Tag Archives: abuse

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Stigma Fighters: Paakhi Bhatnagar

Is it true that deluges fill a void
in your heart that many drugs fail to numb?

I have heard wolves crawl into my skin
and wither their way into my insecurity.
I have felt the novel shift of having a skeleton
and collapsing under the weight of it.
My mother dreamt of a night when I would speak in my slumber and,
I would tell her my secrets,
the ones I keep within the chambers of my wolves.
They are guarded, mother,
do not touch them, do not tap that door,
for the wolves will attack. They are not under my control.
But Vitriol is poisonous and he knows where I keep my key.
He hurls his canopy, caging me, succumbing me to sin.
It is not my fault, mother,
I was not under my control. My screams
my fears, I have yet not told you
that they are the reason for my silent nights and
they are the reason that you somnambulate behind me.
Remember that time when I dragged you down the river, mother?
The dirt under your nails chafed my heart and I will not,
I will not close that burn until you understand that
that induced drowning was not my fault.
I was not under my control.
My feet find their own path,
my mouth speaks its own mind, and
my tongue spins its own lies.
Forgive me, mother,
They too, are not under my control.

Paakhi Bhatnagar is a student from India and an avid reader of historical fiction.youth-for-change She is a passionate feminist and blogs about mental health and feminist issues. She has been recognized for her poem “India’s Balaclava” by the Indian Consulate, and her poem was subsequently published in the Postcards of India Anthology. Her story “Strangers” has been published in the Canvas Teen Literary Journal. She also writes for The Gulf News.

Paakhi can be found on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Matthew Eaton

Is admitting being a victim of child sexual abuse courageous?

There are times I doubt this power as I look at myself in the mirror. I am still remarkably human. The hair fades in color and quantity. The waist still expands as if my stomach had a mind of its own. I still have flaws, including discovering the bottom of a bottle a bit too often.

What makes me different than all the other fleshy funbags out there? Why is it a huge deal for me to admit I was molested twice by the same man? Who cares about my past when there is so much suffering in the world?

These questions have an obvious answer, and it isn’t because I am a bitter old man with thinning hair. No, the stigma of surviving child sexual abuse is real and potent. We teeter on the edge of darkness, daring ourselves to jump into the abyss. We never see ourselves as humans, but as broken toys for demented demon.

Any voice is as strong as the wind obliterating the single cloud on a glorious day.

I was abused twice. Once when I was seven, after my parents divorced. I trusted my family, and I was burned. My grandfather molested children for forty plus years, and I was one of his victims. My mother was another one.

The second time happened when I was thirteen. I was traded to my grandfather for about $1000. It almost destroyed me. However, other factors came into play to accelerate my youthful demise. I lied to my father about my abuse when I was fifteen. It would be the last time I talked to him. I lost the only home I knew on a lie. Everything I learned when I was a child was a lie.

I isolated myself from the world. The treasured burden was mine alone. I wasn’t human. I was a monster. I was a glitch, ready for the scrap heap. I was unlovable, and I had the emotional scars to prove it.

When I was nineteen, I accepted my fate. I stared at the dark abyss and blinked for a moment. Suicide was the best option for a monster like me. It was time to erase the mistake and patch the glitch so the world could be better. I decided the ultimate solution was the best.

I made it out of that dark night with a vision, a promise, and a new way to look at life. It took me 20 more years to claw out of my isolated mindset. I faced the very question I asked at the beginning of this piece.

I sat on a bench three years ago, fired from another job and well aware I needed to change if I ever wanted to find peace. I explored the roots and saw I wasn’t a glitch, but a mirror for the stigma my family carried with it for generations. We cherished it. We allowed it to ostracize us from those who loved us.

We didn’t even love each other. We loved things more. We were obsessed with objects and money. We based our meager existence on the wages earned through tears and sorrow. I pressed into the fearful forest. I found I could hack away at the diseased branches and expose subtle truths about my upbringing.

I am only speaking up about my trauma now, but it is never too late to add a voice. My voice is needed, as is yours. We must stand for what is right and speak out against the stigma we have. No one should feel ashamed of their past. They should never be imprisoned by their fears and silenced by their shame.

You may not even believe you have the power to do something about the stigma. You might go through the same ritual in the mirror as I do. You might hope the steam from your morning shower hides enough of your face that you don’t have to stare at it any more.

You are lost in the isolation. You believe you aren’t worth the effort. You still fall into the trap of losing something important. You fool yourself into thinking you can overcome this on your own.

I am not asking you to go out and seek help if you do not want it. I am not pointing you to a therapist as a magical cure for everything you’ve experienced. You have every right to stand in solitude. You have every right to carry on with what you are doing.

I chose the hard way to walk through life. I carried a stolen burden for two decades. My spiritual back was almost broken by the time I realized I couldn’t carry it any longer. I had to give back what wasn’t mine and move on with a lighter load. I speak about my two molestations and being traded for money because it helps me get rid of guilt that wasn’t mine.

No matter what happened to you, you don’t need to protect it any more. The only thing you will lose is releasing the horrible truth you continue to hide. You might embarrass yourself with admitting it to start with.

The bravery you show by speaking can save a life. There is someone just like you staring in the mirror. They are asking themselves the same question I did when I came to grips with my stigma.

“Is admitting being a victim of child sexual abuse courageous?”

Yes, my friend; yes, it is.

*****

ProfileMatthew Eaton fights the agony of being a forgotten child sexual abuse victim daily. He has read enough to “earn” a “bookshelf degree” in writing, self-improvement, and business thought. In his own time, he explores and struggles with his own personal growth. He is obsessed with dark music, bright thoughts, and delicious beer. Don’t mind his puppy fascination, he doesn’t bite.

