Monday, July 22, 2019

The Ticking Time Bomb of Unprocessed Trauma

By itself, trauma is devastating. Trauma originates outside of the victim who receives it, yet it is passed to the victim, who bears the aftermath and the consequences. This is unfair to say the least. Sometimes trauma occurs as the result of a natural disaster, or a as a direct result of war. Most often, however, trauma originates from an abuser, an individual whose bad decision(s) affect(s) the victim for the rest of her life (and sometimes his or their life).

The victim, who did not cause the trauma, but as a result of being in the recipient role of the trauma, must shoulder the burden of that trauma for the rest of her life (see parenthetical citation above for all pronoun references). This plays out in the daily aftermath of the trauma in intrusive memories, visceral flashbacks, obliterating nightmares, and surges of overwhelming emotions. Each occurrence shreds through the victim like a hail of bullets strafing their flesh and vital organs. Sensory overload is a common side effect. There are often accompanying physical and mental health symptoms as well, depending on the age of the victim as opposed to the age of the perpetrator. None of these are fair.

But wait, it gets even worse.

The abuser, whose decision to act on their own urge and perpetrate the abuse often gets away without consequence and can abuse again and again. Abusers often silence their victims, passing the blame to the victim as if they caused the trauma, and with shame as an alibi, the victim accepts this transaction without realizing in that moment (or perhaps in treatment or recovery much later) that the responsibility lies with the abuser, not the victim. This is a secondary layer of abuse, wrapped around the initial abuse that can grow into a quagmire of confusion, anguish, and deception that makes recovery from trauma incredibly complicated.

There’s even worse news.

Trauma attacks the victim. In her body, this presents as physical symptoms. In her mind, this also presents as mental health outcomes the victim would not otherwise have incurred. And, according to the seminal study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) by Kaiser Permanente of more than 17,000 participants, exposure to ACEs have direct correlation to these physical health and mental health outcomes in the lives of trauma survivors. For more details and specific data on this topic, see or Both websites provide access to the 10 question ACEs study (what the victim survived) as well as the 14 question resilience study (how and why the victim survived) to better understand how ACEs impact the victim. Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris’s TedTalk is another incredible source of understanding for how ACEs affect victims of trauma (

Now for the worst news of all: The Ticking Time Bomb.

The victim of trauma suffers greatly in the aftermath of abuse. It can last decades for the victim. An entire lifetime. But trauma doesn’t stop at the physical or mental health level. It actually goes down to the cellular level. According to The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine ( , a pioneer of experts in the trauma treatment and recovery field, trauma that is unprocessed will actually attack the survivor in the DNA of their cells. Read that again.

In their Treating Trauma Master Series, NICABM details how unprocessed trauma attacks the victim in their DNA, resulting in the very physical health and mental health outcomes cited earlier. In addition, this can lead to a shorter lifespan, when untreated, and unchecked. Specifically, this occurs in the coating around DNA, the telomere (see below for further explanation). The reason this can be so devastating to trauma survivors, has to do with self-preservation. In order to survive trauma, a victim often responds with a fight, flight, freeze (there are two types: brain freeze and numbing), or fawn response.

The brain goes haywire. The frontal lobe goes offline. The left and right hemispheres can sever, requiring treatment and recovery work that reconnects the severed halves. Trauma can impact the nonverbal part of the mind, requiring nonverbal/nonlinguistic treatment to heal those particular aspects of trauma (see EMDR, tapping, art therapy, dramatic arts therapy, neurofeedback/biofeedback, music therapy, etc. for appropriate avenues to address these areas of recovery from trauma). The fight or flight response also has chemical responses in the brain: the amygdala floods with adrenaline, while the hippocampus floods with cortisol.

This essentially shuts down the memory system of the victim. The amygdala must be restarted by grounding tools (which use the senses to reboot this part of the long term memory system), and the hippocampus becomes flooded by the cortisol, causing searing bits of memory, disconnected from the timeline of an individual’s life history, rather than a seamless “video recording” of the trauma events. The hippocampus acts like the news reporter, collecting the who, what, where, when, why, and how of memories. When flooded, the hippocampus is unable to anchor such details to the long term memory system, causing the trauma memory to store in the body instead of the mind, until it is fully processed.

