About Why

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In 1989, I was a twenty-two year old just diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, abandonment and neglect. What I needed more than therapy or books, experts or support groups was to meet a woman, decades older, who had a childhood as bad as mine or worse, and went on to have a life.

A personal life. A professional life. A sex life. A family life. 

I was aching to see with my own eyes this middle-aged survivor. I craved proof of her existence because she is what I feared I could never become.

Ordinary. Typical. Free.

She would know the frozen paralysis of a soul in terror and the raging heat of adrenaline coursing through the system uninvited.

She would know the enemy who shares the face of caregiver, who doles out abuse and ice cream.

She would know the complexity of staying present in a body which is also a trigger – the scene of the crime.

She would know nightmares and trust issues. She would now how liberating it is to tell the truth and how it means strained, ruined and at-risk family relationships.

She would apprentice me with the truth and school me with her wisdom.

Where was she?

I couldn’t find her. Not in person. Where were the everyday women talking about childhood trauma and more importantly, life after?

I wanted the ones with eyes I could look into knowing they remembered the past but were no longer caged by fear.

How could there be so many survivors of childhood trauma and so much silence?

Often, we are invisible to one another. When not in crisis, we don’t want to be reminded where we came from. And we live in a world where we are  judged, shamed, belittled and stigmatized for being abused as children. On the one hand we are deemed “damaged goods” and on the other we are told to “get over it already” – sometimes by the same people.

Trauma is not a hard candy we refuse to stop sucking on. Developmental trauma shaped us – without our permission or consent.

Even though we were victims as children, if we speak of it now, as adults we fear seeming “victimy.” We live in a society where being a victim of violence is still more shameful than being a perpetrator.

Which is why I fear silence more than exposure.profile serious

I won’t lose my job, housing or more personal relationships by speaking out about the long-term impacts of childhood sexual abuse, addiction, abandonment and neglect. But that wasn’t always true.

I have the self-care, respect and enough support to risk being vulnerable now but that took decades.

I’ll still make coffee tomorrow morning, shovel when it snows and weed in the summer no matter what I write or speak about. My daughter will need a hug, a ride and something for dinner. That is the victory.

We can recover. We do recover. And often we move on to helping others. But we need to communicate and to be able to find one another.

Safety shouldn’t be like a second language we have to learn as adult. Self-care shouldn’t feel as unfamiliar as driving on the opposite side of the road. For far too many of us it does.

Childhood abuse is preventable. Feeling at home in the body is birthright.  Our lives are deeply impacted and throughout the lifespan. Sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally and sometimes socially. No one gets out unscathed.

We have have higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. We have a higher chance of being raped and in relationships where there is domestic violence. We are more likely to smoke, drink and use I.V. drugs. And there is more. Even if we find and create stability, we have higher rates of stroke, heart disease and autoimmune diseases as well than those with healthier and happier childhoods.

Those with lots of abuse and trauma die 19 years earlier, on average, than those without! See the ACE Study here. There’s no way to parcel about pain, the past and what happens in the future no matter how strong, resilient and optimistic we have been and are.

For so long, I waited, for rescue from my parents, from lovers and even from trying desperately to be good and significant – to prove to myself that I mattered.

Eventually I learned to mama my own trauma symptoms, tell the truth about childhood trauma and realize that I couldn’t make the past less bad but I can feel better in the present.

I started to talk and write about I learn and experience without shame or hiding. I sign my full name now so that younger survivors know there is a way, a future and it need not be dismal.

I have become the woman I needed.

And some of you are looking for me as I am looking for you. We are a community and we can band together to speak directly to one another. Aren’t you tired of having experts or others speak for us? They don’t always get it right even when they mean well? Plus, it’s nice to be with those who get it and know what life is outside of a therapeutic hour – where we live.

Where we work. Where we parent. Where we love.

I tell the truth about how it is for me and how I learned (and am always learning) to live, love and parent well after being raised in hell. I share what it’s like to live when post-traumatic stress flares up and how I manage the way the past intrudes on the present.

And hope. What we can do now to feel safer, to be healthier and to author our lives.

We were made to be victims in the story of another but we can narrate the now.

We are the only ones who can tell our own story.

Your story matters. It’s not your fault you have pain.

Writing can be healing.

 

We can’t change the past but we can become the people we needed for ourselves and our children and each other. Now. We can heal right now.

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 Note: This essay was published in to write love on her armsTo Write Love On Her Arms as well. Please go to the site to read the comments from dozens of survivors. There are 100 beautiful comments. 

The Shape the Work Takes

“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”

Zora Neale Hurston

I never seem to get to the answer part. The questions turned quest are these:

How do I live on earth when I was raised in hell?

How do I live, love and parent well as an adult after the childhood I had? How do others and where are they?

How come no one is talking about this on T.V. or at playgroups or over coffee because there’s a whole lot of trauma survivors trying to figure this out and suffering and feeling isolated and alone.

I wasted decades at war with my pain. I lost years hunting for love, validation and solutions from experts, lovers and my parents. And hiding in a box of carbs or trying to “be good” so I wouldn’t feel bad. I warred and numbed and ate and gave myself away.

