I would like to share an insight that has helped me cope with experiences of violence, and of hearing about the experiences of others.
In the book Healing into Life and Death, Stephen Levine wrote about helping parents whose children had been murdered. He talked about how the parents kept returning to the last moments of suffering that their child had experienced. They would agonize over this scene in their imagination again and again. Levine talked about how that experience was in fact over for their child. And he would draw the attention of the parents to the here and now.
Levine talks about bringing tenderness and mercy to our grief. About letting go and acknowledging things will never be the same. About forgiving ourselves.
I keep a gratitude journal to draw me to the good things in my life. Although I am not religious, I meditate a little bit every night. Especially I have a Buddhist loving kindness meditation that I lean on to help me through hard times.
You are welcome to share your thoughts on healing here, please do.
Memoir confronts the trauma of rape
by Zosia Bielski, The Globe and Mail, Apr. 24 2014
Before he got drunk on vodka and brutally assaulted her at knife-point for an hour, Karyn Freedman’s rapist made them dinner, chicken and salad. It was 1990 in Paris, and Freedman, then 22, had been backpacking through Europe. On her first night in Paris, she arrived to the apartment of a professor who had mentored one of her friends. The rapist lived there, too, and played host before the vicious attack.
Freedman, now an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph, battled post-traumatic stress disorder for more than a decade following the assault. She details her ordeal in the new book One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery. Blending memoir with psychological and neuroscientific research into what it means to live in a body that has been traumatized, Freedman examines the significant cost of rape on a victim’s life – distrust in relationships, a sex life “corrupted” by paralyzing flashbacks and an understandably tainted view of the capabilities of her fellow humans.
“Trauma changes us,” writes Freedman, who also looks at recovery, including new modes of therapy that heal the brain by using the body and even boxing gloves. Freedman, who lives in Toronto with her partner of 10 years, spoke with the Globe about going public and what concerns her about life on campus.
We readily expound on rape culture, but we’re less willing to discuss the trauma that rape victims actually face. Why is that?
Despite all the advances in women’s issues we’ve seen over the years, sexual violence remains a taboo topic. We don’t talk about the long- or short-term effects. That’s a serious detriment to survivors and to society as a whole. We fail to get a broad understanding of what individuals go through. That makes it easier to sweep experiences under the carpet.
How does rape affect victims’ beliefs?
When you’re the victim of sexual assault or some kind of interpersonal violence, you revise your beliefs about the world. There’s a narrative that we tell our children: The world is basically a safe place and so long as you’re careful, you should be able to protect yourself from any harm. When that’s used as a strategy to prevent violence against women, it’s a total failure. There are similar positions being staked, that all you need to do to be safe is don’t go drinking at a party. It’s a myth, and the statistics don’t bear that out.
Why do some victims recover relatively quickly and others not so quickly?
The literature on the neurobiological effects of trauma suggests that when individuals who are pre-disposed to anxiety or depressive disorders experience a terrifying life event over which they have no control, they may have a compromised response. In part it’s our biological and genetic environmental histories and in part it’s the extremity of the experience. It’s also about the choices we make around our own recovery in the immediate aftermath. I, like many rape survivors, was deeply ashamed and did not want a single soul to know what had happened to me. There are lots of complicated reasons for why women choose to pretend, bury it and walk away and it makes a serious impact on whether we’re able to recover. I basically ignored the devastating effect it had on me for as long as I could before I realized, if I don’t deal with this I’ll be in serious trouble.
Your recovery involved somatic psychotherapy techniques of “living in” your trauma. How does that work?
There’s a trend in trauma theory toward using the body as a way of retraining your neurological responses. My experience was that the way to become freer from the hold that the traumatic memories had over me was to return to them in mind and in body, with the safety and guidance of a professional. I would be in one of these sessions lying there imagining my rapist draped all over me, and I literally couldn’t move. You’re re-experiencing the event, but differently. It gives you power over it that you didn’t have at the time, to be able to fight back. If you’re able to feel safe in the moment and then move through it, you retrain your neurotransmitters. It deflates a lot of the fear and anxiety. At one trauma centre, they had soundproof rooms, gym mats and boxing gloves.
What state are you in now?
Trauma is a chronic condition. In a particularly stressful time I find it difficult to breathe, have more anxiety than usual, panic attacks. That happens, but I’m much more stable. I see my therapist and occasionally rely on anti-anxiety medication. I’m quite fond of single-malt scotch. I also find empathy pretty grounding, connecting with people. In putting out a book like this, every second person has a story to tell me. These are people I’ve known forever.
Do you feel vulnerable recounting your hour-long attack in great detail?
Whether I go into detail or not, it really does feel like an unburdening. Some people are very uncomfortable when they hear about this book, they don’t know how to approach me. People have lots of different reactions and I’ve been fairly immune to taking on those different reactions. I wouldn’t have written or published this book if I thought that I couldn’t manage other people’s reactions to it.