Our bodies are designed to heal themselves while we sleep. Approximately every seven years, the body replaces all 15 trillion or 75 trillion cells (depending on whether one measures by weight or volume) during the repair process. This occurs while we sleep. That is why 8 hours of sleep per night are so essential to the health and wellbeing of individuals. When that individual is a survivor of trauma, their sleep is often disrupted by a plethora of side effects such as insomnia, hyposomnia, sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, nightmares, and related symptoms. This further underscores how the aftermath negatively affects a survivor of trauma, and complicates her treatment, healing, and recovery. In fact, for most trauma survivors, just getting started in these processes is exponentially challenging, as victims of trauma often believe they do not deserve treatment, healing, or recovery.

During the process the body uses to heal itself, at the DNA level, the two strands of DNA unravel, create a copy of the cell, and ravel back together. The telomere, a coating on the outside of the strands of DNA, hold the two strands together, keeping them from breaking apart in the unraveling and raveling back together process. One can visualize the telomere like the hard-plastic cover at the end of a shoelace. Those caps keep the shoelace from unraveling. Similarly, the telomere coating the DNA hold the DNA strands together, keeping them healthy and alive. Trauma attacks the telomere. The direct affect of trauma attacking the telomere, is that they become shorter, and eventually, this can cause the DNA to break apart during the unraveling/raveling back together process. What occurs then is alarming: the cell where the DNA breaks apart gets sick and dies. This is the specific reason why the victim of trauma suffers both physical health and mental health symptoms. They are caused by the trauma attacking the telomere, and those cells where the physical health and mental health symptoms occur.

Trauma only attacks the body when it is unprocessed. Thus, the ticking time bomb of unprocessed trauma can be diffused. This is good news for the trauma survivor, but one which must lead to eventually facing and processing the trauma, the very thing the victim of trauma strives to avoid at all costs. Unbeknownst to the trauma survivor, until now, is the fact that avoiding the processing of trauma actually leads to further consequences for the victim.

Survivors of trauma have incredible levels of resilience. When life knocks the trauma survivor down, she gets back up. An adage states: “Fall down Seven Times, Get Up Eight.” This is true for trauma survivors. It is an adaptation. Similarly, suppressing the traumatic memory allows the victim to survive the trauma, at first. Initially, this is considered an adaptive response to trauma. Dissociation is one example. This can also lead a survivor of trauma to consider addiction as a viable option to stuff or avoid facing the traumatic memory. However, repeating this adaptive response to trauma over time actually becomes maladaptive. What initially helps the victim to survive, develops into a barrier that gets in the way of her treatment, recovery, and healing.

This is where mindfulness becomes a key factor to begin the healing and recovery process of treatment for a trauma survivor. By staying present to the surfacing traumatic memory, and dealing with it in the moment it occurs, the survivor learns to do the opposite of suppressing and avoiding the trauma. This causes that trauma memory to become processed. Once processed, it no longer attacks the telomere, and the victim of trauma can reduce the negative outcomes of a reduced lifespan, physical health, or mental health outcomes.

In his book, Waking the Tiger, Peter Levine details how somatic experiencing can support the processing of trauma memories. Examples include the tools of Felt Sense and Pendulation, two specific tools utilized in the healing and recovery of traumatic memory. For further details, please check out Heidi Hanson’s blog on Resiliency Building Skills to Practice for Trauma Recovery ( as well as her blog on 13 Benefits of Pendulation ( and finally, her blog post on the use of Felt Sense ( which can be effectively used to treat depression, anxiety, and other related trauma symptoms.

Please note: Sensorymotor Psychotherapy has further application for the trauma survivor with Pat Ogden’s Window of Tolerance tool, available on the NICABM website in multiple formats.

In conclusion, trauma is a horrific experience for the survivor. Walking out the aftermath of symptoms and consequences the victim did not deserve in the first place is challenging enough. But left unprocessed and untreated, trauma attacks the survivor, delivering even more debilitating consequences. Once the survivor of trauma has reached a point of recovery where they are partially healed, and able to begin the difficult work of turning and facing the unprocessed trauma, she would be wise to act on that sooner than later, utilizing such tools as pendulation to process the trauma, and move it from its suppressed location in the body, to the long term memory, where it no longer plagues the survivor on a regular basis. It is there, she can attain a level of recovery where she has her life back, and she can function without daily intrusive thoughts, memories, and physical or mental health symptoms.

