Retraining Behaviors in Recovery After Abuse

May you take a breath, find one positive thought and focus your energy there when things get difficult. It always helps us to find a happy place in our thoughts. If we can think of our most favorite time, a favorite movie, a favorite memory filled with laughter; this can be a great resource in coping through anything. Healing after abuse is about retraining our process in living.

We come from a history of people saying bad things about us all the time, or threatening us; things which are strong and difficult to carry around. Even after we escape those bad times, the words still stay active in our heads and this keeps us trapped in the pain. However, this also gives the abuser power over us. Their words and actions can often be a haunting experience. It also controls how we see ourselves. The abusers win when we allow them to continue controlling our world. They win when we are adults and continue accepting their abuse. They win when we allow ourselves to believe all of their ugly words, no matter when they say them or what they say.

The abuser gains control when we doubt our worth in finding someone to love us. They gain control when we don’t enjoy ourselves when spending time with friends or our own new family. They have control when we doubt we are pretty, or we think we don’t look this way or that way; when we doubt our ability at all it is because we are giving the abuser control and allowing their thoughts to circle around in our head. They are controlling the thoughts in OUR brain. The one thing which no one should be able to control at all. The one true freedom given to us when we were created.

I’ve heard people in prison say – ‘They can cage up my body, but they cannot cage up my brain’. This is the same as an abuser. They can trap us in their hell only so long as we are unable to find a safe place or are not able to be rescued. However, once we are in a safe place the recovery and rebuilding process MUST begin. Why? Well if you are going to be able to support yourself, take care of your children, or face the responsible adult life; we cannot allow the thoughts to keep us from achieving the dreams we seek.

Much like we have to change our behaviors from always falling victim to a predator and continuing to live in tolerating the abuses, we also have to retrain our thoughts. It is the hardest part about our recovery. This is why I ALWAYS recommend keeping a POSITIVITY LIST going. Start making a list of all those amazing things in your life today. If you are SAFE this is the first thing you want to list. If no one is hurting you today, then this is a great positive and you must often remind yourself of this as you go through your day. When we are not in the greatest position, perhaps our finances are strapped or none; perhaps our health is not the best; perhaps our home is not yet achieved, but all of these things can be worked on and they can and will change when you begin to believe and take the needed steps to change them.

We CAN learn the skills to find a job in which we can support ourselves. We CAN learn how to control our finances so we don’t fall in the pit of debt. We CAN heal ourselves so that we become stronger and more capable of building the life we deserve. We CAN heal ourselves so that we find the one true love. We CAN smile and be thankful for the safety we have and for what we no longer have to fear. These are things which we CAN NEVER GIVE UP ON ACHIEVING.

When we give up on life, then we give up on our possibilities. I know how difficult it can be, it seems these dark thoughts will never leave our soul. However, I am also on the other side, at least for the most part anyway. I can’t tell you that it will ever completely leave your heart, because I’m not yet done in my own growth and not sure that we are ever done being in recovery. Much like an alcoholic, drug, or food addiction getting past this types of trauma is something we must continue to press through. You can’t erase the fact it happened. You can’t erase the physical wounds you are left to carry, such as PTSD or Fibromyalgia. Yes, Fibromyalgia is an after effect of abuse. It is connected to the Fight or Flight risk which has been such a twisted part of the abuse itself. Our bodies have been living in constant high alert. Our response has been restricted to that harm, and especially for children, there was an intense fear but you could never escape or do anything to fight back. This is where the wiring of our response system today is still criss-crossed and we often find ourselves in a panic when we cannot get away from a triggering memory. This is when we feel overwhelmed and begin to panic, our bodies tense up, and heart starts pounding.

What I’ve learned these past five years is the logical side of being in recovery and how our memories and bodies must be guided through the steps of learning how to JUST LIVE without all of the chaos we are so trained to endure. We can often respond better in a high alert stressful situation because it is what our bodies know best and our brain understands the connection between high alert & response. This is the part of understanding where we are today in our recovery that will help us through those painful memories and triggers.