One day I promised myself I would lie no longer. Not to myself or others about what I felt or needed or wanted or about the pain I was in.  Instead of hiding I became to ask questions instead.

  • How can I be in less pain?
  • Why didn’t my parents protect me more or get more help for them selves?
  • Why can’t I let go, feel more joy and be more grateful?
  • How come the pain keeps coming not matter how hard I try, how good I am and how much willpower I use?
  • How can I do better for myself and for my daughter?

 

I’ve got no cures to sell but truth to share.

Mostly though, we show up as who we are and how we are and we speak for ourselves.

We get it together by being with people who get it. Together. Period.

 

We make sure that any policy, program or plan that calls itself trauma informed is informed by trauma survivors.

  • We make sure the face of PTSD is also known as female because women get PTSD. She PTSD is real. We are #FacesOfPTSD
  • We insist on being visible.
  • We insist on being seen.
  • We see and hear each other. WRITE NOW.testimonial-faces-of-ptsdfaces-of-ptsd

We can live, love and parent well after being raised in hell. It’s possible but that doesn’t mean it’s easier. We can make it easier for others and one another.

Comments

  1. Nicky Tierney says:

    Hi Christine.
    I am from Australia and I am 31 and a survivor of child sexual abuse when I was in foster care. The abuser was my younger brother but he used to be my best friend when we were growing up. I don’t know why he did such awful things to me and I guess I will NEVER know and I want to be ok not knowing his reasons. I am glad that I came across your website. Thank you for having this website and I can’t wait to have a look around.

    Cheers,
    Nicky xx

  2. “Parenting IS triggering. Self-care, while parenting, feels like a job. Trying to catch up, emotionally, to a child who generally feels safe and express wants and needs and desires can be daunting when it isn’t something we experienced ourselves. It is educational but exhausting. We put aside career dreams and ambitions because we are afraid if we tip the balance and feel too much stress our children will suffer.”

    Word. And even more triggering when you realize that the kids you worked so hard, so vigilantly to protect, were abused again by one of your own. Thank you for speaking up.

    • Cissy White says:

      Dear Ruth,
      I am SO SORRY for your own experience and to hear your child was abused. I’m SO SO SO sorry. Thank you for sharing. We all have to keep doing this work – the healing and the prevention – for ourselves and our children! It’s not selfish but necessary!
      Cissy

  3. What a moving and powerful testimony and manifesto, more power to you! I too can relate to becoming the woman I was searching for. Years ago, I couldn’t find a person who had experienced trauma, recovered, and was willing to speak about it both personally and professionally. I was also tired of being treated as a clinical label as trauma is a very human and personal experience. The only option left was to become that woman for others. I’m glad I found the courage to do so and am grateful for finding many others like yourself along the way!

    • Cissy White says:

      Hi Claire,
      I love the name of your site. Wild Zen. I’m also grateful for the large number of women being more vocal and providing voices and faces to what’s too long been private, secret and baked in shame. Hears to healing ourselves and others and making a better world.
      Cissy

  4. This is amazing. I would love to do what you do when I am in a better place in my healing. I feel so silenced by others and maybe it’s in my own mind. Even by other survivors. leave the past in the past. Get over it. No. Things will not change if we don’t speak up and help one another… that’s true healing.. your an inspiration to me. I get sad that I don’t have a mentor who has been through this…. but I can be my own and help others just like you did. True hope thank you. We need more people like you in this world 🙂

    • Cissy White says:

      I’m so glad you feel inspired! So glad. And I’m sorry for that pressure to move on and get over and leave the past in the past as though it’s as simple as making a little choice. I know it’s not quite that simple. And we can find one another to support and mentor along the path. I believe that. And keep championing yourself TOO!

    • Cissy White says:

      Krysta,
      I don’t know how I missed this amazing comment but I’m glad I found it today. You deserve mentors and I hope the world is filled with more soon, in an out in the open sort of way. I think many of us have, would of or do crave that. And you may be a mentor RIGHT NOW to someone who isn’t where you are. Just consider that as well perhaps. I believe we can mentor one another no matter where we are on the journey.
      Warmly,
      Cissy

  5. Wow i came accross this your webpage
    Wow what timing in speaking my mind
    I love what you have so wonderfully put together here in loving support for all of this in what you been though
    You like me still know how to give to others on this same level of love and human understanding is the powerful healer i am needing to work though
    I come and go like a turtle back inside myself never knowing whether its safer in or out lol
    Until i come accross something like this where i listen and understand all of this so much and realise i too have so much to offer in the same way to others
    That’s about where i become scared terrified of myself all over again that someone wants something from me that i have to give something of myself that something as a child survivor myself i wasn’t prepared for nor did i willing want to give but was taken from me that makes me hurt with utter saddness at the total lack of being able to trust of that of my own skin
    My own process to life still to this day playout so badly in such inappropiate unhealthy ways towards myself of not good not worthy not good enough is really bloody tough going
    I am uneasy about a whole lot of things
    A real nervous Nellie !!!!
    To what my soul purpose is truly all about from this hell hole place inside of me
    I get myself back in and out so inconsistently over the years since I too have acknowledged and spoken my mind about my trauma and the lack of any real care as that orphan whom was then placed into foster and state institutional hell so called places
    All over again to terrorize me until i was only a girl of then 16
    Until I got out
    survived
    As a survivor only knows how
    ( God only knows how )
    Trying hard to glue those old broken pottery pieces within me back into something once again new and good
    To see with eyes wide open
    What were once so tightly closed
    To be able to see my real inner beauty and to touch that place in my own soul again
    And call it my home to own
    Thank you heal write now
    I can already feel i am on the mend in this journey of finding my soul back in me again and so it is let the journey now begin ♡♡♡