Healing is possible. Recovery is possible. Finding the right treatment for the trauma survivor is personal and best led by the trauma survivor herself. It’s time to diffuse the ticking time bomb of unprocessed trauma. You deserve healing and wholeness. You never deserved the consequences your abuser/perpetrator passed off on you, like the world’s worst version of hot potato. You deserve to be free of the consequences of trauma. It’s time to cut the wire.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Read The Packing House on Inkitt--FREE!

You can read my debut YA novel, The Packing House, for free on Inkitt. I have posted it there in hopes readers will connect with this #ownvoices story of my heart and vote for it to move toward a publishing contract. Books that are greenlit for publication receive editing, cover art, and are printed in eBook, paperback, and audiobook formats.

Many of you know that my previous publisher went out of business, and my first edition copies are now only available from third party sellers. If you'd like to read it, please do, and please post your honest feedback and review. I appreciate you taking the time to read and let me know what you think. My final question for you is this: would you like to read book 2, Unpacking the Past?

Please note the trigger warning at the beginning of chapter one. Thank you. I've been receiving fantastic feedback so far, and I'd love to hear what you think.

Happy reading!

And here's what readers have been saying so far:

Sunday, April 22, 2018

In the #MeToo and #MeTooRising Era, Why Speaking Out is Essential for Survivors of Sexual Assault

It seems there's always a news story covering the topic of sexual assault, rape, or rape culture. Crimes involving sexual assault are far too commonplace. Sexual assault happens in the workplace, on college campuses, in every industry from the Olympics to Hollywood, the music industry to the publishing industry, and, yes, among school aged children. As a country, we are appalled and horrified by the Sanduskys and the Nassars who prey on victims who initially trust them in positions of power above them, and later testify as survivors of sexual assault. And yet, these stories come and go, and sexual assault, rape, and child sexual abuse all continue to happen at an alarming rate.

Silence and shame largely empower the abuser to maintain their position of power over victims; thus, speaking out and handing shame back to the abuser are essential tasks survivors need to utilize early on in recovery in order to begin the healing process. Other key resources necessary for survivor recovery include: being heard and not blamed for being a survivor, having healthy boundaries, and gaining education about grooming and gaslighting among other key terms specific to survivors of sexual assault. I highly recommend a great, free resource on YouTube: subscribing to Trauma Recovery University for over 200 hours of free videos you can watch at your own pace and educate yourself on recovery as a sexual assault survivor:

Unfortunately, I know this all too well, because it happened to me, too. Which is one of the reasons I wrote my #OwnVoices young adult novel, The Packing House (read the first 3 chapters here), as a fictionalized version of my own survivor story, and am writing the sequel, Unpacking the Past, to complete the duology. It's why I have joined the Bristlecone Project, as a Male Survivor (see It's why I have joined the ranks of Survivor Knights, an organization that incorporates the arts as a pathway of recovery among the survivor community (see

It's also why I joined the project, Things We Haven't Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out, an anthology of 25 sexual assault survivors speaking out. I am also working on another survivor's anthology I've recently been invited to join, and will eventually develop a curriculum for survivors to use as a map to their own recovery. I myself have been walking out my recovery for the past 40 years, as my sexual assault occurred when I was four years old.

Clicking the link below the book cover above will take you to the Amazon Page. Click here to see my previous blog post on Things We Haven't Said being available, and the full list of sites from which you can purchase the anthology.

Here are a few highlights of the response so far regarding Things We Haven't Said:

Here's the link to our Kirkus Starred Review

Here's the link to an article featured on Publisher's Weekly

Here's the link to an interview featured on School Library Journal

Here's the link to an interview on Foreword Reviews

Here's the link to the 5 Star Review of TWHS on Foreword Reviews

Here's the YouTube link of our book panel presentation at The Strand Bookstore in NYC featuring our anthologist's editor: Erin Moulton, and fellow survivors: Barbara McClean, Maya Demri, myself, and Jane Cochrane. We had an amazing crowd and great questions.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

THINGS WE HAVEN'T SAID is now available!

If you've been following the publication journey of THINGS WE HAVEN'T SAID, an anthology of 25 survivors of Sexual Assault, you probably know this has been a long 2 years. However, the end has come: Things We Haven't Said has been published as of March 13, 2018 and will be available everywhere books are sold.

One thing especially important for books such as these, which may otherwise be missed by some readers, is to post your honest reviews as soon as possible on as many sites as possible. Your review may help other readers find books they might otherwise miss out on. Thank you very much for your support!