Matthew can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

Anxious All Over

I’m anxious all over. You can’t know me without seeing it. You don’t really need to know me to see it. I am told frequently to calm down. Strangers reassure me that “everything is okay.” And I know they mean well, but it hurts sometimes. I’ve been guilty of this myself—looking at a friend and telling them it’s not as bad as they think without knowing the full story.

That’s the meat right there: not knowing the full story. I write about surviving and work with survivors, and the common theme no matter our topic is that people assume they understand what we are going through when they are only seeing a fraction of what’s in our life at any given moment.

Anxiety often comes from a specific place, although it doesn’t have to. For me, I was born anxious and unsafe. My home life in my younger years was harsh and frightening. While I am one in a million whose parents got help to end the cycle of abuse, I still struggle with the remnants of an abusive legacy. Friends and family now love to tell me that chapter is ended. For years, I agreed. I thought my anxiety was healed and saw myself as free. But that was a lie.

The body remembers. When my eldest child turned three, he began hitting. He did it in the way three-year-olds do. He was overtired, hungry, frustrated. He was given a plate and and the food looked different than he expected. The tantrums did not worry me. Until the day he struck my face and my body remembered every moment I thought it had forgotten.

I have been told it is shameful that I write about how close I come to being an abuser on a near daily basis. This stems from a lack of understanding of three issues. The first is that the body does remember. There is a reason it is said that abused children become abusive adults. Anger was the example set for us. It is what our body and mind turn to first when we are overwhelmed by cartwheeling, tantrumming toddlers. I can’t tell you how surprised I was to have to fight that impulse. I can tell you it was nowhere near as jarring as falling into a flashback, striking my child, starting therapy, digging in deep to that healing, and still having to fight daily to not see my child as my abuser. To never strike my child again.

I work on this constantly: My child is not my abuser. He is not the adult. I am not the child. I am the adult. He is the child. My child is not my abuser. Despite what comes after this, I am succeeding.

The second misunderstanding is this: My child is autistic, not spoiled or violent. He is very high functioning, which means he passes for neurotypical in most situations (a fact that causes significant expectation and judgment in public from the public). Part of Autism for him is that, at nine, he still behaves emotionally as though he’s three. The food on his plate not looking as he expects can send him into an hours long, cartwheeling tailspin. While he is much better at not striking others when he’s upset, he still throws false punches and kicks. Those motions are all my body needs to remember. They are all my mind needs to jump me back in time, huddled in the corner of my top bunk with all my stuffed animals around me and my arms flailing to protect myself from potential strikes. The bigger my child grows, the harder I work to remember he is not my abuser. He is not the adult. It is going exceptionally well, but I still need a lot of help.

And the third misunderstanding is that silence is better than speaking up. This is wrong. Speaking up de-stigmatizes the struggle those of us who are learning how not to be abusers face. It creates a tiny bubble of compassionate acceptance that can hopefully be expanded. It is a flag for others reading “You are not alone!”. We offer this support to children of alcoholics who battle alcoholism. Why do we deny it to children of abusers who battle repeating their parents’ anger/fear addiction?

So I use my voice via the page. I publicly admit how truly awful and difficult it is to deal with this legacy, but also how beautiful it is to end the cycle. If I stop writing and sharing my journey, it would mean I have shut down and packed it all inward. I have spiraled back into the shame that kept me isolated throughout my childhood when I needed the most help. Silence and shame turn me back into a victim. I have dwelled there before. It is a place of permanent can’t-shake-it-off anxiety. Of certain and slow dying. I don’t want to go back. I want to keep surviving.

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1525248_10105843688897469_4480984764032127108_nShawna Ayoub Ainslie writes on  issues of race, place and survivorship. She holds an MFA from Indiana University. Her work can be found in The Huffington Post, Medium, [wherever]: an out of place journal, and as part of Amy Gigi Alexander’s Stories of Good series. She is a writing instructor and coach who blogs regularly at The Honeyed Quill.

Shawna can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Lindsay Holmes

A handful of pills, alcohol, and a full bathtub. That’s all I need. I had the perfect plan to finally give me peace. I climbed in to relax, tossed my pills in my mouth, drank and relaxed waiting for bliss to take hold, that moment when oblivion would release me from my nightmares.

I’ve always had three friends hanging around since I was little, Depression, Anxiety, and the conjoined twins Addiction and OCD.

Addiction and OCD were always obsessing over the littlest things and leading me on endless tasks that were never complete until they said so. Depression always seemed to be there, helping me cry for no reason, feel like the world was crashing around me, or taking away all the vibrant colors on my palette leaving me black. Then there was Anxiety, the friend I didn’t want, but who wouldn’t go away. He provided me with panic attacks whenever it pleased him, as well as making people or the public the scariest things imaginable. They all robbed me of my common sense and replaced reality with their nightmares.

My friends were the best. They created a barrier around me to keep all away. All I wanted was to end the loneliness, emptiness, and feelings of being unwanted and unloved. I wanted to meet a guy and have my nightmare turn into a fairy tale. I reached new levels of hopelessness with this wish, as each guy I met treated me like his sister. My dreams were dying. It was unbearable.

Until HE walked into my life shortly before my 21st birthday.

He saw me. He actually saw me. Butterflies ignited the moment I spotted him. He made me giddy, and I was never giddy. He gave me life, breathing the oxygen into me that I needed to live. This was the one, I thought, this one might be my chance for a happy ending.

