Unless you’ve been abused, it’s difficult to understand how seemingly minor things can trigger an extreme emotional reaction in a survivor. For me, certain dates and interactions with people can set off those triggers: any anniversary date, a birthday, a date of someone’s death, a date that is attached to a horrific abusive event—all of those can cause me intense setbacks. Recently, I experienced a severe setback when someone I deeply care for turned against me.
If you have read my story or my other blogs, you know that I was accused of and arrested for my mom’s murder. Thank God I was found not guilty, but as a result I have been estranged from several members of my family since 2003. One day, a beloved family member—who I missed terribly over those years—reconnected with me, seemingly with an open heart and mind. I have been close with this person for a little over a year, and now this person suddenly changed their mind and apparently believes that I am actually capable of murdering my mother, who I loved dearly. We went out to dinner last week, and that loved one attacked me verbally, in the restaurant, loudly accusing me of heinous crimes. That kind of betrayal can totally tear you down. For me, it made me wonder, “Why am I still alive? Why did I trust that someone could actually love me? Why did I think I have the right to heal and be happy?”
I have gone through severe depression from this attack—nothing hurts more than hearing yourself being called a murderer. Nothing hurts more than being treated so horribly. It caused me to instantly flashback to my childhood and to my father who called me useless, stupid, and a waste of life. I know that I am the weakest of the three of us children, but it hurts when I can’t remain in the present.
When I was a child, I couldn’t swallow pills because of my abuse—in fact it was only in the last six months I have just begun to swallow pills. Since this verbal, painful attack, I can no longer swallow my anti-depressants without struggling and some days cannot even get them down. In addition, until this year, I kept my nails extremely short because when my father would rape me he wouldn’t allow nails longer than the end of my fingertip. If they were longer and he got a mark while raping me, I would get a severe beating. This year, I was finally feeling like there would be no repercussions so I was able to grow my nails without panic. But now, after this attack, I no longer can stop myself from chewing my nails down to the quick. It is not something that I can control.
It is sad and debilitating that anyone or anything can tear a person back down to where they were when they were being abused. I was abused from the age of four until I was 22. I am now 45 and I still have that mental instability. It is a horrible place to be in and finding a freedom from this is almost impossible. My therapist and I have been working on this for awhile now, my wondering if I deserve to be alive and I was making remarkable progress. Then something like this happens, and we start all over. That is something that many don’t understand.
No matter how many years have passed since the abuse, no matter how many years of therapy a person has had, the triggers may always be a part of your life. The trick is to learn how not to let them cripple my daily life.
I am beginning to explore alternative methods of healing, like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), which many say gives almost miraculous relief from PTSD and abuse triggers. While I’m still learning how it works, I intend to make it a big part of my advocacy program, Amnesty for Abuse. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, and I would love to hear about your experiences with EFT.
Stacey M. Kananen
Advocate, Author, Abuse survivor
Co-founder of Amnesty for Abuse
Stacey Kananen’s father violently and sexually abused his entire family. He vanished in 1988 and 15 years later his wife went missing. Stacey’s brother had killed both parents. Stacey cooperated as a witness until he told police that she helped him with the crimes. She was arrested and her trial, which aired on CNN’s In Session, ended with a not guilty verdict after her attorney proved that she had been railroaded.
Now that her personal life is no longer private, Stacey is using her story to make waves. She and co-author Lisa Bonnice have signed a publishing deal with Berkley Books. They created the Amnesty for Abuse program to address the dynamic that stops families from asking for help: fear, shame and hopelessness. She states, “If a program like this existed during my childhood, both parents would be alive, my brother would not be in jail and my family would have been spared years of anguish and terror.”
Sink or Swim–the Stacey M. Kananen story (Berkley Books, 2012)
BBC Documentary: America’s Child Death Shame