Is that child just “acting up” or is it trauma?

I believe that every child is a gift. I especially agree with my own three children. They have been an amazing blessing in my life and I am so proud to be their mum.

Nothing in life really prepares you to be a parent. Sure when you are pregnant you can read all of the parenting help books or talk to health nurses, but really you are never quite prepared when that little baby is placed in your arms. Suddenly you realize that no one, but you is responsible for this living and breathing little person. It’s life depends on you. Wow what a profound moment that was for me.

As a parent I have always wanted the best for my children. It is hard when life and what you want doesn’t always match up. My oldest was born in 2001 and for the first 9 years of her life we lived with her father. Unfortunately for her, her younger siblings and myself their father was an abuser. Abuse of many forms was prevalent throughout our house and this affected each of my children in different ways. We have dealt with PTSD diagnoses, OCD tendencies, nightmares, wetting of beds, soiling of pants, disassociation, violent outbursts and yes some substance abuse. None of this is what I wanted for them. It has been heartbreaking as a mum to watch my children struggle and it has been debilitating to them at various times of their life. This is definitely not the life I wanted for my children.

Despite all of the trials my children and I have always been a team. I have let them know from the moment that they were born that I will always be there for them. With every cry in the night  to cheering them on at their band concert at school I have been there.  I have worked hard to be their safety and their constant despite the turbulent beginning years of their life. When my ex and I finally separated, my kids and I shared my Queen size bed for months. We all had our spot on the bed and perhaps it was not the most comfortable of sleeps as we all crammed in, but we were together, we were safe and that was the most important thing.

Kids experience trauma in different ways than an adult. For one their brains are still developing so trauma affects their brain development. Children also have different ways then adults on how they express their trauma. If you have an infant, toddler or a preschooler you may observe;

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Disturbances in feeding
  • Feelings of helplessness and passivity
  • Generalized fearfulness
  • Specific new fears
  • Loss of or regression in recently acquired skills like walking, talking or potty training.
  • Clinginess and separation anxiety.
  • Inhibited play
  • Thinking or talking about the event
  • Upset at reminders or avoiding reminders of the event.
  • Irritability
  • Agressiveness
  • Scanning for danger
  • Easily startled

If you have school age children you might observe;

  • Posttraumatic play. This kind of play is a repetitive reenactment of the event
  • Thinking and talking about trauma outside of play
  • Being upset about reminders of the event.
  • Specific fears triggered by the event
  • Fantasies of revenge
  • Feeling guilty about the trauma and feeling responsible for it
  • Impaired concentration and difficulty learning
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headaches, stomach aches and other physical symptoms
  • Concerns about theirs and others safety
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawn behaviour

If you have an adolescent you might observe;

  • Detachment, shame guilt
  • Self conscious about their fears and intense feelings
  • Abrupt shifts in relationships
  • Desire for and plans to take revenge
  • Premature entrance into adulthood or reluctant to leave home
  • Being upset at reminders of the trauma and doing their best to avoid reminders
  • Coping behaviours that may include self-endangering behaviours such as substance abuse and/or cutting

I am sure you have observed these behaviours in children or teens. They may not be your own children and often when this behaviour is observed most being ask “what is wrong with that kid?” and the school system usually wants to label the child with a learning disability, but that is not helping the child. This is not a case of “what is wrong with that child?” it is a case of “what happened to that child?” We need to start changing the conversation around “troubled” children and start looking at what has happened in the past. What are they trying to tell us?

There are ways to help a traumatized child. For our infants, toddlers and preschoolers it is important for parents to stay close to their child. Kids of all ages need security, especially after trauma, but for our younger ones they will struggle to verbalize their trauma (if they can at all) and what they need. So staying close to your child gives them a sense of security. Help the child anticipate what will happen, give them choices. When trauma happens our sense of control in our life is rocked to the core. It is important to give that feeling of control back to the child. I will give you an example. Let’s say you ask your youngster to put away their toys and they refuse too. Instead of getting angry at them it is important to offer them a choice like, “Sarah you can put your toys away or you can go to your room for a time out.” This gives the child a choice without anger or a threat and they are then in control of what happens next. It is also important to name the child’s feelings and letting them know that feelings are good to feel. It is also important to give them reassurance as they need it and expect to do this over and over again. It is normal for children to need repeated reassurance.

