Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Closing Down Blog

With the publishing of this post I am closing down my blog. I have not decided whether this will be temporary or permanent, however I feel the need to step back and regroup. The articles to date will remain on the site for the foreseeable future.

I know that my fellow survivors will continue to heal and find encouragement on other blogs and forums. May we all band together, tell our stories, and BANISH THE SHAME!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Evidence of Things Not Seen

For most people, the idea of discovering something about your own childhood after you become an adult is ridiculous. However, for those of us who grew up in the foster care system, it is always a possibility. After all, who really remembers all the foster homes, all the schools, and each and every abusive incident? Additionally, many children are “spared” information by well meaning social workers or our own families lie to us about the circumstances that led to either placement or returning home.

As many of you know I have been working to help my brother get some dental work he needs due to an abusive incident from childhood. As I have been sifting through the layers of documentation I discovered a public record related to this particular beating. A legal document showing that my mother was on probation for Felony Aggravated Child Abuse from the time I was eleven (immediately following this incident) until right before I turned eighteen. I was stunned! It was like a shock to my system. For the next couple of days I would repeatedly return to that document and just stare at it. There it was in black and white- my mother was on probation for felony child abuse.

First the lies came flooding back. My grandfather telling me the charges had been dropped. The years and years of my mother telling me I had a wild imagination, that certainly if she had beaten my brother that badly they would have kept her in jail. How, obviously they had decided she hadn't done anything wrong since she was never punished! This may be hard to understand if you haven't been in such a warped relationship, but even though I knew these were lies, they still ate at me. She wasn't in jail. I saw no evidence that she had been punished. I had no contact with my brother from the day he was taken to the hospital until many years later. I only had my memories of the event. It has only been in the last few years, well into adulthood, that I actually learned how badly my brother had been hurt. This piece of paper was validation that I had been right all along.

Next came a flood of memories. All the times after this, when I was put into foster care. All the times I was returned home. By the time I was a teenager I was telling social workers, police officers, teachers, I had even called the child abuse hotline. The social worker who told me I was a liar because Jewish parents don't abuse their children, or the one who told me he has sending me home because my cause wasn't “a priority” because I was old enough to run away if she hurt me.

I was already known as a “runner”, someone who runs away regularly. At one point, I was even placed under a “no-run” order, which meant that if I ran away, I would be sent to juvenile detention! I was running away to protect myself and I was the one who was going to end up in jail! No one believed my mother was abusing me, yet it was a matter of public record that my mother was on probation for child abuse!

As you can probably tell, my emotions are still running fairly high right now. I'm angry and frustrated, and most of all hurt. I don't understand why no one believed me all those times. But, I can't go back and fix it. I can only hope that now, with computerized records, this kind of glaring error won't be made.

Well, I can do two more things. One, I can ask each and every one of you to listen and believe children when they confide in you. Please try to help them as much as you can. Even teenagers need protection! And, two, I can show my mother's true colors right here and now, with the wonders of the internet. I hereby, offer up this public document as proof that my mother, Shayne Benkendorf, is a child abuser.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fibromyalgia and Child Abuse

Hi all!  Thank you to those who emailed to let me know you missed my blog entries. While I have planned to write a number of times, I have been dealing with a severe Fibromyalgia flare which has interfered with many of my regular activities.  Since fibromyalgia has been occupying much of my thoughts I decided it would make a good blog topic. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with fibromyalgia, it is "a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain in your muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as fatigue and multiple tender points — places on your body where slight pressure causes pain."1

Until fairly recently Fibromyalgia was considered a Psychological disorder.  Patients were told the pain was "in their head", and did not really exist.  However, in the last 5-10 years new research has shown that the pain fibromyalgia patients suffer has an actual physical basis.  This physical basis is referred to as "central sensitization".1 It is believed that "repeated nerve stimulation causes the brains of people with fibromyalgia to change. This change involves an abnormal increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain (neurotransmitters). In addition, the brain's pain receptors seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive, meaning they can overreact to pain signals."(emphasis added) 1

While current scientists cannot explain what causes Fibromyalgia, many recent studies show that previous physical, sexual and severe emotional abuse are risk factors, at a minimum.  A few organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic,  have gone so far as to list "Emotional and Physical Trauma"1, as one of the factors with the potential to cause Fibromyalgia.  One recent clinical  study concluded that Fibromyalgia patients were three times more likely to have been emotionally or sexually abused, and four times more likely to have been physically abused than the non-fibromyalgia control group.2 Others studies can be found which place the statistical association even higher.   

So why does this matter?  Most individuals must deal with some sort of medical condition at some point in their lives, whether Fibromyalgia or something else.  That is absolutely true.  There are a number of reasons why it matters that child abuse leads to an increased risk of Fibromyalgia (among other medical disorders).  I will limit myself to two: more evidence that early intervention is needed in abusive family situations; and the need for greater awareness that child abuse affects an individual for life.

