Rachel Thompson http://rachelintheoc.com Author • Poet • Advocate Tue, 06 Nov 2018 00:43:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 32635198 How To Effectively Balance PTSD and Real Life http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/10/how-to-effectively-balance-ptsd-and-real-life/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/10/how-to-effectively-balance-ptsd-and-real-life/#comments Sun, 28 Oct 2018 20:11:15 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=8135 Is it possible to balance PTSD and real life? It is, if you realize you have it, know what to look for, and get the help you need. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized, after dealing with migraines for over twenty years, they could somehow be related to the childhood sexual […]

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How To Effectively Balance PTSD and Real Life by @RachelintheOC, #PTSD, #SexualAbuse, #Pain

Is it possible to balance PTSD and real life? It is, if you realize you have it, know what to look for, and get the help you need.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized, after dealing with migraines for over twenty years, they could somehow be related to the childhood sexual abuse (CSA) I experienced when I was eleven. No neurologist had ever asked about my past. Why would I think there would be a connection?

I started therapy in my mid-thirties for postpartum depression – my shrink was great. He helped me deal with the here and now of anxiety and depression. Triage, if you will. We eventually delved into my past and he diagnosed me as having PTSD from the CSA. (I wrote a post all about migraines and treatment here if you’d like to start with that post. That’s not what this post is about.)

You have to understand – I had no concept whatsoever why I hated crowds and noise, why going to Disneyland with my husband (at the time) and kids made me cry and tremble (it’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth, right?), or why slamming doors and drawers (my ex was a slammer) made me jump as if I were in a horror movie.

I pushed myself through these experiences for years, not realizing how much worse that made the hyper-vigilance. How would I know? While my shrink was helpful in many ways, we didn’t discuss a connection between PTSD and my current chronic pain.

Migraines have had such a huge effect on my life since my late-twenties — how can I not have known about this PTSD link? It’s mind-boggling. 

Fast forward another ten years or so: I’ve written and released Broken Pieces (in 2013), moved to a new city, separated from my now ex-husband, and started seeing a new trauma-informed therapist who shows me all kinds of studies showing the link between PTSD and chronic pain. (Not every survivor of sexual trauma gets PTSD – typically, it’s anywhere from 30% to 50%; Source: Harvard School of Public Health).

Let’s talk more about PTSD, pain, and how to balance it all.

Defining PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a state of extreme anxiety and hypervigilance which begins after some type of traumatic experiences such as a rape, military combat, or natural disaster. 

PTSD and Pain 

It’s well-known that people with PTSD are at higher risk of heart disease, immune disorders, eating disorders, addiction, and depression. But did you know that we’re at higher risk of pain issues (e.g., migraines, back pain, fibromyalgia) as well? Most survivors don’t. I didn’t. In fact, most physicians and other health-care practitioners don’t know (or at least don’t ask about it when taking a patient’s history).

My own experience was fairly unique, in that I was a Big Pharma rep – I called on dozens of neurologists as a rep. I saw several as a patient. One, in particular, was ‘the guy’ – well-known internationally as The Migraine Doctor. Not once did he ask about my past or PTSD. Just threw a triptan* at me and said ‘if it works, you have migraines. If it doesn’t, you don’t. And don’t smoke. You’ll stroke out and die.’ Yea, charming.

*Triptans are formally known as serotonin receptor agonists. Triptan drugs work like a brain chemical called serotonin. This helps quiet down overactive pain nerves. In other words, triptans reverse the changes in your brain that caused your migraine.

Point is: with all of the training (and I sold neurology and migraine meds), with all my interactions with internists, neuros, GPs, FPs, nurses, PAs, etc., not once did we discuss past trauma as a connection to pain. This is major gap.

Tip: Find a physician you’re comfortable with, and tell him/her about your sexual trauma. I’m very open about it now with all my healthcare practitioners. They are welcoming, and it often changes their treatment plan. 

Studies show that pain is one of the most common physical problems reported by people with PTSD. This finding holds true no matter what types of traumatic events they experienced—for example, a motor vehicle accident, physical assault, or combat injury. People with PTSD are also more likely to report pain-related disability.

  • In one study of volunteer firefighters with PTSD, approximately 50% were having pain (mainly back pain) compared with only about 20% of firefighters without PTSD.
  • In two other studies, from 20% to 30% of patients with PTSD had frequent and chronic pain symptoms.

You can also look at this situation in reverse: Many patients with chronic pain problems also have PTSD. In fact, from 10% to 50% of people getting treatment for chronic pain have PTSD as well. These rates of PTSD are higher than those found in the general population. (Source: VeryWellMind)

Why is this? Think about it. If you are tensed up due to hyper-vigilance, you may suffer from tension headaches which can lead to migraines *raises hand*. From this same article:

Some symptoms of PTSD may cause pain. For example, PTSD-related hyperarousal symptoms often cause tense muscle pain that can become chronic. More below on hyperarousal (and no, it’s not sexual, ya dirty creatures).

How To Effectively Balance PTSD and Real Life by @RachelintheOC, #PTSD, #RealLife

…and the light bulb goes on

Three Main Symptom ‘Groups’ of PTSD

PTSD is complicated. Though it can affect each person in many different ways, there are identifiable characteristics which are grouped in this way:

Re-experiencing: manifests as if we are reliving the event(s) through flashbacks, dreams/nightmares, or intrusive thoughts. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t experience some kind of flashback to when I abused as a child. The thoughts pop up out of nowhere during the course of my day.

Sometimes I expect them if I’m working on my books or poetry, or watching a movie or reading a book that has that kind of content. Most of the time, though, these flashbacks are unwanted visitors that come and go. 

Very rarely do these flashbacks trigger me, and my guess is I’ve become so used to them, I just go on about my day. Once in a while, though, I will be triggered out of nowhere. 

Tip: What triggers you may be different than what triggers me. Make note of past triggers and discuss with your therapist. Work through them IF you feel it’s okay. There is a vast difference between being upset and being triggered. Ignore social media’s definition. Trust your instincts. 

Avoidance: is exactly what you think it means – consciously or subconsciously changing your behavior to avoid scenarios associated with the event(s) or losing interest in activities you enjoy. It can also mean ignoring our health and mental health needs because that would mean acknowledging or talking about our experiences, which can be so shameful and debilitating for many survivors, they’d rather suffer in pain than seek help. 

Shame is powerful. So are you. Remember, you’ve done nothing wrong. If you’re in pain, get the help you deserve.

Hyperarousal: okay, buckle up for this one. Hyperarousal can take many forms. Here’s a list from Medical News Today

  • find it hard to go to sleep or stay asleep
  • feel irritable and quickly lose their temper
  • find it hard to concentrate
  • constantly feel on-guard (hypervigilance)
  • be more impulsive than usual
  • feel like their muscles are more tense than usual
  • feel pain more easily
  • feel their heart beating faster than usual
  • feel jumpy and be startled easily
  • breathe more quickly or less deeply than usual
  • have flashbacks about a traumatic event

Hyperarousal can cause trouble sleeping, anger, concentration issues, and impulsiveness (as well as what I referred to earlier: avoidance and re-experiencing). Therapy can take many forms here and is so incredibly helpful in teaching us ways to cope with these issues.

Dissociation

Not all survivors experience dissociation, which experts explain as the mind escaping the body until the assault is over. I experienced it. I didn’t know because I didn’t have the language for it. I simply watched myself from a tree while the abuse occurred each time, waiting for it to be over. After that, I dissociated frequently throughout my childhood and teen years, mostly in times of stress, until I could do so on demand.

I still can – quite the party trick.

For me to dissociate without being aware is rare, though it happened recently this past summer at a small, local art gallery where my daughter interned. Hot, crowded, loud — I completely checked out mentally, yet I had no idea. I grew quiet, my eyes were glazed and unblinking as I rushed from here to there.

My guy figured it out and hustled me out of there, but even he didn’t recognize what happened at first except that I acted strangely. I didn’t have any way to tell him it was happening because I didn’t know myself.

Tip: Talk to those closest to you about dissociation. Tell them what happens when you dissociate so they can look for clues in case you’re unable to identify when you’re in it. Let people help you. 

Triggers 

What does it mean to be “triggered?” In recent years, people on the internet casually (and oftentimes, callously) refer to being triggered, particularly in response to political conversations. Beyond that, survivors themselves often confuse triggers with stress. Stress is a normal part of our everyday lives and everyone experiences stress; triggers are specifically associated with anxiety.

It can be hard to tell the difference for survivors if you’re constantly in a state of anxiety and worry, and feel as if everything is a trigger for you. This is why seeking mental health services is crucially important. Most of us are ill-equipped to know the difference.
I’m not a shrink, yet here are some handy tips I’ve learned to use when faced with situations you’re not sure how to handle:
  • Is what’s bothering you somehow linked to your past abuse in some way? Is it causing a flashback, avoidance, or hypervigilance (as mentioned above)? Then that’s likely a trigger.
  • Alternatively, if you find yourself angry at what somebody said, that’s a normal stress reaction and you are likely not triggered. You are a normal human having a normal emotional reaction to stress.
Tip: Whenever you feel stressed out, write down what it is specifically that’s bothering you. Is it a daily activity, someone’s voice, specific foods, the time of day? Journaling can be extremely helpful in determining what is a stressor and what is a trigger. 
There is a lot to manage when you have PTSD as a result of sexual trauma (or any kind of trauma). Don’t diagnose yourself. Get help. You deserve it. We all deserve it. We deserve love, compassion, and support.
And always remember: you did nothing wrong.
Read more about Rachel’s experiences in the award-winning book, Broken Pieces.
She goes into more detail about living with PTSD and realizing the effects of how being a survivor affected her life in
Broken Places, available now on Amazon.

