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 LETTERS OF FORGIVENESS
Write letters of forgiveness to those who have hurt you. Then burn them. Set them free. Not for their sake, but for your own. Write a letter to God. To the universe. To fate. Whatever you feel has burdened you with something unbearable. Be honest in your letter. Release the emotions and, just like with the journaling, do not edit yourself. Let it flow. Free it! Free yourself!
I am grateful to have had the chance to sit down with Joyelle Brandt to discuss her mission of helping those who are parenting with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Thank you, Joyelle, for sharing your personal story and the beautiful work you are doing helping others along their parenting and healing journey. What a gift for those families and the children who will benefit from the steps their parents are taking to heal.
“Joyelle Brandt is a self care coach for moms. She specializes in working with mothers who are survivors of abuse, to help them develop a personalized self soothing toolkit for stress management. As aspeaker, mothering coach, and multi-media creator, Joyelle works to dismantle the stigma that keeps childhood abuse survivors stuck in shame and self-hatred. She is the author/illustrator of Princess Monsters from A to Z and co-editor of Parenting with PTSD, the groundbreaking anthology that breaks the silence about the long-term impact of childhood trauma so that parents can break the cycle of abuse.
When she is not busy raising two rambunctious boys, she is most often found playing her guitar or covered in paint at her art desk. You can keep up with Joyelle at www.joyellebrandt.com“
I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful conversation with Suzie Gruber regarding the utilization of NARM (Neuroaffective Relational Model) and Somatic Experiencing, both non-intrusive approaches to healing traumatic events and ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), her personal history with these approaches on both personal and professional levels, along with some joyous laughter throughout.
Bio: Suzie Gruber, M.A., SEP., holds advanced degrees in chemistry & psychology. She spent 15 years in biotechnology before returning to her first love: inspiring people to transform their lives. A Somatic Experiencing and a Neuroaffective Relational Model (NARM) Practitioner in private practice in Ashland, OR Suzie also leads seminars that teach people about complex trauma and the imprints it leaves behind. Additionally, Suzie is the Research Director for the NARM Training Institute and assists NARM practitioner trainings.
From Suzie’s website:
“My deepest passion lies in helping you improve your life today. You have an innate drive towards connection, aliveness, and success, a primal urge that gives you the strength and courage to change, regardless of what you face along the way. I’m here to help you do that.
I came to this place in a kind of circuitous way. After earning undergraduate and graduate degree in Chemistry (Harvey Mudd College and then Princeton University), I spent 15 years in the biotechnology industry working in Operations for start-up companies. Although I was quite successful in my career and I enjoyed the never ending, high energy challenges of start-ups, my first career never quite fit the deeper me. I had to honor my own primal urge to do what I love, help you come alive.
When I learned about peak oil, environmental issues, and the instabilities in our economic system, I knew I had to listen to my own deeper voice. I decided to completely rebuild my professional life from the ground up, first getting a Master’s Degree in Psychology and then becoming a Somatic Experiencing® (SE) practitioner and most recently training in the Neuroaffective Relational ModelTM. I offer a combination of these two modalities because they changed my life. I moved away from feeling crisis-driven on a daily basis, to instead experiencing each day with greater aliveness and success and enjoying more satisfying relationships.”
Present-Centered Therapy is a non-trauma focused treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This therapy modality is called “present centered” as the goal is to focus on the client’s current/present life while recognizing the connection between PTSD symptoms and current struggles. All the while doing this without focusing on past traumatic events.
There are a host of therapy options when it comes to treating PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms and they reside under different treatment umbrellas: medication treatment, trauma-focused therapy, and non-trauma focused therapy.
I have utilized all three! When I was first experiencing severe panic attacks (but, not yet given a C-PTSD diagnosis), I was prescribed anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. I eventually requested to be weaned off of all medications and challenged myself to learn coping strategies while continuing “talk therapy”. I began psychotherapy with a licensed practitioner in 2013 and we started the process of shining a light on my trauma history. This counselor suggested EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) as an alternative and I moved into that therapy practice. It was there that I started the deep-dive back into my trauma history, reliving traumatic events throughout my sessions. I participated in ninety-eight EMDR and brainspotting sessions which spanned a four-year period.
