Yesterday came and went . . . like an ordinary day.
I never thought it would happen. But, it has finally come to that. A place of peace, of healing, of forgiveness, and compassion.
It has taken thirty-one years. Thirty-one hard-fought, terror-filled, tearful, soul-searching, prayerful, journal-filling, therapy-seeking years on this healing journey. A path filled with lessons from healthy processing to coping skills to forgiveness techniques to self-compassion.
I tell my podcast guests and audience that my two most profound lessons learned throughout these years have been:
1) Be gentle with yourself.
2) Just notice.
I used to be so damn hard on me. Get over it, Teri. Stop living in the past, Teri. Let it go, for God’s sake. Then I learned about ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) and the impact of trauma on our brain, body and spirit. THAT is when I started to be gentle with myself and true healing began.
By learning to “just notice” (without judgment of whatever was surfacing), I learned to become comfortable in my own body. I then began to understand triggers (both benign and real) and my brain and body’s response to those triggers. Another much needed tool to helping me heal.
These two bank robberies – a mere ninety-three days apart – were a gift in that they brought me out of my trauma-coma. I had stuffed my childhood into little boxes, stored in the back of a scary closet in a cold dark basement. The sexual molestations, the date-rape, the physical abuse, living with the emotional abandonment of an addict, the bullying . . . all of it waiting for that final straw. This second robbery was that straw.
The gift from all of this? I have learned to appreciate life. Every little ladybug. Every giggle heard across a restaurant after falling from a child’s carefree little self. Every magnificent sunset. Every heart I find whether it’s bird poop or a wildflower bouquet. Every moment with my mom trying to be patient in her battles with her own demons. Every evening spent laughing with friends. Every phone call in which I hear one of my children’s voices. Every hug. Every podcast interview with beautiful healing souls. Every sign from God.
What a gift that I lived to share the story of hope and healing.
I loved connecting with Janyne McConnaughey to discuss being brave, childhood trauma, dissociative coping mechanisms, healing strategies, EMDR therapy, and so much more! Thank you, Janyne, for joining me on the podcast and shining your beautiful light of hope into the world.
“Janyne McConnaughey, Ph.D., retired from a forty-year career in education while healing from the attachment wounding and trauma she experienced as a child. During therapy, she wrote her way to healing and now is redeeming her story by helping others to understand the lifelong effects of childhood trauma and insecure attachment.
Janyne is a frequent guest blogger for the Attachment and Trauma Network, blogs at her own website (Janyne.org), and other organizations addressing trauma and attachment. She accepts a limited number of speaking engagements and can be contacted through her website.
Along with Brave: A Personal Story of Healing Childhood Trauma, and the companion book, Jeannie’s Brave Childhood: Behavior and Healing through the Lens of Attachment and Trauma, Janyne is working to complete three other books in the BRAVE series. She enjoys living in and exploring the Seattle area with her husband, Scott, children, and grandchildren. Her favorite activity is to follow her GPS to “green spaces” along the coast of Puget Sound.
David Kenney shares his insights on adopting traumatized children, the impact of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), healing avenues, trauma recovery, and much more during our in-depth conversation. Thank you, David, for joining me on-air and helping others along their healing journey.
“David J. Kenney is a seasoned speaker having presented to parent and professional groups at colleges, universities and educational in-services on topics such as healing trauma, stress management, anxiety reduction, helping children with attention deficits, behavior as a language, general parenting and achieving success in our schools.
David has been a school psychologist for over twenty-eight years in a diverse group of educational settings, from rich to poor, from one of the highest ranked schools in the state to one with much less success. He has worked in urban, suburban and rural settings. He currently teaches psychology courses at Lansing Community College.
As an undergraduate student, David was invited to the 1985 National Fairweather conference to present a program he developed using creative writing with chronic, schizophrenic patients. This project was spotlighted in the Detroit Free Press on August 30, 1985. In 1986, David graduated, magna cum laude, from the University of Detroit with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and again as a Specialist in School Psychology in 1989. He was liaison to the Michigan State Board of Education from 1995 to 1997 and served as President of the Michigan Association of School Psychologists in 1997-98.
But all achievements pale when compared to raising traumatized children to a healthy maturity. Children wounded by the world have been given little reason to trust it, so there were no guarantees of successful outcomes. Through his committed efforts, Dave and Barb learned strategies to heal harmed children. His expertise and insight has been noted by colleagues, who continue to seek him out for mentoring and training.”