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10 Things You Need To Know Don’t Matter about Sexual Assault by @BobbiLParish http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/10/10-things-you-need-to-know-dont-matter-about-sexual-assault/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/10/10-things-you-need-to-know-dont-matter-about-sexual-assault/#comments Wed, 03 Oct 2018 06:25:20 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=8114 It’s been an emotionally charged week for those tuned into the Kavanaugh hearings and Bill Cosby’s sentencing. Judgment about what both the accused and the victims have said, as well as what should happen now, filling print and web pages, news programs, and social media posts. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what should […]

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10 Things You Need To Know Don’t Matter about Sexual Assault by @BobbiLParish via @RachelintheOC, #Assault #SexualAssault

It’s been an emotionally charged week for those tuned into the Kavanaugh hearings and Bill Cosby’s sentencing. Judgment about what both the accused and the victims have said, as well as what should happen now, filling print and web pages, news programs, and social media posts.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what should be believed, done or supported in these two high profile cases. I’m not here to tell you what to believe. Nor am I here to help you see my side of both stories. I want each of you to come to your own conclusion. What I can do, though, is help you sort through the information about both cases and pick out what doesn’t matter.

Why should you listen to me? Because recovery from sexual assault is both my personal and professional story. I survived eight years of sexual abuse as a child. Now, I am the Executive Director of The International Association of Trauma Recovery Coaching. Every year I train and certify Trauma Recovery Coaches to help those who have endured trauma as both children and adults. I know sexual assault.

Today, I want to tell you what doesn’t matter about sexual assault:

How long it took the victim to report the crime

Sexual assault leaves the victim steeped in shame. When an individual feels shame they isolate in an effort to avoid others seeing their shame and judging them. They might feel that they were in some way at fault for the assault (a typical aftereffect of sexual assault; see my post about this on PsychCentral). The lies the abuse taught them are strong and pervasive. They can keep a survivor quiet about their assault for years, even decades.

And if they do speak up, the consequences are often swift and negative. Christine Blasey Ford catapulted into the public eye when her accusation of assault at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh came out. Death threats, vicious character assassination, and swift judgment became her reward for speaking up. Other victims will now think even harder about speaking up after seeing what Dr. Ford has gone through.

Sometimes victims don’t report sexual assault immediately after the crime because the victim’s mind repressed the memories. Dr. Jim Hopper, an expert on sexual trauma and memory, states that there is “research evidence showing that it is not rare for people who were sexually abused in childhood to go for many years, even decades, without having (recognizable or explicit) memories of the abuse. This body of work shows that claims to the contrary are contradicted by lots of scientific evidence.”

I have had clients come in to see me in their sixties who have only recently recovered memories of their sexual assault(s). Under threat, our mind processes memories differently than when we are safe and calm. Gaps in memory are the norm, not the exception.

10 Things You Need To Know Don’t Matter about Sexual Assault by @BobbiLParish via @RachelintheOC, #Assault #SexualAssault

How old the assailant was at the time of the assault

It is inconsequential if the accused assailant was only a teenager. Abusers should not be given light sentences because they are young, as Brock Turner was in 2016. Turner’s father said jail time would be “a steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action.” Mr. Turner is welcome to step into my virtual office where I can tell him about hundreds of women who were sexually assaulted for only 20 minutes and have suffered a lifetime of aftereffects. His son got six months in jail. These victims are serving life sentences.

How old the assailant is when convicted

Bill Cosby’s lawyer, Joseph Green, argued that his client was too old to go to jail, that it wasn’t safe for him because of his age and health: “’How does he fight off the people who are trying to extort him, or walk to the mess hall?’’ The irony of this statement left me speechless. Cosby’s victims didn’t get the chance to fight him off because he drugged them. A child cannot protect themselves against abuse from adults. This excuse is valid for no assailant. Ever.

The socioeconomic status of the victim and the assailant

The laws should be equally applied to both the privileged and the poor. An alleged assailant should not be given a “get out of jail free” card because they play tennis with the judge’s brother or have a “fixer” who can pay out large sums of money to victims. And poor victims are not due any less protections from the law because they have neither tennis buddies or friends in high places.

The race of the victim and assailant

Like socioeconomic status, race should never come into play in the reporting and prosecuting of sexual assault. A black man accused of raping a white woman who pays for it with his life was a horrible reality during our country’s century of open racial segregation. Sadly, those kinds of racial judgments still exist. Racial bias needs to stop being a part of our judicial system.

10 Things You Need To Know Don’t Matter about Sexual Assault by @BobbiLParish via @RachelintheOC, #Assault #SexualAssault

The sexual history of the victim

Who the victim has slept with in the past, how many people she has slept with and what she did during those sexual encounters is a moot point. It has no business being discussed when a victim makes a report of sexual assault. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 created a federal rape shield law so that victims cannot be questioned about their past sexual history.

That doesn’t stop the public, family or friends from judging a woman as “rape-able” because she’s been sexually active before her assault. Let’s stop the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge, boys will be boys” hall pass given to men while we tell women they deserved to be raped because they wore a short skirt.

Whether the victim has clear memories of the entire assault, including what happened beforehand and afterward

Dr. Jim Hopper to the rescue again! His research shows that our brains are wired to remember some parts of a traumatic incident while forgetting other parts. That’s the typical way our brain behaves. Just because a victim cannot tell you exactly what happened with unimpeachable detail doesn’t mean they are making it up.

“Ignorance of how memory works is a major reason why sexual assault is the easiest violent crime to get away with, across our country and around the world.”

Whether the victim fought back against the assailant(s)

Before anyone judge’s a victim’s absence of “fighting back” they need to understand the concept of our brain’s use of the “freeze” response in reaction to a threat. There are three types of freeze responses that our brain reaches for automatically when it perceives a threat. Our pre-frontal cortex shuts down and we respond with the primitive part of our brain that tells us if we don’t move we have a greater chance of surviving. Like a rabbit in a field of tall grass, we stay still in hopes that the predator will move along to something that catches their eye.

Whether there were drugs and alcohol involved in the assault

No, it doesn’t matter whether either the assailant or the victim consumed alcohol or drugs prior to or during the assault. A drunk assailant doesn’t deserve a pass. Nor does a drunk victim deserve to be assaulted.

The punishment for drinking or doing drugs is never rape.

The type of sexual assault

A victim of sexual assault has no less a right to understanding, compassion and criminal justice if they were “just groped” rather than raped. Is there a difference in our legal systems in charges that can be brought according to the severity of the crime? Yes. But do not mistake that as an endorsement of varying values of victims.

A victim who was “just groped” has just as much of a right to have their crime vigorously investigated as a victim who was raped.

None of these issues matter when it comes to sexual assault. Please educate yourself or seek out someone who knows about sexual trauma before you pass judgment on a victim or an assailant. No one deserves a knee-jerk reaction. Proceeding carefully, keeping science in mind, and with compassion, we are much more likely to arrive at the truth than when we put any of these ten issues into play.

Here’s a list of wonderful helplines – you can also visit their websites for resources and to educate yourself further about sexual trauma:

RAINN.org (all genders) or 1in6org (for men) or one of these 24-hour toll-free hotlines:
  • Rape Abuse & Incest National Network 800-656-4673
  • Childhelp USA 800-422-4453
  • National Domestic Violence/Abuse Hotline 800-799-7233

Bobbi L Parish MA CTRC-S is a trauma recovery coach who works with adult survivors of childhood abuse. Bobbi is also an author with one published book, Create Your Personal Sacred Text, and has two others in the works. She is a married mother from the Pacific Northwest, currently shuttling between the state of Texas and the UK. Sparkly shoes are her personal kryptonite. You can learn more about Bobbi at TheTraumaRecoveryCoach.com.

Read more about Rachel’s experiences in the award-winning book, Broken Pieces.
She goes into more detail about living with PTSD and realizing the effects of how being a survivor affected her life in
Broken Places, available now on Amazon.

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The Reasons Social Media Breaks Can Help Our Mental Health http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/08/reasons-social-media-breaks-help-mental-health/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/08/reasons-social-media-breaks-help-mental-health/#comments Fri, 24 Aug 2018 17:50:41 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=8057 I haven’t written for a while and I don’t have one solid reason. I have several. Working more than usual, for which I’m grateful. Parenting — As a single mom of two teens, that’s a job in and of itself. My kids are good yet ya know, they’re KIDS. Owning my own business and all […]

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I haven’t written for a while and I don’t have one solid reason. I have several.

The Reasons Social Media Breaks Can Help Our Mental Health by @RachelintheOC #MentalHealth #SocialMedia

Embrace your creativity

Working more than usual, for which I’m grateful.

