Tag Archives: family

Trauma Does Not Define You

In Greek, trauma means “wound”. Originally trauma referred to physical wounds, but nowadays trauma also refers to emotional wounds. The psychological reaction to emotional trauma also has a name.  It is more often referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  I am very familiar with PTSD.  I was diagnosed with it about 14 years ago. This original diagnosis arose from a horrible medical trauma that I endured and also from the behavior of those closest to me at the time.  Since then, my diagnosis has changed to Complex-PTSD due to what I have come to realize were years of emotional and mental abuse at the hands of my ex-husband and what I endured as a child growing up.  I married what I knew. 

Growing up in a household where verbal and emotional abuses were tolerated really confused my autistic brain. I was told I was loved, and I believed it, but the behavior was not what you do to people you love. As a teacher, I learned the phrase, “at least he is not hitting me”, is a red flag that something is very wrong.  I heard that phrase over and over again growing up.  I was taught to comply, to make excuses.  I was conditioned to be a codependent.  Talking about any of this outside and inside the family was and still is discouraged.  I knew something was off with my family, but I didn’t know what it was.  It just felt uncomfortable.  Yet, I still married what I knew.   

Emotional abuse is insidious. It starts slow and under the radar.  You have no idea what is really happening, only that something doesn’t feel quite right.  The perpetrator may even pull back and be charming again when you call them out on something.  Everything might seem perfectly fine again, but over time that uncomfortable feeling starts up again and it gets worse and worse each time.  It is incredibly confusing.  Before you know it, you find yourself trapped telling yourself that you just have to wait for him to cycle back to being the man you married.  This is what is called the cycle of abuse.  You find yourself holding out for the good times to come back, and that is the perpetrator’s biggest weapon, playing on your hope. You find yourself holding on for something that will never come, real peace and real love.   

As a child, I would wait out the aggressive verbal outbursts and the passive aggressive manipulation until we could feel like a family again.  While growing up, I had no idea I was in this perpetual state of fight or flight. I was always on edge and preferred to be in my bedroom.  Now I understand why I did isolated myself, but back then, that was my “normal” and it was exhausting and frightening.  As a spouse, I did the same thing. I waited out the passive aggressive emotional abuse until the good times returned.  I married what I knew.

According to SAMHSA, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. These experiences may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. Having your ACEs score is like having your cholesterol score.  The score is a guideline to help you learn your risk factors for particular things. 

How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime | Nadine Burke Harris (TEDtalk – video)

Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.ACEs Impact

The Impact

ACEs scores are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance abuse.

ACEs include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

The ACEs study used the top ten reported adverse childhood experiences when designing the questionnaire, which consists of ten questions and involves your life prior to 18 years old.  Five questions are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five questions are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of trauma counts as one.

I went through the questionnaire  and had a score of 3/10. I had both my children take the questionnaire as well.  Their scores varied.  My daughter had a score of 8/10.  My son first had a score of 4/10, but then he adjusted some of the questions to reflect one parent, his father, and he ended up with a score of 6/10.  I knew their scored would be higher than mine.  They have dealt with a divorce and a father who emotionally neglected them and emotionally abused their mother.  Even with that, learning their scores punched me in the gut. 

I reminded them that their trauma does not define them. Trauma can affect yourself-definition either consciously or unconsciously. Trauma hurts, and as hard as it is to grieve, trauma is not who you are. Your ACEs score is not what is wrong with you; rather it reflects what has happened to you. Just as trauma does not define you, your ACEs score does not define you.  What makes the difference is getting help and developing resilience. 

Prevent ACEs

We Can Prevent ACEs – Video by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. As such, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are an important public health issue. Learn how everyone can help prevent ACEs by using strategies to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children.

Part of healing from trauma is stating what happened. It is important to share your story in whatever way you are able to, but being able to takes time.

A few days ago in the car, one of my children stated, “Dad committed acts of domestic violence.”

This was the first time either one of them has used the term “domestic violence” in connection with their father. My marriage ended six years ago.

Finally being able to share this information out loud with me meant one step farther away from the trauma and one step closer to healing.

Where do we go from here?

  • There is no time limit on grief.
  • Everyone grieves differently.
  • Don’t let trauma consume you. Don’t live there.
  • No wallowing!
  • Get help!
  • Strive to heal.
  • Obtain and utilize healthy coping skills.
  • Do what makes you feel good in a healthy way.
  • Reduce risk factors.
  • Increase protective factors
  • Get involved in community.
  • Talk to someone.
  • Educate yourself.
  • Find what makes you feel your true self.
  • Most of all – Be gentle to yourself!!!

 

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Ramblings of an Autistic Single Mom

NOTE: The Aspie Teacher blog is the story of my family’s journey. My first blog was Geeky Science Mom’s Tumblr which I started in September 2012 and my writings gradually progressed from there. Periodically I look back over my old writings to check on the distance I have travelled in this journey that is called my life. This is one of those checks.

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I am autistic and I am also a mother of two amazing young people who are autistic as well. I am also single.  My children see their father maybe two hours every week, sometimes it is less.  He is not really involved in their lives.  For the past four years I have been working multiple jobs to make ends meet.  Somewhere in there I managed to earn my Master’s degree. I have been homeschooling/unschooling both my kids for the past three years and will continue to do so until both my kids graduate high school in another 2-3 years.  It has been a challenging balancing act.

