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About My Mother . . . and LungLeavin’ Day

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Karen Sue Gunderson

Where in the hell were your parents?!” is usually what I hear after someone learns about my traumatic past. Heck, even my Dad asked the same thing one Spring evening when I shared the dark details: “Where was I, when all this was happening?” Several years ago, I posted a piece about my dad. Now, it’s time to tell you about my mother.

But before I do that. I need to tell you about Heather and Cameron Von St. James.

Cameron sent me an email. Here’s what he said:

 I am reaching out to you today because of your blog! My name is Cameron Von St. James and I’m a husband to one of the strongest people I know. Eight years ago, after our only child was born, my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a rare cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. My wife’s chronic illness taught us the importance of acknowledging and overcoming our fears, something that prevent us all from living life to the fullest.

This February 2nd marks the 8th anniversary of Heather’s life saving surgery, which involved a risky procedure requiring the removal of her left lung. It is a very special day to me and is considered one of the memorable days of my life! We’ve coined this day as LungLeavin’ Day.

Wow! I don’t know many people who would find a way to laugh about loosing a LUNG . . . a lung, people! As Cameron mentioned, when faced with a life altering event or chronic condition, fear can leap upon our hearts rendering us powerless to find our way out of the fog. As I read his email, I thought about you, dear survivor. Fear is the jailer that keeps people with Post Traumatic Stress locked away believing there is something so terribly wrong with them, they’ll have to live with it forever.

I also thought about my mother.

Karen Sue Brown (Lindsay-Gunderson) died at the age of 45 from lung cancer. Like Heather, it was a rare diagnosis for a woman in 1992, who had never smoked or worked in an industrial environment. Her brief nine month fight with the disease cracked her open to fears she never knew existed . . . and never spoke about . . . to anyone.

It was only after she’d passed, perusing through her myriad books on the subject of cancer, that I was able to gather a sense of her state of mind in those last few months – and quite possibly, how she secretly dealt with everything life brought. Since she was a woman who placed more stock in facts and logic that upheld her view of perfection than the dirty, gritty reality of life, I wasn’t surprised to find those books well read. However, I was surprised to find she had only highlighted information about how much worse her cancer was likely to get, completely ignoring references to the possibility of healing.

My mother’s fear had killed her and fear was killing me, too.

Talk about up a creek without a paddle . . . this is me at age 11. The photo was taken by the man who abducted me during the 2 week ordeal.

Talk about up a creek without a paddle . . . this is me at age 11. The photo was taken by the man who abducted me during the 2 week ordeal.

I was transported in time, sitting before my mother, who’s angry and glaring because of an embarrassing phone call from my friend’s mother (You need to have a conversation with your daughter. She has something extremely important to tell you.). That’s when I finally told an adult about the least offensive act I could think of that had taken place at the hands of a predatory pedophile during my ‘abduction’ the year prior.

He took pictures of me.

Without her eyes softening, hands still on her hips, she asked only one stern question, “Did he hurt you?”

It had been more than a year since my Great Aunt’s husband had taken me to a remote location in the Canadian wilderness. Any physical wounds I’d suffered had long since healed. But I still felt terrible. It was a deep emotional pain that defied the vocabulary of an eleven-year-old girl.

No?

Mother spun on her heel and headed straight for the telephone. We never spoke of it again.

Staring at piles of highlighted cancer books, I came face-to-face with the power of the mind to manifest our reality. It’s been said that what you think about, you bring about. In the case of my mother, she was terrified, suffering silently and not just since her diagnosis. It’s my belief that fear prevented my mother from being emotionally expressive and the stress of holding a lifetime of anguish inside her, manifested in disease at her body’s weakest point – asthmatic lungs.

The added stress of fearing for her life, her family and the grandchild she had only begun to know, moved the cancer through her system swiftly. My own fears about whether or not I carried cancerous genes and could live beyond the age of forty-five had only just begun upon her death. Compounding my fear was the acknowledgment that I’d been running from a very dark and painful past. I was diagnosed that same year with PTSD. For me, the cost of fear was death – clearly far too high a price to pay.

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Happy, healthy, whole me 🙂

Last year (2013) marked a turning point. As of October, I’ve lived three months longer than my mother. I’m the healthiest I’ve been, since playing varsity softball in high school. I spend more time on preventive health care than treating illness (I rarely get sick anymore) enjoying yoga, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking and eating clean foods. Clear and healthy boundaries are now a part of my new life, meaning that I’m not a doormat anymore. Loving, vibrant, positive people surround me; the neg-heads and haters, as my son likes to call them, are gone.

The best part? I’ve been PTSD symptom free for eight years, and I’m not afraid anymore.

