justice, Uncategorized

To: white, straight women who did not vote for Trump and yet remain silent post-election

I know the outcome of this election is not what you expected.  During the campaign you expressed disbelief over the vile, hateful and misogynist comments made by Trump.  These among other reasons were guiding your conviction to vote for another candidate and now that the president-elect is Trump, I—we have yet, to hear from you.

Surely you’ve heard of the terror and fear that so many have been feeling since the election results.  Men and women from marginalized groups all over the United States know what a Trump presidency will mean for themselves and their families.  Immigrant children have been scared that they will have to move out of the country.  LGBTQ people have been beaten, bloodied and verbally harassed.  Black churches have been burned down and defiled.  Muslim Americans have been told by Trump supporters that now that the United States has a ‘real’ president they need to go back to where they belong.  All the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, hate-filled rhetoric by Trump has encouraged acts of hate and discrimination against brown people, black people, Muslim people, immigrants and LGBTQ people.

Yes, over the past two years it has been painful to endure rhetoric that has been filled with hate.  It’s been re-traumatizing as it has reopened old wounds and memories of verbal and physical abuse within our shared history.

Now those words have been followed by hate crimes and violence against disenfranchised communities—leaving us to worry about our daily safety when navigating public spaces or even when we sit in our places of worship.

As if that is not enough, we realize that our basic human and constitutional rights are threatened with a Trump administration.  What protection or legal right will we have if our marriages and relationships are deemed invalid; if we are forced out of our country because of what we believe or what we look like; if we as immigrants find no safe haven here in the U.S.; if we lose our jobs or our housing because of who we are; if we are assaulted or harassed sexually or physically in the workplace?

We have no assurances of safety, dignity or protection in the present or the future.  The outcome of this election stripped all of that away.  We are filled with unspeakable terror and pain.

You know this because we’ve had conversations regarding these realities and still you choose silence in the wake of incredible devastation, terror, grief and uncertainty.

It’s hard to make sense of your silence and I draw from past conversations and inaction and I am dissatisfied with the conclusions I come to in the wake of your silence and withdrawal.

I try to see it from your perspective— as a white woman there are also risks to your safety, which is overwhelming and troubling.

I know this patriarchal & misogynist society views your life void of value and seeks to silence you, too.

Yet, when I ask you about this reality you say, “it sucks and you hate it, but it’s just part of life”.  When you’re pressed about that you say:

I’m not very political or

My life is too busy to fight it or

I can’t deal with conflict—it’s just too stressful or

I have kids that keep me busy or

I have a job and too many responsibilities to be bothered with politics

As a brown, queer woman and mother of a trans child, I tell you I have all those things too… a job, kids, responsibilities—a busy, full life, but I do not have the privilege to disengage the results of this election or oppression because it’s my very life, family and community who face a future that is uncertain and there is no time for inaction.

You say that you love me and that you want to be a safe place for my venting, but you refuse to show up for me/for us—to use your civil liberties and constitutionally protected freedoms to demand those same rights for all people in the United States.

I can’t help but feel unloved.

You are secure in your civil liberties and constitutional rights and are comfortable with this status quo—even if it is a false sense of safety.

I can’t help but feel envious of your privilege to prioritize yourself in such a way because you have little fear that your life or your family will be threatened or be forced to change significantly.

You are the norm.

I tell you how this is bound to affect my gender non-conforming son’s existence and you say:

That’s too bad, but I don’t believe in that.  I believe in my right as a woman to consent and to make decisions about my body, but I don’t believe that this applies to others’ rights to express or identify who he or she is outside of our social gender structure and traditions.

I ask you to reconsider because we need all people and all voices to stand up for our rights and you say you need to pray about it or go to church and get the green light from your pastor or your priest.

I can’t help but feel tired, frustrated and neglected because I know that when you came to me and told me that you were raped by an acquaintance:

I was the one who told you that I believed you when no one else would and we went together to the hospital.  I stayed with you through the rape kit and the criminal report. When you were questioned about your clothing and your choices I was the one who stood up for you to those who would shame and blame you.

When you told me that your family friend had molested you as a child and you were filled with shame:

I told you that what happened to you was wrong and horrific and that you were beautiful and beloved and wronged in the most ugly way.

When you told me that you’d been beaten by your partner:

I told you that in no way did you bear any fault and that I’d help you find safety.  I went to the court with you to file a no-contact order and stayed with you throughout the process.