For a school aged child it is important to listen to a child’s concerns and to answer questions truthfully and simply. Also let your child be close to you if they need you. They too will look to you for security. Reassure the child that they are safe. Also name their feelings and encourage them to express them through play or art. It is also important to help the child anticipate what will happen next in their life to help them feel in control and to give them choices. Like our younger children expect to do these things over and over.

For teens it is very similar to the younger children. With teen you will also want to give them choices, be close to you if they need to, encourage them to express their feelings through journaling, art, dance or writing poems and songs. Help them anticipate what happens next and provide an environment where your teen can talk about their concerns. Also expect to do these things over and over. Healing from trauma takes time, patience and hard work. There is no straight time line for healing trauma so basically it will take as long as it takes. Over time, as your child heals you will notice that the effects of trauma will lessen and the trauma will become a part of them. If  there are symptoms that you feel incapable of handling on your own it is always best to seek professional help. It is also important as a parent that you are supported. It is not easy to watch your child struggle and all of this can be a heavy load to carry so reach out to family and friends. If needed seek professional help for yourself to help you cope in healthy ways.

I have to say that my children have come a long way in the last eight years.  We no longer need to share a bed together. Outbursts and clingyness has been replaced with children who are getting to know who they are, are enjoying being with friends and can sleep without nightlights. I am extremely proud of each of them for all they have achieved in their recovery.  The good days happen more often than the bad now, but yes we still have struggling moments. Which is why last night when I held one of my children, as they sat on the bathroom floor and cried, I was not surprised that this was happening. I held them knowing that their pain still needs to come out and that is OK. I know that I do not have to solve this for them I just need to be there, to listen, hold them and let them know that they are safe and loved. I know that over time the impact of their trauma is lessening, one day at a time.

If you or your child needs extra help dealing with trauma I encourage you to speak to your doctor or seek out a therapist trained in trauma to help you through it. Until we meet again….

Peace,

Janet

PS. Kids Help Phone is available for any child in need. They can be reached at  1-800-668-6868

 

 

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Grooming – What is it in an abusive relationship?

Grooming, for many it is a normal word, something we do to a pet. It has two definitions in the dictionary; 1. look after the coat of (a horse, dog, or other animal) by brushing and cleaning it 2. prepare or train (someone) for a particular purpose or activity. In an abusive relationship grooming is the second definition and it is a horrible thing. The abuser trains or prepares their victim for further abuse. It is done so subtly that often the victim does not even realize it is happening, nor do those around them.
Grooming is done to lower the child’s, and often the families’, inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse. I will give you an example. A husband and wife have a few children, one is a daughter. She is the father’s favourite, “daddy’s little girl.” They do everything together and often it is just the two of them on outings. The mother is often left at home or left out of activities. The father says its because she has to look after the other kids, but he also never goes out with his wife. Others start to whisper that he treats his daughter more like his wife than he does his wife. Or another father starts watching porn just down the hall from his daughters bedroom and rarely hides what is on the screen if she walks by. Or another starts to cuddle and sleep with his daughter at night, and says he was just reading her books and fell asleep; night after night. Subtly and slowly these men are preparing their daughters for sexual abuse. Getting them so used to the idea sexual touching that it seems normal when it happens, or at least that is what they are hoping. It’s not always fathers and daughters, sometimes it is step-parents, uncles, aunts, babysitters, anyone in a position of trust.
Once the abuse is exposed there is shock felt by those around the victim. Adults ask, “How did I not see it?” If it was a father or stepfather the mother thinks, “I must be a terrible mother not to see it, how did this happen?” It happened because abusers are manipulative. Master manipulators who are playing a giant game of chess. Each person around them is game piece being moved carefully and craftily around the board. So craftily that their opponent does not see that they are about to lose their king until it is too late.
Sexual abuse is devastating to all involved, especially the victim. Many victims turn to drugs, sexual promiscuity and struggle in school or at work. I believe sexual abuse to be the most pervasive form of abuse and it devastates all involved. There can be healing though. The shattered pieces can be picked up and the power taken back from the abuser.  It takes counselling and a proper support system for the victim and those close to them, also no contact with the abuser is best. It also takes forgiveness. I am not saying one has to forgive their abuser, that is a very personal decision. I believe those around the victim have to forgive themselves that they did not see what was happening around them. Again, abusers are master manipulators and will only let you see what they want you to see.
If you are being sexually abused, please tell someone you trust. I know it is not easy and you may feel shame or even guilt that this has happened. Please know that none of this is your fault. There is help available. You are not alone. If you suspect that someone is being sexual abused please follow your instinct and tell someone, report it. I know that reporting this, especially if it involves family is scary, but for the victims sake it needs to be done. By law, sexual abuse is against the law. We need to stand up and care for the victims.
If you are a child in need of support you can call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 for further support.
Until we meet again……

