Survival is hard, and wherever any of you are on the journey, I am grateful you are alive.
“You never know when rage has run its course. There is no ending bell, no time constraint. It exists on its own terms, flooding the space with uncertain finality. Rage is infinite, like sky.” Small Towns Make Me Nervous; Bright Bones: Contemporary Montana Writing Upcoming Event: Montana Book Festival Missoula, Montana Trauma as Backbone; Strengthening … Continue reading
Words are the lens from which I view life. They hold power over thought patterns, ideologies, and belief systems. Words create a magnetic charge between ourselves and others, and here I will share the work of very smart people who have delved into the topic of trauma. An aftermath, trauma has many avenues for discussion, and my website is intended to be a safe space for anyone who wants to participate as an advocate to a trauma-informed society. We are all here to learn about the impact of life experiences on the human brain and to the human heart. My purpose here is to inspire the potential of anyone with or in relationship to those with PTSD, and get us Past The Shitty Dialogue.
Sometimes life experiences exceed or overwhelm our ability to cope. Trauma is complex, but many people fall prey to using the buzz word of recent history. When we understand the physiological disconnect that happens in the brain, we can more readily empathize the behavior that indicates past trauma as a serious and grave social issue.
Every blog post will discuss a personal musing of trauma. Don’t fear, this blog is for everybody, but it does contain swear words. As I build resources here on the site, I hope you’ll invite friends and family members who will benefit from a snug little corner of the world where emotional safety is paramount. Survival is hard, and wherever any of you are on the journey, I am grateful you are alive.
WHAT I’M READING:
Every month, I will share a current book I’m reading. Usually, it will be a memoir.
MY WRITING :
You’ll receive updates on my writing journey: publications, struggles, conferences, etc.
I’ll provide one or two relevant links to news articles about trauma.
And a photo taken by moi.
Please feel free to leave comments and questions. Thank you for joining me here.
It’s summer! Or maybe I should say, it’s summer. Summer blues were something I noticed about ten years ago. For unknown reasons, I felt defeated in the abundance of sunlight, and when family events loomed ahead on the calendar, my anxiety increased with every passing day. I looked for excuses to not attend my mother’s birthday, or to skip out on a family reunion with my two sisters who visited about once a year.
What kind of daughter/sister was I?
My sentiments made me a horrible person. In theory, family occasions were opportunities to reconnect and relive the time that had passed from our last visit with stories of adventure, work, parenting, and all the other day-to-day humdrum components of our beautiful and unique lives.
Instead, I left these momentous occasions feeling unwhole and rejected. A stranger would have garnered more interest from my relatives—questions would be asked, curiosity would be piqued—but me, I tended to dishes of pasta salad and veggie plates with an armory of stories shuttered in my mind. It soon became apparent that my family didn’t know me. Their disinterest proved the disapproval I’d convinced myself of deserving for as long as I could remember.
Childhood grief lingered long after I had grown up. It surfaced every time I felt obligated to attend family events. I anticipated the sting of rejection. It felt like a racing heart wanting to escape the stories long ago imprinted like record grooves in my emotional memory. Summer was a time of freedom—no school, no schedules, and no supervision. This created a horrendous circumstance for my child-self to navigate.
Summer vacations meant my psychological needs underwent a heyday of mockery. The voices were not in my mind, but parlayed by my family through sibling violence that went overlooked. It’s laughable, right? Girl fights, pssshhh. But my older sister, put in charge whenever our parents had obligations, turned aggressive and overbearing. At age eleven, she hit, punched, kicked, yelled, and screamed. At thirteen, she manipulated her friends into bullying me. At sixteen, she went to Homecoming with the boy I tried dating. At seventeen, she was in the room while a guy from school sexually assaulted me. Was this a girl fight or was it abuse?
This was my home. This was my safe harbor. Luckily, when I was seventeen, my sister left home. My body unraveled with colossal relief, and I spent the next two decades believing I could win back my parents’ affection, if only I played along that we were a decent family.
Years later, I wondered why I felt anxious about going home. I wondered what I’d done to be rejected, why I felt unloved. Having two daughters, my needs were based on their needs. A daughter needs a mother who can validate their emotions. By the time Aileen (the oldest) was thirteen, I had a breakdown. I was not OK. Abuse of a child was not OK. I came to learn that my experience had names: scapegoat, abuse-by-proxy, neglect.
