National Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. For obvious reasons, this blog post will focus on this aspect of trauma. Child abuse is a hard subject for many. This month’s post is meant to be brief and informative, and hopefully it will leave you with options to the question: What can I do to help kids?

Now, more than ever, the need for capable adults to serve their youth community is unprecedented. The affect of Covid around the world has impacted child abuse statistics, heightening the number of isolated or unprotected children in unhealthy and unsafe situations. We are facing a crisis with dire risks. Children who experience abuse are two or three times more likely to attempt suicide later in life. I agree with these statistics, but I also agree that numbers fail to address the invisible scars caused by shame cultures. When a society does little to confront the cause, victims are left holding the blame. We become immune to scapegoating when we’ve been conditioned to operate that way. Language is a social tool that shapes our understanding of the world and influences how we respond to various circumstances. Kids are especially susceptible to scapegoating. The culture of offloading unprocessed trauma often comes in the form of criticism and is typically indicated by they or you pronouns. They’re a piece of work. They’re difficult. OR: You are too sensitive. You are overreacting. You can’t take a joke.

By paying attention to language, we can avoid perpetuating a scapegoat culture.

STATS:

In 2019, the United States, a report of child abuse was made every ten seconds.

In 2020, a study of pediatric trauma centers during the pandemic concluded grave results. From a pool of 39,000 children…

Again, some outdated statistics from 2019:

2019 Statistics and infographic from childhelp.org

Researchers are still discovering the impact that social isolation had on children. The emotional toll of the global pandemic will undeniably be a steep price to pay in the future of mental and physical wellness. Now is the time to flip how we think about trauma and how culture influences mental health. TRAUMA IS NOT A CRIME. CHILD ABUSE IS. Victims and survivors of abuse deserve a future of integrity.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENS WITH ADVERSITY?: The devastation of child abuse is buried in the invisible landscape of the psyche, causing cerebral damage and significant long-term emotional, physical, and psychological repercussions. Read here to learn what happens in the brain.

We are not equipped to see what is happening inside people’s psyche, but to give you an idea, here’s what one doctor said about Will Smith and the Slap Heard Around the World (edited for simplicity):

Did this doctor’s perspective of Will Smith change your perspective of the event? Go ahead and leave a note in the comments.

OK. SO WHAT CAN WE DO TO PREVENT CHILD ABUSE? The challenge of transcending a crisis cannot be won by censorship or denial, but by building a culture of trauma integrity. Every child who survives abuse becomes an adult. The most important factor in being a trauma-informed citizen is learning to see difficult behavior through a sensitive lens and thinking more deeply about the root cause of behavior. Creating a dignified world for trauma victims provides a tangential bonus of self-respect and a life with meaning. Here are some things that will give children a better chance of feeling protected and safe:

  • Live honestly with your own childhood wounds. Disassociated parents are often unconsciously complicit in repeating the treatment of their inner child to the outer world, usually, to those closest in proximity and familiarity. One way to address this is to confront a person’s behavior. Or, we can contribute to a culture of accountability by allowing honesty with grief and anger. There is no rule against owning our emotions. In fact, they are the only map to autonomy and freedom from societal expectations. We all do better when space is provided for emotional truth. Give this permission to yourself, and you will give it to others.
  • Make charitable offers to community services. Donating time, treasure, and talent is a huge benefit to local children. Schools often have needs beyond their available resources. Ask around. Volunteer. The NextDoor app provides a Help Map (photo below) to offer or ask for services. We all have gifts worth sharing. It’s a win-win.

  • Attend and support local events where kids are the stars. Here in Missoula, there are extra-curricular programs, distance races, track meets, summer camps, all to benefit kids.

I asked Twitter if they are affiliated with nonprofits, and here’s what people said:

  • My day job is with a nonprofit that offers residential, clinical, school, and community-based services for youths who have experienced trauma.
  • We just finished our pancake breakfasts (we tap our own maple trees and make our own syrup!), and the Civil War re-enactment is coming up soon. http://centuryvillagemuseum.org
  • My wife and I founded a non-profit dance studio for under-privileged youth. 🙂
  • I started one–@WritePittsburgh. We’re a member of Dave Eggers International Alliance of Youth Writing Centers.

The options for adult involvement are endless. Sponsor a kid, or simply show up to recitals and performances. Imagine if everyone gave one hour a month to be present. What a difference that would make!

Most importantly, be the gateway of what you allow in your life. Not everybody becomes a trauma-safe person without first establishing boundaries and doing some heavy emotional lifting. Empathy and compassion are the foundation that victims and survivors of abuse need to pursue their healing journey. If it’s safe to do so, be a trusted listener. Let their hurt inform your worldview. We all have so much to learn about the human experience. We can’t help kids without first helping ourselves.