Peace,

Janet

Finding my Happily Ever After

Recently I married my first love. It was a beautiful day. One I will cherish forever. Yet after such a lovely event I find the ghosts of the past are still whispering in my house.

Recently I married my first love, my high school sweetheart, my soul mate. It was beautiful day. More than I could have dreamed! We were surrounded by those we love while we exchanged those precious vows before God. It was a blessed day and one I will never forget.  After such a wonderful event though I find there are still whispers in our house. Whispers from my previous life. Whispers from my abusive marriage. Whispers that say, “You aren’t good enough”, “You will fail” and “I am hurting.” Some are things I hear, some are struggles my youngest daughter is having.

My youngest daughter was diagnosed with PTSD almost seven years ago, she was six years old at the time. At that time I was just leaving her father who had abused her and the rest of our family. She struggled as a little mite with nightmares, anxiety, detaching and going catatonic, wetting her bed and terrified that her father was going to come and kill her. It was a horrible time in our life, but we got through it. We did counselling with some amazing Child Counsellors and Child Psychiatrists. My daughter was put on medication to calm her at night and some to help her focus during the day. We talked and talked about her feelings and turned many positive corners. After awhile her PTSD went into remission and life for her was peaceful. Now though, PTSD has reared it’s ugly head again and her pain is reoccurring. Night terrors grip her and sadness has overtaken her. It breaks my heart as her mum.

I have learned, with PTSD and abuse, that the effects are long lasting. Just when you think you have PTSD licked it will reappear. A sight, a sound or a smell may trigger you and the past comes back. It overpowers you and cripples you and you have to fight all over again to get your feet back under you. Over time I have learned coping mechanisms to help with these set backs; self care, gentleness, self love, meditation, quiet time of self reflection, writing and just being around those I love are all things that have helped me. At this time, I am trying to share those coping skills with my daughter. Letting her know that she is loved, she is safe and that we will get through this together. It’s definitely not easy to watch her go through this. Watching any of my children struggle with what my ex did has been difficult. I keep fighting though, for them and for me because……well because we are all worth it.

As I find my happily ever after I am reminded that the “ghosts” of the past will pop up.  The blessing is, is that I have my new husband is beside me fighting them. Fighting for me and for my, our daughter now. All we can do is keep fighting. We will get through this difficult time like we always have with love, patience and understanding. Until next time….

Peace,

Janet

If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan.  A Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship.  Please check out this link;  http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/  Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.

Are you a Survivor needing  support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/

I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight.  So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work.  Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!

 

I’m Free

This is a journey that changed me on every level. I am stronger now, wiser and confidence is abounding from me every day. I have found peace.

“This is a disturbing case of violence against a woman and her children occurring over the course of a 13 year relationship.  The three children of the relationship witnessed being physically assaulted and humiliated by there father. The youngest child was subjected to physical abuse starting at the age of 16 months. The father desires access with the children.  He will have no access”