We would hang out after our shifts, grabbing drinks.

Then he asked me back to his place one night to hang out. The naive girl that I was, excitedly said yes, ecstatic that he wanted to spend more time with me. I didn’t want the time to end. He must have felt the same exact way.

That’s when I died.

That bastard, vile monster, evil incarnated, raped me. Mr. Hyde came out to play and stole the innocence that I had, destroyed me. Drugged me and raped me because he could.

That moment changed everything. I was no longer me, I was an empty shell, nothing left. I was robbed of everything that I had. Life, trust, faith, hope, love, even my virginity, stolen. I shut down from that moment forward. I didn’t tell anyone. I cried that night, going through every emotion I knew, and then moved on. I had to go on. No one was to know. Ever. I could do this. I could go on like nothing happened.

Until Mother’s day, when I found out I was carrying my rapist’s baby. Happy Mother’s Day to me, what a great gift. I was now carrying the product of evil inside of me. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t have a reminder of what happened inside and outside of me for the rest of my life. I felt like dying. I never told anyone until much later, good thing too, for a few weeks later, fate made the decision for me. I lost the baby I had finally made the decision to keep.

I felt as though I had lost my one chance at love, my one chance at happiness with that miscarriage.

I shut down. I cried myself to sleep every night. When I closed my eyes, I would relive everything over and over again. It was awful. I couldn’t control it. I was choking on it, the emotions were taking over. I couldn’t let them consume me. So I expelled my emotions. I refused to feel. To be honest, I didn’t think it was possible, but I managed to completely shut off my emotions with the help of my three friends. They took my emotions away, locked them up, hid the key, and burned the map. They also made sure to cover me up, in quilts of darkness, sorrow, and remorse.

I was an emotional zombie. It’s really hard to describe, because I just didn’t feel. I existed. I worked, slept, ate, took care of the animals, went where I was told, but felt nothing. I was a shell, an outline. Here, but not really here. I got to the point that my emotions were so well hidden, that when I wanted to try and feel something, I couldn’t. I didn’t remember how, I didn’t know where my friends buried them. I became desperate. I needed to scratch this itch, I needed to feel.

I took matters into my own hands with what Addiction taught me. Self-harming. I scratched, burned, and hit myself. It wasn’t helping. I wasn’t feeling enough. Then I cut myself by accident. The pain I felt from that was glorious. I felt, I finally felt something. I cried because I felt. It was the best present I had ever gotten- feeling again.

Then it stopped when the wound healed. So I started to cut myself whenever I wanted to feel. Addiction has been such a good friend showing me these releases. I could feel, I was in control of when and how much. I was free. I was finally able to breathe, scratching my emotional itches, and then hiding them when I didn’t need them.

I had finally created my own bliss, or so I had thought, because it felt painfully obvious that actual bliss was never to come. This serene feeling from harming myself and releasing emotions was not enough. I needed something stronger, which is where the bathtub, pills, and alcohol came in.

My suicide attempt happened at a party surrounded by people that I felt invisible around. My former boss and his girlfriend saved my life by forcing me to vomit. Had I realized this, I would have been humiliated, however I was too far gone in an attempt to find bliss.

It was not long after that I decided to get assistance. It seemed as though my friends had taken over my life and I needed assistance with managing them. So off to the clinic and counseling services I went. That’s when I learned the true names of my friends. I just thought until that time that they were friends, they cared about me. They lied to me. They were leeches and were sucking the life out of me and filling the void they created with shadows, hopelessness, and everything creepy crawly.

I was put on medication and thrown into Intensive Therapy. Three days a week for four hours at a time sitting in a group. It was torture to go through about thirteen different drug cocktails to find what worked for me. I was moody, nauseated, dizzy, felt like I was free falling into nothing as they searched for the right combination. Finally a mixture was found.

I was okay for a while, then relapsed. I was back to self-harming, crying uncontrollably and at the most random inappropriate times. I did not know how to emote. I would laugh at funerals. I cried whenever something was funny. Reactions that required emotions took days to decide how to respond. It took me four days before I cried for my grandmother when she passed.

I was breaking down little by little. I was scared at my own shadow, I would have waking nightmares, flashbacks to the rape, little things were setting me off into hysterics. I had a nervous breakdown. It was then that I finally, after 8.5 years, told my family what had happened to me. The rape, the pregnancy, and the resulting miscarriage.

I sought out the local rape crisis center and therapy started. I realized I had never addressed the cause of my problems. I was diagnosed with PTSD – a new friend to add to my collection. I never shared my rape or miscarriage with my previous doctors. Afraid and humiliated, I didn’t want to be judged further than I felt I already was.

Being the victim was so ingrained in me, that the PTSD therapy that I was in, took eight extra weeks, to get through. I became stuck on points and could not get past them. I held onto that victim mindset. I must have somehow invited him, asked him to do that to me. It was my fault. I am a slut, I am dirty. No one is going to want me now. Finally, with a lot of work, I was able to push through this and move on.

In my experience, most people categorize those who have been raped as either ‘victim’ or ‘survivor. I cannot accept either label. I fought back. I gave my soul to the devil, then fought to regain it. I’m a warrior. I will not take anything less than that title, for now that I have been working on conquering the devil, the monster that haunts me each day, I am trying to teach others, to complete the circle, so that they may become warriors too.

My friends are still with me, but we’re now trying to work as a team. I’m always battling PTSD and Depression, but they are starting to listen a bit. Anxiety stays quiet as long as PTSD and Depression are not in control. The same goes for OCD and Addiction. I’m always battling against the need and want to harm myself, or lose myself . I’m a warrior though. I am going to win this war, even if a few battles are lost along the way.