I have used my voice, my resources, my passion and my energies to stand in the gap for your rights… to call for justice when you were violated and abused.  I have zero regret about this—I would do this time and time again, but what I want to know is will you show up for me?  Will you show up for us—those that do not look like you, act like you, relate to you?

When it comes to oppression, discrimination and violence showing up has been a one sided experience.  You seem to overlook the sense of urgency and fear that I feel—even though I show up for you, for your kids, for your troubles… your fears… your concerns without question or hesitation.

I’m learning that real, authentic relationships are reciprocal and are paved on paths that go both ways.  It is times like these we all have to put ourselves on the line.

I am not going to lie to you… I am angry that you choose to not hear me.  I am angry that you choose the convenience of silence.  I am hurt that you feel no urgency when you see this pain.

As a brown woman I appeal to you:

Please do not exploit our generosity and our burning conviction in human rights for all people.  Do not use our necessity to speak and to assemble to support yourself and your interests at your convenience and then when it doesn’t directly impact you disappear.  Please do not call yourself ally or friend in private, but when called upon in public circles and public policies look the other way.  Please do not try to comfort me by saying, “I don’t judge you”, because even if you were outwardly bigoted toward us your judgement holds no power and we don’t need your moral pardon.  Please recognize that being a ‘safe person’ and indicating so with your safety pins may require you to actually stand up to bullies on the bus or at the movie theater or at church or at the mall.  Thus far, being a safe person has not count the cost when hearing a friend or family member brag about their candidate winning and how they finally have their country back.  For years, you’ve claimed that you believe that racism and sexism are inexcusable, but remain silent when you’ve heard your family member or friend use a homophobic joke or racial slur.  But enough is enough—we can’t afford your silence—it is causing additional pain.  Your silence is creating barriers and broken bridges and we do not have the energy to mend them.  Please consider the radical nature of love… love is never inaction… love is not based on convenience… love is not negotiated… love is not just spoken in private—no, rather, radical, transformational love is lived out in public.  So if you say that you love me—love us—consider coming out from the shadows and stand with us—speak.

Uncategorized

Supporting a Partner who has Experienced Trauma Part 2

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A few weeks ago I had an individual comment to the previous post entitled: Supporting a Partner who has Experienced Trauma.  This individual’s comments addressed an important issue that occurs when family members are not supportive to their partners because they: do not have a desire to do so or they are insensitive to the needs of loved ones traumatized or they do not see the unique needs of those traumatized to be legitimate or warranting attention.  Some may have difficulty facing the reality that there are folks like this that do exist– well they do and I think that deserves attention, especially as we as a larger community figure out ways of being supportive and compassionate to people who face challenges like these in their family of origin.

Let me start by saying that the first post on this subject was addressed to those partners and family members who do desire to support their loved ones, but either do not know where to start or who want effective/compassionate/appropriate communication strategies to communicate their support.  I have met countless families who are well-intentioned and desire healing and wholeness for their suffering family member but do not have the tools or resources.  That said, as a member of the therapeutic community I think I have a responsibility to educate and provide these resources to the broader community and develop compassion for those who may be failing in their efforts, but want to learn and want to grow in order to provide care to their loved one.  There are classes and resources available for families who face a cancer diagnosis to teach each member the process of treatment, what to expect, how to support the loved one who has cancer, what their loved one can eat, etc.  Why don’t we provide more of these educational & empowering experiences to families who are dealing with trauma and mental health? 

The second part to this series has to do with partners and families who do not see the necessity of their support toward the healing process in trauma.  These are folks who might ask questions like, “why is this still bothering you when that happened decades ago”.  Unsupportive and insensitive people may question the accuracy of memory, the survivor’s choices– they may even go as far as defending or justifying the perpetrator’s abuse.

What most people do not know is that trauma response has neurobiological consequences that impact the individual’s lives daily for a long time.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects a person’s sleep, work, relationships and health daily.  PTSD symptoms include: nightmares, flashbacks, depression, anxiety and memory issues.  Our human brains are wired to process threatening information and to develop a response quickly.  We all know this as the fight-flight-freeze response in the limbic system of the brain.  In this state, our brains’ role is to quickly respond– evolutionarily this is helpful if you’re being chased by a lion.  However, in prolonged states of abuse like sexual assault in childhood or domestic violence the threat is consistently there and the brain is conditioned to maintain in the fight-flight response position, which means the frontal cortex (where much of the linear thinking occurs) goes offline and cannot process information when the threat is no longer there.  For traumatized people the consequences of trauma in the brain can mean that the process never reaches completion.  The trauma narrative has a beginning, a middle, but there is no ending so the brain keeps processing the event as though it is still occurring.  In other words, people suffering with trauma reprocess the trauma event as though it is still occurring in the here-and-now– even if the danger or threat has passed weeks, months or years prior.  This is stressful and anxiety producing for the individual and it is no wonder why people feel depressed and isolated in the process.

