To The Veteran Suffering From PTSD: I Feel You

22-push-ups-picture_jennifer-reinharz

The Mighty

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Author’s note: New data shows an average of 20 veterans take their life each day

Pushups. 22 per day for 22 days to raise awareness that on average, 22 veterans lose their lives to suicide daily.

With each press against the floor, I think of you.
When my triceps collapse from strain, I think of you.
As my form turns solid and shoulders stabilize, I think of you.

The #22Kill movement, created in response to the Department of Veteran Affairs’ 2012 Suicide Data Report works in conjunction with Honor Courage Commitment, Inc. Together, they educate the public about mental health issues like Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can lead to suicide and offer empowerment programs to transitioning military brothers and sisters.

#22Kill strives to “bridge the gap between veterans and civilians to build a community of support.” The final words to flash across the screen of the website’s video are “We’re here for you. We hear you.”

Today is day 22. As I post my last set of pushups to social media and tag fellow CrossFitters to accept the challenge, I need you to know something.

I feel you.

I am a civilian. I have not sacrificed my life and time to protect our country’s freedoms, but I have survived child sexual abuse. I have experienced trauma. I know what it’s like to live with darkness, peer down the spiral, and question the value of my life.

For 25 years, vigilance, control, mistrust, and detachment managed the pain, angst, hurt and rage brought on by traumatic experience. But I found a way to push up; to rejoin life and contribute in a way I always imagined.

Treatment through therapy made the difference. With a pride too big, walls so thick, and shame so deep, at first I couldn’t ask for help.  I didn’t value myself enough to reach out; vulnerability translated into weakness. There was peace in solitude.

But I valued those who loved me. When I could no longer dodge my husband’s plea, when I reached the edge; feeling as if my skull might split, I answered this question:

Who do I have a responsibility to?

Mac and our new marriage suffered from my trauma. I knew my mental health would damage our children. This was unacceptable and unfair. I resolved to do my part and agreed to keep the appointment Mac had made with a social worker on my behalf.

Once there, I harnessed the strength used to endure and suppress my experience to open wounds and talk.

The session discussions, albeit uncomfortable and scary at times encouraged trust. With consistent support, I learned tools to tackle triggers, reframe the rage, be mindful of mood shifts, channel destructive tendencies into a safe and productive rush, express vulnerability, and deepen relationships. I came to understand the genesis of my emotions, recognize they were typical for survivors, and accept I wasn’t alone.

The likelihood of full recovery is slim. But now, over a dozen years later, I’m equipped to fight the funk when it drives a heel into my back. With each win, trauma loosens its grip and I gain power.

I’ve also gained direction, purpose and most importantly, worth. I can approach parenting with a healthier perspective, contribute to a more loving, respectful, and meaningful marriage, and pursue career goals, creative passions and fitness aspirations with assurance. I am a better friend; know how to navigate social situations, and enjoy being with people.

Bad and unnatural things happened to me. My mind and body reacted to them. That doesn’t make me less deserving of a rich, positive, and fulfilled existence. I have every right to be here; to push, to grow and to live.

And so do you.

VeteransCrisisLine

 

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I SAID WHAT?…Preventing Child Sexual Abuse; This Survivor’s Synopsis

The word Empower in magazine letters on a notice board

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. 

Child sexual abuse is an uncomfortable but necessary topic that I think deserves revisiting.  As such, I am re-posting my essay from a year ago in lieu of an April guest post. 

Providing our children with the tools to prevent abuse is a critical step in preventing it from happening.  Fortunately, many schools take time to address the difference between good touches and bad touches.  For those that do not, there is a movement in place to enact a law that requires it. 

School programs are great but conversations need to start at home.

If we work together now to empower our children and ourselves, then perhaps the next generation will have less predator stories, abuse memoirs, and survivor synopses to read.

Child sexual abuse is pervasive in our society; it knows no race, religion, gender, or economic status.  It has impacted generations of children; stripped them of their innocence and burdened them with trauma that can last a lifetime.

Last year, I wrote a blog post describing the day I first told my mother I was a survivor of child sexual abuse.  I stayed silent until I was 30 years old.  After countless conversations with fellow survivors and curious parents since that post, I felt it was high time I weigh in on this uncomfortable but necessary topic.