1 in 5 people are affected by mental illness; I want to make them all warriors with me.

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pictureCWarrior.
Lindsay is a rather artsy, easy going, weird, and eccentric Geek girl who loves animals and is the mommy to 4 of them (2 rabbits, cat, and ferret). She considers herself a connoisseur of whiskey drinking and video game playing, as well as having the beginnings of a tattoo collection. Most days she is bumbling around with software and hardware, whilst at night she is a ninja munching on gummi bears and dancing to music. She enjoys blogging as a way of dealing with the aftermath of rape: PTSD, a miscarriage, abuse, depression, and a suicide attempt; as well as trying to find more Warriors to battle along side.

Lindsay can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Jason Insalaco

Freed Control is my Insanity

My name is Jay Insalaco. I am a husband, father of two beautiful children, and a public worker. Life wasn’t always like this, here’s my story.

In 1995 when I was 19, I started going to a rave club in New York City called “the tunnel”.  At this club I was introduced to the drug “ecstasy”. Up until this point in my life I was smoking cigarettes, marijuana, and drinking alcohol. I went to “the tunnel” for three weeks straight. These three weeks would change my life forever. I can remember the first Friday taking ecstasy and feeling free. I felt like I could finally be myself, I felt a oneness with myself, everyone at the club, and with the world. Freed control was my insanity. By the third Friday I had taken so many drugs that I literally saw a flash of light that was blinding before my eyes. After that moment, everything was connected. Thoughts were coming into my mind faster and faster. There was no time for sleep. I went five days without sleep and insanity was running wild. I felt like I knew what it was like when Jesus walked the earth. I felt like I knew all the answers to the mysteries of the world. I felt like I was sent here to save the world. This is when my boss stepped in and took me to the hospital to be evaluated. He saved my life.

After my evaluation, this is where my journey begins. I was dual diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 and addiction to drugs/alcohol. I was taken to a room, my belt and my shoelaces were taken. I was told to go into the room and sit down. I might have been in that room for a couple of hours when my mom and my sister came in crying. My mom had no idea that I was doing all these drugs and was heartbroken. I can remember moments later a few men came into the room and strapped me down to a gurney and was given an injection. I was then put into an ambulance to be transported to a different hospital with a rehabilitation center. Freed control was my insanity.

In April 1995 I was introduced to mental illness and twelve-step programs. I was told that recovery was going to be a way of life for the rest of my life. One day at a time. Sounds easy, but believe me, it’s not. When I went through the first hospitalization and rehab, I felt like I was in purgatory. Lost between heaven and hell, a lost soul. I was defeated. How was I supposed to live with this sentence? I had to change people, places, and things associated with everything I was doing at 19 years old. I felt alone. A castaway.

For the next seven years I had accepted my addictions and was successful in staying drug and alcohol free. I did it by working the steps in a 12 step program. I followed all the suggestions, I found a sponsor, and went to meetings. As for my mental illness, I couldn’t accept it. I spent from 1995-2002 going in and out of hospitals, and day programs. I was miserable because of having to take medication and having to be compliant in a treatment plan. I couldn’t face the fact that this was my life. I felt like I was wearing a scarlet letter that screamed mental illness. I was afraid of the stigma and being judged. How was I ever going to get acceptance of my mental illness? It took a special person to accept me for me.

It was in April of 2002 when I met Tracy. The eerie part is that it was seven years to the day that I saw the big flash in “the tunnel” which changed my life forever. I met Tracy in a club where we both went separately with friends to see a band called Subcommittee. One of Tracy’s friends worked with one of my friends, and we met. We danced all night. At the end of the night we exchanged phone numbers. Two days later we had our first date. Two weeks went by and I had to let her into my world. I had to tell her about my dual diagnosis. I was on the phone with her and I said, “Tracy, I have something to tell you”, “I’m a recovering addict and I have bipolar disorder”. There was a silence, she said, “I wish I was there right now, “I want to give you a big hug”. This is when the self acceptance of my mental illness started. It stemmed from this wonderful woman accepting me for me. From this point of my life, I wanted to be better.

In 2005, I got a job in the town I was living in. I started working for the Department of Public Works. At this point, me and Tracy have been dating for three years and were talking about getting married. In 2006, we got married. In 2007, my daughter Grace was born. In 2008, we bought a house. In 2010, my son Jameson was born. My life finally knew peace.

In November 2011, I created InstinctiveBird. It started as a project to eradicate my own personal stigma on mental illness and addiction. I gave the stigma power and control. It was time to accept myself and take away the fear. I started by making videos. Then I self published my book “No More Crutch”. Soon after I joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Through NAMI, I was trained as an In Our Own Voice (IOOV) speaker to educate and eradicate stigma. On my website, I have a blog, forum, and network created for open communication about mental health and addiction. Join me on your journey, visit InstinctiveBird.com

Here’s a writing from my book “No More Crutch”.

SANITY?
How far can sanity be pushed?
Edge of no control.
Is there a limit to control?
Total breakdown.
Who’s the judge of sanity?
I don’t know, you tell me.
The control you have has no effect on me.
Freed control is my insanity.
Insanity running wild,
Purity of a little child.
Given back for a little while,
I think I’ll go the extra mile.
Push the limit,
Sort the mess.
I like it better I must confess.
Boundaries are set,
Sadness is low.
Wind me up,
Watch me go.
Limitless control breakdown within me,
Freed control is my insanity.