These were big stories to own. F-ing huge stories to own. Healing begins with living in your worst nightmare. Betrayals were toxins in my body that made me aggressive, distrustful, and short-fused—as would be expected when reality hits like a freight train. What was I supposed to do with these stories?
Get them out. Get them out. Get them out.
My body had been telling me for years that going home was a bad idea: the paranoia and dread, the sense of defeat. Every time I went home, I returned to a victim’s playground. Summer equated to abuse, a simple math problem. But I estranged myself. I had a blind spot. I couldn’t see what was familiar—the lack of perception that had allowed my family to enable such treatment. It was not until I hammered my family story into my own framework that I began to believe my truth: principles were more important than family picnics. I needed my own permission to address the conflict: family vs self. I had self-erased for decades, but what came next? What does a person do in this situation? What would you do?
WHAT I’M READING:
The Bingo Palace by Louise Erdrich. In honor of the James Welch Native Lit Festival this weekend, it’s obligatory for me to read and advocate the importance of books written by native authors. Through oppression, assimilation, displacement, and horrendous abuses, native voices have been erased far too long. It’s time that we listen.
I’m currently surrendering a narrative arc to my work-in-progress to explore and dig deeper into themes that have emerged throughout the process. It’s a chance to be free from a singular parameter while also adhering to constraints that will define areas that need more depth or exposure.
Also, I’m revising a long-form essay that I hope to one day submit for publication. The goal-switch from completing an 80,000 word project to a 5,000 word project feels much more manageable. It involves a true crime, taking the full-time spotlight off me. Sometimes, a person just needs a break.
RELATED NEWS: The Montana Book Festival is September 15-18th. I’ll be hosting a conversational panel: Trauma as Backbone; Strengthening Communities of Adversity with Creative Writing. I’m honored to be joined by the following panelists who will represent populations afflicted by child trauma, the houseless community, and justice-involved youth:
Barry Maxwell; Barry earned his MFA in nonfiction at the University of Montana and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Social Work. He is the founder of Street Lit Authors Club-Missoula, providing books and workshops to Missoula’s underserved communities.
Nicole Gomez; Nicole is about to transition from Executive Director of Free Verse, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering incarcerated youth of Montana through literature and creative writing. She holds an MFA in fiction form the University of Montana, and a BA in International Relations and Italian Language and Literature from Stanford University.
If you think creative writing is not important, think again. These incredible people are changing the course of people’s lives by giving them a pen and saying, “Write your story.” The conversation will be a moving and eye-opening exposé of what happens when the silenced are empowered to claim their voice.
WELCOME: Anna, The Hairy Truths blog, and The Introverted Idealist blog. I am so glad you’re here.
A question about lake swimming sparked quite the conversation on Twitter.
When a commenter sent me a video of how bacteria in water infected her with a rare breast disease, I felt compelled to share her story. Watch here.
After hearing the warnings of bacteria and toxin-infested water, I learned to not take the clean lakes of Montana for granted.
Thank you dear friends for hanging in there with me. I appreciate your support. Have a safe and happy summer, and be true to yourself.
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.
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:
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.
WHATREALLYHAPPENS 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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
Happy Spring! The ground is fully thawed where I live, though the color is drab and gray. Flowers will be here soon, evidenced by the rabbit that has emerged from its winter hiding place into our backyard landscape. Despite the state of the world, the natural world perseveres to its cycle like a hopeful promise.
The beginning of a warm season reminds me of what it is like to enter into the beginning stages of trauma healing. Like frostbite, the thaw is more painful than the freeze. It can take decades before frozen emotions are provided a safe and warm place to melt, and when it finds a safe environment, it oozes wounded parts of ourselves from a permafrost of fear into consciousness. For me, this was a period of uncertainty, waiting for each day to end, hoping to put a capstone on the anguish of knowing, truly knowing, danger chose me as a target.
Part of trauma healing is making the story real. A tragic and severe grief abounds in departing from the period of innocence (in adulthood, this is coping with denial), when attitudes often reflect a nothing-can-hurt-me mindset. The thaw into conscious truth often requires the support of a tribe, a community, a family, a church or spiritual practice, and an art form to manifest the loss of one worldview into a present-day identity. Speaking aloud this new identity, and scary comprehension of the world and its violence, explains why professional help is so important. Giving voice to the experience sews fractured selves into a cohesive whole, replacing fear with courage, growing beyond denial, and centering one’s new sense of worth around vulnerability rather than false stories.
