Lately I am feeling violated with the online headlines that announce that the latest celebrity or politician has sexually abused someone. When I can't sleep, memories of sexual abuse and torture I suffered as a young wife more than 30 years ago creep into my consciousness alive and well, playing themselves out as if it was yesterday. I learned that the name for this is “Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD)* which happens as the result of enduring complex trauma including domestic violence. The sexual abuse stuff in the news triggers C-PTSD in me and leaves me with nightmares and lots of obessessing about it in attempt to put it to rest, but it doesn't seem to work.
How much of my past experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of my husband contributed to how I am feeling when I read today's headlines? These triggers create memories and feelings that waste my time, and energy. Admittedly I am thriving after a history of suffering from domestic violence but it's taken years to heal my wounds, learn to be me, and then to feel content and safe in my life. Then the news takes me right back to the scene of the spousal violence.
I'm not the only one with this problem but the real question is, “What do I do about it”?
First, I'm talking to other formerly abused women that I trust about what I am thinking and feeling. By doing this I'm not allowing myself to hide or harbor what I am experiencing. This is important for cases of C-PTSD. Just listening to myself talk about it helps me to let go of some of what I'm experiencing. If another woman mentions the headlines I am eager to ask how she feels about it. Some of my friends, who have never related to my abused past are now eager to share the experiences they had forgotten. It seems to be creating a kinship that surprises me but perhaps holds promise in aligning women from various abuse experiences.
Hearing what other women are saying helps too. Knowing that they are experiencing something similar makes these experiences seem less controlling of my feelings. Speaking up matters.
I've been thinking about how important it is for me not to accept what I think some men (perhaps women too) will say about these current events. The next time I hear someone say that they don't know how to treat women now I am fully prepared to speak up about knowing right from wrong and how simple that is.
Knowing what to say ahead of time (sometimes actually rehearsing and memorizing the words) has helped me to heal, to speak up, to not let the moment pass when it's important to say something that helps me to let go of the pain of being abused or misused.
For now I'm trying to make sense of what this current series of events means for my own life as a woman who suffers still from years of domestic violence, and for millions of other women who share my experiences. I'd love to hear how it's impacted your everyday experiences and how you're responding to today's headlines.
*Complex trauma is ongoing or repeated interpersonal trauma, where the victim is traumatized in captivity, and where there is no perceived way to escape. Domestic violence is an example of C-PTSD. Complex PTSD is different from post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of the issues and symptoms endured by complex trauma survivors are outside of the list of symptoms within the PTSD diagnostic criterion. The effect of repeated/ongoing trauma – caused by people – changes the brain, and also changes the survivor at a core level. It changes how survivors see the world, other people and themselves in profound ways. Taken from an article online at themighty.com written by Lilly Hope Lucario
Annie Warmke is a pioneer in the battered women's movement. In 1980 she drove down the country road that led to freedom from over a decade of domestic violence. Her only thought was to wonder if she would hear the gun shot before she felt the bullet. After hiding for over a year she started over 22 rural projects for battered women seeking sanctuary and advocacy. Annie founded two women's funds, organized formerly battered women to gain the release of women in Florida prisons who had acted in self-defense, and has won numerous awards including The Giraffe Award for Sticking her Neck Out for Battered Women. Today she volunteers her time with the Women's Initiative Network, a women's fund she founded to recognize women who are selflessly working to create equality for women and girls. She co-leads Women Grow Ohio, an organization she formed with other women farmers to help them learn how to make a living out of what they love doing. For 36 years she has found contentment with her husband, and is a doting grandmother to her own, plus a mentor to many young people who intern at her farm.