Every Tuesday morning this school year, Sammie and I have visited the kids at Terrace Park Elementary school. Sammie melts my heart as I witness her work her therapy dog magic with these sweet little humans. The idea of helping a child who is experiencing anxiety or feelings of overwhelm touches me on a soul level. I know how much small gestures of kindness and gentle acceptance meant to me as a child. That’s what helped me live through my hell and come out smiling. Sammie is helping me pay it forward with her gentle ways with kids.
Today these kids and the amazing staff at that school made my heart smile . . . and Sammie’s tail wag. A lot!! They gifted us with a new backpack (mine was falling apart and my menopause brain kept forgetting to switch over to another backpack!), bags of dog treats, much needed Dentastix (Sammie has stinky dog breath even though I brush her teeth), toys for Sam, even toys for our puppy Max . . . and noodles!!!
But, the cards. These hand-written thank yous teared me up and, again, had my heart smiling. To know my beautiful dog touches so many lives just by radiating love and giving stinky kisses and sharing hugs (she has started to put her head on a shoulder and push her head against the hugger’s head) . . . is fulfilling in ways I can’t really express in words. It’s like my soul is filled with light.
So I send out a thank you to the awesome staff who welcome us each week with smiles and dog treats in the office before we head upstairs, thank you to the amazing teachers who invite us into their classrooms, thank you to Tricia and Liz for helping me continue to learn the gifts contained in just listening and for offering Sammie a space to shine, thank you Jen Hrovat for introducing us all and giving an adorable hint on the rainbow tennis balls. And THANK YOU to the kids for loving my Sammie girl and brightening our Tuesday mornings.
I love this dog. She’s a therapy dog. She’s The Doodle with the Noodle. She’s sweet. And snuggly. And funny. And overflowing with love. She’s my best friend. And my snuggle buddy. My hiking pal. And my calming presence.
But most of all, she is love. A lot of love in a furry body.
Laughter is a healing tool and we shared the gift of laughter during this deep conversation on a difficult subject. Thank you, Donna, for helping others along their healing journey by sharing your powerful story, your beautiful gift of writing, your talents and truths.
“Founder and Director of Time To Tell – with a mission to spark stories from lives affected by incest and sexual abuse to be told and heard. She wrote and performs her one-woman play, What She Knows: One Woman’s Way Through Incest to Joy, which is based on her own experience of surviving incest, at conferences and in communities. She leads writing workshops for survivors interested in finding their voice and using it. Her book, Healing My Life from Incest to Joy, is a memoir of the choices she made and experiences she had that helped her heal from her childhood trauma. ”
What a beautiful conversation with Maria Dunlap, founder and CEO of Vivian’s Victory, about the difficult subject of losing a child and parenting a child with a chronic illness along with a discussion on the gifts that come from grief and the healing journey. Thank you, Maria, for sharing your heartache, triumph, and light of hope with those needing support and guidance.
“Maria Dunlap is the Founder and CEO of Vivian’s Victory. Vivian’s Victory is a nonprofit dedicated to bring hope, building community and bridging gaps for families that have a child diagnosed with a chronic illness. After Maria’s daughter, Vivian, died in the hospital at 59 days old in 2012, she knew families needed to receive support during perhaps the hardest moments of their lives. Since the inception of Vivian’s Victory in 2014, over 2,000 families have been impacted through their mission.”
I so enjoyed this amazing conversation with Amit Janco (I found it fascinating to be talking to someone on the other side of the world who was already in tomorrow!), discussing her personal continued healing journey after falling from a bridge, the exciting release of her book (Un)Bound Together: A Journey to the End of the Earth (and Beyond), the healing aspects of nature and art, and so much more. Thank you, Amit, for sharing your brilliant insights (I love your ability to paint a picture with your words) and shining the light of hope.