Coach Barbie and a class of Snowplow Sam Students for the USFSA (United States Figure Skating Association) Learn to Skate Program

Let me know in the comments how you help with kids. I’d love to share your ideas!

WHAT I’M READING:

Inside Passage by Keema Waterfield. This Missoula author ( I still have not met her) recalls her difficult childhood in Alaska with gut and grace. As her mother pursued the music scene, Keema followed along, growing into herself through the strum of guitars and the pulse of the road.

MY WRITING :

As you may have noticed, I updated my website. Exciting stuff!

As a blog contributor to PACEs Connection, I wrote about an incident with a heavy 1970’s swing set. Parental Favoritism Stole My Sister, and My Trust

Earlier this month, I took a class on long-form narrative, whetting my appetite to submit a piece to True Story before the deadline of May 15. What’s True Story? Watch the video below to find out. It’s one of my favorite subscriptions of creative nonfiction work. Wish me luck!

TRAUMA RELATED NEWS:

This NYT article discusses the trauma of Covid on families who have lost the middle generation. What happens when grandparents must take care of children? The answers are complicated.

A recent study determined that childhood trauma and genetically inherited trauma contribute to a higher risk of obesity. Trauma contributes to many other health conditions, such as heart disease and a shorter life span. ACEs provide a baseline understanding of important medical risks, and arming yourself with your score and the reality of increased health risks is an important component of self-care. Don’t know your ACEs score? Take the simple quiz here.

WELCOME: Melissa, Marcella

Thank you everyone for supporting a creative and international practice of trauma-informed citizenship. You make my heart full.

RANDOM BEAUTY:

As a board member of the Missoula Writing Collaborative, and in honor of National Poetry Month, it gives me joy to share a poem written by fourth-graders at Lewis and Clark Elementary in Missoula.

Thank you everyone for your contributions in creating a safe and compassionate world. In the meantime, connect with me on Twitter or Facebook. You are my heroes!

Love, Barbie

Hometown Trauma

Hi friends and allies!

One of my Twitter friends is the inspiration behind this month’s topic: Hometown Trauma.

To save you from a boring definition, this gorgeous first paragraph from The Wild Truth, a memoir written by Carine McCandless, will explain what it is like to suffer from Hometown Trauma:

The Wild Truth, Carine McCandless

Carine and her brother were brutally abused by their father. (Her brother’s infamous death in Alaska by poison berries is revealed in the Krakauer book, Into the Wild.) Carine’s trauma is encased not only in that f***ing house, but in the highway exits that lead to it.

A place scarred by memory is like another death a victim must grieve as a trauma survivor. Trauma lives in the body, and it also lives in its environment. The gut-wrenching tension I experienced whenever I approached my hometown in Flathead County felt like a car wash nozzle at full-force aimed at my stomach. My body told me I should not approach, but for years, my guilt and sense of obligation to uphold a family expectation told me I should.

My intuition already knew what I didn’t understand. The trigger of familiar sights and places drew from a deep memory of loneliness and a sense of fatherly abandonment. Driving the familiar highway as a teen, I would constantly scout the oncoming traffic for a sight of my father, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man who should have been home more often, to protect and celebrate me. A father’s role in grief is a large burden on any child, and until I was 42, I tracked the same highway with the same hope: that I was worthy of my father’s time and attention.

It was never my responsibility to fill my unmet needs. But driving the familiar roads allowed me to hold onto the mythical father who had me in his best interests. The highways and the landscape of my hometown are still scarred by the emotional death that came with reality’s bitter truth. For me, Flathead County is a tear-stained pillow that never dries. I haven’t been ‘home’ since 2014.

RELATED NEWS: Montana’s neighbor, Idaho, suffers from dangerous ACE scores. Read one man’s story of depression and how the Idaho legislature recently recognized ACE scores to promote trauma-informed care.

What the heck are ACE scores and why do they matter?

WHAT I’M READING:

Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger is a memoir of a woman who investigated her idyllic childhood through her dead father’s artistic journals only to discover her memories did not portray the reality of his drug addiction.

MY WRITING: Ouch! This was a doozy of a month. The consultation with the agent didn’t go well. I might have ranted about it on Twitter. I’m OK now, and feel I have an excellent revision in the works.

I didn’t impress the agent. I did, however, have a craft article published on WOW (Women on Writing).

WELCOME NEW SUBSCRIBERS: Erika, Laurie, Anna, Andrea, Leah, Katie

Without you, this would not be a growing community. Thank you!

RANDOM BEAUTY:

My dream boat in the foreground. Photo by my husband, Charlie Beaton

Please feel free to leave a comment. Wishing you well.

Love, Barbie

April: National Child Abuse Prevention Month

This content may dredge up difficult emotions. Please read with care.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. As an advocate for youth integrity, I strive to illuminate the impact of child abuse to the self and to society. Recent news articles have revealed, yet again, the toll of psychological damage and its destructive effects on safety—either to the self or to the public.

