quite able to access it.

It just hit me. The pride.

Oh, I preach it. It’s okay to not be okay. But I don’t live it. Do you relate to me? If yes, this next part might hit your heart like it’s blazing through mine right now.

What makes me think I’m too good to not be okay?

And, ouch. That one hurts.

Because I’m not. I need these moments and seasons of brokenness to be able to recognize my own humanity, my frailty, and fragility. My need for other humans.

The hard work of healing.

When we have trauma histories, we typically don’t want to let others in. We build walls and moats. We construct tall towers and fill them with our internal snipers, ready to shut down any threat to our psyche. We close ourselves off.

But in these seasons of not being okay, that’s not sustainable. We need others and isn’t there so much beauty in allowing someone else to step into your life, create community, and share their strength?

Tearing those walls down, clearing the towers, draining the moats… it’s all terrifying. It’s a painful process. It’s recognizing what saved us once is ending us now. It’s being able to see our flaws and persevering in working against the instincts we created when we weren’t safe. It’s being willing to see that we’re not at fault for what was done to us but we are responsible for our health and healing now.

I am not Super Woman. I don’t have superhuman strength. I cannot be an island. In our world, there are no magical candles bestowing supernatural gifts of self-preservation or living houses that protect us from the bad guys. I cannot save myself from the ugliness in the world, I can only allow myself the space to meet others and be met in those painful places.

I think I’ve just realized why it’s so very much okay to not be okay.

When we truly believe we can control it all, be it all, manage it all, and carry it all, we cut ourselves off from a world of relationships. Some will hurt but the beautiful ones? They’re the cracks of gold running through the splintered and shattered places.

Maybe… just maybe…

The gold is where we find the peace to not be okay.

Find your fight – D.S.

Grief: Love’s Final Act

By: Cassi Cox
A commissioned piece for June by local artist Samantha Cotner- isn’t it beautiful?!

I don’t know about you, but I have never been good at grief. 

But then losing my daughter changed me. 

Grief has always been one of those things I never quite embraced or understood. I didn’t have the time or space for it. I lived my life in a constant state of fight or flight. I never had time to slow down and FEEL… and on the occasions that I did pause long enough to feel, that experience was terrifying. I responded to those experiences with different defense mechanisms… Usually, I fled instead of fighting. 

I didn’t grieve the whole “lost childhood” thing. Why get lost in that? I had siblings that needed me and there was so much that needed done. I just kept going. 

My first boyfriend died in a car accident a year after we broke up. He was 19, I was just shy of 17 and we’d been friends since I was in 8th grade. I let myself cry a few times, when the pain was too much to bear, but I didn’t allow myself to grieve. He was gone. There was nothing I could do about it. 

Breakups were…weird for me. Because my default to grief was always to get stuck in the denial phase, by putting the loss in a box and refusing to deal with it, breakups were odd. I either acted as if the relationship never happened OR that the breakup was just a pause. Confessions of a serial monogamist, amirite?! 

And then June happened. 

My fourth child. 

That day changed my life. The date? January…12th? 13th? Something like that. I’m sure I could find it if I went digging, but frankly, I don’t want to. My daughter is gone, and that is all the knowledge I need. 

I’d had three babies already so I didn’t think anything would go wrong. I actually went to my appointment alone because having a baby appointment was just business as usual for me. My 16 week appointment. Past the “danger zone.” 

Except when I laid down and he put the monitor on my swollen belly, all we heard was me. My body. No baby heartbeat. 

And in that moment, I knew. I knew she was gone. 

He had me get up and walk around, saying that this early in the pregnancy, sometimes we just need to reposition. I drank some water. Tried again. 

Still nothing. He scheduled an ultrasound, saying that we’d just check that way. 

I knew. 

I went home and I told Brad. He reassured me, jumping onto google. Sometimes the placenta grows up in the front of the uterus, he explained. But I knew she was gone. 

My cousin came over to stay with the boys while we went to the hospital for the ultrasound. Brad’s anxiety was palpable but I knew. And then, there she was on the screen, curled up into a little ball. No movement. No heartbeat. 

I have had enough ultrasounds to know what I was seeing. That was not an alive baby. Brad knew too. His hand squeezed mine as the tech silently got whatever photos she needed. “Your doctor will be in touch,” She said. 

He didn’t need to. 

We got in the car and headed home. “You saw that, right? That baby is gone. No heartbeat,” I said. 

“Yeah. I think you’re right.” 

The call from the doctor came later. We went in and he gently explained  that we had two options. We couldn’t wait. I was too far along- I was actually past the 17 week mark in the pregnancy, but June only measured a little over 15 weeks. She had already been gone for nearly 2 weeks. I was at risk for sepsis. We could schedule a D & E- the procedure used in an abortion at this stage of pregnancy. I would be sedated and a doctor would dilate my cervix and then “evacuate” my uterus. My child would not be removed intact. The evacuation procedure involved the dismemberment of the fetal body, so I wouldn’t see her, hold her, etc. The other option was to schedule an induction. I’d have to go to the hospital, where I would be given medication to dilate my cervix and induce my labor. I would go through the entire labor process, although I wouldn’t have to dilate as far or push as hard because she was so little. Then, I would give birth to a dead baby. I would be awake the entire time and feel it all although I would have access to pain management. 