“Amit Janco is a writer, serial walker, labyrinth designer and yogi who has lived in Bali since 2011. As an artist, Young Living oiler and Narrative Therapy practitioner, she loves to design multi-sensory experiences that inspire creative expression. After falling from a bridge in early 2009, Amitset off, like thousands before her, on a journey of physical healing along the mythical Camino de Santiago. What was slated to be little more than a rehabilitative adventure of walking across the undulating terrain of northern Spain, would become an unexpectedly gratifying, comical, and, at times, emotionally tumultuous odyssey through physical and emotional recovery, into the very heart and soul of her existence. Part memoir and part Camino pilgrimage, Amit’s newly-released book, (Un)Bound, Together: A Journey to the End of the Earth (and Beyond), reveals how a quest for whole healing can unfold in unlikely ways and places.”
I want to share one coping strategy a month. These are strategies I use (or have used) in my own life as I travel the healing journey. I hope they bring you tranquility, as well!
WRITE AN UNCONDITIONAL LOVE PRAYER
Write an unconditional love prayer for one person who has created difficulty in your life. Think only of their needs, pain, and heartache. Do not mention your own. This is about honoring that person’s journey and offering unconditional love in the form of prayer.
I did this in relation to someone I had considered my best friend for almost seven years before she *ghosted me. It was liberating. This prayer helped me to let go.
*Ghosting: the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.
Grab that journal or note pad and let’s get our positivity on! This month we will address the following two Positivies of Persistence areas together:
A checklist of positive outcomes.
Habits and hurdles.
A Checklist of Positive Outcomes
Stop for just a moment and reflect upon your desires. If there were no hurdles to overcome (such as financial restraints, fears, health concerns, spiritual uncertainties, etc.), what would your “perfect life” look like? Where would you live? Who would be in your close circle? Would you be working? If so, doing what? What would you do for fun? What goals would you be achieving?
When I was working on my undergrad in Psychology, my goal was to continue on to graduate school, with the dream of pursuing my PhD in Child Psychology. My husband at the time even gifted me a car for my graduation and had the license plate PHD2BE on it. Life, however, had other plans and that goal was derailed. But, that dream is still on my to-do list. I might be 80 when I make it a reality, but it will happen.
Exercise: Create YOUR checklist of positive outcomes. Spare no detail. As a matter of fact, the more details that are included, the more you can envision that outcome coming to life!
Exercise: Choose one of your outcomes and break it down into smaller outcomes. For instance, my own – Obtain PhD (main outcome): research school options, find out application deadlines and fees, reach out to admissions, research scholarship options, choose school, complete application, etc. Obviously my broken down list would be more inclusive, but this gives you an idea.
Exercise: Choose ONE of those smaller outcomes and determine if you can break it down even smaller. Baby steps. Baby steps. Then do so.
Exercise: Finally . . . choose one of those mini-goals and do it.
Habits and Hurdles
One of the books I read and reference when giving speaking presentations is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. Habit formation is key to change. I had created a habit of avoidance behaviors as a way of dealing with my panic attacks and certain triggers such as driving over bridges. I started to create new response habits, new anticipatory habits, and new “cheer myself on” habits. These changes in habits then resulted in new neuron pathways in my brain.
Our brain is malleable (changeable) and the way we can positively change it is through positive habit formation. Think about wanting to tone our body. Obviously, we cannot think ourselves fit. We must do the work to sculpt our bodies in the way we envision. Leg day. Cardio. Hiking. Swimming. Biking. Whatever it is that we use to create positive body changes. That same philosophy applies to our brains. A brain workout is in order if we are to create positive changes.
Exercise: Write down (or voice record) positive thinking patterns and responses you would like to implement. Do you want to be calmer and not quick to anger? Do you want to notice God’s gifts/the beauty of the universe surrounding you throughout your day? Do you want to reduce your anxiety symptoms? (These are just a few ideas that popped into my head as I have worked on these exact habitual responses myself)
Exercise: After completing that list, write down (or record) ways you can begin to change your current habits. For instance, instead of screaming at fellow drivers on the road, can you turn on happy music (whatever is happy for YOU) and focus on the lyrics, melodies, messages in the songs instead of the skills of other drivers (or lack thereof!).
Realistically, you will encounter hurdles. Habits are difficult to break. The key, however, is persistence. Ah, the theme of this series. Persistence.
One skill I want to you to practice as you come upon hurdles is gentleness. Remind yourself gently that you are working toward change and it’s fine to fall back into old patterns. Be easy on you. Give yourself a pep talk. Then try it again. And again. And again. We cannot lift weights one day and expect our arms to be ripped. Right? The same goes with brain change and new habit formation. Keep at it. And be sure to give yourself props when you start to notice a new habit forming. You deserve the praise.