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1013719_10151751508651756_2027139538_nJason Insalaco is a videographer and public speaker whose mission is to share his story of recovery and his insights into mental illness and addictions in order to educate, encourage, and inspire others along the paths to their own recovery.

Jason can  be found on his blog, Twitter and Facebook

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Stigma Fighters : G. Donald Cribbs

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) vs. Posttraumatic Growth (PTG): Focusing on Symptoms vs. Resiliency in Survivors of Trauma

I’m no expert. I may be a counselor-in-training, completing my master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at CACREP-accredited Messiah College Graduate School, but I’m not the authority on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). Here’s what I do know: I know what it’s like to experience significant trauma. In fact, I was sexually molested at the age of four by a male perpetrator and spent years reeling from the after-effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA).
It’s entirely possible I grew up with PTSD symptoms and remained undiagnosed. Regardless, I’m still here today, and somehow, I’m thriving. I found my way through the trauma, the pain, and the unwanted flashes of memory of my abuse. With little help and the furthest-from-ideal home life situations, I found a way to bounce back, grow, and find resiliency. You can, too.
As a graduate student I’m learning plenty of new things. I never knew there was such a thing as PTG, but there is. We’ve all heard about PTSD, since many of our family members have at least someone in the military, or who have experienced trauma from the events of 9/11, or who have lived through one of several hurricanes, or other weather-related natural disasters.
But here’s the problem with PTSD: it focuses solely on the symptoms of the trauma, the after-effects, and these can start to define the survivor. The goal of a diagnosis is to identify a mental health need, to develop a treatment plan and therapeutic goals, and to work toward those goals. The ultimate goal is to be discharged from treatment because you have attained your goals or have made sufficient progress in healing from your trauma. When an individual is diagnosed with PTSD, it’s like a sentence for permanent victimhood. The diagnosis can define you, it can prevent you from moving on, and it can limit your ability to find a way out. Or at least, it has the potential for these negative outcomes if handled wrong.
I’ve never been diagnosed with PTSD, but I’ve experienced some of the after-effects. These may include: reliving or experiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares. These experiences can be so vivid they include visuals, smells, and the sensation of touch. Those who experience these vivid reliving of past events might experience things that are not actually happening, and then startle awake from being in a hyper-alert or hyper-vigilant state of mind, and realize those events did not actually happen.
Imagine a line with a focal point in the center which stands for the trauma you’ve experienced. If you were to move to the left, let’s say this can be described as a negative outcome. If you were to move toward the right, let’s say that is a positive outcome. Moving left of the trauma brings you to Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms (PTSS). These symptoms have distress as a key component. Moving further along this continuum away from the trauma, brings you to PTSD. But, these negative outcomes do not have to be the only way out from the trauma. Moving to the right, away from the trauma, you come to PTG. Posttraumatic Growth is an amazing paradox. The individual with PTG has both distress, just like PTSS on the opposing side, but as a result of a cognitive change, literally a transformation, after processing the after-effects of the trauma, which leads the individual toward PTG. The components of PTG include: new possibilities, relating to others, personal strength, appreciation for life, and spiritual change. Along the positive side of the continuum, PTG is only the first step leading to Resiliency. Resiliency is where true growth happens, with long-term positive effects, and no longer has distress or reliving the trauma as an outcome.
The point of this article is to inform you, and to let you know that these acronyms exist and what they mean. You have options, and not all of them are negative ones. We live in a negative-focused, glass-half-empty, bad news is good news culture. Rarely do we hear about the possibility of good, growth, resiliency as outcomes to problems, let alone trauma. Now you know. Tell a friend. And when you’re tempted to make a joke of the very real trauma someone has experienced, first walk a mile in their shoes, then see if they’re doing the best they can with the resources they have, and swallow that thought if it doesn’t encourage that person toward a positive outcome.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next one to experience an unexpected trauma in your life, and you’ll be glad to know there are options that don’t involve remaining a victim, or a public punching bag, or a bully’s favorite sport. Will you accept a PTSD or PTSS diagnosis? Or, will you seek out the possibility of PTG or resiliency as an outcome for you?

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DonHeadshotG. Donald Cribbs has written and published poetry and short stories since high school. Donald is a graduate of Messiah College in English and Education, and is currently a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He and his wife and four boys reside in central Pennsylvania where the author is hard at work on his next book, the sequel to his debut novel, THE PACKING HOUSE (2015), by Booktrope. Having lived and traveled abroad in England, France, Belgium, Germany, China and Thailand (you can guess where he lived and where he visited), the author loves languages and how they connect us all. Coffee and Nutella are a close second.

Donald can be found on his blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Wendy C. Garfinkle

Trigger Warning: Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse

I still remember my first sexual encounter. I was 4 years old. I remember every detail, as if I was a spectator, rather than the child. I don’t remember the physical sensations, but I do remember every word spoken, every scene enacted. Since it’s with me more than 35 years later, with more clarity than any other moment in my life, this must be the definition of trauma.

In reading fellow Booktrope author Rachel Thompson‘s memoirs about surviving her own childhood sexual abuse (CSA) trauma – Broken Pieces and its sequel Broken Places – for the first time a couple of months ago, many of her essays and poems struck a cord within me as a fellow survivor of CSA. My experience was different than Rachel’s, but some of the demographics are the same; my abuser was also someone I knew, though he was a child himself (8 years older than I) and the abuse occurred only once. Probably because my parents, and his, put the fear of God into him. But it didn’t stop him, only kept him away from ME. I know of at least one other girl, a good friend of mine, who he sexually abused, perhaps more than once; we didn’t discuss it much, even when we grew up. My abuse was also in the late 70s, at a time when such occurrences weren’t talked about.