The goal for YOU (or anyone in your life seeking therapeutic support), is to find what works best for you and your needs. You know YOU best. The key is to research your therapy options, then research therapists who specialize in the treatment you have chosen for yourself. Continue your self-care journey by reading the latest research on brain plasticity (the brain’s ability to change) and evolving therapies.
This series will focus on the benefits of being persistent along your healing quest. I will, again, be speaking from experience. Some practical advice mixed with sprinklings of raw truth (those “This sucks and I really want to give up” moments).
This will work best if you have a journal, pad of paper, or Word doc dedicated to this exercise as I will be asking you to keep notes which you will need to refer back to as we progress.
Subtopics will include:
What does persistence really mean?
How do we define positivities?
A checklist of positive outcomes.
Habits and hurdles.
Encouraging one another.
I look forward to embarking on a Positivities of Persistence journey with you!
I was honored to have Dr. Greg Williams join me for a powerful conversation about his upcoming book release “Shattered by the Darkness: Putting the Pieces Back Together After Child Abuse”, his mission, personal story of triumph, and more!
Per Greg’s website: “Dr. Gregory Williams has written a new book that chronicles his lifelong journey of child abuse and its aftermath. It has taken Dr. Gregory more than 30 years to begin unveiling the horrors of what happened to him throughout his entire childhood. His book recounts the sexual exploitation he endured at the hands of his own father for 12 years.” https://shatteredbythedarkness.com/
Be sure to check out these articles, highlighting Greg’s story, posted in the ACEs Connection community:
I want to share a story of hope. And love. And forgiveness. But, before I share the happy part, I want to tell you about my dad and our history. For those needing it, *trigger warning for physical abuse*.
My dad hit me, quite violently at times, using a belt most days (the jingle of a belt buckle used to make those little hairs on my neck take notice). I was the oldest of two girls and, fortunate for me, but not my younger sister, I could scurry behind a locked bathroom door before being caught. I would spend my moments of terror, counting dingy white tiles in our tiny apartment bathroom, trying to tune out the sounds coming from outside my temporary safe space.
However, sometimes I was caught. Dad was six foot six, two-hundred and eighty pounds, and angry. At life. At his circumstances. At his alcoholic wife screaming for him to silence the children. At financial woes. At his boss. Whatever it was, he was angry about it. And we were easy prey, my little sister and me.
Sometimes he would throw something. Once he beheaded a statue of Jesus. My sister glued it back on. Another time, he broke my soccer trophy in half. I taped it back together with masking tape. The soccer player looked like she was playing with a cast on. Symbolic really. Keep on striving, even when broken.
When I was ten years old, my dad called me into his bedroom (my parents slept in separate rooms). He sat me on his lap and told me the following: “Teri, I’ve been seeing a doctor. A counselor. And I now realize I never should have hit you. I’m sorry. I promise to never hit you again. From now on you get to decide your discipline.” There was more, but that’s all I can remember.
And he never hit me again. My first lesson in forgiveness. And what a beautifully powerful one it was.
You see, my dad was also my saving grace. He was the one who took us to Burger Chef for a Fun Meal after our soccer games on Saturday mornings. Mom was at work and rarely came to our games. Dad tucked us in with stories of dragons and spaceships and talking dogs. He was the one who taught me how to count with raisins. And sat me on his lap when he would draw. He ran alongside my purple bike with the flowered banana seat as I wobbled around the school playground until he felt safe enough to let go, cheering me on with an exuberant, “You’re doing it!”
He was a good dad. Who was hurt as a child and didn’t know the impact of his violent actions on his own children until someone came along to show him the error of his ways. I thank God he had the compassion to listen. And apologize.
My dad died in January, 2009, of complications resulting from his diabetes.
This morning I went for my morning hike and said, “Dad, you should join me” (he loved his ‘exercise walks’ as he called them). I truly believe his spirit tagged along.
I was walking along a path strewn with hundreds of leaves when I sensed an excited energy urging me to “look down!” Sure enough. There in that mix of decaying brown, yellow, red, and orange tints was a tiny heart.