According to an article in Baby & Blog, “6 Ways to Protect your Child from Sexual Abuse”, “It is estimated that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. To put this in perspective, that means “in a classroom of 25 High School Seniors, 3 of the girls and 2 of the boys will have likely been sexually abused.”

Child sexual abuse is about power.  Child molesters feel powerful when they exploit and take advantage of children.  If we tip the scale and take away their power, then perhaps we can stop the abuse.

How do we do that?  Empower the children.  Empower ourselves.

Empower the Children

“The fight against child molesters begins by teaching the children.” – Norman E. Friedman

When Norman Friedman, a veteran mental health professional, educator, and author of Inoculating Your Children against Sexual Abuse; what every parent should know! made this statement during a lecture I thought,

That makes sense.

Based on Mr. Friedman’s years of experience working with the predator population, he concluded that one cannot cure a child molester.  Therefore, the most effective thing we can do is empower children about their bodies and rights, and create an environment where they feel confident communicating with a trusted adult.

No Touch Zone.

First, teach them that everyone has a No Touch Zone.  This zone is not limited to the child’s private parts.  Friedman’s book outlines his definition and offers a noninvasive, appropriate, step by step approach to help trusted adults teach children about body parts, body rights, and what to say if a person attempts to court, solicit, or make them feel uncomfortable.

No Secrets.        

“We don’t have secrets in our house; we have surprises,”

is a phrase we adopted in our home thanks to Friedman.

Secret is a word we innocently use with children.  However, a predator’s efforts to create an inappropriate relationship with a child often includes secret keeping.  Friedman suggests that if we stop using the term, a child will recognize when it’s out of place and subsequently say something to that person as well as his trusted adult.

No Secrets policy in a family encourages open communication.  Once a child feels confident that he can speak freely, we need to make sure we are listening.

Listen.

It is important we make it a priority to send verbal and nonverbal cues that convey to our children we are available; always, whenever, and no matter what.  Listening and responding respectfully to both the good and bad things that are on their mind builds trust, offers reassurance that we care, and confirms that what they say is meaningful.

Young people exposed to life is tough and keep it in the family attitudes and who hear messages that it is their job to be responsible for adult feelings and needs add up to one thing in a child’s mind;

why bother talking, no one is listening.

Listening to our children is critical, but believing is lasting.

Believe.

When a child confides that someone approached him in an uncomfortable way, it might be easier to swallow the shock and impossibility of it all by downplaying the incident, particularly if it’s someone familiar.

But we need to take their words seriously.

Regardless of how the information made us feel or who the party was; that child felt violated on some level and had the courage to speak up.  That means we need to find a way to help him feel safe again as well as confront the party in question.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an adult recount their abuse experience and share how he had the courage to tell a trusted loved one only to be brushed off, ignored, told he was wrong or the cause of it.

Can you imagine being that little boy who was brave enough to say something, not believed, and then continually abused?

Empower Ourselves

It’s not enough to empower our children.  We trusted adults have to get in on the act.

Go with your gut.

A friend felt conflicted about telling her neighbor to take a hike when he wanted to play basketball with her eight year old son.  She felt bad for the lonely, old man even though her gut told her his request was odd.  Confronting him would be impolite, so she protected her son by making excuses when the child continued to ask if he could play with the man.

She ultimately took action.

To her son she said, “In many ways, he’s like a stranger to us.  We know him but we really don’t.”

And to the man, “Come on.  You know grownups don’t play with kids.”

After that, he left my friend’s son alone.

Advocate at all costs.

If you know someone in your family has a history of abusing others and you suspect that the person is being inappropriate with a child even if it isn’t your child, call him out on it.  If that’s too scary, anonymously call Child Protective Services.

It is not enough for us to avoid an abuser in the family because it is likely he is out in the world hurting someone else’s children.  So for the sake of that little boy and girl, their innocence, emotional health, and future please be strong;

take a stand.

We can’t wait for predators to rehabilitate or the laws to punish them accordingly.  And since the majority of molesters are not strangers, they will continue to live in our communities, interact with children, and be part of our families.