Parenting — As a single mom of two teens, that’s a job in and of itself. My kids are good yet ya know, they’re KIDS.

Owning my own business and all that comes with that — fabulous clients who depend on me to be fabulous means 18-hour days just to run meet the demands, and that’s with an assistant! Not to mention the administrative crap, taxes, and all that.

Personal relationship — private. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

WritingBroken People is in the hands of my amazing editor and loyal friend. She lost her beloved mother so she understandably took time off. I know I want/need to add more to the book, yet I’m patiently waiting to get my structural edit back to find out what to write to fill those holes.

Focus  — more on my business writing, chats, and clients. I’m pulling together my third biz book and finding joy in helping writers navigate book marketing, branding, and social media.

The main reason I’ve not been blogging here? I’ve felt this online fatigue. I’m just…tired. Tired of the ranting and raving, of people’s entitlement over what I choose to post. Over what others post. Of the attacks. We’ve become a nation of attackers and attackees.

Will pain soaked in rage one day become empathy? Or something far darker…

What Happened to the Art of Conversation on Social Media? 

The camaraderie which drew me to Twitter, Facebook, other channels, and even blogging is now full of blowhards teeming with rage and vitriol about well, everything. From books to politics to #MeToo to even cats (always a safe choice), sharing our lived truths has now become filled with denials, gaslighting, and people thrusting their absolute right to judge with aggressive opinions on what others have lived and experienced — and I’m just super fucking over it.

As I wrote in my post on protecting ourselves from social media trolls, I employ those same protections — yet those steadfast on spreading toxicity still slip through. As an advocate, vocal survivor and compassionate supporter of other survivors, I realize that puts a target on me because I’m willing to ruffle feathers. I’m here to have those difficult conversations.

Yet, it can be exhausting.

Twitter: I took a few days off Twitter this week. A few days off Facebook the week before. Why? Well, with regard to my tweets about what happens to survivors (regarding the brain and neuroscience), people decided to throw back as me enabling Harvey Weinstein (as if) and the latest situation with Asia Argento (I’ve made no comment on that). So to use my tweets as somehow part of those conversations made no sense.

Projection. People making assumptions about me without looking at my bio, what my tweets were in reference to, etc. One person became upset with how someone else used my tweet. I mean. This is not my problem.

Facebook: I shared a quote with the word ‘motherfucker’ in it, and someone decided I’m supporting rape culture because of that, and she decided to call me out on her page as a rape apologist. The quote itself is empowering.

I make the choice whether to engage. In some instances, I did respond with compassion and empathy and had good conversations with a few people about the long-term effects of sexual abuse on the brain — something more people need to learn and understand.

People are hurt and angry. Many are survivors themselves. I’m feeling the feels, too. I’ve lived with this rollercoaster for four decades. It’s a long, hard road to healing.

I’m a huge believer in The Four Agreements and this one: don’t take anything personally is more important than ever right now. People say what they say based on their own point of view and belief system.

The Reasons Social Media Breaks Help Our Mental Health by @RachelintheOC #SocialMedia #Social #MentalHealth

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

My point: this harsh criticism directed at me or ANY survivor and/or advocate is so entirely lacking in compassion, I’m having a hard time getting my head — and heart — around it. Yet, it’s NOT really directed at me. People are projecting their reality onto us. Being vulnerable in this situation is simply not a choice. And usually, I’m Teflon. Lately, I’m not.

So, I made the decision to check out of social media for a few days for self-care.

Is Social Media Necessary? 

We make our own experiences on social media. I’ve always believed that and still do. It’s helpful for building communities (e.g., the #SexAbuseChat I founded back in 2013 has become a wonderful, supportive community for survivors and I look so forward to these conversations each week – Tuesdays, 6pm pst/9pm est). Chats are such a terrific way to meet others with common interests and learn from one another.

But…is it necessary? Naw. We can all live our lives just fine without it. As writers and business owners, it is extremely important for branding, networking, and connection. It’s super helpful for connecting with readers. Is it the only way? Naw. There are lots of ways writers can still connect in other non-social media ways: advertising, conferences, newsletters, book clubs, writing articles, podcasts, etc.

For visibility sake, I strongly recommend it. For your mental health sake? If it’s too much, take a break or hire someone to handle it all for you. An aside: I have one client who simply cannot focus on writing if she checks into social media, so she only handles Instagram (because she’s a photographer and she loves the photog community there). She has never once logged into her Twitter, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, or Pinterest, and says she never will (and she’s got many, many bestsellers). She simply finds it too overwhelming and stressful.

Social Media/Mental Health Decisions

Here’s what we need to ask ourselves:

  • What is your goal in having social media accounts?
  • If you go without social media, do you feel better or worse? 
  • Is being on social media hurting you? If so, how?
  • Is social media making you anxious and depressed or in some way, affecting your mental health?
  • Is social media stopping you from writing your book?

I asked myself all these questions and decided to take a break from my personal accounts. Even a day or two made a difference. I didn’t announce it. I just did it. And the world didn’t end. In fact, I felt like a weight had been lifted.

I can’t afford to shut it all off entirely since clients pay me good money to create and manage their content and channels for them. Besides author branding and book marketing (and writing my own books), social media IS my business. I can’t afford to not be on it. I can afford to give my brain and mental health a break from the personal attacks, though.

Making Positive Mental Health Changes 

Many people become addicted to social media; the studies are well-known. If you fall into this category, I suggest consciously weaning yourself, and slowly adding back in real-life interactions (interestingly, suggesting this on Twitter created personal attacks). Make your mental health a priority over social media. Crazy suggestion, I know.

Imagine that — suggesting something so crazy 🤪as talking to people face-to-face. What am I thinking! (And I get the whole introvert thing. I’m an introvert. That’s completely different than a recluse who never leaves their home.)

Embrace your creativity. What can you be doing besides chatting on Facebook or arguing with people on social media? Get creative! Write, paint, draw, think, whatever. Just do something. Change that negative energy into positive energy.

My own strategy: unfollowing and whittling down my own followers on my personal accounts, as well as blocking and muting a ton of people, as is my right. These changes feel good. Taking action feels good.

Social media is what we make it, and I am owning it, as opposed to it owning me.

 

Do you need help right now? Contact RAINN.org (all genders) or 1in6.org (for men).
Read more about my situation in my award-winning book, Broken Pieces.
I go into more detail about living with PTSD and realizing the effects of how being a survivor affected my life in Broken Places, available now on Amazon.

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Sexual Abuse Is Not A Competition http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/07/sexual-abuse-is-not-a-competition/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/07/sexual-abuse-is-not-a-competition/#comments Wed, 11 Jul 2018 05:00:55 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=1953 **This post was originally written in 2013 and updated in July, 2018 Someone asked recently if, in addition to writing about women’s issues, I also write about men’s sexual abuse. I don’t (though I’ve had male guests here on the blog to share their stories). I’m a nonfiction writer of essays, poetry, and prose based […]

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Sexual Abuse Is Not A Competition via @RachelintheOC #SexualAbuse

**This post was originally written in 2013 and updated in July, 2018

Someone asked recently if, in addition to writing about women’s issues, I also write about men’s sexual abuse.

I don’t (though I’ve had male guests here on the blog to share their stories). I’m a nonfiction writer of essays, poetry, and prose based on my experiences (and business articles on author marketing and social media at BadRedheadMedia.com). As I’m a woman, I have no personal experience with being a male sexual abuse survivor. I can empathize as a survivor, certainly, yet not as a male.

This seems fairly obvious, but I guess it’s not. And he had an agenda — to publicize his cause: to give men the same type of press women ‘get.’ To minimize what these women (and others) experience, to make it ‘fair.’

Nothing about sexual abuse if fair, ever. Why blame survivors for surviving? Yet this happens all the time.

I completely support the fact that all victims of sexual abuse need to be heard. This is why I started #SexAbuseChat back in 2013, and SpeakOurStories in 2015. I understand where his anger comes from. Another part of me is though, frankly, kinda pissed off.

Let’s deconstruct.

Sexual Abuse

Abuse of any kind is horrific, particularly when sexual, it involves children, and especially if it’s over a long period of time. In this particular case, I was referring to the Castro kidnappings, rape, and abuse. Hearing about what those girls in Ohio (released in 2013) survived just reinforces what an issue sexual abuse of women is. I was dismayed when someone on Facebook wrote: how could they not have escaped over the course of ten years? There were so many issues in gaining freedom, fear and terror for each other and the child chief among them, as well as further punishment by their captor if caught. To suggest they didn’t try hard enough makes me so angry (not that this person intended that). It’s simply my reaction.

**These stories we read daily, particularly since the #MeToo Movement began last October crush my heart, yet I’m encouraged that people are bravely coming forward. Our brains can protect us for decades — this collective consciousness is moving us forward toward healing.

If you question why people wait, educate yourself. Neuroscience explains so much about the brain and trauma.

Why? In my own situation, I was a child (age 11 to 12) who lived next door to my own personal hell. The man who threatened to kill my family if I told. Who said he’d shoot us all in our sleep. Why would I NOT believe him? As a military officer, he carried a gun.

Assumptions are a terrible thing. To assume these women didn’t try to escape over that long period of a time is to assume they were happy to be there or didn’t try hard enough to get away — obviously, we know that’s not the case.