As you follow the links below, please note the website stores where reviews are lacking, and share your review there so other readers can find books you recommend they read. Again, thank you very much for this critical support.

Amazon especially promotes books with 50 or more reviews. Early word can help us reach more readers and help more survivors. Remember, proceeds are being donated to and to the Voices and Faces project, at

Here's a listing of those sites who currently list THINGS WE HAVEN'T SAID for pre-order:

1. Amazon:

2. Barnes & Noble:

3: Book Depository:

4: Books-A-Million:

5: Indiebound:

6: GoodReads:

Please note that the majority of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to:

The contributors have donated their time, their talents, and their poems, stories, and essays to speak up and speak out on the issue of sexual assault. In light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, survivors have stepped out and choose to remain no longer silent about sexual abuse, sexual trauma, rape, incest, and sexual assault. By remaining silent, power remains with the abuser. By speaking out, survivors regain their voice, and begin to heal. Each of us who have contributed, myself included, have experienced healing as a result of speaking out. It is our hope that readers will also find hope and healing from their own Sexual Violence experiences.

For many survivors, it's hard enough to face the truth that sexual assault has even occurred, let alone, speak up about it. Unfortunately, many are ill-equipped to handle such trauma and the very real aftermath from which survivors suffer daily across years and decades. Obviously, there is a huge need for such a resource as this one, detailing from fellow survivors themselves the ways we have learned to heal and move forward in our treatment and recovery. Many families, even those with the best of intentions to support and help survivors heal, have no idea what to say or how to even begin the healing process. Thus, a book like THINGS WE HAVEN'T SAID, provides such a resource for teens and adults to slowly process their experiences and co-journey with other survivors who have made progress toward healing on their recovery journey.

Please consider purchasing a copy for yourself, your loved one, your children, the people you love, and for your community crisis center, your local women's shelter, your local churches, and your local libraries. We appreciate each and every one of you, and welcome you to share the word so others know there is hope, there is a resource, and when you purchase this book, know that you are making a difference, and the majority of your purchase will be donated to and

Thank you!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Book Review: THE LAST TO LET GO by Amber Smith

The Last to Let GoThe Last to Let Go by Amber Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is such a careful and articulate unraveling, by the time you are fully entangled within the pages, you won't mind tugging at the next page like a loose thread until you reach the end, a kind of letting go. Beautifully written, painful, powerful. A jagged, glittering trail of bruises and tears. Must read. Dani and Brooke are my favorite characters, followed closely by Caroline.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 8, 2017

What If REcovery Is Not What You Need To Survive? The Role of DIScovery and UNcovering in Trauma and Abuse Healing

*****Trigger Warning*****

What if recovery is the wrong word, the wrong approach, the wrong lens to view the treatment and healing process? This question brought me to at least attempt to process this thought all the way through and blog about it so you have the opportunity to join the conversation, which I hope you'll do in the comment section below. Let's begin.

First, let's start with the question, what is recovery anyway?

The definition gives us a few inroads and insights to begin from, but it doesn't really get at what recovery is, or hopes, or attempts to be for a person in the treatment and healing process. The first definition, "a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength," implies that there is a right state of health or wellness, and there is a wrong state. This sounds very much like a victim of abuse must choose whether they are on one side or the other. Thus, a person who is in "recovery," carries with himself or herself a stigma that they are not well, and further, that they are in fact in a wrong state of wellness. Victim blaming, anyone? Ouch. That one stings a bit.

The second definition, "the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost," suggests that a trauma that has occurred has somehow robbed the victim of his or her innocence, and he or she should strive to "get back," what is rightfully his or hers to own. The heart or intent of this sentiment is at first a nice thought: surely, every child has a right to retain his or her innocence, right?

We have a right to be a child when we are children, and not be thrust into the very adult world of child sexual abuse, where our childhoods are essentially robbed from us, right? Every survivor of child sexual abuse knows this just isn't true. We know what that horror feels like every day that follows from the moment our sexual abuse first began. But the truth is: the world isn't a safe place where children retain their right to be innocent and free from the weight of being thrust forward into adulthood. We don't all chase butterflies, or toss copious amounts of glitter on things, or frolic with unicorns. So the idea of regaining something I never had seems ludicrous to me. I never had that fantasy or fairytale childhood. It didn't exist for me. Instead, I found myself forced to make the very adult choice to take the bullet and comply with my abuser's sexual demands in order to spare my siblings from this horror, not realizing the world isn't fair, and my abuser had no intention of holding up his end of the bargain. I cannot regain what I never had. Sure, I was robbed. So for me, that happened when I was only four years old. As I approach my own treatment and healing from child sexual abuse, I am no longer certain recovery is the right approach. Another way to state this is recovery may not be the right word.