In using the process of the Positivity List, understanding the connection between the fear we knew then and our body’s response to things today, even the physical wounds; this is a huge beginning in your recovery. The Positivity List is a great tool to share with your new family and friends. When you ask them what they think is so good about you or what they see in you, these are often things we don’t see. These are the good things which the cruel words have taken away. You can gain them back and really absorb them by taking what positives these new people say and adding them to your list. When you start hearing those voices and their mean words swimming around, take out your list and begin by reading it aloud over and over again. Even if all you can say is ‘I’M SAFE NOW’ this is a beginning place. I know it may seem ridiculous at first, it did for me, but it actually works. You have to really concentrate, just like the Muscle Tense & Relax exercise, or the Control Breathing Process you must concentrate on the words you are saying. The idea is that you are #1 – putting new thoughts in your head for you to think about #2 – you are RETRAINING your thought process. Your brain will eventually understand that when the bad thoughts come back, it will go into gear and switch to your positive or happy thoughts instead. It is like RETRAINING our body to respond appropriately in our new SAFE environment. Yes, it is something we have to work on. Yes it takes a huge effort on your part. Yes it is absolutely a process and will not just magically transform overnight.

This is the part of ongoing recovery in retraining ourselves out of our abusive history. Just like when you leave a relationship, leave your home for the first time as an adult, start a new job, or even become a new parent; now you must become your own NEW PARENT. This is your time to teach yourself the things you wish your parents would have taught you. This is your time to teach yourself the new job skills for living your NEW SAFE LIFE. This is your recovery, it must happen at your own pace. Your pain is not like any other person’s pain. Your journey is not like any other person’s journey. This is your new beginning. Before you do anything else and start your journey, take a moment to give yourself a huge hug and comfort the pain when it gets to be too much. Remember, when no one is around for you this is the time you must be strong for yourself. Believe that you are incredible and the roses in your garden of life will begin to blossom. Today is your day, today is your new beginning and I pray these tools are just part of the coping steps to help you through your training as you learn to live the life you deserve.

I hope you wake each morning and wrap your arms around yourself, begin to sing & smile, feel the love of friends who care; that you see the sunshine if only in your heart. YOU HOLD THE ULTIMATE POWER!! Don’t give up and don’t let them win. Today is the day that you begin to truly shine. My hope is that you are able to feel happy no matter what has happened in your past. My hope is that you are able to rise above all their ugly acts and see yourself as the true beautiful creation you are ❤

Live your dreams!!

