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Parenting Survivors of Childhood Abuse Need a Voice

I am a mom, and I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Once being a survivor started to interfere with my ability to be a "normal" mom, I started paying more attention to how and why the two identities were connected.
11/03/2014 10:08am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Co-authored by Joyelle Brandt. Joyelle Brandt is the author/illustrator of the alphabet book Princess Monsters from A to Z. Joyelle has a penchant for dark chocolate and feathered earrings. When she isn't playing with her two sons, she is usually covered in paint in her kitchen art studio, creating new monsters.

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I am a mom, and I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Once being a survivor started to interfere with my ability to be a "normal" mom, I started paying more attention to how and why the two identities were connected. I searched for information and personal stories, documenting other parent's struggle as a survivor. I found nothing.

I knew in my heart that I wasn't alone in this difficult journey. I became determined to use my own personal experiences to both connect with other survivors and bring more awareness to the effects childhood abuse can have in every avenue of one's adult life -- especially parenting.

I'm starting to realize, through research and personal observation, that trauma stemming from childhood abuse is rarely seen as an indicator, or even a link to, mental and physical challenges we struggle with as adults, partners and parents because too often, the abuse is kept hidden for fear of judgment and blame, leaving the negative energy and unresolved pain to manifest in detrimental emotional and physical symptoms.

In a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, an online medical journal, an association was made between childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and the lifetime diagnosis of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, sleep disorders and suicide attempts. Also associated with CSA were medical conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders, chronic pelvic pain, psychogenetic seizures and non-specific chronic pain.

Survivors need to be invited to talk about it. It is reported that only 5% of patients report childhood sexual abuse to their physicians. Yes, there is a standard, single box we can check on the initial medical history screening we all do, but if only 5% of patients are reporting it and yet, over 42 million people have experienced childhood sexual abuse in America, the system is broken.

Would it be so hard to just ask the patient? To kindly look a person in the eyes and let them know that if they were violated as a child, it is necessary to have that kind of information, in order to holistically treat them? How can something so important to a persons overall well-being not be taken into consideration?

David Spiegal, M.D. concludes in his research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, that "while our genetic code itself may not change [due to trauma based PTSD], it's relative expression does, and this tendency for our genes to be differentially productive can be heritable." He also concludes science is showing us that altered gene expression "only occurs when the parental generation is symptomatic." Breaking the cycle has to start with us -- the parenting survivors. Not only so we can authentically experience loving and protecting our children, but more so to avoid inflicting them with our own unresolved pain.

The residual effects of sexual and physical abuse are a cancer to our body, mind and spirit. They infest dieseases of our brains and wreck havoc on our physical beings. Triggers arise when one becomes a parent that increase the stress and shame plaguing survivors. The effects penetrate through generations and the cycle just continues.
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I'm at a place where I am fed up and determined to do something about it, as much as one survivor can do for another. Thankfully, Joyelle Brandt felt the same way, and told me so in a response to my initial post on the topic of being a parent and a survivor. Since connecting, Joyelle and I have put our hearts and souls in to creating an anthology. A project to fill a void. A mission to let parents know, that they are not alone when they are triggered by the people they love the most.

The upcoming anthology, Trigger Points: An Abuse Survivors Experience of Parenting, is now open for submissions. You'll find everything you need to know about submitting a essay on our Facebook page, along with contact information and a chance to get to know myself and Joyelle a little more.

As survivors, the one good thing we do know is that we are, as a group, incredibly strong people. We have lived through more suffering than most, and still we keep going. We are determined to give our children a better life than we had, and together, we can do that.