I see articles online about single parenting with autistic children. It strikes me odd how bleak the authors describe their lives. One author claims that single parents of autistic children “can’t have it all”, that they “will never be compensated financially or professionally for the thousands of hours I’ve spent over the last decade taking my son to treatments”. Other authors complain about having to give up their career, complain they can’t go on trips, complain that it was the Autism that caused the divorce, and complain about the “grueling therapy sessions” (if they are grueling for you, how do you think your child feels?)

Parenting is hard no matter what the neurology of the child is. The reality is if you are a single parent, something has to give.  You can’t expect to have everything and the reason why you “can’t have it all” has nothing to do with your child’s neurology. It really does take a village to raise a child, so when part of that village is missing, it gets that much harder.

I willingly chose to put my career on hold when I became a parent. I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom for five years. At the time, my husband had a good paying full-time job with benefits.  Being a single income family lead to finances being really tight, and we lived in a small duplex, but it was worth it.  The only time I was a home owner was when both my ex and I were working so we could afford a mortgage. As a single parent, I am a renter once again. This time, my rental is even smaller than the one we lived in back when my children were babies. Housing costs are higher and there is a housing shortage where we live.

My children have weekly counseling visits and my daughter has weekly occupational therapy (OT) sessions (something she personally asked for). We live in a rural area. Services are in another county all together. We are on the road a lot and I am fortunate enough to have the type of employment that allows me to take my children to their appointments.  I have never put my children through “grueling therapy sessions” and I never will.  Applied Behavior Analysis (AB A) sessions, which is considered the go-to treatment for Autism, are anywhere from 25 to 40 hours per week for 12 months a year for at least 2 years with sessions typically provided in 2-3 hours blocks.  I spent three hours observing an ABA session in June 2015 as a requirement for my Master’s degree program. It was horrible – Initial Reaction to ABA Observation.

My divorce finalized on June 23, 2014, but we had separated in October 2012. We tried to get back together after being apart for three years. Our attempt lasted a year and a half. My ex just doesn’t want the responsibility of a family.  It has almost been five years since we first separated and I have not tried dating. I have had to let myself grieve.  Looking through my old writings, I see many blogs that focused on sadness and grief.  I have had to allow myself to process those emotions. I have also had to be present for my children.  They have been grieving, too.  There was no room for romance in that.  I have to allow my heart to heal before I can allow anyone else in.  I am still healing.  Everyone grieves differently and the time it takes to adequately heal is different for everyone. When you have been in an abusive situation, it can take even longer to heal and you need to give yourself that time or you could very well fall into a similar situation.

Some of my previous writings describing my journey through grief:

Grief 2

[Image description: Sea green colored background with black lettering. “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do it lean to swim.” – Vicky Harrison]

Then there is my issue of living in a duality of perception. I wrote that blog in June 2016 and it helped me realize some things about myself.  When I found myself unexpectedly a single parent, I didn’t know how I was going to manage.  My family isn’t in the area.  I was in graduate school at the time and I was working part time.  How the hell was I going to support two kids with special needs on my own!!!???!!! This thought was screaming in my head.  I was so filled with fear and shock I had no time to be angry, at least not yet.  My anger came later.  The grief cycle is an interesting, complicated thing. As I tell my kids, a very wibbly wobbly, timey wimey sort of thing.

I never thought I would get to the point where I would even consider letting my ex back in my life, but I did and I learned a lot from that experience. I learned about letting go, something I had been really struggling with for years.  As a content teacher, I didn’t think I could teach outside of Science (my area), but I found out I could.  I didn’t know I could teach myself how to do basic home and car repair along with all the other family/parenting/home stuff I had been doing for years, but I found out I could. I didn’t know I could parent on my own, but I found out I could.

I learned I was autistic five and a half years ago. Both my children had been diagnosed by that time. I have learned so much since then.  My life has been turned upside down and inside out, but I kept moving forward knowing that another sunrise would signal another chance for me to try again.  I kept learning and adapting.

It wasn’t the Autism that caused my divorce. In fact, divorce rates are similar for parents with and without autistic children, so don’t believe the myth that divorce rate in families with autism is 80%. It is definitely not (80 Percent Autism Divorce Rate Debunked in First-Of-Its Kind Scientific Study).

Looking back to where I was when I first became a single parent, I couldn’t really think of the future. I was in full on survival mode back then.  Looking where I am now, all I can say is “wow”.  I have come so far from that place where I found myself crushed, lost, and desperate just trying to make it day by day.

My journey is not complete, not in a long shot, but I find myself no longer in that place of desperation. I have found a future where I am valued and wanted.  I have found a future where I have developed skills I didn’t even know I had.  I have found a future where my children are seeing a future for themselves as well. I have found that my mind has a sense of ease now.  I still have a lot of stress in my life, but nothing like it once was.  I feel a sense of peace inside me now.  Do I still cry when I am alone?  Yes, my grief will take time to process. Where there was once soul crushing pain, there is now a sense of understanding and a level of acceptance of the reality of the situation. As I stated before, I had to adapt. I had to find peace on my own, and I did.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

 

**Image is not mine. Source is linked with image.