Exercise: Record hurdles you are experiencing along the way. How are you overcoming them? What can you do to avoid them? How long did it take to no longer consider something a hurdle, but simply a reminder to re-direct? Keep track of progress you are making along your positive habit formation journey.
WARNING: Confessions of a frustrated co-dependent. Things a child, no matter how old, should ever have to go through.
My mother told my sister last week, “Tell Teri to go to hell and I never want to see her again.” Obviously, intoxicated. This was a result of my discovering she was using a younger family member to drive her to the grocery (where there is a liquor store) and I informed that family member’s parent.
Two days ago she advised a family member she would be “drinking herself to death”. Same old story I’ve heard since I was a kid. Drunken slurs told to me as a child like, “Teri, this life does not matter. I want to be with Jesus. I just want to die. Death is beautiful. If you died I would celebrate. How lucky would that be.” A child. Being told by her mother that she would celebrate her child’s death.
I used to wake up and find my mother standing over me with a butcher knife in her hand. Her eyes would be lifeless. As if she was staring through me. I would cry as silently as possible so as not to startle her. My little sister always found her way into my bed and would wrap herself around me. It was a comfort for both of us.
Today I sit here furious. And bitter. And sad.
She is on another “I haven’t eaten in 3 days. I am no longer taking my medications. I am only going to drink until I die” missions.
I called 911 two days ago when she first threatened to kill herself as we cannot get into her secured building. She turned them away. Today I called her doctor and was advised to have the police accompany the paramedics as they will force her to go with them for a psych eval. Her building social worker called to tell me, that even though she had a “huge bottle of vodka” sitting next to her and a glass filled with it, the police left without taking her. And no paramedics were with them.
So I just printed off the “instructions for filing an emergency guardianship” paperwork. It states a physician must appear before the magistrate in a hearing to justify it is necessary to avoid immediate harm to the ward. I cannot get her to a hospital as she refuses transport.
She cannot live on her own, per her doctor’s own words, but I cannot force her to move until she’s no longer competent enough to make the choice. Apparently the police think she’s still competent enough to decide.
Therefore, we sit and wait. For our mother to sober herself up. Or die.
No child should EVER have to go through this hell.
I lost my mind on the social worker. I snapped. I cried. I screamed, “I’m fucking done. Let her die.”
I’ve reached out so many times for help. I just don’t know what to do anymore.
This is the lady I grew up with. A bottle of alcohol always next to her. She would come home from work and pour a drink and sit down to read. I learned early on to lock myself in my room and put my headphones on and escape into my music. If I approached her, she would slur at me, “Can’t I just relax for five minutes? Just leave me alone!” Or, if I approached with happy news, “Mom! Look! I got a 93% on my test.” (A 93 was still an A back in the 70’s) Her response, “A 93? A 93? God gave you a brilliant mind, Teri. And you are wasting it. Why wasn’t it a 100%? You are disappointing God. And me.” And I would turn away, once again, belittled and shamed. Shamed for not being good enough.
She tried to drown me in a bathtub when I was 4, holding my head underwater. She told me I would be happier with Jesus. Until my dad came in and sucker-punched her across the bathroom. She landed between the toilet and cabinet.
She tried to kill my dad with a butcher knife. But, he lifted a chair in time in front of him as protection to have the blade completely penetrate the wood seat. I witnessed her hauled off in handcuffs on that occasion. I was 4 or 5.
She beat my sister relentlessly. She didn’t like her and made it clear. I got to listen to the screams from behind a locked bathroom door where I would hide for hours until it was quiet again.
She told me I was frumpy and ugly and used to show my 7th grade photo to people and laugh about how ugly I was. I had braces and a unibrow and yes, pretty hideous, but really?
When I was in my 20’s (after the bank robberies) I dressed conservatively for business. She would laugh and call me, “Margaret Thatcher” and advise me I needed to brighten myself up so people would think I was happy.
Yet, I have fought and fought and fought for this lady’s love and approval my entire life. All I wanted was for her to love me and accept me.
I know my life motto is #nevergiveup, but damn is this a tough battle to keep fighting. Please pray for strength and answers as we move forward with guardianship. And that I keep my cool and not explode in frustration again. I’m starting to reach the end of my rope with this one.