This continued throughout my hike. I would smile and send out an “I see it! Thanks!”
As I was headed to my car, the last of the sun on a blue-sky morning, now turning grey, was peering through a yellow-leafed tree. I felt a “Look up!” energy. I did and couldn’t help but laugh. There it was 💛
I found the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag a few hours ago. I’m normally not much of a Twitter user, more of a Facebook and LinkedIn fan. But, this one struck a chord. So, I sent off a tweet. This blog post is an extended version of that tweet.
I was five years old.
Let that sink in for just one moment.
Look at that photo up above. That’s me at five years old. Study my eyes. Do you see the sadness? He was a sixteen year old neighbor. He lived next door to my kindergarten best friend. I’ll spare the disgusting details. It was the first time STOP! screamed inside my soul, but could not find its way out of my mouth.
He threatened to hurt my mom if I told anyone.
I was nine years old.
Again, I will give you just a moment to ponder that.
My mom had sent me for a can of soup from our apartment neighbor. His mother was not home, yet he invited me inside. I was hesitant, but he insisted. If I wanted the can of soup, I’d have to come in. So, I did. He led me to a back room, pantry shelves lined the wall, filled with boxes and cans. He dangled the soup can over my head with strict instructions, “You’ll have to earn it.”
He told me he would kill my mom if I ever told a soul. STOP! could not find its way out of my terrified body.
Mom never did ask what took me so long to retrieve the can of soup.
I was ten years old.
Ten. Years. Old. As in fifth grade.
He was my school choir director and our church organist. He told me I had a pretty voice. But, I needed private lessons if I wanted a solo. I believed him when he told me I was special. Private lessons quickly turned to “privates” lessons. I begged my dad to let me quit choir. He didn’t insist on knowing why, but allowed it. Mom was disappointed in me. I mean, how would it look? The choir director was her church friend.
STOP! stayed frozen inside.
I was fourteen years old.
An awkward freshman in a Catholic school, working in the evenings for our parish priests in the rectory, answering phones and stuffing Sunday’s church bulletin with announcements about picnics and fundraisers.
He was the religious education director. I would giggle and blush at his suggestive comments, so unsure of how to scream STOP! even though that was, yet again, screaming in my soul. He followed me to the basement one evening, as I descended to fill the basement fridge with sodas as instructed by the pastor. This time I pushed back, but not before he made one of his suggestions come to life.
I was sixteen years old.
I would tell all the boys, “I’m as pure as the driven snow.” Code for: “I’m a virgin and proud of it.” He was my boyfriend. We were at a party on his grandparents farm. I was drinking. Heavily. He had tried before. Repeatedly. I had warded off his attempts. This night, I was less guarded thanks to beer and shots. He asked me if I wanted to see the family’s race car in the barn. I complied. Knowing in my soul I should not. He took me instead to the other barn. The one filled with cats and a loft. A loft with a rickety old bed. I repeatedly told him, “No” and “STOP!“, but . . . he didn’t.
Upon our walk back to the party, with a soft snow falling like tears from heaven, he turned to me and said, “I guess now only the snow is pure and driven.”
I was seventeen years old.
I had been jumped by a gang of youth while downtown and sexually accosted. That doesn’t belong under this hashtag because it WAS reported. I spent much of my junior year of high school testifying at trials in juvenile court. And having lunch with a detective involved in the investigation. His friends threw around the words “jail bait” quite a bit as they gave their fellow officer a congratulatory slap on the back.
He asked my parents to take me to dinner downtown to celebrate the final conviction case. They obliged. He was a police officer, right?
On the drive toward the city, a Knight Ranger song played on the radio and he turned to tell me, “This is our song.” My stomach flipped and STOP!silently screamed . . . yet again.
We never made it downtown for dinner. Instead he took me to his apartment. I resisted and eventually convinced this naked police officer to take me home. His children’s photos hanging on the wall helped me win that battle.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as: “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”
Medical News Today explains: “PTSD is generally related to a single event, while complex PTSD is related to a series of events, or one prolonged event.”Health Direct defines it as: “Complex PTSD describes a more severe and long-term condition that can occur after prolonged and repeated trauma, particularly in childhood. Trauma can cause problems with memory and disrupt the development of a person’s identity and their ability to control emotions and form relationships with others.”
