My #BeReal Guest today is Christine Cissy White.
I spent an hour trying to decide how to introduce today’s guest. I can’t do it justice. You need to read this. If you ever feel your story isn’t important all you have to do is read this.
Your #BeReal might be the very things someone else really needs. Please find her and support her important voice.
In 1989, I was a twenty-two year old just diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, abandonment and neglect. What I needed more than therapy or books, experts or support groups was to meet a woman, decades older, who had a childhood as bad as mine or worse, and went on to have a life.
A personal life. A professional life. A sex life. A family life.
I was aching to see with my own eyes this middle-aged survivor. I craved proof of her existence because she is what I feared I could never become.
Ordinary. Typical. Free.
She would know the frozen paralysis of a soul in terror and the raging heat of adrenaline coursing through the system uninvited.
She would know the enemy who shares the face of caregiver, who doles out abuse and ice cream.
She would know the complexity of staying present in a body which is also a trigger – the scene of the crime.
She would know nightmares and trust issues. She would now how liberating it is to tell the truth and how it means strained, ruined and at-risk family relationships.
She would apprentice me with the truth and school me with her wisdom.
Where was she?
I couldn’t find her. Not in person. Where were the everyday women talking about childhood trauma and more importantly, life after?
I wanted the ones with eyes I could look into knowing they remembered the past but were no longer caged by fear.
How could there be so many survivors of childhood trauma and so much silence?
Often, we are invisible to one another. When not in crisis, we don’t want to be reminded where we came from. And we live in a world where we are judged, shamed, belittled and stigmatized for being abused as children. On the one hand we are deemed “damaged goods” and on the other we are told to “get over it already” – sometimes by the same people.
Trauma is not a hard candy we refuse to stop sucking on.
Developmental trauma shaped us – without our permission or consent.
Even though we were victims as children, if we speak of it now, as adults we fear seeming “victimy.” We live in a society where being a victim of violence is still more shameful than being a perpetrator.
Which is why I fear silence more than exposure.
I won’t lose my job, housing or more personal relationships by speaking out about the long-term impacts of childhood sexual abuse, addiction, abandonment and neglect. But that wasn’t always true.
I have the self-care, respect and enough support to risk being vulnerable now but that took decades.
I’ll still make coffee tomorrow morning, shovel when it snows and weed in the summer no matter what I write or speak about. My daughter will need a hug, a ride and something for dinner. That is the victory.
We can recover. We do recover. And often we move on to helping others.
But safety shouldn’t be like a second language we have to learn as adult. Self-care shouldn’t feel as unfamiliar as driving on the opposite side of the road. For far too many of us it does.
Childhood abuse is preventable.
Feeling at home in the body is birthright.
The lives of adults, abused as children, are deeply impacted and throughout the lifespan.
Sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally and sometimes socially. No one gets out unscathed.
We have have higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. We have a higher chance of being raped and in relationships where there is domestic violence. We are more likely to smoke, drink and use I.V. drugs. And there is more. Even if we find and create stability, we have higher rates of stroke, heart disease and autoimmune diseases as well than those with healthier and happier childhoods.
Those with lots of abuse and trauma die 19 years earlier, on average, than those without! See the ACE Study here. There’s no way to parcel about pain, the past and what happens in the future no matter how strong, resilient and optimistic we have been and are.
For so long, I waited, for rescue from my parents, from lovers and even from trying desperately to be good and significant – to prove to myself that I mattered.
Eventually I learned to mama my own trauma symptoms, tell the truth about childhood trauma and realize that I couldn’t make the past less bad but I can feel better in the present.
I started to talk and write about I learn and experience without shame or hiding. I sign my full name now so that younger survivors know there is a way, a future and it need not be dismal.
I have become the woman I needed.
Your story matters too. And if no one has said it to you yet:
I believe you.
It’s not your fault.
You are not responsible for how you were treated and what was done to you.
You are responsible for way you treat yourself, advocate and respond to your own body, mind and soul. You can influence your present and future. You can improve your health, happiness and wellness.
You can’t change the past or even all of the symptoms and pain that go with it but you can write a different future.
You can accept and nurture yourself. You can turn your attention towards falling in love with the world.
You can be the person you need. Now.
What does It mean to you to be real?
Honest. Truthful. Transparent. There’s a saying I learned in therapy years back… It goes: you can’t say yes until you can say no. I love it. I break silence, talk about sexual violence, childhood abuse and neglect because I think: you can’t choose silence until there’s also an option to speak and be heard. We aren’t there yet. People still stigmatize those raped, abused or neglected more than those who abused, assaulted or failed to protect. We can’t make societal change if we pathologize those with symptoms and ignore root causes. So I blab endlessly about ACE scores and trauma and portable and affordable ways to heal and feel real and find safety in my own skin. It’s possible. I know it. But it’s ridiculously hard and it shouldn’t be so hard. Traditional medical and mental health approaches have widely failed bad and hard and are costly. I don’t wan to wait til I’m 100% healed (who is?) to raise my voice. I don’t want others speaking for me and on my behalf if they don’t have a lived experience of trauma, abuse and empowered recovery. We can speak directly to one another and for ourselves. That, to me, is the beauty of being real. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than raw and revealed honest truth. Even if what is described is painful the telling, sharing and being witnessed (and bearing witness) is communal, healing and life-changing. Let’s Be Real loud, proud and on purpose!
What do you think most people think about you by just seeing your picture?
How much I love life, am goofy and feel free and inhabited. Only I know how long this took, how it felt impossible and unlikely and what a damn victory it is and that I don’t take it for granted. Post-traumatic stress symptoms were (and can still be) harrowing but I know they are not 100% consuming and I’m glad to share that with others.
And what would people be most surprised to learn about you?
I’m not always serious or in “writer /activist mode.” I like a hot bath, bubble gum, cuddling with my daughter on the couch, smooching and eating ice cream with my guy, free-write hanging with my friends and playing with my puppy.