I’m sorry if this frightens you, but it is true.

So empower your children.  If a predator tries to court a child equip with the right tools, he’ll realize that he doesn’t stand a chance and will back off.

And empower yourself.  Let those who are inappropriate with children know that we trusted adults are paying attention.

Scale tipped.  Power stripped.

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse; A Survivor’s Synopsis

The word Empower in magazine letters on a notice board

Child sexual abuse is pervasive in our society; it knows no race, religion, gender, or economic status.  It has impacted generations of children; stripped them of their innocence and burdened them with trauma that can last a lifetime.

Since posting A Great Hill, I have had several adults share their survival story with me, have listened to enough friends express worry when weirdos try to groom or build unhealthy relationships with their children, and have heard one too many accounts from those who know of a predator in the family but feel paralyzed that I felt it was high time as a survivor, parent, and educator I weigh in on this uncomfortable but necessary topic.

According to the article in Baby & Blog, 6 Ways to Protect your Child from Sexual Abuse, “It is estimated that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. To put this in perspective, it means in a classroom of 25 High School Seniors, 3 of the girls and 2 of the boys will have likely been sexually abused.”  But because sexual abuse is often hidden, I wouldn’t be surprised if these statistics are low.

Child sexual abuse is about power.  Child molesters feel powerful when they exploit and take advantage of children.  If we tip the scales and take away their power, then perhaps we can stop the abuse.

How do we do that?  Empower the children.  Empower ourselves.

Empower the Children

“The fight against child molesters begins by teaching the children.” – Norman E. Friedman

When Norman Friedman, a veteran mental health professional, educator, and author of Inoculating Your Children against Sexual Abuse; what every parent should know! made this statement during a lecture I thought, “Duh; that makes perfect sense.”

Based on Mr. Friedman’s years of experience working with the predator population, he concluded that one cannot cure a child molester.  Therefore, the most effective thing we can do is empower children about their bodies and rights, and create an environment where they feel confident communicating with a trusted adult.

No Touch Zone.

First, teach them that everyone has a No Touch Zone.  This zone is not limited to the child’s private parts.  Friedman’s book clearly outlines his reasoning and definition of the area and offers a noninvasive, appropriate, step by step approach to help trusted adults teach children about body parts, body rights, and what to say if a person attempts to court, solicit, or make them feel uncomfortable.

No Secrets.        

“We don’t have secrets in our house; we have surprises,” is a phrase we adopted in our home thanks to Friedman.

Secret is a word we innocently use with children.  However, a molester’s efforts to create an inappropriate relationship with a child often includes secret keeping.  Friedman suggests that if we stop using the term, a child will quickly recognize when it’s out of place and subsequently say something to that person as well as his trusted adult.

Having a No Secrets policy in a family encourages open communication.  Once a child feels confident that he can speak freely, we need to make sure we’re listening.

Listen.

It is important we make it a priority to send verbal and nonverbal cues that convey to our children we are available; always, whenever, and no matter what.  Listening and responding respectfully to both the good and bad things that are on their mind builds trust, offers reassurance that we care, and confirms that what they say is meaningful.

Young people exposed to life is tough and keep it in the family attitudes and who hear messages that it’s their job to be responsible for adult feelings and needs add up to one thing in a child’s mind; why bother talking, no one is listening.

Listening to our children is critical, but believing is lasting.

Believe.

When a child confides that someone approached him in an uncomfortable way, it might be easier to swallow the shock and impossibility of it all by downplaying the incident, particularly if it’s someone familiar.

But we need to take their words seriously.

Regardless of how the information made us feel or who the party was; that child felt violated on some level and had the courage to speak up.  That means we need to find a way to help him feel safe again as well as confront the party in question.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an adult recount their abuse experience and share how he had the courage to tell a trusted loved one only to be brushed off, ignored, told he was wrong or the cause of it.

Can you imagine being that little boy who was brave enough to say something, not believed, and then continually abused?  The thought of it breaks my heart.

Empower Ourselves

It’s not enough to empower our children.  We trusted adults have to get in on the act too.