No more looking over my shoulder, waiting for the next PTSD trigger to steamroll me into oblivion! I’ve accomplished the measure of healing I set out to achieve and then some. With that in my back pocket, I have the confidence to do anything. You will too.

Thanks, Heather and Cameron, for LungLeavin’ Day, for thinking of PTSD survivors and for including them in your initiative to eliminate fear. Tell us more about LungLeavin’ Day:

The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage and empower others battling their own illnesses and life challenges to face their fears! On this day we celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going throug

h a tough time in their life, and most importantly, we celebrate life! Each year, friends and family gather at our house around a bonfire where we write our fears on a plate and smash them into the fire to represent conquering our fears.

LLD-TalkingPlateThis year, we are asking others to participate in LungLeavin’ Day! We’ve created an interactive page that tells the full story of this special day, which can be found here or by clicking on the cartoon plate.

I’d love for you to check out the page and help spread the word about LungLeavin’ Day! It would mean so much to Heather and I.

Thanks so much for your time!

Cameron

Won’t you join me? Let’s help Heather and Cameron spread the word about facing down our fears and walking into a life we were meant to live . . . a life WORTH living!

Oh, and by the way, I don’t have ANY  fears about whether or not the Seattle Seahawks will win Superbowl XLVIII !!! GO HAWKS !!!

Peace,

Annmarie

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PTSD Self Help: Turning Survival into a Life Worth Living . . . Countdown to Book Launch!!

PTSD Self Help Promo

Filled with all of the helpful information you’ve found here at PTSD Relief and more, PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living, THE BOOK, will be available everywhere Spring 2014!

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Everyone had ONE LAST WEEK in January to gather all the PTSD Self Help material they could from PTSD Relief . . .

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At least until you purchase your very own copy of PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living!

By the way, 10% of the proceeds from the sale of each book goes toward building an interactive, on-line version of The Center for Hope & Renewal!

Subscribe! That way, while we’re under construction getting ready for the BIG LAUNCH, you don’t miss out on great giveaways, pre-sale order opportunities and book signing tour updates 🙂

Can’t wait to hit the road and meet many of you in person!

Peace,

Annmarie

 

Shhh…It’s a Secret.

A. E. Huppert - Author

 

Are you looking for help in healing from Post Traumatic Stress? Maybe you’re looking for PTSD Self Help, my blog series on how to walk away from PTSD forever? Well, you’ve found it! But not for long . . .

I’m happy to announce to YOU, a loyal reader and traveller on the PTSD healing journey, that this blog site will be changing very soon, thanks to the 2013 publication of the book, PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living.

So, gather the articles and information you need right away! They’ll be disappearing soon . . .

Advance praise for PTSD Self Help:

“With candor, confidence, and courage, author A.E. Huppert establishes a practical and personal approach to empowering those who suffer with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to move beyond hopelessness to healing. The material delivers comprehensive, well-researched, and relevant information with both compassion and credibility. Not only is Ms. Huppert well-versed academically on the causes, effects, and treatments for PTSD—she has first-hand experience, which results in an undeniable authenticity and clarity that is compelling and reassuring.” ~ Editor, FriesenPress

“The reading of PTSD Self-Help was a remarkable experience in that I felt positively impacted by the author’s writing above and beyond the scope of my editorial duties; the narrative demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the author has left no stone unturned in her own recovery; having emerged victorious on the other side of recovery, she is an authority to be trusted. For so many who have been deeply traumatized, the first steps to healing means exploring uncharted territory, but this need not be as terrifying a prospect when equipped with such valuable insights as shared by the author. I commend Ms. Huppert for her tenacity, generosity, and eloquence, and I wish her satisfaction and success as she moves closer to the release of her brave and riveting book.” ~ Editor, FriesenPress

Wow! Thanks, FriesenPress!

You can find PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living at on-line and independent bookstores EVERYWHERE! Or you can stay tuned here at PTSD Relief or on Facebook for the latest on release dates and book signing events!

Thank you in advance for supporting a PTSD healing revolution and the building of The Center for Hope & Renewal with every purchase of PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living.

Remember . . . it’s all about hope . . . renewal . . . transformation.

Peace,

Annmarie

A. E. Huppert

About my father…

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Stephen L. Gunderson
My Daddy

Daddy. That’s what I lovingly called him. Until I woke up.

He wasn’t the one, mind you. People who’ve only heard snippets of my story over the years privately wonder about that. Today, on Father’s Day, I’m making it official. I’m going on record to say in my long history of abuse, my wonderful father was never a part of any of it.