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Unlike Rachel, I never strove for perfection (I was always awkward. Still am, a bit, come to think of it.) or became a straight-A student (Geometry was my high school nemesis). I did, however – as I can see from the distance of 25 years – suffer from depression as a teenager, which probably contributed to me becoming an introvert (I still have to give myself pep talks sometimes in order to interact with people in a crowd), who writes sometimes dark and depressing poetry. This was recently confirmed by my therapist, who also confirmed that my sexual “acting out” as a child was a direct result of that one incident, experimenting with both boys and girls, well into my teenage years. I’m not sure why it stopped then. Perhaps because at that point I realized I could get pregnant and knew I wasn’t ready for that.

I never forgot my experience. To this day, I can remember every minutiae, as if holding a magnifying glass on the scene, every word that was spoken down to the image that goes with it. It’s almost as if it was another little girl, another blonde, green-eyed, 4-year-old pixie of a girl experiencing that and me watching and cringing, helpless to do anything to stop it. Then again, watching that same little girl seeking out that same experience with other children.

Later, when I was about 10 years old, I had a crush on this same boy who abused me, with whom I went to church and school (K-12) for years. Until he married and moved away. I saw myself as sick, that I would crush on someone who would victimize a child – only I didn’t think of it in those terms until I reached adulthood. All I knew was that I was ashamed to have tender feelings toward him, and didn’t understand the why of any of it. I’ve always wondered, but never asked: did she, the woman he married, know what he’d done? They’re divorced now, have been for many years. And when out of the blue, my parents received a Christmas card from him and his new wife “Wendy,” that’s the first time I remember having a “trigger” – it really scared me…as nothing had prior to that in a long time… Was he trying to say something? Send a message? Why did he marry a woman with MY name?

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Was this why I became introverted? (How to make friends when you’re carrying around this huge secret.) Why books became my best friends? (Books cannot hurt or betray you.) Why as a teenager I would stare for hours at the ceiling above me? Why for years I couldn’t sleep in the dark or without my stuffed animals? Why I would shut myself inside my bedroom and throw my Birthday Girl figurines – I had all of them at one time; none of them survived – against my bedroom walls until they shattered into tiny pieces? Why the calm descended after each of those girls shattered? (Throwing things and hearing them break against a wall is very soothing. Cleaning up after yourself, not so much.) Were they ceramic substitutes for my own body? I had too much survival instinct, or else too much fear of hell to attempt suicide (though one summer spent with my cousins on our grandparents’ farm in Texas, I carried a thick rope, and when I was alone, would twist it tightly round my neck) – raised in a conservative Christian household, I learned from a very young age that suicide is a sin…and there’s no repenting THAT sin.

Though I’ve never really been secretive about this, I’ve not made it a regular part of my conversations, either. Since becoming friends with so many other writers – collectively known as Stigma Fighters – who, like me, live daily with some form of mental health issue, and who have become such inspirations to me through their bravery and selflessness in sharing their stories and their encouragement, I knew I needed to be brave enough to share some of the darkness within my own soul, in hopes of lending my support – and the occasional hug – to others like us.

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Face-Shot-3Wendy is a writer who holds degrees from three different universities, including MA and MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her debut novel, SERPENT ON A CROSS, which was published October 30, 2012, by Northampton House Press as an ebook, was re-released digitally and in print – with new content -by Booktrope, in August 2014.

She’s authored numerous poems, several of which appear here, and is currently working on her second novel, the sequel to SOAC, and a new contemporary thriller series. She has served as a copy editor and panel reader for www.hippocampusmagazine.com, and a reader for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. She works as an Editor and Proofreader on a project/contractual basis for her publisher, Booktrope, and was recently honored to accept the Proofreader position for all books published under Booktrope’s Gravity Imprint. “The focus of Gravity is on stories of trauma and recovery – any kind, both fiction or nonfiction.”

In her day job, Wendy is a crime analyst for a county sheriff’s office. Her hobbies include writing (of course), reading, and international travel (as finances and time off work allow). She lives in South Florida with her teenage son.

Wendy can be found on her website, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighters : Casey Sheridan