First, what constitutes early intervention?  In this case, I am not referring to the police or social workers swooping down on a parent that swats a child's hand for trying to touch the stove.  Our culture seems to have a fear that "the authorities" are watching, waiting with baited breath, to remove our children from home.  I hate to burst your bubble, but "the authorities" do not have the time, money, or inclination to do so.  Actually when I say that early intervention is needed, I am referring to something that you and I can do.  We come in contact with people everyday.  Do we care enough to really connect with those people?  Oftentimes the abusive spiral can be prevented before it gets started if we are aware and willing to become involved.  Think about yourself raising your young children. Do you remember how easy it was to become overwhelmed and frustrated?  Did you have a support system- someone to talk to about your frustrations, or someone to trade babysitting?  Go over the last few days in your mind.  Did you notice anyone in your community who seemed particularly stressed with their children?  Could you have helped in some way? Did you offer an encouraging word?  It is amazing how even a simple word of encouragement can make us aware that we are not alone on the world.  The few minutes you give up to speak kindly and show compassion may be enough to make a difference in their life and the lives of their children.

Sometimes the situation is more drastic.  I recall noticing that a young father seemed to regularly speak to his three year old quite harshly.  I tried to gently point it out to no avail.  Finally, one Shabbos, I was in the sanctuary, the doors were closed, and the outer building's doors were closed, yet I could hear this father outside, berating his son.  I went outside to speak with him.  I admit, I was quite angry, but I did not want to yell at him and have him become defensive.  Instead, I tried to relate to him.  I tried to explain that I knew what it was like to be angry and frustrated by your child's behavior, but that I was concerned about his pattern of yelling and speaking harshly with his son.  I expressed my concern that this could easily permanently damage his relationship with his son, even if it never went beyond yelling.  I asked him to notice the fear on his son's face.  And, yes, I did mention that I was concerned that his anger could lead to him physically harm his child if he was not careful (being sure to mention that I realized he had no desire to harm his son).  He was angry with me.  Okay, I'm a big girl.  I can take it.  He was so angry he talked his wife about it- great!  One positive step.  She and I spoke about it, as well- uncomfortable, but, not too bad.  And, best of all, over time I noticed significant changes in the father-son relationship.  If I hadn't, and things continued, I would have spoken to them again, or called social services.

Second, as a culture and community we need to accept the fact that child abuse affects an individual for the rest of their life.  It's not just those who have suffered catastrophic abuse leaving them physically crippled, or the person who becomes a drug addict, criminal or falls into the cycle of abusing their own children, but even the person who has "overcome" their abusive background and built a healthy family.  We need to stop assuming that once a child is removed from an abusive home they will be fine.  These children (or adult survivors) need compassion from those around them, physicians as well as friends.  We must stop minimizing the physical pain survivors experience because we do not understand. They are not attempting to "play the victim".  The scars run deep, and apparently science is catching up to what we as survivors already knew, the pain is not only psychological, but can be physical as well.   

On a personal note, I understand that it can be frustrating to deal with someone with Fibromyalgia, or any chronic medical condition.  Please know that we are at least as frustrated as you are with our limitations and pain.  For you it is an inconvenience because we have to reschedule plans or bow out of activities we would like to participate in.  For those of us who are abuse survivors, it is also a reminder that our abuser still affects our lives no matter how many years ago the abuse ended. Thank you for being patient with us!

You will see that I have quoted the Mayo Clinic numerous times throughout my entry. This is not because this is the only source, but rather it is the source which uses the most user friendly language to discuss Fibromyalgia.  I will list additional articles for further reading below the footnotes.

1 "Fibromyalgia." Mayoclinic.com. 23 Jan. 2009. Web. 1 July 2010.

2 Katz, Robert S., et al. "Adverse Childhood Environment In Fibromyalgia Patients". Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL.

Websites/Articles of Interest
"Understanding Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia: A Review of Recent Discoveries" by Robert M. Bennett MD, FRCP, Professor of Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University

"Childhood Trauma and Diurnal Cortisol Disruption in Fibromyalgia Syndrome" by Inka Weissbeckera, Andrea Floyda, Eric Dederta, Paul Salmona, Sandra Sephton

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hi everyone. I'm sorry I haven't posted for a while. I've been working through an issue that I hoped to share with you, but the process is taking longer than I expected. I believe it is important to work through the process completely, so in the meantime I wanted to share this song which has had a great impact on me. May it encourage all of us to fight against the darkness.