For over twenty-five years, I battled severe panic attacks. These initially appeared when driving, brought on by a benign and unknown trigger. Flashbacks started haunting me and soon I was waking from my sleep in the throes of full-blown panic. I started to close in on myself and became agoraphobic over a period of time, afraid to leave my house for “fear of my fear”.
When I started EMDRtherapy at Cincinnati Trauma Connection in 2013, it was there I first learned of dissociation and my having compartmentalized my trauma incidents in order to survive and cope. It was also within the safe confines of my therapist’s office where I started to sift through those old storage boxes of horrors and confront the negative energy attached to them. Trauma by trauma, memory by memory, I took my power back from the ghosts who had been haunting my mind and soul. I released long-stored trauma energy and learned coping skills to regulate my symptoms when triggered.
Some of the symptoms of PTSD which I experienced were:
Hyper-arousal – I was living in a constant state of being on high-alert for imminent danger (whether real or imagined). That “tiger in the bushes” feeling was my norm. I still occasionally find myself in defense mode, however, I am now cognizant of it (my shoulders will be pulled up by my ears and my eyes will be scanning my surroundings) and can bring myself back into a centered, grounded, and calm state rather quickly.
Panic attacks – These symptoms would arise at benign triggers (a loud noise, seeing a violent movie scene, being stuck in traffic, during restless sleep, and more): sweating palms, racing heart, tunnel vision, tingles in my legs and head, inability to formulate words, overwhelming need to escape/run or hide/curl into a ball, and feeling faint. It has been years since I have experienced a full-blown panic attack. If I feel the beginnings of one start to emerge, I am able to quickly disarm it with an onslaught of coping skills, mindfulness exercises, and grounding practices. Download my FREE anxiety coping guide above for more detailed info.
Flashbacks – These first appeared soon after the second bank robbery and murder of my co-worker, when I awoke from a deep sleep to the terror of having the dark shadow of the murderer standing over me in my bedroom. While he was not really there, thankfully, my mind and body were reacting as if he was there with an intention to hurt me. The adrenaline coursed my veins as I fought my way back to reality. These flashback occurrences have diminished over the years and are now non-existent.
Nightmares – Similar to flashbacks, except the haunting happens within the dream itself, but ends upon waking. I have been known to howl in my sleep, run and kick (having even received a restless leg syndrome diagnosis at one point), and, on rare occasion, flail in my sleep. Most times I woke up in the midst of a severe panic attack and would fall immediately to the floor and curl into a ball or dart from my bed and begin to pace and shake. Again, it has been years since I have experienced this and only once have I awoken from a frightening dream state during that time and was able to calm my aroused state within seconds.
Avoidance behaviors – This entails avoiding situations and places which have caused a panic attack or anxiety in the past, or trying to avoid feeling scared, resulting in avoidance behaviors. Honestly, this one still lingers. Even after four years of EMDR therapy and utilizing other various therapy modalities and coping skills, I cannot yet drive on highways or over most bridges, sometimes experiencing heightened anxiety while a passenger in a vehicle in these spaces, as well. We have been unable to pinpoint the reason driving is a trigger. I have attempted exposure therapy and “making myself” drive over bridges and on small highway jaunts, however, the success is short-lived and avoidance behaviors quickly fall back into place. I will never give up and strive to find a solution to this lingering effect of my C-PTSD.
Trust issues – This can be directed at intimate relationships (partners, friends, family members) or the general public (open spaces, crowds, someone sitting behind you). Because of the violation of personal safety experienced during traumatic events, trauma survivors will, at times, put up walls of defense as a protective measure. Because the large majority of my transgressors were male, I had to make concerted efforts to be aware of my responses to men in general. I also found myself having to sit at the end of an aisle while attending concerts or theater events so as to not be trapped and unable to escape quickly. I now honor my needs and trauma-history and plan accordingly.