– Judge J. Wilson

31 days ago I received the best Mothers Day present ever! I received the Judgement on my Divorce & Custody Trial.  Just over a year ago I went back to Court for the final time.  It was to have my divorce granted and for the Judge to decide on the custody of my three beautiful children.  My now ex husband decided not to participate in the trial.  We waited over an hour for him to appear, called what contact numbers the Court had  with no answer. So the Court proceeded.   At the end of the first day he called the Court room and spoke to the clerk.  He said he would not be attending the trial, that he had to work and he was refusing to participate in this trial. The Clerk told him that we would then proceed without him.  Over three days Expert Witnesses were brought forward; our long time Family Doctor, my children’s Counsellor and the Custody & Access Assessor. All testified to the mental health of the children, what they had endured while with their father and since as they have been recovering.  I also testified, giving light to what it was like in our abusive home. How I was abused when pregnant, physically assaulted  & humiliated in front of the children. I told her how my son had been physically abused by my ex starting at the young age of 16 months. The Judge heard how most of us have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the abuse.  Judge J Wilson concluded that due to the extreme level of violence in my marriage that having the children in the presence of their father again would be damaging to their health and well being. She feared for their safety.    In a country where Joint Custody is normally granted , even when there has been abuse, the best we have had to hope for was supervised visits, but Judge J Wilson broke new ground.  I was awarded sole custody and he will not be granted any access and I have been granted a lifetime restraining order against him. We. Are. Finally. Safe. ❤

Yesterday was my last day as Mrs G. My ex had also received the Judgement and had contested nothing so it was the end and a day of reflection for me.  I married him with so much love, but there was also so much denial.  There were red flags that I ignored.  I believed we would love each other enough and it would be ok.  Every one said I was so amazing for him, that I was the best thing that ever happened to him so how could we not be ok? But we weren’t. Past blogs will tell you that. It was a marriage full of violence, fear and pain. These are all things that I can now leave behind me.  I can finally close that door and live a new peaceful life with my children and my fiancé.

I have had some amazing people support me on this journey. Family, friends and many Professionals. People who supported me when I wanted to give up, who listened and cheered me on whenever I faced another Court date.  I am so grateful for each and everyone of them.

This is a journey that changed me on every level.  I am stronger now, wiser and confidence is abounding from me every day.  I have found peace.  A friend shared a song with me yesterday called “Free” by Jann Arden  It is so fitting.  I am finally free. I leave you with this song.  Peace be with you.

Janet

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If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan.  A Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship.  Please check out this link;  http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/  Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.

Are you a Survivor needing  support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/

I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight.  So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work.  Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!

 

 

Holidays, PTSD & …….tears?

It’s Boxing Day and I don’t know about you, but I am Exhausted. Another Christmas Day has come and gone.  For me the day was a busy  and overall a good day.  It was the first year that my 7am alarm was what woke my family up! I was surprised, but then again my youngest is now 10 years old so perhaps the 4 am – creeping –  into – my -room -to -see -if -I -am -awake -and -can -we -open -presents moments have  come to an end. Sigh.  Anyways my day started with our little family opening our gifts, followed by prepping for Christmas supper, a nap, feeding my horse and then supper with my fiancé’s sister and family.  It sounds pretty nice doesn’t it?  It was, but then why did I end the day quietly crying in the dark in the quiet of my living room?

 Recovery from abuse sucks and it’s suckiness can creep up on you at the most inopportune times.  For me it was late on Christmas Day night.  I find when holidays come memories of the past creep into my mind.   This year they were not as powerful as they had been in the past.  I did not have any full blown flashbacks or panic attacks.  They were more like an annoying tap on my shoulder saying, “hey do you remember me?” My response was, “yes I remember, but you will not have a hold on me today” and I just kept swatting them away.  I was pretty proud of myself, yet still I ended up in tears.

  PTSD is not an easy road.  You are constantly on high alert.  Adrenaline is pumping through your body as your whole being prepares to fight or flee.  Your heart is always racing, as are your thoughts and it is bloody exhausting. You are constantly on the lookout for danger.  I need to remember that all of that was happening to me underneath the Christmas supper prepping and present opening.  I often forget that in my recovery.  I carry forward like I do not have PTSD and think that I should be able to function like I don’t have any disabilities, but I do have them.  They are often unseen to the outside world but they are there.  So really, is it any surprise that before my guests had left I had collapsed on my couch and was later crying in the dark?  I think not.  My nervous system had a lot to process yesterday; extra people in my house which would result in my whole being subconsciously assessing whether I was safe.  I also had those annoying memories tapping me on the shoulder.  I will be honest I was also trying really hard not to let anyone know I was going through all of this.  So yes I do understand why in the end I ended up in tears.