I can understand that feeling of utter helplessness, confusion, and terror — something most people thankfully will never experience. Sadly, many will — and have. The latest statistics show that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted over their lifetime. 80% under the age of 18 (source: RAINN).

Men

Men certainly have their own issues to deal with regarding sexual abuse (societal pressures, etc), and just because it doesn’t happen as often (or maybe it does but isn’t reported or make the news as much) doesn’t make it any less horrific for the victims. 1 in 33 (again, RAINN) men will be abused. My heart bleeds for anyone who has suffered, and many men have reached out to me after reading my books, tweets, articles, and posts with their own terrible stories.

I write about my experiences and how they have affected me. I had no knowledge (back in the 70s) of anyone close to me experiencing this — male or female — so the whole situation was particularly isolating. It’s only through research and years of therapy that I’ve learned so much more about it.

To write about how men feel would be disingenuous of me and would appropriate their experiences, which would be incredibly disrespectful of me — which is why I’ve given amazing men like Paul Gilmartin, Casey Ryan, and Garry Rodgers my platform to share their experiences.

Men do need advocates for their stories — no question. Someone who regularly treats these cases, who has been through it themselves, or who has knowledge from a therapeutic standpoint — something I’m not qualified to do.

I wasn’t upset with this fella — he’s simply trying to advance his cause. Men feel marginalized. They suffer just as terribly as women. Sadly, the fact that women are more often victims creates this situation. And doubly sad is that our system of justice is ill-prepared to deal with these crimes and society judges men for not being able to ‘man up’ is ridiculous and dumb — yet is the reality for guys.

Competition

Let’s be allies for and with one another. Is this possible?

My only issue is with his approach — and he’s just one example. I shared an article the other day about what a woman experienced and finally, after decades of suffering, finally bravely came forward. One guy’s response: Men suffer, too, you know. It’s not just women. 

Total dismissal and minimization. No empathy, no acknowledgment, no compassion. I didn’t respond because I was so angry. Aren’t we better than this?

It’s not a competition. Our abuse isn’t worse than their abuse. It’s not us versus them. It’s all bad. I understand and accept also that my experiences color my reactions. I share my truth, not anyone else’s. It’s all part of dealing with our own personal traumas.

Just because some people write about difficult topics doesn’t mean they are purposefully ignoring other populations. One voice is what this collective ‘we’ contributes.

Hopefully, many voices together will create a change.

 

Do you need help right now? Contact RAINN.org (all genders) or 1in6.org (for men).

 

Read more about my situation in my award-winning book, Broken Pieces.
I go into more detail about living with PTSD and realizing the effects of how being a survivor affected my life in Broken Places, available now on Amazon.

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This is How I Found My Voice and Myself in War and Peace by guest @andrewdkaufman http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/07/this-is-how-i-found-my-voice-and-myself-in-war-and-peace-by-guest-andrewdkaufman/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/07/this-is-how-i-found-my-voice-and-myself-in-war-and-peace-by-guest-andrewdkaufman/#respond Sun, 01 Jul 2018 23:31:04 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=7993 At a book talk I gave a few years ago, a teenage boy in the audience, intrigued by the stories I’d been telling about young characters’ tortuous journeys in War and Peace, asked me a question during the Q&A. “Did Tolstoy, like, really experience all that?” The ingenuous question got me thinking, not only about […]

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This is How I Found My Voice and Myself in War and Peace by guest @andrewdkaufman via @RachelintheOCAt a book talk I gave a few years ago, a teenage boy in the audience, intrigued by the stories I’d been telling about young characters’ tortuous journeys in War and Peace, asked me a question during the Q&A. “Did Tolstoy, like, really experience all that?” The ingenuous question got me thinking, not only about Tolstoy’s writing but my own. And it inspired me to share something I hadn’t quite articulated before in public.

Writing a Book on War and Peace 

The hardest part of writing a book about War and Peace, I told him, wasn’t all those years spent researching the topic, or mastering something writers fancily refer to as “craft.” No, the most difficult part was making sure I was telling the truth—about Tolstoy, and about myself. How could I share Tolstoy’s wisdom about happiness if I didn’t know my own views on the subject? How could I talk about what love and death and courage mean to Tolstoy without knowing what those things meant to me? That would be like trying to describe to others a magnificent landscape I’d observed while looking through a dirty window or sharing the beauty of a concert I’d listened to with ear muffs on.

No, this would not do: To hear Tolstoy’s voice I first had to hear my own.

Easier said than done. The process has taken me decades. You see, I grew up in a house filled less with the aroma of, say, apple pie baking in the oven, than the sharp rot of first editions in our countless bookshelves competing with the sweeter scent of the latest new novels and biographies. From a relatively young age, I learned how to talk about experiences, without actually, well, experiencing them. The many paintings and sculptures I was not to touch sometimes gave me the impression that I was a visitor in a precious art gallery—always at a safe and admiring distance from Beauty and Truth, but never close enough to fully engage or create them.

Finding Myself First 

As an aspiring seven-year-old actor I was often so scared to perform in front of people that I’d hide under a table or behind a wall and recite my lines while squinting and covering my ears for fear someone might catch me making mistakes. As I look back on my decision to pursue a doctorate in Russian literature, I think I chose that path in part because it was a more socially acceptable way to satisfy my deepest creative urges. I could analyze and admire all those writers from a safe distance, without ever taking the risk of actually trying to be one myself.

I’ve always found it puzzling that, as someone who’s dedicated his life to the study of literature, I still tend to read more nonfiction than fiction: Analysis of the real world has always felt safer than losing myself in a fictional one. A graduate school professor gently admonished me once in his thick Russian accent: “You know Andy, as scholars, we must throw our emotions out the window.” That was easy advice for me to follow.

My writing in those days was cautious and distant. My doctoral dissertation sounded rather like an out of tune trombone with a dirty sock stuffed in the barrel. There was something, I sensed at the time, bubbling beneath the surface of all that abstraction and studied precision, but I didn’t quite know what. My voice was buried. My life was buried. I was a mess, professionally and personally.

So I bolted—from academia, from my family, from the intellectual life, from Russian literature, from anybody or anything I believed to be the source of inability to be me—and pursued what I saw then as a promising career as an actor. I moved to Hollywood, grew my hair long, put on forty pounds, estranged myself for a time from my family and friends, and didn’t read a word of Russian literature for about two years.This is How I Found My Voice and Myself in War and Peace by guest @andrewdkaufman via @RachelintheOC

I did read books with the word “passion” in the title, like A Dream of Passion or How to Find Your Passion. Passion, you see, was where it was at for me in those days. I exuded it everywhere: on the stage, in the grocery store, on the streets of Las Vegas, where as part of my self-imposed creative boot camp I tasked myself with the challenge of dancing and singing and reciting Russian poetry atop garbage cans on the Vegas strip on Saturday evenings.

I wasn’t the first lost soul who’d come to Tinseltown, or Las Vegas, searching for something missing in his life, and I wouldn’t be the last. But I may have been one of the very few with a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures. That, at any rate, was the one (and often the only) thing about me that stuck in peoples’ minds after my over-the-top, yet unmemorable auditions.

As I sauntered along Hollywood Boulevard, I conjured up images of Hemingway or Fitzgerald strolling along the Champs-Élysées in Paris in the 1920’s. In those few moments when I got around to actually putting fingers to the keyboard, my writing was brilliant—or so it seemed to me in that exhilarating, self-enclosed world I’d created for myself. In reality, my prose rang roughly as false in that heady period as it had before my grand Hollywood escapade. If my dissertation was emotionally muffled, my Hollywood writing was loud and monotone, overly eager to be something it was not.

Finding My Voice 

I eventually returned to academia, initially with my tail between my legs, thinking I’d failed at my attempt at a creative life, and later with a steadier gait, as the quieter rhythms of ordinary everyday life in Virginia soothed my bruised spirit. I also returned to and radically rewrote my dissertation, eventually turning it into a book, which still had vestiges of the obedient graduate student writer I once was. But it wasn’t all bad. Something like my own voice was beginning to emerge.

“If you want to work on your art,” Chekhov used to tell beginning writers, “work on your life.”

This is How I Found My Voice and Myself in War and Peace by guest @andrewdkaufman via @RachelintheOC

And that’s what I did. It wasn’t an easy process. I had to dig deep in the dirt, sift well through the dross of my failures, false steps, and illusions in order to discover even the smallest nuggets of truth I could call my own. I got married, had a child, and my family went through a financial crisis—a series of events that catapulted me into one of the more creative periods of my life up to that point. And I wrote another book—about Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I argued is the classic for our time. It’s about people searching for meaning and stability in a world being turned upside down by the forces of war, social change, and spiritual confusion. Of course, it’s a book about my own inner journey as well.

And here’s the interesting thing: Those starts and stops, radical shifts in direction, that toggling between fearfulness and furious passion—all of it was essential to the creation of that book. The very tone of the book, I can now hear, shifts between youthful exuberance when I describe Natasha’s wild dancing or bumbling, bespectacled Pierre’s innocent openness to the world, to a more sober tone later in the book when I write about family and death, and perseverance. Most of the characters I focus on are in their teens and twenties when the book opens, and a decade and a half older at the end. It’s telling that one of the first chapters I wrote was called “Imagination,” and the final chapter is called “Truth.”