When I Woke Up, I Was 10, has been a labor of love, passion and pain for almost as long as my struggle with Post Traumatic Stress. As my memoir of sorts, the title attempts to capture the realities of how our world’s rape culture (especially here in the U.S.) suddenly dawns upon the innocence of childhood (especially for girls). It also hints at how traumatic experiences – from sexual abuse, cancer, war or any other horrible thing you can think of that human beings do to one another – can just as suddenly cause an awakening of the human spirit. What I didn’t anticipate was the clarity about my traumatic past writing When I Woke Up, I Was 10 would give me.

Here’s what happened, but by no means was this the beginning. I was 10 years old. My great aunt’s pedophile husband duped her into abandoning her plans to escort me on a one week trip to Puntzi Lake, Canada. Instead, he convinced her he was capable of the task; thus beginning my nightmare.

What were you doing the summer when you were 10?If you were like me (female in 1978), you were collecting Breyer horses, riding your ten speed or

Always on my daddy’s lap…

banana seat bicycle and still enjoying a run through the sprinkler. I still called my father, daddy. When he returned home from a long day working at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, I would run to greet him. His strong, lean arms encircling me in his protection. I shouldn’t have had to enjoy the grounding sense of security and protection his touch gave me “while it lasted.” At 10, I took it for granted. At 10, I woke up to the realities of a hard, harsh, uncaring breed of men that would haunt me well into my 30s.

Ten years old is too young to start calling your father, dad. But being jumped in to the scary, dark side of adult sexuality, made the burden of knowing things I shouldn’t about my daddy follow me around like a shadow. These frightening things a secret only to me, apparently. Certainly if my mother and great aunt knew this secret life of men, they wouldn’t have allowed me to go on that fateful trip, would they? That was the year something within me shifted. The only man I had really ever known or trusted became “Dad.”

As a 44 year old, independent woman, I still run to greet my daddy, despite what turned out to be not only two weeks of torture, but also 23 years of abuse at the hands of men. Ok, not much running going on at my age, but he’s the first stop I make. And guess what? I still feel an overwhelming sense of security and protection when I’m wrapped in his arms.

As a child, this confused me. At first, the aftereffects of sexual abuse threatened to instill fear of my daddy. As I found my way into being a woman, nearly every experience I had with men turned out poorly for me; from marrying them, befriending them, partnering with them in business, or giving them pastoral authority over my spiritual wellbeing. In the arms of my daddy, all this was turned upside down. Flying in the face of what my experience had taught me, the consistency of my daddy’s love gently wore away the pain.Over time, our deep and intense love for one another and our affectionate way of being together swept away that fear altogether.

Graduating from bible college together…

At 30, when I entered into my final, intense healing season (lasting three years), it was the consistency of how I felt with my daddy’s arms circled around me that gave me hope. A hope that somehow I could find my way out of a nightmare and back into the reality I had known before I woke up.

Now, almost 10 years living as a whole, healed and symptom free survivor, I relish the moments in his arms and think of him as daddy once more. I drink in the stable, unconditional security his sixty-seven years envelops me in every time we embrace. I grieve for the lost years, when I should have been able to enjoy security, instead of questioning. And, although he wasn’t able to protect me from what he didn’t know (or what was kept from him), on this side of healing, I’m grateful for his generosity, fairness and quiet strength.

How can one truly know the sheer joy of safety in another’s arms unless that safety has been violated?

You gave that joy and safety to me daddy. I love you with all of my heart, my soul, my very being.

Happy Father’s Day 🙂

PTSD Support for spouses and families: Healthy boundaries

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Survivors aren’t the only one’s affected by the aftereffects of PTSD. Family and friends feel the impact of the healing process, too.                      Photo credit: smarnad/freedigitalphotos.net

For every person wrestling with the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, there is a partner, spouse or family member significantly affected by the survivor’s recovery process. Unfortunately, there is minimal literature and almost no support for them.

Whether the survivor’s traumatic event included sexual abuse, rape, wartime events, or another life changing event, at some point, partners and family often sense there is something wrong in the relationship that defies explanation. Despite the best efforts of loved ones to be positive and encouraging, the survivor remains depressed, moody, and driven to irrational behavior. “Indirectly, partners of sexual abuse survivors are also victims,” according to Ken Graber, author of Ghosts in the Bedroom.

Graber defines partners to include lovers, spouses, intimate friends, family members or any other person in a relationship with a survivor who is affected by the survivor’s feelings and actions. Keep in mind that the survivor typically is not aware of how far reaching the impact of the traumatic event is or how difficult the recovery process can be for themselves and the people who love them. The key for partners is to practice detachment with a healthy dose of love for the survivor.