Trish McKnight
Author: 'My Justice'
Founder/CEO; Butterfly Dreams Abuse Recovery

Published by @Trecia_Ann

Recently, Facebook locked and removed my decade long creation of work and public profile, which focused my work as an advocate, speaker, mentor, and creator of more than a few programs used throughout Illinois, but also shared nationally and some have reached international platforms. So.... let's start fresh and see where it goes! Please see the writings on this blog dating back into 2011, created after the publication of 'My Justice'. There are two specifically, which have been tagged and shared by many....."Judging Eyes" and "Triggers; what they are and how to handle them" I am a survivor of over thirty years trapped inside the silence and brutality of Family Facilitated Violence, Torture, and Child Sex Trafficking. In Feb. 2011, I chose to publish the secrets and the horrors endured; the many levels of destruction and decay which the community around me witnessed, ignored, condemned and blamed regardless of the injuries and tortures endured. It all became the learned patterns of self-hatred and tolerance which was a huge factor in my adult life. Have you endured childhood harm, or endured terroristic types of abuses? Did you feel unworthy of life, breathing, love or respect? Did you feel as if no one ever really saw you, heard you, or seemed to care about the silent cruelties of your existence? It wasn't until I honestly began a strong focus on healing myself, which took years of researching credible data and published research surrounding the lasting effects of abuse, violence, sexual harm, and human trafficking that I began to understand who I was and why there were many traits and tragedies that influenced my adult choices, relationships, the chaos deep in my soul and the behaviors used to survive. It seemed to control everything inside me and it was filled with pain, and tragedy. The research became my rebuilding journey and my road to advocacy, creating legislative changes, sitting as an active member and providing testimony in the creation of area task force operations, victim/survivor services, trauma informed awareness for law enforcement, educators, social services, healthcare and community providers. I began that research of understanding myself in 2008, wrote the memoir "My Justice' in 2010, began working to change statutes in my home state in 2013, became a Certified DV Advocate and Panel Member of DV Offender Education Program in 2015, which then initiated a decade long career as a trusted, confidential advocate, and a highly skilled and knowledgeable speaker/educator on the topic of Assessment, Family/Survivor Rebuilding, Trauma Informed Care & Response, with the primary focus on family/relationship acts of terroristic abuses and/or human trafficking. Beginning in January 2010 there have been developed programs and connected resources for men, women, children, and families who endured these same types of tragedies. Unfortunately, our human society still has barriers to seek help or speak openly about these types of tragedies, especially if it happened in our homes and families. The laws to protect from such harms were enacted for children in 1963, as an amendment to the Social Security Act. Domestic Violence was not a topic until 1995, when then Senator Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which has since been adapted to provide shelters, counseling, protection orders, and rebuilding services for ALL persons regardless of gender or identity. Although slavery was brought to an end by the historical act of President Abraham Lincoln, we unfortunately have millions of human beings still being traded, sold, controlled and trapped in a hellish evil, which often begins by a parent or intimate partner. Legislation didn't arise regarding the term 'Human Trafficking' until the turn of the new millennium. Protection for victims of human trafficking was signed into law as the 'Trafficking In Persons Act of 2000', which with modern day social media it quickly became a new hot-topic point, which then sparked the creation of Trauma Informed Care, Rebuilding & Trauma Therapy, and thus adult survivors began speaking out about the dark terrifying reality of Child Sex Trafficking. Today many use the term, Modern Day Slavery, and we have multi-faceted task force operations and rescue resources working around the globe to end this new form of human slavery. We also have a few hundred thousand or more who are adult survivors of histories involving Parental Child Sex Trafficking. In one recent study from 2018, they found 85% of these victims were trafficked by parents in trade for drugs, family needs, or basic human survival. As I look back on the career that grew from my own personal need to understand the chaos in my head, the constant failed relationships and almost murderous acts committed against me; as I deal with increasing health problems that includes multiples of head and spinal cord traumas; the most important goal for me from day one of this extremely personal experience; the healing and rebuilding of my own children and grandchildren who were all continued generational victims of the trauma influenced behaviors and choices that resulted from the destruction enforced by my mother and stepfather many decades ago. The little girl, 'Trecia Ann', she survived pure evil as an entire community witnessed, shamed, blamed, and dismissed the visible decay and rot, stench and filth covered, battered and intoxicated body of a young girl who was publicly exploited and shared in the bars of that small town, in her home with boys she attended school with and adult men from the local coalmine. It was as if they all got a thrill from watching her respond to the ring of that little brass bell. They laughed, molested, raped, and purchased for a few bucks or a few beers the sexual use of that young girl right in full public view! Her mother held the power to stop it all, but rather enjoyed having a 'slave' to cook, clean, care for the family as well as entertain the sadistic alcoholic man she chose to marry. Today, I'm so honored and proud to have that little girl's spirit with me. It is through the use of my lived experience, along with a decade of research, and at least five certifications in prevention, response, and trauma; I've assisted a few hundred survivors through the multilevel process of rebuilding and reclaiming their voice, their safety, their freedom! I've trained law enforcement, healthcare, childrens service investigators, our school educators, and co-presented in trainings with some outstanding experts in the field. For the many I've assisted or empowered, they continue becoming thriving survivors, advocates, authors, speakers, and most important of all; they are healing their children and grandchildren! It is a truly beautiful experience and I