None of this is to suggest that I’ve finally discovered my voice completely. One’s voice is continually evolving. Four years later, with a second and well into my next book—this one about Dostoevsky—I can say I’ve reached a point where the artist and the intellectual have finally called a truce, and are working together. The cautious, reserved Stanford grad student and the Hollywood kid desperate to be heard have found a middle ground, where passion and prudence can peacefully coexist. My prose has become more fully integrated than ever before, and it finally feels like it was written by someone I truly recognize.

This is How I Found My Voice and Myself in War and Peace by guest @andrewdkaufman via @RachelintheOC *****

Andrew D. Kaufman, scholar and educational entrepreneur at the University of Virginia, is the author of Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times and founder of the Books Behind Bars program. See Andrew’s TEDx Talk here.

Connect with Andrew on Twitter, Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, or his website.

For Rachel’s poetry and memoirs, go to Amazon.

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Here’s How to Protect Yourself Against Social Media Trolls Now http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/06/heres-how-protect-yourself-against-social-media-trolls/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/06/heres-how-protect-yourself-against-social-media-trolls/#comments Tue, 12 Jun 2018 02:07:02 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=7959 I’m not sure how you’re feeling about social media right now, but it’s hard out here for many of us. I’ve never seen a nation so divided or divisive, and I observe this daily on Twitter and Facebook (more than other channels), particularly as a sexual abuse survivor with a large author and advocacy platform. […]

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Here's How to Protect Yourself Against Social Media Trolls Now by @RachelintheOC

I’m not sure how you’re feeling about social media right now, but it’s hard out here for many of us. I’ve never seen a nation so divided or divisive, and I observe this daily on Twitter and Facebook (more than other channels), particularly as a sexual abuse survivor with a large author and advocacy platform.

I fully realize, and accept, that by being vocal about my stories, experiences, and beliefs on public channels, and sharing content on controversial topics (gasp: violence against women, sexual assault, rape, and the F-word: feminism) puts a huge target on me and I take the good with the bad (more on that in a moment). Oftentimes, it’s men in particular who have Something To Say about what I’m supposed to say or should do or present myself a certain way. It’s pretty comical.

Until it becomes threatening and scary AF.

I follow who I want to follow, I unfollow, mute or block who I don’t want to interact with. Sometimes, though, that’s not enough. I’m often attacked by others who don’t approve of the way I’m sharing my stories, or even by others who want me to do things for them and when I decline, I’m somehow the bad guy. I also see so many survivors are consistently harassed, stalked, doxxed, and even threatened — it’s become seriously disgusting.

We must protect ourselves.

Social Media Trolls 

Twitter and Facebook agree (finally), and have given us ways to cut down on interaction with these trolls. Because my business (as BadRedhead Media) is doing social media, I realized I’m maybe a bit more aware than others on how to maximize these options so I want to share some of these tips with you today.

Why? I still believe in the many wonderful benefits of social media: forming community, finding support, learning, connecting, building bridges, camaraderie, a laugh when we need it, the brilliant commentary, and the many forces for good.

Social media is what you make it, so mold it to be the experience you need it to be, and disregard the rest.

Here’s how.

Twitter Trolls

Change Your Settings on Twitter 

Most people don’t know how to or don’t bother doing this, yet Twitter has made it soooooo easy and you have many options as well. 

First, look at your toolbar, click on the Notifications tab and you’ll see a Settings tab. Looks like this:

Here's How to Protect Yourself Against Social Media Trolls Now by @RachelintheOC

Click on the Settings hyperlink, and you go to this screen. You can see how I have set my Notifications right now on my @RachelintheOC Twitter account:

Here's How to Protect Yourself Against Social Media Trolls Now by @RachelintheOC

Another option here is the Advanced QUALITY FILTER, which allows you to mute specific words or phrases from showing up in your notifications. For example, if you’ve just had it with Trump, you can add that as a word that will always be muted, regardless of the tweet, and you will not see it (whether it’s from followers, news articles, quotes, trolls, whatever).

Here's How to Protect Yourself Against Social Media Trolls Now by @RachelintheOC

Reminder: all of these settings are changeable, so if you’re having a bad day, do what you need to do and then change it back the next day. If you want to make it a permanent thing, that’s also your choice. These are options for people you DON’T follow.

Note: You do not have to give Twitter your phone number. You don’t have to give any social media channel your phone number unless you want to sign up for two-step log-in verification (something I highly recommend — and even then you can use email instead of text if you prefer). This is to prevent hacking of your account. Again, totally your choice. 

Why is this an option then? Bots, spammers, and trolls who create numerous accounts to troll from don’t have numerous phone numbers — Twitter knows this. It’s simple to create a new email and Twitter account in a few minutes — it’s altogether different to get a new phone number to go with each of these accounts. So this option isn’t about you giving your phone number — it’s about protecting you from interacting with bots, spammers, and trolls you don’t follow. 

Some people argue that removing words or notifications is akin to putting ourselves in a bubble or echo box, where we only interact with people who agree with us; others say we are censoring others. I say: bullshit. You create and curate your own Twitter experience, and if you feel bothered or upset by what people are sending you, then it’s within your power to cut them off.

You are not obliged to interact with haters or trolls. You are not censoring them, as they will argue (which always tickles me). They are still free to spread their hate and vitriol — you simply do not need to be their final destination.

And on that note, Twitter has made a change to their algorithm: it will use behavioral signals – how users react to a tweet – to assess if an account is adding to or detracting from conversations. If it feels it’s exhibiting troll-like or bot behavior, the tweet will be removed or shoved down to the ‘show more replies’ graveyard. I think this is a great and needed change — what do you think?

Facebook Trolls 

Oh, Facebook. What a disaster you have become. If you’re still there (I am. I love my Street Team — click to join! — and survivor group), you have your reasons. Pages are different and important if you’re an author or small business for the sole reason that you cannot advertise your books or services on your personal wall (if you are, stop it. You’re violating the TOS – terms of service) and they have every right to shut you down.

I find it’s almost impossible to post practically anything without someone making a political comment on it — in fact, I posted an article the other day about the legal difference between the terms sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual abuse, and some guy posted on my wall about why he changed political parties and “deep state” political conspiracies. I was like, dude, seriously? Sigh. (For what it’s worth, I kindly asked him to delete his comment. When he refused, I kindly deleted it for him and blocked him as well.)

I do think it’s possible for us all to disagree about politics and still like and respect each other, and have conversations about it if that’s what the designated topic is. Here, it was not. Anyway, I digress.

Managing Your Newsfeed 

Did you know you can do that now? Before, you had to put people on lists and it took hours and hours. Days, even. And then you had to keep it all updated as you friended or unfriended folks. So most people didn’t bother. Now you don’t need to. Here’s how:

Click on your toolbar (top right by your face), where the little upside-down arrow is:

Here's How to Protect Yourself Against Social Media Trolls Now by @RachelintheOC

Once you click on that, a drop-down list appears. Click on News Preferences:

Here's How to Protect Yourself Against Social Media Trolls Now by @RachelintheOC

 

Now, you just click on this handy box with the weird crab (I don’t get it but whatever). My kids don’t get it either. Can someone explain the crab to me? It’s just weird.

Here's How to Protect Yourself Against Social Media Trolls Now by @RachelintheOC

Click on each tab and do your thing. What’s important here is the light blue tab: you can UNFOLLOW people and they don’t know. You don’t see their vitriolic, ranting, or weird, crab-filled posts anymore and they have no idea.

Personally, I have zero issue with blocking folks and find a kind of sinister glee in it, yet I know some of you feel bad about that because you have hearts and stuff. Again, do what makes you feel good.

A Bit of Advice

If I choose to engage with someone who comes at me — because what’s the point of having this platform if I don’t use it, right? — I have The One-Reply Rule: I reply once (if at all). If that person comes back at me with ad-hominem attacks, circular logic, straw-man arguments, or are just plain ridiculous, etc., they’re gone. If, however, we can engage in some kind of discussion that is educational, beneficial, and all that, cool.

Listen, I get that people have feelings and need to feel their feels. Most people in this world just want to be heard.

None of us needs to be the target of someone else’s hate, though. Do not feel obliged to engage with anyone on social media, ever.

Final Thoughts 

When all else fails and it becomes too much, turn off social media. Walk away. Turn off all your notifications. Your mental health is far more important than social media.

If it helps, here’s what I do with regard to social media (and remember, this is my business, too):

  • No phone notifications, ever.
  • No desktop notifications, ever.
  • I keep Twitter and FB open when I’m working on social media scheduling or interacting with people, otherwise, they’re closed
  • I always have Hootsuite open because I’m always scheduling or looking for great content to schedule
  • I definitely recommend using a SMM (social media management) tool as well as the coordinating browser extension (in this case, the Hootlet)
  • I never have social media open when I’m writing (blog posts or my books)
  • If I’m working on client deliverables, social media is off.

Some people enjoy the arguments, some people take things personally, and the overall experience can go sideways quickly. Practice compassion with others and importantly, with yourself. If silence is the best answer for your self-care, do that for you.

I hope this post helps you figure out ways to find your peace.