Anxiety – Here I am referring to a general state of anxious feelings. I would spend my days nervous about how I was coming across to someone, if so-and-so liked me, whether I was being a good enough mom, how I was going to travel across town for my son’s baseball game, was I going to randomly fall off of the earth (for real!), when my next panic attack was going to hit, how to keep all of the kids toys organized and not chaotic (you see a pattern here? . . . afraid to feel out of control). I now live my life in a regularly calm state, practicing mindfulness, and living in “the now” as much as possible. I am aware of my body/mind/soul state and take steps to center myself if I am feeling off-kilter.
Racing thoughts – The scariest of all of my symptoms. I wasn’t sure how to even describe what was happening in my brain when I first tried explaining this to my EMDR therapist. I felt as if I was standing on the brink of insanity, one stumble away from going over the edge into madness. My brain was trying to grab at hope. That’s the best way I can describe it. Once I learned to be comfortable in my own body, with all of its quirks and sometimes interfering symptoms, I was able to stop a racing thought dead in its tracks. I was standing in the shower a few months ago when I was quickly overwhelmed by racing thoughts, and, just as quickly, I re-directed my thought pattern through mindfulness techniques and calming strategies and ended up smiling and saying aloud to myself, “You rock, T! I am so proud of you!”
If you have experienced a single traumatic event, multiple or prolonged trauma, or exposure to toxic stress, and are experiencing these or other frightening symptoms, please reach out for guidance – talk to your doctor, a therapist, anxiety coach, or expert in the field of trauma recovery and resilience. Healing is possible and you are so very worthy of that gift!
First I will offer a definition of trauma-informed care, then explain what it means to me, as a trauma-warrior. The feedback I receive from those who hear my “story of hope” is that they connect with my story because of it’s rawness, realness, and relatability, I want to use that here with the concept of trauma-informed care.
As defined by The Tristate Trauma Network: “Trauma-informed care (TIC) is an approach that takes into account the prevalence of trauma, acknowledges the role trauma plays in people’s lives, and uses this knowledge to respond in appropriate ways to those affected by trauma.”
With that, I will share a story of trauma-informed care in action, outside of the mental health arena:
I had decided to attend a writers’ workshop in Orlando, FL. This was going to require a flight and some highway travel. Both of which normally result in increased anxiety for me (one of my triggers, resulting from two different bank robberies I was in, is a sensation of feeling trapped with panic attack symptoms surfacing). Therefore, my senses were heightened as I made my travel plans.
Upon contacting The Omni Championsgate Resort, I was advised that they could not guarantee me a lower level floor. The young woman on the phone stated she would put it in the notes and if anything was available upon check-in then I could have it. Yeah, that was not going to work for me. The idea of traveling up fourteen floors brought on more increased anxiety symptoms as thoughts of a busy elevator and heights beyond my comfort level started surfacing.
So, I did what I do best and reached out to management via email, sharing my “story of hope” along with a request for help. I stayed polite, yet truthful to my needs. The response I received was a perfect example of trauma-informed care in action!
“Good morning, Ms. Wellbrock,Thank you for the additional information, and what an amazing woman you are! I am happy to assist and have taken the liberty of blocking your reservation into a room on a lower floor and barring any unforeseen circumstances, there should be no problem honoring your request. Though a hug is not necessary, it’s always welcome! If you know your approximate arrival time, I’ll add to your reservation and hopefully will have a chance to meet you on arrival. Please let me know if there is anything else I may do to assist you, and thank you for your loyalty.”
Again . . . beautiful! ♥
Falling in line with the definition of trauma-informed care, this organization recognized the prevalence of trauma in a guest’s life, acknowledged the role it plays in my life (as well as my anxiety-inducing triggers), and used that knowledge to respond in an appropriate way to my trauma needs.
P.S. I utilized coping skills on my trip and had a panic-free, low anxiety trip filled with laughter, enlightenment and grace. I colored with gel pens on the flight, meditated and talked to a newfound trauma therapist friend on the highway shuttle ride, and enjoyed my third floor view of the scenic lazy river at the gorgeous resort.