We chose induction without hesitation. I needed to see my child. 

Our doctor cautioned us that because she had been gone for nearly two weeks, she may have already begun to deteriorate. He said that if she wasn’t born completely intact, I may still have to be transferred for an emergency D & E in order to ensure that my uterus was clear. It was a risk we were all willing to take. 

For five days, we waited for the appointment. For five days, I laid in my bed with my hands on my swollen belly, mourning the dead baby inside of me. The waves crashed over me. For five days, my phone blew up with texts and calls, flowers and food delivered from well wishers and I could barely bring myself to move from the bed to the couch. 

I begged God. I cried. I called my doctor and had numerous additional ultrasounds just to make sure. I begged my baby to kick me. I bargained with God. “You are a God who raises the dead, I know you are!” I remember crying out, “So why not now? Why not my baby?” 

January 18th. 6am. 

We pulled into the parking garage at St. John’s hospital in Springfield, Brad’s hand firmly holding onto mine, an anchor in the storm. 

And I froze. 

I couldn’t get out of the car. 

I looked at Brad and I told him, “I’m going into the hospital pregnant and I am going to leave without a baby in the backseat.” 

I just sat there, absorbing this truth. 

“Babe, we’ve got to go inside now.” 

Another ultrasound (still dead) and an attempted amniocentesis (my uterus contracted and they couldn’t get it) later and my induction began. 

For 12 hours I laid in the hospital bed, waiting for June’s entrance…and exit from the world. 

Brad never left my side. 

My dad came. Then my Pastor. Small talk. I don’t remember any of it. 

Contractions, a morphine drip. 

Brad’s fear. “I don’t know if I can see her. Hold her. Cass, what if she doesn’t look like a baby?” 

“I’ll hold her. I’ll tell you how she looks. Then you can decide.” 

The urge to push. Dad and Pastor ushered out of the room. 

And then it was over. 

Born in caul, amniotic sac intact, no need for a D & E, my baby girl. The sac was no longer clear, but a deep red. There was no denying that she was gone. The doctor slowly cut the sac open and there was my June. My perfect girl. Discolored, yes, but perfect. They brought her tiny body to me in their gloved hands- her skin was too fragile to be touched without protection. He legs with their knobby joints, long fingers and tiny, tiny fingernails. Wide set eyes, a perfect little nose. 

“Brad,” I whispered. “It’s okay. Come see her. She’s fine, really.” He was so afraid that all he would see was a mass of cells, a glob of tissue, but our baby girl was a baby girl. He watched as they put her in a tiny, tiny little swaddle wrap that looked like a child’s slipper and handed her to me. She fit in one hand.  

I stared at her in awe. How many people in the world have the opportunity to see a human at this level of development? To see the beauty and perfection of humanity this close? 

And then my heart broke into a million pieces as I was flooded with everything I would never do. I would never hear her cry. My mind went back to my first born. He didn’t cry when he was born- he was silent for the first few minutes and it terrified me. I remember asking, “Why isn’t he crying? Isn’t he supposed to be crying,” desperate to hear that wail. 

I would never hear June wail. I would never soothe her cries. I would never nurse her, snuggle her, swaddle her. I’d never hear her little voice say “mama” or hear her laugh. I would never see her reach for me, or see her cuddle with her daddy. I’d never get to see her brothers hold her, feed her, play with her. 

These “nevers” flooded me as I looked down at my still daughter. 

The “nevers” still flood me today, as I play with my 4 year old rainbow and teach her letter sounds. As I laugh with my 14 year old at internet memes. As I teach our 12 year old about periods and dating, boundaries and consent.  

All things I will never do with June. 

And yet I have had no choice but to go through the grief process with her. I continue to cycle through the process. I cannot deny her any more than I can deny my own existence. I cannot default to the way I have always handled grief. I cannot put my daughter in a box and pretend that she didn’t exist and she didn’t die. 

She was here. She mattered. She still does. 

And that forces me to approach this differently than I have approached anything in my entire life. It’s been hard. 

The guilt. The bargaining. The anger.

The depression. The what ifs. 

The desire, some days, just to die already so I can be with her. 

The healing and celebrating of the impact this little life had, and still has. 

Honoring her, loving her, missing her. 

The depth of connection with my husband that this unique grief has forged. 

The nuance and empathy it has given my children

And my rainbow baby. We were going to be done after June, but our doctor advised us not to make a permanent decision in the midst of grief. My four year old is such a light. I am so glad I have her. 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

Every day I am learning to live within this cycle. I am learning to grieve other losses, too. 

June changed me. 

I am better because June existed. 

For 15 short weeks June was here and she changed everyone she touched. 

Grief, I think, is just love. Being afraid to grieve was just another way I ran from vulnerability…the Vulnerability of Love.

My sweet girl, who would I be without you? 