I’ve been honored to be on the receiving end of multiple friends who’ve transcended from numbness and denial to a phase of vulnerability. This is an impressive feat for anyone, no matter where they are on the leg of the post-freeze journey. Because I’ve also experienced my own transcendence, it would be untrue to say everyone met me with empathy and encouragement. I was bitter and troubled, and often, a pain in the ass. Few knew what to say to me, a perceived ‘over sharer’ of my trauma story. Making it real for myself had an adverse reaction by many, which became the impetus of this blog and my longing to create a bridge for victims and their loved ones. Frequently, I observed the fumbling attempts of good men and women who fell short of sensitive responses to my confession of traumatic experiences. Can’t you figure it out? It was a long time ago. I should feel lucky that my mother, father, sisters, were still alive.
Though these suggestions were meant to be helpful, it made me want to avoid the world. Anger serves to justify the reality of violence and oppression in our world. The blowback I received shocked me—and it opened my eyes to our American default of victim-blaming. No matter how well-dressed, how laid back and cool, how smart, how much money one had, I felt semi’d by apathy. Not even rock star status can compensate for negligence. Like an insidious war, passive violence didn’t disappear with the passage of time. I was let down again and again.
When we are not equipped with trauma-informed tools, we unconsciously remain stuck in a censorship (or shaming) of the most educational human stories. We present ourselves as childlike in emotional scope. This is no longer OK. We are at a time in history when we all must approach softer ground of victim-advocacy. What we say reflects our capacity to be trusted by courageous victims speaking out to make a difference in the world. Trauma is no longer a taboo subject, but a theme of humanity in which our studies have taken adjacent flight into knowledge and preparedness. With all good intentions, and with my vastly limited understanding of all things trauma, I hope to spread helpful options to bridge the divide from ostracized to united.
It happens to everyone. An acquaintance or colleague makes a vague confessional of a personal traumatic experience, and you’re standing there, unsure of what to say. Below is a list to discern what is helpful and unhelpful when others unexpectedly disclose a personal trauma story. When in doubt, think of trauma as if your mother had been murdered. What would you want to hear? These examples are not everything I experienced, but they represent the imprint left by societal attitudes. I hope you find these lists beneficial, and if you have anything to add, please let me know by leaving a comment.
No-Good Responses To a Trauma Confessional: (Tones will vary in real life, but the message repeats an outdated societal attitude toward victims.)
You have to forgive people.
You act like… the world is ending…a bitch… a spoiled little brat…a liar.
That was a long time ago.
What is your problem?
You should be thankful… for everything you have…God is in control.
At least you’re… healthy…beautiful…
It’s always about you.
Can’t you get over it?
You’d be surprised at the various ways this tone leaks from well-intentioned people. As you can tell, getting out of the gig as fast as possible is contrary to our dominant need for connection. Of course, trauma has many sources and situations vary. It’s wise to aim for better, not perfection.
Good Enough Trauma-Informed Responses:
You’ve been dealt a shitty hand in life. I’m so sorry.
That’s a lot to overcome and process. Do you… need company, want to talk, need to be alone?
Can I give you a hug?
That motherfucker. Those motherfuckers.
What do you think triggered this right now? Let’s figure things out.
I don’t blame you.
You’re a hero.
Tell me more when you’re ready. I want to hear how you coped.
Damn. This is shitty news.
What the actual fuck is wrong with people?
I’m here for you. I’m on your side.
Empathy is spread from internal awareness to external evidence. We all deserve to live in a world where we feel safe and understood. Being truly honest about the bad habits of a societal attitude is to grow from conformity into the stability of a united and empathic root system.
RELATED NEWS: This Washington Postarticle delves into the future health issues of infant trauma and how, just because one can’t remember trauma, it has disastrous consequences to the mind and body.
WHAT I’M READING:
All I Ever Wanted by Kathy Valentine. As a songwriter and bassist for the all-women band, the Go-Go’s, this autobiography illustrates a girl’s rise from childhood negligence to stardom, proving that trauma victims have the potential to be wildly successful in life.
I published a blog post on PACES Connection, a community of advocates and researchers to accelerate PACES science (Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences Scores) in our communities and world.
Meanwhile, I am embarking on a new draft of my manuscript as if it were a sinking ship. It feels like a huge weight to tow to shore. I’m looking forward to May when I will rejoin my memoir writing group after a winter hiatus. A good book is never written alone.
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:
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.
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).