Recovery has been described as many things. It can be a road, a pathway, a journey. It might also be a reset button, a reboot, a do-over, a new beginning. All of these "definitions," give insight and perspective on what recovery could be, but in many ways, it falls short. For the survivor of trauma, recovery just doesn't add up to the promise of giving us back what was stolen from us. It doesn't even come close.

So where does that leave us? It's such a common feeling for a survivor to not fit in with "normal" people. We are outsiders. We don't belong. We are the quintessential square peg trying to fit into a round hole. We just don't. Fit, that is.

For a survivor of child sexual abuse, recovery just isn't a good fit. For us, we need something that meets our unique healing and treatment needs. This led me to the following thought:

What if REcovery was more like DIScovery and UNcovering our TRUE SELVES?

Give that a minute to soak in. Feeling okay? Are you ready to move forward? It might take a few moments for you to fully absorb what I'm saying here. Let me try another way: I'm going to break each of these down a bit further to help clarify:

REcovery is supposed to equal getting back what was taken from you. This seems legitimate as long as you had something prior to your abuse that was taken, apart from your right to live an abuse-free life, that you can "RE," or RE-COVER, or get back.

What if you could, instead, DIScover, or not focus on getting something that was lost or stolen back in the first place? What if, instead, you could choose to do what YOU want to do with the cover. For me, "cover" represents the aspect of abuse that is hidden or covered up.

When you work to regain yourself, you pull the covers off, and reveal the secret. This step can be very triggering, and should not be attempted without the help and support necessary to fully go through this process. If you are considering this step, don't do it alone. Make sure you are ready, and you have professional support with a licensed professional, preferably one who is trauma-informed, and can attend to your unique therapeutic needs.

Before I can get to the final step in the "cover" process, I need to veer off from the main topic for a bit. You see, our abuser took all his or her responsibility for the abuse they inflicted on us, and placed the blame entirely on our shoulders. We tried to resist this, but over time, they wore us down. Eventually, we succumbed to their repeated statements (gas lighting) and treatment. They told us we were nothing, we were worthless, it was our fault. Then, they treated us as if we were nothing, as if we were worthless, and as if it was actually our fault.

To truly understand the process that took me from REcovery to DIScovery to UNcovering the TRUE SELF, check out "The Lying Triad and it's Dark Guard," by Bobbi L. Parish, MA on YouTube:

This brings me to the UNcover part: that the true task is to 1: Uncover the secret of the abuse, rip the cover off of the secret, and expose it for what it is. By taking the lie off of ourselves, we reveal what has been hidden all along: the lie our abuser gave to us, (that you are broken, deserving of your abuse, and essentially the Lying Triad and the Dark Guard Bobbi was talking about,) in order to avoid facing any consequences for abusing us, is finally given back to our abuser, and our TRUE SELF is seen for the first time. 2: The second task is to seek to fully know and embrace the TRUE SELF and allow the TRUE SELF to regain his or her power back.

If we as survivors are ever to regain anything, it is the truth of our TRUE SELVES. And this very important part of our healing journey can only be achieved if we move from REcovery to DIScovery and eventually arrive at UNcovering what has been hidden by our abuse: our TRUE SELVES.

If you've read this entire blog post, from the bottom of my heart to the tips of my toes and the top of my head, I thank you. I appreciate you hearing me out. You may not agree with anything I've said here. You might agree with some parts of it, or all of it. I invite you to join the conversation. Sound off in the comments below and let me know what this brought up for you, how you connect or disconnect from this concept about the recovery process. Healing from trauma and abuse have unique aspects that are not the same as other treatment and healing processes.

It is my hope that this can be the beginning of a conversation about those needs for true recovery and healing to happen in the survivor community. If you have an idea for a blog post in response to this one, I hope you'll post a link in the comments below and I look forward to reading your reactions, comments, and posts.

I will close with a checklist for recovery, "Guiding Principles of Recovery":