    • Cissy White says:

      Alison,
      What a beautiful and stunning piece of soul writing.
      “Trying hard to glue those old broken pottery pieces within me back into something once again new and good
      To see with eyes wide open
      What were once so tightly closed
      To be able to see my real inner beauty and to touch that place in my own soul again
      And call it my home to own”

      Thank you!!!!!!!!
      So glad you are here!
      Cissy

  6. I’m looking for a companion site for men. Although I’ve gotten a lot from just the about page (namely, feeling understood) I still feel a separation with the languaging being, as far as I’ve seen, centered around the woman’s experience.
    I feel blessed to have found your site and would appreciate recommendations for places to find this work directed to the man’s experience.

    • Dear Art:
      I will put up a post on my Facebook page (Heal Write Now) and ask if others know about more resources for men. But you might have to be the one to create something. That’s how I started this page. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, for myself, and figured others were looking as well. If you do start a page, I’d be happy to share it with other men.
      Thanks for writing and reading!
      Cissy

  7. Erika Jones says:

    Intro: This feels very unusual to be invited to write about those private hidden things, ignored (and yet not forgotten) for so many years. I’ll be reaching 50 next summer and I wonder whether the ability to deal with such things typically needs to wait so long before they can be acknowledged. Is it possible to come to terms with one’s history and move past it at an earlier age? Probably only with therapy and from what I gather therapy isn’t often available. You don’t necessarily ‘go mad’ as a consequence of various traumas and therefore, you don’t get scooped up by the psychiatric process. What I did was figure I’d be “a good girl” in order to convince myself that I wasn’t to blame. I’m able now (and for a long time) to be confident that I’m a decent human being. I lean towards helping others (or at the very least, thinking in those terms, when not acted out). I stumbled onto this site due to my interest in the link between obesity and abuse. It had occurred to me before, that ‘being less attractive’ was a hiding (from the past) mechanism. Less compliments, less risk. Although through my 20’s I was certainly not shy and I was slim and happy to ‘show it off’. Now, having been overweight since early noughties and having lost a lot of weight in one year around my 40th, I’m in the cycle of eating without being hungry in order to ‘satisfy’ some unconscious desire to be ‘invisible’. Even recently attracting a married man or two has left me feeling ashamed of my ‘obvious flirting’ when I thought I was just being friendly. Note to self……it could just be that those men were going to flirt regardless of their possibly boring marriages….and that I am an attractive and sexy overweight woman, so I don’t need to conceal myself, I need to deal with my ‘desire to please’…or some such physiological lingo. So, this link of obesity and abuse makes sense to me. Not limited to but could well be another factor contributing to my desire to eat so much.

    What happened to me? Well this is the bit I feel strangely compelled to share (anonymously). never having spoken to a soul, professional or otherwise.

    I was treated inappropriately by a babysitter (a man aged similar to my farther) a few times, probably over the course of a year or two, aged 11ish. Asked to sit on his lap, after a younger sibling had gone to bed. He performed cunnilingus, held my hand within his during his masturbation and encouraged fellatio to the point of climax. I wasn’t raped, nor was I penetrated (that I know of…at that age!) I was never hurt or frightened. Some part of my trauma would surely be associated with my acceptance of the events.

    Then when I was 17, I lost my virginity to a seemly nice guy who dated me for a year. Only to discover that he had been having an affair with my mother for most of that year. Distraught……the family held together on the thinnest of threads for a year at least, so as not to ‘upset’ (destroy) my younger sibling. Somehow we got through it. Parents stayed together. I got on with my life….determined to neither marry nor have children….unless it was ‘perfect’. Later on I had 4 abortions with various partners, sometimes without the partners knowing.

    Coming to terms with this link, could just be the motivation needed to see the world through different eyes. To see the world as a free person, free from the past, free from the guilt and shame, someone who has achieved a lot, has had reasonably good relationships and feels very happy in her own skin…and yet….knows that this body….is not being cared for!!! The motivation to rebel against the ‘hold’ my past has over me, which is effecting my present. To think of myself in terms of a human body requiring the fuel to function adequately if not to full capacity….well why wouldn’t I? Because my past prevents me???? Surely I can override this thinking. I’m keen to look more into this link and I thank you for providing a means to share anonymously. Fake name and email provided.

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  1. […] About the author: Christine Cissy White has a beautifully written blog “Heal Write Now” where she shares more about herself and how mindfulness helps her “mama her trauma” symptoms thereby improving her relationship with her daughter and herself. You can read more about Cissy here: […]

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