What can be additionally traumatic and isolating are the responses that survivors receive from people.  We all know about this too… the victim blaming and shaming is outrageous and all over the media and in our culture.  The survivors who came forward to share their stories of victimization at the hands of Bill Cosby is one example of the silencing and shaming that goes on in society.  Unfortunately, we have seen this at every layer of society from the legal system to the family to the church community.  There are few spaces of safety for survivors.  As sad as it is to see this in the larger society, what brings me to tears is the lack of compassion, understanding and protection from survivor’s families.

There are countless stories of survivors turning to their partners or parents or pastors or friends to share their stories and who have been met with denial and rejection.

That said, this post is to & for the survivors.  

  1. You are brave and strong and courageous.  You are a survivor.  You are resilient and have endured the horror of trauma with dignity, integrity and grit.  We honor you.
  2. I mourn that you mourn the loss of many things including a partner or loved one to support you, to understand you, to listen.  I grieve that in your family you have felt voiceless and invisible.  Even in your grief, I see your courage to remain and to be true to yourself and your story.
  3. There are people that do understand.  I’ve found that although many survivors experience a loss of relationship with families they are born into they are able to build their own families and communities who may not be genetically related, but who get them, accept them and join them.  These families are deep and real… It’s a family by adoption, but it is so meaningful because of the freedom each one feels to choose each other.  Think of a friend or two that you trust, that you connect to and that will get your back in your darkest moments– these are your real people– your village.
  4. Join a support group.  Support groups are important for a number of reasons: 1) it establishes a space where you are not alone, 2) support group members and facilitators understand the challenges you have faced with the trauma and in your relationships, 3) these are confidential groups so you can share your experiences without fear of reprisal, 4) support groups can be a place to develop friendships and 5) you learn from others by listening to their process and folks learn from you by hearing yours– it’s communal, collaborative and respectful in this way.
  5. The symptoms and challenges you experience doesn’t have to be it forever.  There are empirically tested therapeutic interventions that can assist you in the symptoms you experience post-trauma.  These interventions can help you develop different responses to yourself in distress.  EMDR is an intervention that has been studied rigorously and has had positive outcomes for trauma symptoms.  Check out the link to learn more.  But a short version to EMDR is it facilitates a reconnection to the frontal cortex in the brain.  Post-trauma the memory can get stuck in the amygdala and continue to reprocess the trauma.  EMDR assists the brain in completing the process of information by bringing the frontal cortex back online.  Emotional regulation through mindfulness is a skill that can be effective.  I am happy to give some ideas of different therapies that are available and may be a good fit for specific situations.  All this to say, it is possible to learn new skills, gain insight into how you’re effected by trauma and make meaning in your life.

Uncategorized

Tweaking survival life skills…

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It’s probably not obvious from the picture, but the tools in the picture symbolize the life skills or tools we use in every day life.  Sometimes these tools are developed in childhood and do not progress, especially when trauma is involved.  

In trauma work I notice that many of the emotional skills (tools) developed by clients worked at one period of their life to survive an abusive situation and now no longer work.  I hear stories of trauma or harm done to clients in childhood by an abusive parent or in an intimate relationship by a spouse or lover.  What I’ve observed is whether the person has incurred the abuse as a child or later in life this remains true: trauma is a deep wound sustained by the betrayal of safety in the most intimate relationship(s) of the individual’s life.  

Survivors of trauma develop skills to respond to the danger in order to survive– one manages to learn to survive emotionally, physically, financially, etc.  For one woman, this meant making sure everything was perfect in the home before her spouse returned from work– house cleaned, dinner on the table, children quiet.  She found that if she was able to replicate this formula that her husband was less likely to yell at her, belittle her or physically push her around.  And yet, there were times that even with this formula in place her husband would go off– reducing her to nothing with his attacks.  