  I love my family, both extended and non extended.  They are a huge part of my life and I would not change having these gatherings.  I am glad I was able to see everyone yesterday.  Upon reflection I just have to be mindful of my disabilities and perhaps be more open with my family as to what I am going through. Save myself from collapsing at the end of the night.      Communication with loved ones is key as you recover from abuse and battle PTSD.  You need a good support system to make it through the good and bad times.  At the end of the night, as I cried,  I was grateful for two people in my support system; my fiancé and my oldest daughter.  My daughter heard me crying and came into the living room to see if I was ok. At that point I could not put it into words so we just sat together and then my fiancé joined us.  They both held my hands and we chatted about everything and nothing all in one.  It was a blessed moment.  My fiancé reminded me that in this family we always have each others backs and that I am loved.  I will get through this battle and my friends so will you.

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  Peace and Blessings to all of you during this Holiday Season.

 

Janet

 

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Five years free!

Soon it will be five years since I ended my abusive marriage.  I wanted to take a moment to reflect on where I was and where I am now.  It is always good to look back when such a milestone are reached, not to stay there, but to see how far one has come.

Five years ago I was living with daily abuse.  My ex screaming at me was a daily event, name calling and telling me how worthless I was, mixed in with a push or slam into a wall were his daily pleasure. If he was wasn’t hurting me then I was watching him hit and shake my toddler son. He was in the all powerful role of being in charge. Achieved by instilling fear and tons of intimidation.  The kids and I walked on eggshells wondering when would “dad” snap next and we did our best not rock the boat.

I knew we needed out, but how? How could I escape with three kids? I weighed a mere 108lbs (at 5’10’), my hair was falling out in clumps, a stress rash had taken over my body, I struggled to eat and sleep was barely ever granted to me.  With nights of forced sex and worrying  it was amazing that I got any sleep at all.  How could I afford to be a single mom, pay a mortgage, daycare and groceries ? Could I do it safely? I knew that the most dangerous time for a woman in a domestic abuse relationship is when they are planning to leave or have just left. If it was bad now, what would it be when I left?

When I finally did end my marriage I really didn’t have all the answers to my questions. I just knew I could not carry on one more day in the hell my ex had created. I took a giant leap forward, praying that God would get me through this, and sent my ex a text telling him it was over.  For safety I did not dare tell him this in person. I told him to be gone by 8:00pm or I would report him to the RCMP.  The text was followed by me breaking down simply out of relief.   I went home that night and he was gone. It was over.

 Many Survivors of Domestic Violence, and those who work to support them, will tell you that the journey is not over when you leave. It just changes.   I had to deal with stalking’s, harassment, and my kids were further abused on visits with him. Nightmares set in for all of us (often I had all three of my kids in bed with me), bedwetting from my younger two and my youngest daughter was diagnosed with PTSD, followed by my same diagnosis five months later. Despite all of these hurdles we learned to laugh again, we started to reconnect with my family and friends (that had long been shut out by my ex). I also began to eat and that stress rash disappeared within weeks. My kids relaxed and started to just be kids. We were free.386844_2170052251634_514982225_n

  I did face many financial difficulties, I lost my house, was put on permanent disability for PTSD and had to move. I moved  to be far away from his family.  Family that were yelling at me in public, about how it was all my fault. It was something my kids and I did not deserve. We looked for a fresh start.

A fresh start is what we found. My kids found their interests and I encouraged them to reach for the stars.  I also reconnected with my own interests. For so many years everything had revolved around my ex, his likes and his dislikes. I lost myself in the process.  It has been fun finding me again. I also started a new relationship, one built on trust and mutual respect.

  It hasn’t been the easiest five years.  We’ve faced many challenges and will continue to do so. Recovery from abuse is a life long journey, but  now at least we are safe. I thank God everyday for that. Every step forward takes us away from a very dark time and brings us to days filled with light and love.

Alright, I think it is time to celebrate! 🙂

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