 

For Rachel’s poetry and memoirs, go to Amazon.

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5 Things to Know Before Connecting with a Child Abuse Survivor by guest @VennieKocsis http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/05/5-things-to-know-before-connecting-with-a-child-abuse-survivor-by-guest-venniekocsis/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/05/5-things-to-know-before-connecting-with-a-child-abuse-survivor-by-guest-venniekocsis/#comments Sun, 13 May 2018 19:42:28 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=7921 Honored to have my friend, fellow author, and child abuse survivor Vennie Kocsis with me here today. Vennie is wise beyond her years and one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. Please read her wise words and comment below.  What are the five things to know before connecting with a child abuse survivor? […]

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Honored to have my friend, fellow author, and child abuse survivor Vennie Kocsis with me here today. Vennie is wise beyond her years and one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. Please read her wise words and comment below. 

What are the five things to know before connecting with a child abuse survivor? Let me break it down for you:

5 Things to Know Before Connecting with a Child Abuse Survivor by guest @VennieKocsis via @RachelintheOC

1. We want you in our life.

Trauma survivors want friends, loved ones, and partners. We want a social life which fits into our own comfort zone. We may not be able to adapt to your social preferences in the same way you are able to adapt to ours. This can be for many reasons. For instance, something you enjoy may cause us anxiety. This is where you will need to be willing to accompany us while at the same time accepting we cannot always accompany you.

We want the same things in our lives that most people do: happiness, peace, and security. We just sometimes require them under different circumstances, and we need you to both understand and accept this.

As a trauma survivor heals, we also gain a maturity and an understanding that not everyone is equipped to be in our lives. We respect you when you are honest about this. If you don’t feel a trauma survivor is the right fit to be in your life, that is okay. You do us a favor when you do not enter our lives if you are not invested emotionally.

If you do decide that you want to enter our life, be willing to take things very slow. We need your patience. The more we heal, the more we grow, release triggers and can bloom. Connecting with a healing trauma survivor can be a rewarding and celebratory experience. We really do appreciate when someone cares about us with the intent of supporting our way forward.

2. We need to know we can trust you.

Survivors of child abuse are conditioned from very young ages that we cannot trust people who claim to love us. This is because the people we were supposed to be able to trust were the same people who hurt us. Sometimes a child abuse survivor is still learning to define what the meaning of love is.  Many of us who have suffered sexual abuse were groomed lovingly into being coercively raped. This can cause confusion when an abuser is also loving toward a child, resulting in confusion when we reach adulthood.

It will take more time and open communication to gain our trust.

For trauma survivors, things can sometimes be very black and white. When trust is broken with us, it can either take us a long time to regain it, or we do not ever regain it with you again. I am one of those types of people. If someone shows me their true colors are rooted in manipulation, ill intent or disloyalty, I will most likely never interact with that individual again.

You may find that many of us have a deep need for loyalty and strong ethics in the people we relate to. When we are in a trusting space with someone, we feel safe. Because we rarely felt safe as children, feeling safe as adults can be a major factor in the balance of our mental health. Be trustworthy and loyal. It can be an honor to be in our lives since many of us rarely allow others in deeply.

3. Know our trauma.

Get to know what happened to your friend or significant other. Be genuinely interested. You may not understand our childhood experiences. It may feel horrible to you. It is natural to feel disgust at hearing about abuses happening to children. This makes you human. It means you care. We appreciate you for feeling WITH us. When we are healed, many of us survivors do not live a daily private life of continually speaking of our trauma. However, understanding the depth of what has happened to us and how it has affected us will help you understand who we are.

Some of the things you might hear may be difficult to wrap your head around. Imagine having experienced it. We survivors often feel the same way about our own experiences.

Be willing to listen with acceptance. Remember that you do not need to have the same experiences as someone else to understand and accept their experiences.

If we write about our trauma, be willing to read it. Once, I dated a man who asked me about my childhood. I suggested that he read my book, Cult Child, which would let him know everything that happened in my childhood. I spent seven years writing my biography. While I can give a summary of my experiences, if someone is going to be in my life on a romantic level, they should be willing to know the details of what I endured. His retort was that he shouldn’t have to read a “manifesto” of my life. He didn’t get any more of my time. Do not speak to us this way. It’s an honor to read our journals and experiences since it is not easy for us to write about it.

Healed trauma survivors can be very strong together as friends, business partners and in romantic relationships. Because both have experienced traumas, they will most likely have a higher level of mindfulness and understanding with one another. This can be a strong dynamic. If you are healing, strive to connect with other healing survivors. Healed survivors most often inspire one another.

4. Educate yourself about our impairments. 

Many child abuse survivors carry impairments such as Complex PTSD, Anxiety, Agoraphobia, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Hypersensitivity, Startle Response, OCD, Depression or other bi-products of what mentally ill people did to us. Because an abuse survivor’s scars are not visible, many people forget their friend or significant other carries such impairments. This can be difficult for us. We want and need you to remember that we have impairments.

For example, I am deaf in my right ear. Because of this, I can have higher vocal volumes, especially in loud spaces, or I need others to speak up, so I can hear.  Once, when I was watching a movie with a friend, she remembered my hearing impairment and put on subtitles, without me even asking. It warmed my heart. These small moments of mindfulness mean the world to me.

If you are interested in personally connecting with a child abuse survivor, educate yourself on what our impairments are about.  Read credible information. Learn what the signals are for triggers and how you can be a support person if a trigger happens. The brain is an amazing organ. Learning how trauma affects the brain of a developing child is astronomic in understanding why child abuse survivors operate the way we do.

When you can speak our language, it is easier for us to communicate with you. This creates an ease for us. We do not have to struggle in communicating what we may be going through, because we are aware that you get it. For example, a couple signs of a trigger could be the pupils of the eyes becoming larger and a frozen body stance. Knowing these symptoms can help you recognize them if they arise. Sometimes a trauma survivor feels shame and stays quiet about what is happening in our head. When you recognize the signs of our triggers, and softly rein us in, it creates an open channel for us to move through it.

As we heal, you will notice that changes occur. Things which once triggered us may not trigger us anymore.  We may have highs and lows of anxiety or depressive periods depending on what happens in our lives. We don’t deal with situations or see the world the same way as non-trauma adults do. Knowing how our impairments work can give you the tools to support us through this journey.  Plus, nerding out on the way the human brain functions can be super fun.

5. Don’t take our abuse personally or try and fix it.

You may want to fix everything. You may become frustrated that you cannot fix some things.  You will meet child abuse victims who are still in their abuse base. You get to choose what your own comfort level is. Don’t make a victim your pet project. Victims must choose their healing as they learn the tools to do so. You will find yourself exhausted if you fall into the belief that you can fix a person who has not chosen to heal themselves. It is okay to softly move on before you become vested. It is better for all parties involved when you decide responsibly to do so.

It can be difficult to watch someone you love have days of crying or silence; a state of being that you may not understand, or even think might be your fault. Remember that not everything is about you. Sometimes we just need to be heard or hugged. Sometimes we need to cry. Let us. This is where holding space is a necessity. A healing survivor will possibly ask for your input for self-care.  We may be more open with what we are feeling and dealing with in our head when you hold space for us.

There is a saying; Let the past go. I disagree. If trauma survivors could wave a wand and make the past go away, oh, how we would. No. The past holds onto us, and we spend our lives prying its fingers away.

As we heal and face our trauma, we learn the art of taking dominion over our memories. We learn that we do not have to relive the flashbacks when they arrive. It takes time to accomplish this state of being.

Connecting with a trauma survivor requires a great amount of empathy and patience. If you don’t understand us, study and read up on what we live with each day. I personally respect when someone is honest with me about whether they are or are not a good fit in my life.

Be kind. Be gentle. Most of all, be real.

 

Vennie Kocsis is the best-selling author of Cult Child and other publications. She is also a poet and advocate of healing 5 Things to Know Before Connecting with a Child Abuse Survivor by guest @VennieKocsisthrough creativity. Vennie is also the hostess of Survivor Voices, a podcast featuring stories from child abuse survivors.

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Could You Be Clinically Depressed And Not Know? I Was http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/04/could-you-be-clinically-depressed-and-not-know-i-was/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/04/could-you-be-clinically-depressed-and-not-know-i-was/#comments Mon, 23 Apr 2018 03:48:02 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=7904 For a good nine years, I worked a sales job I hated. Every day, I’d wake up and spend hours getting ready, applying meticulous makeup, choosing just the right outfit, making sure my notes and records and routes were in order. And then, I’d go back to bed. I’d lay there, fighting with myself. ‘Get up, […]

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Could You Be Clinically Depressed And Not Know? I Was by @RachelintheOC

For a good nine years, I worked a sales job I hated. Every day, I’d wake up and spend hours getting ready, applying meticulous makeup, choosing just the right outfit, making sure my notes and records and routes were in order.

And then, I’d go back to bed.

I’d lay there, fighting with myself. ‘Get up, you lazy bitch! What’s wrong with you?’ berating myself for every slight imaginable. It was a well-paying job, one people yearn for, build up to after years of crap sales jobs, one that required not only a college degree but also a minimum of five to seven years successful sales experience.