A Tacoma mother, who asked not to be named, has an adult daughter with undiagnosed but suspected PTSD. She says, “The emotional outbursts that occur seemingly without provocation and the physical ailments that no doctor can pinpoint make life for a young adult woman harder than it should be. As a family you get through the initial trauma. The child grows up and everything is good, until they get into what should be a healthy sexual relationship. That is when the hidden triggers rear their ugly effects. It is heartbreaking.”

Detaching from the recovery process with love means supporting the survivor while they face their personal issues without trying to manage the survivor’s recovery or taking offense when they express strong emotion. By gaining clarity about which issues must be addressed by the partner, which issues can be addressed by the survivor and partner together and which issues must be addressed by the survivor alone, partners or family members can go a long way toward establishing themselves as an ally.

“All you can do is walk along side them and continue to love them. They have to be the ones to accept treatment,” continues the Tacoma mother. “As a mom, I would rather take on all the hurts she is going through than see her re-live the horror of the assault that happened so many years ago. It is a heavy burden to carry for the person with PTSD and for their loved ones. Thank God there is help out there. To know we don’t walk alone is a major factor in survival and healing.”

If you are a partner or family member of a survivor and feel you have been affected by the survivor’s experience, you may be feeling confused, frustrated, angry, or a variety of other feelings. It is good to know you are not alone and that many other partners have these same feelings. Remember, these are temporary feelings that you will resolve on your own and that dealing with these feelings is your own responsibility. Is your partner or loved one a survivor of sexual abuse? Check out these 14 questions to find out.

Join your loved one on the journey! Subscribe, so you won’t miss out on upcoming articles about how to be a positive member of your loved one’s Healing Team (handy button at the top/side of this page). It’s free! So, let the adventure begin! Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about the series, or just see what I’m up to! Here’s how to connect:

PTSD Symptoms: Body armor

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Chronic muscle tension is one of the many aggravating symptoms of PTSD. Photo Credit: Photostock/freedigitalimages.net

Did you know the body stores memories? Most people think memories are only stored in our mind, but that’s not true. The body remembers what the mind chooses to forget. Sometimes people’s muscles get “locked tight” from holding stress inside or trying to “forget” unpleasant memories.

The term body armor describes one way survivors cope with PTSD symptoms. It starts in the brain, which sends signals beyond our conscious awareness to the muscles, creating chronic holding patterns in the posture and tissues of the body.

How does this happen? A traumatic event causes the body to contract its muscles and harden to shield the inner self. Just think back to the last time something frightened you or someone treated you harshly. Do you remember your shoulders and neck tightening in response?

If the trauma is substantial enough, the brain will continue to send messages to the muscles, which will be reluctant to release their grip in an effort to protect you from “what’s about to happen,” even if “what’s about to happen” already happened years ago.

Another explanation for body armor? The Herculean effort you are making to contain how out of control you feel or to resist memories from the past has created a cycle of tension that’s hard to break without professional help.

Nancy Presser is my massage therapist and yoga instructor who now lives in California. She says, “When I encounter a person on my massage table with a lot of body armor, the first thing I ask them is, ‘Do you drink enough water?’” Surprisingly, drinking the recommended eight glasses of water a day is a great start toward loosening the hold tension has on your muscles. “If I can get a client to drink water, then more space is created between the cells of their muscle tissue. That’s the focus of massage, to manually manipulate the muscles to create more space, blood flow and oxygen,” comments Nancy.

Energy and blood flow in your body can’t circulate freely through areas of tension. One bad side effect is your body may shut down those areas, causing physical ailments and emotional imbalances. A Tacoma mother whose adult daughter was molested as a child shares via email, “The emotional outbursts that occur seemingly without provocation and the physical ailments that no doctor can pinpoint make life for a young adult woman harder than it should be.”

Physical symptoms and emotional turmoil are the body’s way of responding to unresolved issues and events. If the tension and emotional residue left by the traumatic event are not dealt with together, symptoms can go on for years. Massage, as well as, acupressure and chiropractic adjustments can really help to loosen up those muscles and get you on the path toward emotional healing.

Nancy points out, “knowingly or unknowingly, when we allow chronic muscle tension, we are keeping the memories associated with that tension from flowing freely through us. By unlocking the tension, you also release the emotional memories stored within the cells. Depending on what a client wants to accomplish, I can help them release those memories.”

Remember, it all begins with the brain. Massage therapy alone won’t take you very far toward walking away from PTSD forever. That’s why you need a Healing Team! Recognizing your own tendency toward body armor and watching Dr. Phil’s explanation on the show The Doctors can help you understand the powerful connection between body and mind.