If people have the fortune to leave damaging relationships, they often apply their survival skills from the previous situation into current circumstances and relationships.  For the woman mentioned earlier, this meant a kind of hypervigilance of keeping everything in her home perfect, controlled and in place– even though she now was in a loving home, which did not place the same restrictions and limitations she experienced previously.  She was compelled to continue her routines to ensure control of her environment.  It makes all the sense in the world– maintaining safety, security and protection within familiar patterns is very common for all of us.  

Often times what happens is the survivor begins to find that the survival tools do not fit their current situation.  Again, using this woman as an example: she felt so controlled by the need for hypervigilance and control over her environment that she reported being anxious most of the time.  She found herself to be agitated and irritated.  She didn’t have joy in any of her relationships.  She was angry at herself, which fueled a self-contempt.  Her critical attitude toward herself began to overshadow her current relationship with her partner and kids.  

The depression and anxiety became so acute that she eventually reached out for therapy.

Now, I could go into all the helpful trauma therapies out there…  There are some really helpful therapeutic tools to assist someone through this process.  Okay I’ll throw one out there… DBT.  Mindfulness… awe, yes very helpful to someone who is experiencing acute stress or PTSD symptoms.

But what I really want to say is that if this is you…  If you’ve been through a traumatic life event through abuse know that there is nothing wrong with you.  You may be in a place where you are triggered by a stress that brings all that trauma to the surface and you feel flooded, alone and fearful.  Or perhaps, you’ve been dealing with the residual symptoms of trauma in your everyday life and you are trying to cope with survival skills that no longer serve you.  There is nothing wrong with you.  

It may be time to address the trauma though.  It might be time to tweak the survival life skills to better fit your current situation.  It may be time to go through a healing process for the traumas you’ve sustained.  It might be the time to invite other people into your struggles to join you in carrying this burden.  

There is nothing wrong with you and you should not have to do this alone.

If you find that you could use more help with a trauma you’ve experienced here are some places to connect in the Seattle area:

Crisis Clinic: (866) 427-4747 or http://www.crisisclinic.org

My PTSD forum: https://www.myptsd.com/c/

The Fremont Community Therapy Project (DBT Groups and Therapy): http://www.therapyproject.org

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A new adventure ahead

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A few weeks I learned that I was accepted into a doctoral program in an International Psychology program.  The concentration of my research will be on women & trauma.  The Chicago School’s program is one of kind– I’ve seen nothing else out there like it.  Depending on the direction & concentration of my research on women & trauma I will be traveling to our international partner sites to conduct field study.  This opens up a plethora of pathways for partnerships, learning and expansion on the research I’ve been dreaming about for years.  

All that to say, I will still be blogging & writing.  I imagine that my posts will include many of my thoughts on the research, stories, statistics– blah-blah-blah.  I hope to keep it relevant and interesting.  I want to use this space to keep expanding dialogue.  

Lately I’ve been asked why I do this work.  At some point I think I’ll be able to share more of my own personal story– as it is connected to the dialogue and the work, but for now I can share this–  I am passionate.

I am passionate about women.

I am passionate about the voices of women.

And I am unapologetic.

I have seen churches and schools and businesses and institutions and families, most established on systems of patriarchy, dismantle and undermine the development and freedom of the feminine voice.

I have been with women who have been literally beaten and smashed told that their only worth is that of serving the men in their lives.

I have sat across from women bruised and scarred from years of sexual abuse told that no place within themselves or their bodies is sacred or private or intimate or wholly their own.  

I have heard stories from women who have been told that real sacrifice has to do with compromising their own hopes, dreams, desires in service of others.  When feelings of confusion or disillusionment arise they are told that to dream or hold desire is to be selfish and self-serving.  Thus, leading them to believe that to be ‘good’ is to let go of any personal hope or dream.

And so you see, I am passionate about joining women in finding and freeing their beautiful voice– a voice full of wisdom, insight, purpose, laughter, sorrow, joy, vision and hope.  

And so I hope to continue to expand my understanding and my awareness through this research to create spaces of safety and healing that will ultimately lead to liberation and realization of the feminine voice.  

This is not an easy or quick work.  I am reminded of this through Caroline Knapp’s writings.  In her book Appetites, Knapp says:

“Defining desire in new ways is achingly complicated, painstaking work; it requires developing a vision that runs counter to consumerism, counter to a corporate an political culture that’s still tightly structured to meet male needs, perhaps even counter one’s own deeply-ingrained assumptions…Anything that connects you–to the body, to the self, to other women–can free.  Anything that frees may also feed”.

It’s a three-year program, but really this is my life’s work and I’m thrilled to embark on this next leg of the journey!