Be Bold, Live Out Loud

-CC

Finding The Roar

What a wild ride the last few months have been. Our little team has been working hard- together and individually to reclaim what we lost, to heal, to grow and figure out who and what we are truly called to be. We’d like to use this space to share our journeys- collective and respective- with you. xoxo

When we first re-launched this blog as a collective and launched a new page together, we were all reeling. We’d lost our tribe. Our trust had been damaged, we didn’t really know who our “community” consisted of and we were clinging to the Lord, one another and to every flicker of hope that came our way. We were fully comfortable letting go of a platform of over 50k because we knew that the pro-life community was no longer a space we believed we were at home in. We didn’t belong there anymore. We had no idea what was in store for us. I have never believed that God causes us trauma, but I am confident that when we experience awful things, God allows them to be used to make the world a better place; to bring Heaven to Earth.

I watched as someone I loved dearly was berated, defamed, de-platformed and ripped apart. Brutally revictimized by people who claimed they were acting under the authority of the Lord, one of my own was pulled under because she had responded to significant trauma in the most natural, normal and reasonable ways. Every single attack hurled at her was consistent with research on trauma memory, PTSD and the other diagnoses that she had and yet like a dog with a bone, they wouldn’t let go. They tore into her, over and over again. They refused to see reason, they ignored research, claimed expertise and some even impersonated mental health professionals and harassed medical professionals in their harassment. It was relentless.

In the midst of trauma, we all have a tendency to react a certain way. Our nonprofit was thriving, despite what you may hear. While survivors were not commonly reaching out via the hotline, they WERE reaching out. Constantly. We were talking to survivors and their significant others via all sorts of platforms- tiktok, instagram, and FB messenger being the most common. I was personally carrying multiple clients. We were actually in a position where we really needed to bring on additional volunteers. We were in the early stages of building a few special programs, including an educational track and an intensive track. I was so excited about where we were going. Deb and I were both looking into furthering our education to build out the ministry.

And then, out of seemingly nowhere, a bomb dropped. I won’t recap everything that happened- you can read through my previous account and check out the social media to see how it all went down, but it ripped through our team. And I watched, in real time, as each member of our little team engaged in our reactions to trauma- patterns our brains had adopted years before…patterns we had even discussed as a team.

Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn.

We had two team members who fawned. They defaulted to people-pleasing, turning all of their negative emotions away from the abuser and inward- on themselves for being “so stupid” and “so naive” and on the team. This response is one that develops after having been chronically exposed to controlling, withholding and even abusive behaviors. Perhaps the way fundamentalism treats women? When fawning, people will shapeshift in order to appease the abuser- who likely offers both care/opportunity AND a threat. They bypass their own identity, their own needs and often, disregard their own experiences in an effort to validate others.

Deb fled.

Don’t get it twisted. She didn’t abandon US. She never left our side. But as soon as she realized that she was being attacked AND that she was being used as a weapon to attack others, she got out of dodge. QUICK. She retreated to a place where she felt safe and she cut off every line that she could that would allow an abuser to reach her.

Jen froze. To me, this just underscored the veracity of her testimony of horrific abuse, as freeze is the most common response to horrific trauma- like torture and rape. She was… immobile. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t process. Nothing made sense. How was this even happening? Even when it looked like she “fled,” (as the accusations claimed) she did not. She was not in a position to flee because she was frozen. The re-traumatization was too great. WE got her out. Her husband, her family and her friends. WE shut down the pages, WE got her away, WE checked on her night and day. She was frozen. It took weeks for the fog to lift. For months, she fought to “just keep being here.” After months, she is finally finding her fight again. Reclaiming her roar.

And me? I fought. Why? Because that’s my trauma response. It always has been.

I’m the oldest child and I grew up in a house full of violence. I routinely shut other kids in bedrooms and took the hits.I jumped between my parent and abusive partners.

I fight because long ago I came to believe that the lives of myself and others depended upon my ability to do so.

Over the course of the last few months, we threw a page together because we realized that survivors were still reaching out. You still needed the community too. We gave it the first name that came to mind just so we could do SOMETHING, but over the last month or so we have realized some things.

Jen kept being here. Deb found her fight. I have never stopped being bold.

And now here we are. This is it. It’s time to draw a boundary. There is no FBI investigation. There have been no calls from the CIA. The non-profit is being closed, and there has been no fraud investigation. CPS essentially laughed at the anonymous call. They knew a harrassment call when they saw it, thank God. We will no longer be entertaining the conversation discussing these absurd accusations. The questions have been asked and answered. We refuse to entertain the threats. We’re moving forward. We hope you can too.

If you can’t? Well, that’s no longer our problem.

We are not one another’s voices. And we don’t want to remain yours.

We want to walk with you while you reclaim it.

We want you to find yours, and then use it.

We aren’t the heroes. We aren’t the saviors.

You, my dear, are a badass. And we will rally with you, We will stand beside you and we will not stop until you are ready.

Find your Roar.

Be Bold. Live out Loud.

CC

References

https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/trauma/p3.html

Katz, C., & Nicolet, R. (2020). “If Only I Could Have Stopped It”: Reflections of Adult Child Sexual Abuse Survivors on Their Responses During the Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.1177/0886260520935485