The Change by Garth Brooks

One hand
Reaches out
And pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for
They say what good have you done
By saving just this one
It's like whispering a prayer
In the fury of a storm

And I hear them saying you'll never change things
And no matter what you do it's still the same thing
But it's not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

This heart
Still believes
The love and mercy still exist
While all the hatred rage and so many say
That love is all but pointless in madness such as this
It's like trying to stop a fire
With the moisture from a kiss

And I hear them saying you'll never change things
And no matter what you do it's still the same thing
But it's not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

As long as one heart still holds on
Then hope is never really gone

I hear them saying you'll never change things
And no matter what you do it's still the same thing
But it's not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world we know
Never changes me

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me

If you would like to hear this song you can listen to it at The Change. I hope to post more soon.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Difficult times

When I started this blog I said that I would be sharing my journey to recovery with you. Today's post is fairly personal, but I hope it will help other survivors see that I'm right there in the trenches, too. For those readers who are not survivors themselves, I hope today's post will give you some insight into the reasons we may seem sad during the holidays, or may seem in pain over "old" issues.

Spring is here. For me Spring is always a difficult time of year. Some of my worst experiences happened during the Spring season so I tend to struggle with sadness and memories more during this time. So I decided to take some time and call my brother, Keith, the only one who speaks to me. Of all my relatives, I miss Keith the most. Keith was born mentally retarded and physically handicapped, so even though he is four years older than I am, we shared a room when he lived at home and it was my job to take care of him. We were always very close.

So I call Keith, and as usual I speak with his foster mother first. She always catches me up with the facts of how Keith is doing beyond football games and fishing trips. You see, Keith hasn't lived with our mother in thirty-two years; not since the day he was taken by ambulance to the hospital after a beating so severe he required surgery to restore his vision. Up until this week I thought I knew all the damage that beating had caused, but no, like so many of us (abuse survivors) the damage continues well into adulthood. For my brother that means our mother's beating killed all the roots of his teeth, but it is only now thirty-two years later that the final damage is being seen, as his teeth become infected and fall out. The dentist says they will ALL have to be pulled to avoid further infection.

And, was our mother punished for this....no, of course not! I remember the police taking my statement and telling me my mother was going to jail and neither of us would EVER have to live with her again. I was so relieved! But of course, somehow my grandfather got the charges dropped. A year and a half later I was back living with her again, but at least she lost custody permanently for Keith. Of course to this day she claims she only spanked him! But Keith and I know the truth. I came home during that beating and took the rest of her anger. I sat by his bedside for three days trying to care for him until someone called the police. I know the truth!

I am thankful Keith is retarded. Yes, you read that right. Because of his handicaps Keith doesn't often struggle with the memory of that beating. His foster mother says that once every couple of years he gets a little sad and asks why our mother beat him. He doesn't correlate his tooth problems with the abuse, and he takes the problems as a minor inconvenience. For me (the normal one?), I get angry. I want justice for Keith, and for myself. Since this conversation I have had flashbacks and nightmares. I don't want to remember that beating and Keith crying. I don't want to remember sitting next to him, putting cool washcloths on his face, watching his eyes swell shut and his face turn color. Sometimes, I wonder which of us is more blessed.

So, if you think about, please pray/say tehillim for my brother, Keith Andrew Ben Shayna Etta. (I don't know his Hebrew name). And, if I look tired, you'll know why.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

You CAN Change the World

Hi everyone. I've been thinking about today's topic for a few days. Over the weekend I participated in a discussion about whether or not an individual can really change the world. When I insisted that each of us does indeed have the power to effect real change, I was challenged to show how I, myself, had changed the world. I startled my questioner by offering a list. A list I decided I would share with you as well.

How I Have Changed the World:

1. I have beaten the odds by aging out of foster care and going on to graduate college rather than becoming a criminal or drug/alcohol addict.
2. I have encouraged and counseled other survivors.
3. I have spoken out on behalf of children and women whenever possible.
4. I have spoken to those I care about when I see the potential for abuse in their lives.
5. Most importantly, I have broken the cycle of abuse, giving my children a healthy life. Who knows how many lives they will go on to positively affect.

I have not shared this list to show how wonderful I am. Trust me, I am all too aware of my failings. I have shared this list because we often forget how even little things can make a huge difference. Think about it. Have you ever encouraged someone who is struggling? Perhaps that act of caring was enough to remind them that they matter, and prevent them from taking their own life. Have you been concerned that a friend is being abused by her boyfriend and spoken to her about your concerns? Are you an Adult Survivor struggling to make sure your children grow up in a healthy home? All of these things are ways YOU have changed the world.

Lastly, if you are currently a victim, or suspect you know someone is being abused, you have the opportunity to change the world right now. Please seek help today, whether for you, your children, or anyone else you know. We never know just how we can change the world around us, but we do know that it is possible!