am so amazed to have been a spark, a resource, or a friend in their life reclaiming freedom. The adult children of generations past have broken through the glass ceiling and finally there is a hint of change in the world. "A lifetime filled with daily torture, tragedy, and pain creates someone completely different than we should have been. We feel that person inside, but our lives are altered by the emotional and physical suffering. We cover it up and hide it deep inside through substance abuse, which falsely helps us believe we are doing fine. The extreme physical and emotional injuries leave our mental and physical selves terribly impacted. Thankfully there is more information and resources of help available today for all types of adverse or traumatic experiences. We have specialized therapeutic help and healthcare professionals developing new ways to identify and assist persons harmed or at risk of harm. We have so much more to do, so please help by having casual open conversations with your friends, family, coworkers, leaders, and especially our kids. Teach them early how to avoid both online and in person harms. Encourage adults and kids both to use the BDA Buddy Skills 2.0, which you will find through my list of assessments and prevention strategies. "My Justice' was written through my own beginning of acknowledging and releasing the personal destruction of the girl once known as 'Trecia Ann'. It is not an easy read, but it has opened many eyes about the reality of evil that occurs inside our homes, against those too small to protect themselves or understand what's happening. It was published to release the thick layers of trauma, sex trafficking, and disfiguring neglect. It is the voice of the enslaved child who existed only to answer the ring of 'his' bell, and the enforced burden to keep my own private terrorist alive. 'My Justice' is NOT SUGGESTED FOR ANYONE UNDER 16 years of age. It discusses the permanently wounding life and the cycle of destruction that held me in tolerating ridicule, control, and violence in my adult relationships. This truth was published to inspire others to take an in-depth look at their life and behaviors as a result of their past, in hopes they too will better understand their suffering today, the continued relationships with the parents and family who inflicted those harms, and finally breaking free from that pain so they can reclaim their voice and their true sense of freedom! We always have the opportunity to learn that we are worthy, capable, incredibly strong, compassionate, and filled with endless possibilities. It is a choice. It is a conscious decision to dig into our trauma, take ownership of our own failures, the harm our choices have caused, and the work we need to do to change it and succeed for ourselves and our families. It is such an honor to have 'My Justice' used at the collegiate level for psychology classes, upcoming therapists, and educators. Today my life is very blessed. I'm finally safe, feel truly loved, finally feeling the magic of life! Always choose to see your star and how it shines on others in your journey. My greatest power only began to show when I first made the choice to end the violent relationships and behaviors around my children; to give them something better, something SAFE!! In choosing to share my own story, I've also gone the serious extra step to educate myself through years of research, attending training opportunities, and collaborating with other advocate resources focused in human resilience and healing from abuse, sexual harm, and sex trafficking. Today there are experts digging deep to recreate help and healing. I've chosen to use my past as a way to inspire a greater good and; hopefully, somehow change the cycle of tragedy in our homes so that we empower our kids to live a more positive path. The best education we can give is healing our survivors of traumatic experiences so we understand what they felt then and what they wish they would have had available; those who could have and should have said something. We can change things for our life today, but best of all in healing our wounds, we give communities a supportive working strategy in assisting the people in our lives. One step at a time, one caring soul at a time, we can give them a path to changing our human society as a whole. This is a tell-all, which was written in the midst of my third nervous breakdown as I struggled to put all my distorted pieces back together, and help my children understand how the violence I tolerated against me invaded their well-being. My children have always been my world, but my behaviors, lack of healthy parenting and life skills, and an inability to remain stable have caused another generation of suffering for my grandchildren. This is a very difficult thing to watch and the continued tragedies that seem to keep affecting the choices in my family. Writing this book was only the beginning of trying to release all that has haunted me for so many years. I have finally removed his thick, cruel, coal-stained hand which trapped me in fear for decades. Those hands and his evil, her housemaid and caregiver; created a slave, and that slave submitted to horrific and brutal attacks but always felt it was her burden to bear. I lived with that hand holding me down, continually terrorizing and silencing, stealing my voice to protect their pure evil. Throughout decades the dysfunction caused by the chaos inside my head would affect every relationship, my children, and cast a shadow of darkness on everything good in my life. Living in the true spirit of freedom, I have now become a strong advocate against the life cycle of human destruction. If we want to control our life and achievements today, then we cannot live stuck in the tragedy of hardships and pain. Life is meant to be lived, to be enjoyed, to see what you can do and what you can achieve, to find out what is important to you. We all become adults. We all have a burden to bear. Stand up and keep moving, keep living, keep dreaming. You have two choices in recreating and rebuilding yourself. Do you stay stuck in the dark shadows of your past? Do you dig deep and find that spirit that kept you alive so that you can become the proud, strong, capable, resilient, kind human being? Which do you choose and how will that choice affect your children and theirs? We can be supportive, and provide resources and suggest help so that families suffering from addiction or past trauma can find a recovery balance to rebuild their family into a more positive life pattern. We will recover, we will rebuild, we will conquer the pains of yesterday to live in the true sense of life, freedom, and safety today. Patricia 'Trish' McKnight Author: 'My Justice' Fndr/CEO: Butterfly Dreams Alliance, NFP Mentor/Advocate/Speaker/Survivor

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