I started Stories of Strength not just so women could tell their stories of trauma, but also their stories of healing and what has helped them along their path.
Personally, I’ve been through therapy. Multiple times. It helps - but for me, things such as yoga, martial arts, writing, art, and poetry have always lead to a greater inner healing. Which brings me to my latest discovery on this healing path...CBDs. Cannabidiols (CBDs) - NOT to be confused with it’s psychoactive relative, Tetrahydrocannabinols (THCs) - have helped me reclaim my mind, body, and spirit. Here’s my journey.
Let’s get one thing straight first - CBDs are NOT marijuana. It’s one of the biggest misnomers I’ve come across since starting my CBD journey a couple months back - one which stands in the way of many people experiencing relief from all sorts of ailments, mental and physical. I could go on for a few paragraphs about the differences between THC and CBD, but this piece is about healing - not dispelling ignorance. So please, if you find yourself having a knee jerk reaction as if I’m telling everyone to roll up a joint, take to the interwebs and do some research.
My CBD journey started a few months back when I was introduced to the owner of Restorative Botanicals. Upon meeting he found out about ASRW and my martial arts background. He handed me a couple samples of salves and sublinguals explaining to me this isn’t a cure all. Roughly 40% of people have a “miracle herbal supplement” response, 10% feel no effect at all, and the remaining 40% feel relief, but not to the degree of oh-my-gawd-this-is-amazing. (I myself fall into the category of oh-my-gawd-this-is-amazing.) That day I had an unusual amount of aches and pains, and I was honestly a bit haunted by past traumatic experiences more than usual...which meant I wasn’t going to waste anytime trying it. I was instructed to take a dropper full of sublingual CBD oil, hold it under my tongue for a minute, and swallow - which is exactly what I did about ten minutes after receiving the samples.
Within fifteen minutes I had to stop everything I was doing and look around. Suddenly I was overcome with mental clarity, it was as if my brain was tingling with excitement to be alive again! I could formulate clear thoughts, I could speak unimpeded, and for the first time since before my first sexual assault - my trauma seemed like a distant memory. For the first time in my adult life, my brain was calm. My thoughts weren’t going a mile a minute, and I could finally think logically...and this was only the beginning.
I carry trauma; sexual, verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. Making for a lovely concoction of PTSD for me to work with through life. I’m also a martial artist, something I’ve been involved in for over a decade, meaning my body has some wear on it. CBDs have helped me with all the above and more.
Something which is often misconstrued with any medication or supplement - it is not a cure all. Yes, it will help with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, paranoia - but it will not take them away. However, the break I’ve experienced in my racing brain with the help of CBD oil has lead to me overcome a lot of mental obstacles already...and it’s only been a couple months!
CBDs may be taken many different ways; vaping, salves, edibles and sublinguals. The latter being my favorite method of delivery. It all depends on personal preference though.
Now, if I were to sit here and go through every story of how CBD oil has already affected my life for the better - this would turn into a really long piece of me repeating “THE SKY PARTED WAYS AND I SAW THE SUN” again and again.
To avoid this - below is a list of all the wonderful ways CBDs have improved my life:
-Increased Mental Clarity
-Little to No Joint Pain
-Little to No Tendon Pain
-Headache / Migraine Relief
-Deeper Meditative Experiences
-Increased Memory Function
-Improved Positive Outlook
-Decreased Anger / Bouts of Rage
-Increased Mental Control
-Decreased Trigger Reactions
-Relief from Premenstrual Symptoms
-Menstrual Cramp Relief / Prevention
...and the benefits just keep unfolding.
CBD’s can greatly improve one’s life - in all aspects; physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. They’re worth looking into, and they’re worth giving a shot. They may not be the amazing cure-all they’ve proved for me - you may not even get any effect. But the way I see it, you have a 40% chance of finding your miracle herbal supplement. Those are pretty good odds without a single negative side effect.