It came as no surprise to me to learn that the shooter convicted of killing ten people in Boulder had been a victim of bullying. Bullying counts as abuse, especially when it becomes pervasive and is extolled by anyone older than the victim. Some households discount the severity of bullying, diminishing it by placing blame on the victim. Common phrases surrounding diminishment include: You’re too sensitive. You need to toughen up. It was just a joke. Get over it. You have to forgive them.

The very act of diminishment serves to propagate further neglect of the problem by denying the victim’s reality. This is where trouble doubles down and turns adversity into trauma. When a child feels overwhelmed by their reality, the brain will resort to its psychological tools for survival. Self-deception is a reflex of traumatic experience, armor to protect the ego from collapsing into despair. A multitude of avenues exist for a person to steel away from their truth. One can live a fallacy for a lifetime, finding a million excuses to avoid their pain, perhaps killing others in an act of Displacement.

A great book for the lay-person about self-deception is Hide and Seek, by Neel Burton. In brief chapters, the author breaks down the primary modes of self-deceptive behaviors that the Self employs to diffuse difficult emotions. The purpose of the book is to supply the reader with knowledge in which to address their own bad behavior, to curtail negative social interactions, and to ultimately live in truth. As the author says, “Ours is a dirty business.”

Returning to child abuse, I became deeply concerned when a recent article revealed the decrease of child abuse reported during the pandemic. Typically, teachers and school staff are primary observers of children during the school day. Due to at-home learning, it is conceivable that even more children will suffer abuse at home. In this case, the irony of ensuring children’s safety is hardly laughable. Household stress is a common factor in child abuse cases, and with many parents struggling, it gives rise to the idea that our future generation will struggle from long-term psychological damage, simply due to unhealthy household environments. We as a society have to remember not to rely on statistics and numbers, but to apply them to the reality of a context. When we see the bigger picture, we have a more accurate view of the dire need for help. Let us remember to recognize victims as the most important members of society.

What can we do?

Personal missions to become involved in governmental processes remain an immediate call-to-action. Where you focus your intention is up to you: gun control, child protective services, or mental health advocacy are important routes for public safety. Self-awareness and parental education will empower the Self with tools to retrain reactions into responses.

Child safety begins with parents who live in truth. I will continue to maintain hope that the human desire for connection and compassion will overpower the violence and vitriol exposed during this time of adversity. I will continue to advocate for victims of all abuses. If you’re struggling, please seek help today by calling a professional. If you need help doing this, I’m here for you.

Let us celebrate the Easter weekend with hope for the future. Let us live individually in truth so we can live together in peace.

Wednesday Wisdom: Sensibility

Trigger Warning: Content contains sexual violence/trauma

The author Jessica Stern has been a huge influence on my writing work. She has written many books on terrorism (which I have not read, sorry, Jessica), but her memoir continues to inspire me with a single line. She wrote, “This is the worst impact of severe trauma: the victim loses faith in the evidence of her own senses.”

When I read this, I practically lifted my butt out of the chair with elation. Somebody finally understood me!

My story is not Jessica’s. Her memoir, Denial, A Memoir of Terror, reveals her journey as an expert on terrorism and her resilience to fear despite the extremely dangerous situations she willingly immersed herself in. Her investigative questioning to understand this resilience lead her back to her teen years when she and her sister were violently raped in their childhood home. As an emotional response to endure the incident, young Jessica willed away her fear. Afterwards, there was no memory of the event, as the trauma blocked her perception from her reality. She went on to live with a depleted sense of fear, which would explain her later obsession with danger. She wanted to feel something.

Trauma robs our perception of reality. This manifests in normalizing abnormal situations/behavior that we would typically avoid. The emotional wall meant to protect us has taken over, and rises each time the behavior occurs. We see it often in others, but it is much harder to see in ourselves as we have adapted to our own devices of self-protection. For whatever reason, this is a concept I continually obsess over and find absolutely fascinating. My own memoir delves into this notion, and whereas I have no expertise in the neurological manifestation of denial, I get it. I understand how emotions can be erased.

The way back to sensibility is through honesty, scrutiny, and one of the toughest jobs of adulting, emotional inquiry. We cannot arrive on the other side of trauma without the detective work into our own pasts. This requires guidance, support, a tribe, a community, an expert on trauma, loads of self-care, and absolute and endless loyalty to ourselves. It is not easy work, but when we regain our sensibility, we repair the broken link to the fullness of our identity.

Know that wherever you are in the journey, you are not alone. There is great power in each of us to immerse in healing, and many sources and methods exist for support. I like to think of myself as a friendly delegate. I’m happy to share links I have found helpful. Please email me if this interests you. Most of all, be kind and love yourself. You are so worthy of love.