You believe that when victims remain silent, rape is reframed as a personal problem rather than a social one. But other advocates question the push for women to go public. They’re concerned about the stigma these women might face, and they wonder why the onus falls on the victim.
I have a lot of sympathy for that. Women face potential repercussions in their families, communities and workplaces. They face the horrible reality of people saying to them, “What were you wearing? Were you drinking? Why were you with this guy in the first place?” In certain parts of the world, coming out brings stigma to your whole family. It can be lethal.
I don’t think that women should be pressured into coming forward. But somebody like me – in my position of real privilege, where I’m not going to lose my job, partner, family or friends – I have a certain responsibility. When women don’t come forward, we end up seeing rape as a series of isolated events as opposed to a systemic problem that faces women and children worldwide.
The reputable anti-sexual assault organization RAINN recently expressed reservations about the term “rape culture,” concluding in a February report that “rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.” For RAINN it’s about predators, not society.
I think RAINN is wrong to turn away from the problem in the culture that enables certain kinds of behaviours to persist. It’s not that we don’t want to focus on predators. There’s a culture. The recent case at the University of Ottawa, these five guys writing Facebook messages about ramming it into this woman leading the student union, their language was so violent. And it was just normalized.
Just as much as we’re failing our women, we’re failing our men on college campuses. These guys who go to school, get peer pressured and don’t know that what they’re doing is horrific and will damage people forever.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Tulane psychiatrist wins national award for research that shows how trauma seeps across generations
August 17, 2018
Tulane child psychiatry professor Dr. Stacy Drury will receive the 2018 Norbert and Charlotte Rieger Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement in October at the AACAP’s 65th Annual Meeting in Seattle. Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has selected Tulane child psychiatry professor Dr. Stacy Drury to receive the 2018 Norbert and Charlotte Rieger Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement.
The award recognizes the most significant paper published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry by a child and adolescent psychiatrist within the last year. It’s a record fourth time a Tulane child psychiatrist has won the prestigious award for groundbreaking research in the field. Representing more than 9,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists worldwide, the AACAP is the leading authority on children's mental illnesses.
The academy singled out Drury’s research into how early childhood trauma can have negative health consequences that seep across generations. The research showed that a biological marker of an infant’s ability to regulate stress was influenced not only by the amount of stress the child’s mother experienced during pregnancy but also by a mother’s life course experiences with stress. Her paper, "Thinking Across Generations: Unique Contributions of Maternal Early Life and Prenatal Stress to Infant Physiology," was published in November.
"It is a sign of the quality of work that these transdisciplinary, across-school collaborations can build."
Dr. Stacy Drury
“It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. One of the things I'm most excited about is that this research was truly a collaboration between the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the School of Science and Engineering and the School of Medicine,” said Drury, the Remigio Gonzalez MD Endowed Professorship of Child Psychiatry. “So while it is given to me, it really was a very collaborative work that had students and junior and senior faculty from all the schools. It is a sign of the quality of work that these transdisciplinary, across-school collaborations can build. That thought process led people to look at things with a different perspective.”
Co-authors on the research include Katherine Theall, Cecile Usdin Professorship in Women’s Health at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and, from the School of Science and Engineering, Sarah Gray, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience doctoral student Christopher Jones and psychology doctoral student Erin Glackin.
Drury and collaborators recruited mothers during pregnancy to try and understand how a mother’s experiences, both before and during pregnancy, influence their infants’ development. Mothers reported on their stress during pregnancy as well as their own adverse childhood experiences before the age of 18. At four months of age, Drury’s research team measured the infant’s respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) during an interaction with their mother. RSA is a marker of the parasympathetic nervous system and considered an indicator of how well one can adapt to changes in the environment. RSA is the variation in heart rate we experience when we breathe and differences in RSA are linked to lifespan mental and physical outcomes. For the most part higher RSA suggests an individual is more able to adapt to changes and stressors in their environment.
“People who have high RSA or a lot of RSA reactivity when stressed tend to be more adaptable or resilient,” Drury said. “What our study showed was that moms’ adverse childhood experiences took away some of that flexibility in babies. It showed that things that happened even before a mom gets pregnant can leave lasting traces in her child and, what is really new about this study, is that we showed that these are different than prenatal stress.”
The study showed that a mom’s early life adversity set a lower baseline for RSA, while prenatal stress resulted in less variation over a stressor.
“It is a bit nuanced in that adverse childhood experiences really lowers baseline or starting point of a child’s RSA, while prenatal stress influenced the change in RSA, or what we call reactivity,” Drury said.
Researchers are studying whether early childhood interventions can recalibrate an infant’s RSA stress response.
Drury noted that it is unprecedented for one school to be recognized for more than a quarter of the Rieger awards given within the last 15 years. Past recipients include Tulane child psychiatry faculty Dr. Charles H. Zeanah (2016), Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason (2011) and Dr. Michael Scheeringa (2003).
“For a small research group, this is huge,” she said. “It shows that Tulane is producing the highest quality research.”