And here I not only had the supposed golden job, I excelled at it, won awards for ‘The Best’ this and ‘The Top’ that, where the European and New York heads chose me to work with when they visited my state. And of course, I charmed them. My bosses were thrilled. I’d even managed a few sweet Ritz-Carlton dinners out of those visits.

Eventually, I roused myself out of my safe, cozy nest of blankets and sheets, wiped away the tears and black streaks down my face (pro tip: use waterproof mascara), fixed my bedhead hair and walked out the door.


Depression Sneaks Up On You

I called on physicians and one bright, sunny day I dragged my dark gloomy shell in to see one of them,

a compassionate family practitioner who told me I didn’t seem myself. Most of these doctors enjoy seeing sales reps as much as they enjoy dealing with insurance companies, but once in a while, you meet a jewel.

She took me into a patient room and asked me what was up. I don’t know if the fact that she treated me like a human and not ‘another rep,’ did me in, or that I was simply just tired of the effort of the wearing the sale rep mask, but I became a sobbing mess (typical of many untreated depressives, by the way).

“Girl, you are depressed. I treat working moms every day. I’m not going to treat you because I’m not your doc and it wouldn’t be ethical, but you need to get your ass into your own primary care for meds if needed (it’s needed) and start therapy ASAP.”

“As a society, our focus is so much on the physical ailments people live with daily that even when someone is diagnosed with a mental disorder, we still look for physical manifestations.”

— Rachel Thompson

The realization hit me. I’m depressed. DUH. Though my college degree was a BA in Communication Studies and my minor in Journalism Studies, I somehow ended up in Big Pharma (sales fit in there, I guess). There was a lot of biology, pharmacology, and the like to learn, and though my company sold SSRIs, I personally did not sell them (though all reps did learn about them in case a physician asked).

How could I not have seen it? The symptoms I experienced were classic:

  • Not wanting to be around other people
  • Neglecting everyday tasks or struggling to do them
  • Loss of interest in activities I once enjoyed or struggling to do them
  • Intense sadness/crying that just won’t fade
  • Unresolved anger

Still, I Kept Going As If Nothing Were Wrong…Until It Was SO Wrong

I spoke with my husband (at the time) who owned his own business, discussing different job options for me – I wanted to do something different where I could spend more time with our small daughter, utilize my writing and marketing skills (which I loved), and still bring in money.

His response: well, you’ll have to just suck it up. You’re the one with the time in and regular benefits. You have the security. You may hate it but, oh well.

He’s no longer my husband.

After a time, where I spent more days in bed than working, even he couldn’t deny I needed help and despite his reservations (he believed SSRIs would make me a zombie), encouraged me to go to a shrink. Thankfully, I ended up with a good one, who immediately started me on a regimen of therapy and meds.

The gray lifted within a week and continued to lift as the weeks went on. Therapy helped immensely as well (more on that below).

I still hated my job – I clearly was a creative square in a round corporate hole – but I could at least get out of bed, go to work, and joke around with my doctors. Maybe it wasn’t so important to be the best all the time. I didn’t cry constantly and operate in a constant state of anxiety at the thought of being away from my daughter, though I still didn’t enjoy it (who does?).

I began to make an exit strategy.


When You’re Depressed, You Feel Stuck. It’s An Illusion

Could You Be Clinically Depressed And Not Know? I Was by @RachelintheOC Dr. G (my shrink) asked me some basic questions and I answered honestly.

This wasn’t the time to cover anything up. One of the most glaring examples for me: when we took my daughter to Disneyland (we lived twenty minutes away and had season passes), I would shrink from the noise and end up crying on a bench while she and my husband laughed and enjoyed themselves.

Why was I crying at the Happiest Place on Earth? Who does that?

Eventually, I spilled my entire story: that the next-door neighbor dad had sexually abused me at age eleven; that I’d testified in two trials (civil and military) against him; that while he’d spent less than two years in jail (yea, only two years), I’d had to grow up still living next door to him and his family when he returned for another eight years.

To him, the diagnosis was obvious: I lived with anxiety, depression, and PTSD until my mid-thirties with all of these mental disorders until it came crashing down. I didn’t know. I had no idea. Nobody around me knew, either.

It’s kind of astounding that I worked in the healthcare industry and had no knowledge what I experienced as a child could affect me. As a society, our focus is so much on the physical ailments people live with daily that even when someone is diagnosed with a mental disorder, we still look for physical manifestations.

That was even true in my case: it wasn’t until I couldn’t physically get out of bed that I noticed something was wrong. Also, why did I hate this job so much? It was a good job, with great benefits. Why was I so angry about it?

Misplaced anger. There were problems in the marriage – I felt stuck, and my partner was clearly unsupportive to my needs. To be fair, he hadn’t disclosed to me that his business was failing and would soon crumble completely, leaving us in financial ruin.

Eventually, I quit that job and never looked back. I had another child, moved away, started my writing career (six books out now — three award-winning!), founded BadRedhead Media, my social media/marketing business, and divorced the husband.

I also learned that large crowds and unsupportive partners are not good for my mental health, so I avoid both.


Lessons Learned

The combination of the right medicines and talk therapy helped me immensely, and it’s still something I actively utilize today. Journaling has also been incredibly helpful to me, both personally and therapeutically. (You know, writers write.) My daughter will be nineteen in July.

There’s absolutely no shame in asking for help, realizing you need it, and most importantly, if the people around you don’t support your mental health, make those hard decisions whether to keep them in your life.

Only you can decide what’s best for your mental health, but that’s the key right there: pay attention and decide because you are worth it. 

**This article first appeared on Daniel Maurer’s Transformation Is Real site and is reprinted here with permission and attribution.

For Rachel’s poetry and memoirs, go to Amazon.

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Top 4 Tips to Improve Focus in This Chaotic Climate http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/03/top-4-tips-to-improve-focus-in-this-chaotic-climate/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/03/top-4-tips-to-improve-focus-in-this-chaotic-climate/#comments Fri, 23 Mar 2018 05:28:39 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=7452 It’s been a tough year-ish, hasn’t it? Slightly distracting? Just a wee bit, yea? My personal watchword for 2017 was FOCUS. (This year, for 2018, it’s compassion, but more on that later.) I’ve made an effort each year, for the last few years, to have a guiding word: courage, passion, etc. Why? When life gets […]

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Top 4 Tips to Improve Focus in This Chaotic Climate by @RachelintheOC, #mentalhealth, #Survivor

It’s been a tough year-ish, hasn’t it? Slightly distracting? Just a wee bit, yea?

My personal watchword for 2017 was FOCUS. (This year, for 2018, it’s compassion, but more on that later.) I’ve made an effort each year, for the last few years, to have a guiding word: courage, passion, etc. Why?

When life gets hectic, this one word ‘mantra,’ if you will, is a quick way to reel us back in – a conscious meditation. Listen, I’m probably one of the least new-agey people you will meet, but I am a true believer in getting shit done. As a single mom, full-time author and full-time business owner, I don’t have time to waste on distractions.

I find watchwords usually find us, and this has never been truer this year for me (and for many others as well). Focus is critical.

Unless you’ve been in a cave somewhere, the U.S. is in chaos – heck, the world. With a reality TV star playing at being president, the news is unending, rarely good, and changing every thirty seconds. As survivors, many of his actions and executive orders affect us in one way or another – or affect those closest to us. Triggers abound.

Kelly wrote a wonderful article for me on staying strong and sane with all this noise, one I encourage you to read right now. How am I handling staying focused right now? It’s been difficult, as I’ve never been busier work-wise or writing-wise. Here are my top four tips:

Put Social Media on Pause

When I’m working on client accounts or writing, social media is a huge distraction. It’s impossible to keep track of the latest news and stay task focused, so I don’t even try. I made an extra effort this past week to not only avoid social media but to also avoid constant discussions about politics in real life.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, many people contact me privately, asking me to share an article, read an update, make a statement, or help them deal with something that’s triggered them. I’m humbled by their trust and faith in me, truly.

But, I also have to set boundaries. I cannot be available 24/7 to everyone, and I have to keep in mind that I have lines I won’t cross. I’m in thriver mode, but that doesn’t mean I’m no longer triggered myself.

NO is a complete sentence, and if people become upset at my lack of availability to them on their schedule, that’s their issue, not mine.

Example: A fellow recently asked me on Twitter to weigh in on an issue regarding one of Trump’s executive orders, and because I was unavailable at the time, I didn’t see his request until a few hours later (I was working and then took my daughter to the eye doctor). I focused completely on my work, and on my daughter.

He was furious I didn’t respond right away, proceeding to troll me for a few hours. Of course, I didn’t respond (which leads me to my next point) and then blocked him.

Respect Your Time and Focus

Do not feel obligated to engage with anyone, ever.

Honestly, it was none of anyone’s business what I was doing (I could have been eating bonbons if I wasn’t lactose intolerant), but here’s the truth: out of respect for my time, I didn’t feel the need to explain to him why I didn’t respond. I am not his employee, therefore, I do not owe him my time.

Do not feel obligated to engage with anyone, ever. Guard your time, whether it’s with family, writing, work, exercise, sleeping, doodling, whatever it is that you do to be the person you are. You’re an adult, so make the decisions you need to be the whole person you need to be without anyone’s permission but your own.