This is hard for me write because I’ve never written about this before, nor have I talked about it to anyone other than my psychologist.
Rachel Thompson has a saying she often posts on her social media streams, “Write what scares you.” Or something to that effect, anyway. Writing about this doesn’t scare me and I don’t care what people are going to think. Well, okay, maybe I am a bit concerned about what others may think.
I’m a survivor.
I survived sexual abuse as a child at the hands of my alcoholic step-father, along with his mental abuse of humiliation, and later on, as an adult, I survived a rape.
But I’m more than just a survivor. I’m also the author of erotica and romantic erotica.
The sexual abuse I survived wasn’t something that happened every day, every week, etc. It happened three or four times at most, starting at the age of five and ending when I was twelve. Anyone who has survived this knows that even one incident of sexual abuse is one too many.
Because my memories are fuzzy, shadows really, ghosts that float around behind my eyes, no hard vivid events or timeline, there are some that feel it’s possible my abuse may not have actually happened.
That’s bullshit.
In my opinion, a bad memory is a bad memory, whether it’s a fuzzy memory or a solid, vivid one. I didn’t dream this shit up (my poem Bad Memories )
What isn’t a fuzzy memory, are the few times I was targeted for humiliation. I was made to stand in a corner in my undershirt and underwear while I was told how ugly I was, how stupid, how worthless. If I cried, I was laughed at, and made fun of.
I think there’s a statistic out there somewhere that relates how survivors of childhood sexual abuse often become victims of rape later in life. I hate to say I’m a statistic, but I guess I am since I was raped in my early adulthood by someone I knew.
I buried my abuse and rape deep down inside. Things like that don’t stay buried though. They come out and want/need to be dealt with. The real me was buried along with them. To keep people from knowing these things, I became what I what I was called every day as a kid—”You’re such a BITCH.” A nasty, hate-filled and bitterly angry bitch. It got to a point where I couldn’t stand myself. I don’t want to be like that anymore. So I started to see a psychologist.
I was lucky to find one that I connected with immediately. It wasn’t easy and it took some time, but I’m glad I went. She helped me with so much.
I saw her for five years. She helped me to understand a lot of things and I still learn new things about myself. I’m not “cured”. You’re never “cured”. But I learned how to deal with some things and how to work toward changing others.
Some may wonder how I can go through sexual abuse and rape, and then write erotica and romantic erotica. Or maybe you’re thinking I have a warped sense of boundaries and write some really gross stuff. I can’t blame you for thinking that. There’s a huge side of the erotica industry that contains material that makes me cringe. What I write never contains those “ick factors”, a term some publishers use for things such as rape, incest, etc. What I write is completely different. And I didn’t start writing erotica until about two or three years after I stopped seeing my doctor.
While many who have survived sexual abuse and/or rape have issues with sex, and understandably so, I don’t have those issues. I never have. Believe it or not, writing erotica and romantic erotica is quite liberating and therapeutic for me.

Some issues I deal/dealt with:

Trust. I don’t know if that will ever change completely, if at all, but I am trying. To that end, I’ve learned to rely on my instincts/intuition as a sort of protection. For me, trust is only for those I connect with on a deep level, for those that I can give my heart and mind to, and that’s a tremendous thing, so my circle of people is small. If you find yourself among that group remember how fragile trust can be.

For most of my life I walked with my head down because after having it drummed into me that I was so ugly, I believed I was. Keeping my head down meant that others wouldn’t notice me. I don’t walk around like that anymore. I walk with my head up and I don’t think I’m ugly. I’m not pretty certainly, but I know I’m not ugly.

Growing up under that cloud of abuse I learned to keep a low profile, to do what I could to keep from being noticed, to fade into the background. Even now, doing things to bring attention to myself, such as promoting myself as an author is difficult, but I’m trying. That’s a good thing.

I learned to keep my mouth shut. People who know me well will not believe I know how to keep my mouth shut, but seriously, I do.
My fight-flight-freeze response is set on freeze. I don’t know how to change that. Unless you hurt someone I care about, then I’ll kick your ass.
I learned to shut down emotionally. I feel things intensely and I don’t know how to deal with what I feel. At times, I’m flooded with so much emotion it’s overwhelming, so I shut down and distance myself. Especially if I think I’m about to be hurt physically or otherwise.

Every day is a struggle, some more than others.
What I’ve gone through is a part of who I am and has shaped who I have become, the type of person I am. I think I turned out to an okay person.

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Sm-CaseSheridan-9-2014Like most authors, Casey Sheridan began writing when she was very young. It was later in life when she read her first piece of erotica and it was on a dare that she wrote her first erotic story.

Casey writes erotica, and romantic erotica, that is sensual and fun with unique storylines.

An introvert by nature and lover of chocolate, Casey is happiest when writing. She enjoys spending time with close friends, listening to music, watching movies, and reading. She loves animals and volunteers to care for some local feral/outdoor kitty pals.

Casey can be found on her blog, Facebook and Twitter

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Stigma Fighter : Pepper Joy Greggs

I Found Mental Illness

The technician called my name. I checked my phone to see the time. I was 45 minutes in on my 2nd dose of Xanax.
I hoped it would help me.

On my way down the hall the technician was chatty.  I remember swallowing a lot but being silent. “Lay down on the table and don’t move.” She told me.
I swallowed hard again. I laid down on a slim table. I was handed ear plugs and reminded to be still as possible. I felt these slates or boards close in on either side of my head to help keep it stable. I took a deep breathe. Then a cage was clamped down over my face.

My mind went back to a conversation with my friend and fellow survivor just the day before. “Close your eyes as soon as they lay you down. Focus on your breathing and remember you will be okay.”
She told me my medication wouldn’t work. She should know. She takes more meds with her breakfast than I ever hope to have need for in my lifetime. She is what I call a “straight with no chaser” friend.
She tells me the truth even when it hurts and, or scares me. She delivers the truth with equal amounts of harshness and love so I can receive it. She had an MRI in her past, she was also a survivor of abuse like me. She knew the kind of depression and anxiety I had. She also knew how moments of high anxiety provoked PTSD. She helped prepare me but, this cage on my face… She never mentioned it!

You see the idea of being in a small space didn’t bother me at all.
I am a small body and I prefer to sleep curled up tight in my bedding.
When I feel more stress, the tighter I curl up in my sleep.
This was no nap or sleep, this was a test to help discover why I was getting headaches. What triggered me was the technician’s words “Lay on the table and don’t move.”
The thing that further provoked my anxiety to a full on panic attack was the cage-like mask being clamped over my face.
I closed my eyes the whole time but, not soon enough.
My friend was right, Xanax was failing me. I felt tears stream down the sides of my clamped head.
I could feel my heart racing and my chest was in an erratic pattern of short sharp rising and falling.  My friends words came back to me “focus on your breathing.” I started breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. It was still erratic but, slowly it started to form a more normal pattern.
Tears kept coming and I closed my eyes tighter. My hands were at my sides and I gently pinched my outer thighs to distract myself.
Finally the first MRI was finished.
Now it was time for an IV to perform the second MRI with contrast. The technician noticed my tears but, I was too frozen in my panic to speak. She handed me a tissue and patted my shoulder. She apologized for not asking if I was claustrophobic.
I managed to squeak out “It’s not that… I just had bad stuff happen ….when I was a kid and … I just wasn’t expecting it to be this hard.”
She gave me a few moments to calm down and placed the IV.
I managed to handle the second MRI much better but, tears still flowed.