The next step? Find a licensed massage therapist to add to your PTSD Healing Team! Here’s how to find a great one: PTSD Self-help: Choosing a Massage Therapist (available tomorrow!)

Do you struggle with chronic muscle tension and mysterious physical ailments? Tell us about your PTSD struggle and what you’ve done to seek relief or ask a question. Others, like you, who read this article want to know they’re not alone in their struggle to overcome PTSD.

Join us on the journey! Subscribe, so you won’t miss out on upcoming articles on how to recruit each member of your Healing Team (handy button at the top/side of this page). It’s free! So, let the adventure begin! Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about the series, or just see what I’m up to! Here’s how to connect:

PTSD Support for Spouses: Is my loved one a survivor of sexual abuse?

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Do you suspect your loved one might be struggling with PTSD? Many survivors keep their trauma a secret…even from the ones they love most.
Photo credit: Idea Go/freedigitalphotos.net

Your girlfriend tells you that she was abused as a child, but that it doesn’t bother her now. You think differently. Or maybe your boyfriend shares a startling and disturbing story about his past, and you’re quick to brush it off as irrelevant to your relationship. Think again. On the other hand, maybe you’ve been married for a number of years but recently, your spouse has been distant, emotional and spaced out. You suspect it has something to do with the past, but can’t be sure.

It doesn’t matter what kind of trauma your loved one experienced. Lovers, spouses, intimate friends, family members or any other person in a relationship with a survivor can be affected by the survivor’s feelings and actions, according to Ken Graber’s book, Ghosts in the Bedroom. Typically a survivor is not aware of how far reaching the impact of the traumatic event is or how difficult the recovery process can be for themselves and the people who love them. The key for people supporting a loved one in the healing process is to practice detachment with a healthy dose of love for the survivor.

As a spouse or significant other, the best thing you can do is to prepare yourself for your loved one’s recovery process by creating your own support system, as well as educating yourself about PTSD and the healing journey. You can begin by looking within to identify your own patterns of destructive or limiting behavior and taking responsibility for your own issues. This is an important part of being in relationship with a survivor, since the survivor’s recovery process can and will trigger your own issues. Your courage to take on your own core issues will be an encouraging example to the survivor you love.

However, being the intimate partner of someone struggling with PTSD as a result of sexual abuse comes with an additional, healthy dose of trust issues. For this reason alone, you need to feel confident about what you’re dealing with. Below I’ve provided a brief quiz to get you on the right track. Use these questions to build up your confidence that what you’re experiencing with your partner is real. Then, take the next step and begin educating yourself.

Am I the partner of a sexual abuse survivor? Is someone I care about wrestling with PTSD and the aftermath of sexual trauma? Remember, entering into recovery must be the survivor’s decision and in the survivor’s timing. However, the questions below will help you identify the possibility of whether or not someone you love might be carrying the weight of a PTSD struggle as a result of childhood sexual abuse. For more information about survivors of other forms of trauma, check out the book I Can’t Get Over It! A Handbook for Trauma Survivors by Aphrodite Matsakis, Ph.D.

Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the following questions:

  1. Was my partner raised in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional family?
  2. Is my partner in an Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics recovery program?
  3. Does my partner have an eating disorder such as overeating, anorexia or bulimia?
  4. Is my partner moody or someone who cries easily and frequently or suffers from prolonged depression?
  5. Does my partner frequently space out or lose track of a conversation for no apparent reason?
  6. Is my partner often accident prone during unremembered time periods?
  7. Is my partner afraid to have children? Or children of a particular sex?
  8. Is my partner uneasy about being around adults of a particular gender?
  9. Does my partner frequently wear inappropriately tight or revealing clothing?
  10. Does my partner frequently wear loose clothing or excessive layer of clothing?
  11. Does my partner compulsively have sex or love relationships?
  12. Does my partner almost exclusively use sex to get money, control or affection?
  13. Does my partner have siblings who were victims of incest or sexual abuse?
  14. Has my partner engaged in self-mutilation, self-tattooing or threatened suicide?

If you answered Yes to three or more of these 14 questions, you are likely the partner of a sexual abuse survivor who may be struggling with PTSD. However, keep in mind that only a qualified, PTSD informed mental health professional can make a diagnosis. Check out the article PTSD Support for Spouses: Wrapping Your Mind Around Healing to find out more about loving someone in the PTSD healing process.

Join your loved one on the journey! Subscribe, so you won’t miss out on upcoming articles about how to be a positive member of your loved one’s Healing Team (handy button at the top/side of this page). It’s free! So, let the adventure begin! Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about the series, or just see what I’m up to! Here’s how to connect:

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