 

Trolls especially do not deserve our time. I’ve fallen into those ridiculous arguments and have always regretted that time, effort, and emotion wasted. I now ask myself these questions:

  •      What will I gain by responding to a troll? (Um, nothing.)
  •      What do any of us gain by interacting with negative, toxic people, whether in real life or online? Remember, I’m not the only who sees my responses online. (Every tweet is indexed by The Library of Congress. What is your digital footprint?) 
  •      How does this benefit my mental health? (It doesn’t, which brings me to my next point.)

This is a question I ask myself before I hit reply. If there’s no positive benefit, I move on.

Respect Your Mental Health

Focusing on my own work, writing, and family this week, I reflected on the benefits: I got so much more work and writing done, achieved a few personal goals I hadn’t expected, and fit in additional appointments for my kids.

From a mental health perspective, here’s a truth bomb: I experienced less anxiety. One of the leftovers of being a survivor is dealing with anxiety, depression, and hyper-vigilance. The constant barrage of news is difficult for me – I’m good with occasional check-ins; yet being on social media, updates are unavoidable.

I also don’t want to be blind to it. There’s so much going on with regard to survivors, survivor legislation, and it’s our time. We’ve lived with this dark shame for decades (though, as I write in Broken Places, I made friends with Shame. She’s been with me for a long time and has a lot to say). I’m happy to see so many people own their voices.

Owning our stories is empowering; be part of the wave – if and when you’re ready.

Think Twice About Sharing Political Views

Sides to a coin. I completely understand the angst and passion on this topic. How can we be alive right now and not comprehend it all?

Don’t get me wrong; I love social media. It’s been a wonderful addition to my personal, author, and work life. I always say social media is what you make it – you get what you give. If you give love, you get love. If you give troll, you get troll. You get the idea.

As a social media strategist (one of my hats at BadRedhead Media), I advise author clients to avoid discussing politics for this main reason: unless your book is about politics, you risk alienating potential readers by sharing a polarizing view.

How is this possible in our current climate, though? Believe me, I get it. I’ve stated my opposition here in this article to our current Keystone Cops administration. I’m braced for the haters, and I accept that. I realize that many haters and trolls have their own self-hatred issues, and I’m working hard on compassion this year — kindness goes a long way. I also realize when silence is the best answer.

Why bother? Because I feel there’s a responsibility as a survivor and advocate with a large platform to be vocal for other survivors, and when it comes to protecting our survivor rights, I believe my voice matters.

Focus on What Matters Most 

I may wear a coat of boundaries, lines, and self-care, which all huddle around me to keep me sane, but here’s the ultimate reality: I survived horrific crimes as a child, in college, and in later life (not shared yet, but writing about now in the upcoming Broken People). It’s truly up to me to decide how best to get through right here, right now.

Just as it’s up to you.

*This post originally appeared on WilsonWrites.com and is reprinted here with permission and attribution.

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Top 3 Reasons Censoring Your Writing Is Holding You Back http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/03/top-3-reasons-censoring-your-writing-is-holding-you-back-2/ http://rachelintheoc.com/2018/03/top-3-reasons-censoring-your-writing-is-holding-you-back-2/#comments Sat, 10 Mar 2018 02:20:33 +0000 http://rachelintheoc.com/?p=7870 There will be tough love today, and even a bit of cursing. If it’s too much for you, feel free to leave now. Do you worry what others think about you? Do you sit at your computer screen, paralyzed to type what you desperately want to say for fear of what your mom, husband, brother, […]

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Top 3 Reasons Censoring Your Writing Is Holding You Back by @RachelintheOC, Rachel Thompson, Author, Censorship, Writing

There will be tough love today, and even a bit of cursing. If it’s too much for you, feel free to leave now.

Do you worry what others think about you? Do you sit at your computer screen, paralyzed to type what you desperately want to say for fear of what your mom, husband, brother, friend, or best friend from second grade might say? Truth is, most of our family and friends won’t read our books or give them much thought. We only THINK they will.

Stop censoring yourself!

Maybe you have shared your writing and been burned, relationships severed, friendships or family relationships strained or even ended. It’s terrifying, all those what if’s.

Others people’s problems are other people’s problems. Don’t take that shit personally. #WriteWhatScaresYou

Fuck that shit. As Cheryl Strayed says, you need to write like a motherfucker. What does she mean by that? Does she mean to write with papers everywhere, cartoon balls of trash flying across the room, keys tapping to the beat of Copacabana? (Let’s hope not. We’ll never get that song out of our heads.)

No. She means that you need to own it. Own your shit. Write your shit. Ignore the voices of others, get in your head, your heart, grab your soul and write the shit out of that shit. This resonates with me because that’s how I wrote Broken Places (my latest release) and Broken Pieces. Let’s deconstruct.

Censoring Your Writing 

Why are you censoring yourself? If I came up to you, stood over your shoulder, read your latest paragraph, and told you, “You can’t say that!” what would you say to me? Because if you said that to me, I’d tell you to go the hell. Not only because this is my book, but because who are you to tell me what to write? Isn’t this my book? My work? My story? My name?

This person telling you what to write — does their name go on that book cover? Are they the ones spending countless hours writing and rewriting the work? No. So, fuck em.

I get it, though. People attempt to tell us daily what we should or shouldn’t write about, right? It amazes me, to be honest, that others who don’t know our story, or who think they know our story intimately but can’t possibly because they don’t live in our heads and don’t feel our emotions or live our lives, want to censor us for what we may or may not say. What makes them so scared? That’s the real question, isn’t it?

Scenario #1:

I shared a Brené Brown quote the other day about having courage and vulnerability when sharing your story, and someone replied that when she’d done so, people had chastised her, she’d lost good friends (and even family members) because her truth upset them too much, so she’s done. She’s ‘taking a break from truth.’

This saddens me deeply. I’m not judging her — she’s had enough of that. What saddens me is she’s allowing others to make that decision for her, letting them dictate what is okay or not okay to share, because they are embarrassed she shared her abuse story; now others know and can’t deal, which is another form of censoring her and shaming her for something she didn’t do.

Censoring: The Loop of Shame

When someone abuses us, we often don’t tell because we are ashamed. When (or if) we do tell, we are shamed because it’s embarrassing and shameful to us — what child (in many of these cases, as was the case with me) wants to say that an adult used our body for physical pleasure? It’s sick and twisted, and yet here we are, alone, forced to wrap our young, innocent minds around these confusing acts, with nobody to talk to, nobody to help us understand that we did nothing wrong.

Fast forward to adulthood: we choose to write about it as a form of catharsis, healing, therapy, or simply sharing so others will know they are not alone, only to have our loved ones shame us for sharing, or further chastise us for going public in some way. Shaming a survivor is one of the most selfish acts there is.

We survived the abuse — dealing with your discomfort isn’t our issue. It’s yours. If you can’t get over yourself, oh well. Survivors don’t have to accept that. We have a basic human right to speech. We have a right to tell our story.

Scenario #2

One fellow, T, shared his story in a public Facebook post, and with his permission, I’m sharing his story here with you today. T’s sister immediately chimed in to scold him for ruining the family name, embarrassing her, accusing him of lying, of creating current drama when all that happened in the past, and on and on. I complimented T on his courage and she came after me, warning me to “keep my mouth shut, to stay out of their family business, etc.,” even though this was all on his public wall.

What I love about the survivor community is that we support each other, and we understand that many people don’t understand that we have a right to tell our stories. We don’t do it for pity or attention (more on that in a moment), but as a way to heal and bond with others who have also survived, and to help educate non-survivors what it means to live the lives we do, to deal with all this on the daily.

Real or Imagined Censorship and Risk 

Sure, there’s risk involved in opening up those dusty doors of honesty. I’m not immune to the coughs and sputters of family and friends, even strangers who may or may not judge me for my words, or who place blame on me for their behavior. I’ve been called a liar, an opportunist, one person even went so far as to accuse me of ‘prostituting myself for profit and attention,’ and I’m told often to just move on (as if I haven’t).

I find it interesting that people equate sharing my story with victimhood, or ‘being stuck in the past,’ when that’s not the case at all, yet they are determined to tell me that yes, that must be so. It’s sadly comical, the judgments people make about survivors.

Truth is, those are not my issues.

Scenario #3

I wrote a guest post recently as part of my Broken Places blog tour and the host shared it, as hosts kindly do. Someone on Twitter replied that basically I am ‘playing the victim’ by sharing my story, that I’m somehow magically compelling people to “feel sorry for me.” Fortunately, people supported me without me saying a word (I don’t respond to those types of comments). If you know me at all, you know that I am anything but a victim…yet, these comments aren’t uncommon for survivors.

I’m not offended. I’m not religious. If anything, I want to thank this person for reinforcing I’m on the right path to help remove the stigma of childhood sexual abuse (or any abuse survivors) have to face. This person is a light for me — further helping me realize I still have a lot of work to do. In a strange way, I find comfort knowing my advocacy work is not done, and I have many more people to reach with my story, giving voice to others’ stories, and sharing my platform so other survivors can share their stories.

Ignorance needs an audience so sexual abuse survivors have one, too.

 

For Rachel’s poetry and memoirs, go to Amazon.

For Rachel’s BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challengeclick here.

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