I used to tell myself I was NOT one of “those people”. I was not a person with mental illness. I was a survivor and therefore had a strong mind. I have since learned having a strong resolve and mind, does not make one immune to mental illness. Having a brilliant mind does not make you immune to mental illness.

History shows this.
Some are born with it, others find it later in life. Yes, I found mental illness. All those years I was being abused I found disassociation to help me cope. I did not realize I was using a form of mental illness. I developed PTSD and flashbacks after my abuse ended. I see dark memories of my past flash before my eyes during what would otherwise be a normal moment on a present day.
This is my daily life. Sometimes I need depression medications for a while and then I’m okay. Sometimes when I know I will be facing a scary or anxiety provoking situation, I need Xanax to help me calm down. Sometimes I have to talk myself off a mental ledge and come back to an appropriate rational state.
I am not alone in this. This battle with mental illness. I am not alone in my story as a survivor of horrific abuses.
I think illness is less and less relevant today in society. I am mentally different than others. I use different mental coping techniques. I suffer from different mental challenges. I am not my PTSD or anxiety. I am not my depression or any of the worst parts of me. I am a whole person. I am a loving wife and mother. I can be super funny and down right goofy. I can be brave at times. I understand people on a deeper empathic level than most. I have mental challenges, I also have mental gifts. I am not mental illness, I am only me.

Pepper Joy Greggs
Dog Trainer

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IMG_6372Wife, Mother, Abuse Survivor, Blogger and Dog Trainer.
I share my story to help others and take away the power from my past abusers. I live the life I chose for myself and chase dreams I never knew I could even have.
Pepper Joy can be found on her blog
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Stigma Fighters : Michael Sherry

SMILE

“Why don’t you smile more?”
I have heard this comment more times than I care to remember. It seems like an easy thing to do, right? Two corners of your lips up, a couple of teeth showing and …. It’s a constant in my life – both the “Would you please smile?” and the pain that follows.

From a very young age, we are told by doting parents and grandparents that a smile tells the world who you are. REALLY??
What is this obsession we have with smiling? I know that I am not alone, that we are all told to hide the sadness, just like the sad clown whose tears come down when no one is around, or the song, “Smile, though your heart is breaking.” I am constantly told that I don’t look happy in pictures. There are things that no smile can cloak, and besides, who would ever want to see the ugliness inside me.

Invite me to your wedding or birthday party, and you run the risk of having a non-smiler, or worse, a fake smiler show up in your picture album. Even my best attempts at showing my pearly whites get tied up with the synapses in my brain that tell me that I am not worthy, that it’s my fault that I allowed my body to be used as a playground by the worst kind of predator. Guilty as charged in the silence that was as loud as any scream I could possibly make. Didn’t I have a choice to say, “ENOUGH?”

The way people stare tells me that I am broken, and that medication is the only possible way I can live in my own skin without wanting to slice some of that skin off. Smile, Mike, because people might think you are angry. Coupled with my bodybuilder physique, they might think that I am some crazy lunatic whom people cross over to the other side of the street to avoid.

My earliest recollections of my depression came at the hands of my best friend’s mom. Every time she saw me she asked her son, my friend, Bill, “Why is he so quiet all the time? Something not right in the head with him.” When speaking to me, she would talk louder, the way one would do when speaking to someone who is slow. Just to piss her off, I would never answer or start to drool. I pulled off a great Quasi Moto, while Bill would laugh in the background.

I learned to navigate depression without the benefit of a copy of Depression 101 for Dummies. Doctors threw all kinds of pills at me, but they made me tired.

“Why so serious?”

I could no longer lie out on the grass of my big back yard and stare up at the cotton ball puffs taking shape and floating by, buffered this way and that by wind that caressed my face, while I imagined that this was all a parade for my eyes only.

My sky was torn down. A big ugly tear that mom would never be able to sew back together. With my world asunder, a smile, any smile was a lie. I grew to love books with dark blue and purple skies lost in the darkness.

At the 4th grade school outing, perhaps because it was a day away from being sent to the principal’s office, I felt ballsy enough to jump into the picture that my teacher, Mr. Schreck took of a couple of the girls in my class at the park. Looking annoyed that he was distracted from his precious little angels, he bellowed, “No one wants you in the picture, Sherry.” A smile and a laugh and a leap of faith fooled no one, least of all good, old Mr. Schreck. He could feel my self- loathing. I felt like they all did.

It took a trip to Disney World with my wife and younger child to finally wipe that false grin off and replace it with a smile of one getting a chance to relive his childhood. I saw the joy and wonderment in my six year old son’s eyes. It was ok to laugh and smile and act goofy. There is no better anti-depressant out there then to see your child smile and be happy. I practice my smile now, because I am many years behind in smiling.

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mike-headshotMichael Sherry is a writer and certified personal trainer, living in his hometown of New York City with his wife and their two boys. He has also worked in television, programming and publishing. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Training for Life: Confessions of a Recovering Personal Trainer, a collection of stories about his life as a bodybuilder recovering from PTSD.

Michael can be reached by Email

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