Go with your gut.

A friend felt conflicted about telling the creepy old guy who lives on her street to take a hike when he wanted to play basketball with her eight year old son.  She felt bad for the lonely, old man even though her gut told her that his request was odd.  Confronting him would be impolite, so she protected her son by making excuses when the child continued to ask if he could play with the neighbor.

She ultimately followed her gut and took action.

To her son she said, “In many ways, he’s like a stranger to us.  We know him but we really don’t.”

And to the man, “Come on.  You know grownups don’t play with kids.”

After that, creepy old guy left my friend’s son alone.

Advocate at all costs.

If you know someone in your family has a history of abusing others and you suspect that the person is being inappropriate with a child even if it isn’t your child, call him out on it.  If that’s too scary, anonymously call Child Protective Services.

It is not enough for us to avoid an abuser in the family because it is very likely he is out in the world hurting someone else’s children.  So for the sake of that little boy and girl, their innocence, emotional health, and future please be strong; take a stand.

Here’s the deal; we can’t wait for predators to rehabilitate or the laws to punish them accordingly.  And since the majority of molesters are not strangers, they will continue to live in our communities, interact with children, and be part of our families.

I’m sorry if this frightens you, but it’s true.

So empower your children.  If a predator tries to court a child equip with the right tools, he’ll realize that he doesn’t stand a chance and will back off.

And empower yourself.  Let those who are inappropriate with children know that we trusted adults are paying attention.

Power stripped.  Scales tipped.  Game over.

Additional resources

Good Touch Bad Touch school program

Stop it Now

A Great Hill

Sharing resolutions and lesson learned from a personal experience with the hope that it might one day help someone.

Sharing resolutions and lesson learned from a personal experience with the hope that it might one day help someone.

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
Nelson Mandela.

Eleven years ago today, I climbed a great hill.

Sitting in the mall parking lot in the passenger’s seat of my mother’s white Oldsmobile, I told her the family secret that I had harbored for over twenty years; that her then husband of twenty five years sexually abused me as a child.

When the words finally came out, my body decompressed like a flattened tire.  I thought I was done, fixed, as if sharing this piece of information would easily mend everything and solve all problems.  That New Year’s Eve morning I stood at the top of my great hill expecting to see a welcoming horizon.  And at first, I did.  But understanding that I couldn’t stand in one spot forever, I continued on my way.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones.  I was born into a generation of women and men who, when experience trauma, are often encouraged to talk about it and seek help.  I eventually had someone to tell and immediately had someone who believed me.  I had the guidance of a talented, dedicated professional who worked tirelessly to give me the tools I needed to work through the rises and falls.  And I have a husband who has supported me every step of the way.  Even the bad guy went to jail for a short time.

These fortunate circumstances coupled with determination to live clean, if you will, helped me to move forward.   As a result, I have been able to scale more overgrown, rocky, and unmarked hills than I thought existed.  And although I couldn’t reach the top every time, I’m content with where I ended up.

However, one of many things I’ve learned in the last ten years is that there are consequences to pursuing one’s truth.  Expecting people to reflect, discuss, and perhaps change is a tall order.  Maintaining thin relationships, living in a box, and avoiding issues are seemingly much easier paths to take.

So why rock the boat?  Because as I started to value myself, I realized that regardless of what I was going to get back, I had to let people know where I was coming from.  Several times I’ve been pleasantly surprised; other times, not so much.  I’ve had family members haul off like a Real Housewife of New Jersey, friends just throw in the towel, and to mourn relationships of key people who weren’t able to meet me half way.  It’s unfortunate and sad but as my grandfather says, “That’s the way it goes.”

I’ve often wondered if it is worth some of this residual agida to continue my version of clean living.  It may sound reminiscent of a Kelly Clarkson song, but for someone who lived the first third of her life putting up walls, keeping things surface, and feeding the elephants in the room, I intend to spend the next two thirds of it living the most honest, genuine, meaningful, loving, and forthright way that I can.  For myself, loved ones, husband and most importantly our children; this I resolve to do.

As we welcome a new year, I wish you a year filled with health, truth, cleanliness, and the courage to climb.