My days have been running into each other. One day crashes into the next, barely time to dream outside of the wash, rinse repeat cycle. I hate how much I’ve relied on becoming a creature of habit to help manage the world around me, and despise the anxiety that follows subtle changes in my daily ritual. No matter how much “work” I do I struggle to stand in surivorhood as strong and tall as I’d like; I have one foot planted firmly in the present and I’m accounted for, going through motions like a fully functioning member of society. Yet there’s a part of me raging underneath it all, I’ve dated her back to six years old, maybe seven. I’ve given honest attempts at resolving my underlying issues, years under my own critical gaze, picking apart everything I have to “fix”. I’ve spent countless hours, days, weeks, months, even years attempting to reconcile with my past traumas. I’ve gone as far as naming the various working parts of my past, as if they’re living, breathing, cognizant entities, aware of me being aware of them. There are the days I’m haunted, heavy boned and sensitive to touch, whether by presence or memory, the floods of emotion brought on by sound or scent.
Talk therapy was a success! I quickly mastered verbalizing how I needed everyone to leave me alone and was able to articulate that I was angry and anxious and wasn’t sure why. In group therapy I went from victim to survivor, and before that there were countless other attempts at being guided through the rest of my life by licensed and certified professionals, equipped with billable interventions and credentials. Somewhere in the midst of trauma’s aftermath mess my anxieties blossomed into lovely panic attacks. Somewhere under childhood trauma’s lives an older heavy, something predating my own existence. This is called intergenerational trauma, and I wear these scars like I wear my father’s features and my mother’s mannerisms. It’s been easier to distinguish between my PTSD and “the before memories”, which I don’t recall, but haunt like ghosts from generations past.
In August of 2016 I packed my life and moved half way across the country, I left behind a decade of consistency, of friendships, of family, of homelands that my people, my tribe, my clan, my blood had thrived upon before Europeans came. I’d grown roots there, kept a career, raised children, lost a sister, gained a brother. I became alive again, I became woman again. Not a victim, or a survivor. I began writing a new story. It’s been exciting and heartbreaking, new beginnings and farewell to journeys that were ending. Several weeks into starting at a private university in Virginia I began having “flashbacks”, I hate using that word but that’s what they were. I started having crippling panic attacks, I couldn’t get through a class without having to talk myself down; heart palpitations, trouble with my vision, the words I spoke sounded foreign and muffled, as if I was talking under water. I felt as if I was simultaneously shrinking and invisible, as if it was happening but no one could see. I spent several weeks tackling this on my own, telling myself it was all in my head, and maybe it is. At the peak of this I woke up swinging on someone who I love, trust, and feel safe with. I’d fallen asleep on the couch in the living room while writing a paper, a family member attempted to shake me awake. I realized I was punching the air as I met their wide eyes, surprised and apologetic. This wasn’t the “six year old me” who was bitter and jaded, this wasn’t the young woman who has become survivor of a violent sexual crime, this was a part of me that’s been in survival mode for generations. This was the heaviness of it all, this was the PTSD and intergenerational trauma coming to a head.
I’ve found that there’s been a difference between survival mode and being a survivor. When you’re in survival mode you’re always on edge, you learn to live with your baseline sky high and keep the world at arm’s length. You develop coping skills and rely on them while running through your daily rituals; examples of this are finding routes to avoid people and triggers, you sit with your back to the wall, eyes on the nearest exit and don’t let anything get between you and the closest door. You cringe and tense up with people walk behind you, you learn to sleep light as a feather and stiff as a board. You minimize your presence and distance yourself from social situations that could be too far out of your control, so you’re “anti-social” or claim introspective. You learn to survive in dominant, unwavering society. When you’re survivor you’ve reclaimed yourself, your body. You’re operating on the fact that you’ve outlived something that should’ve broken and destroyed you. You’re learning to live under new information. Sometimes these spheres blend together. Sometimes being survivor means being in survival mode and you mistake your anxiety and adrenaline for strength.
I shift from survivor to survival mode, and have for as long as I can remember. I resorted back to what I knew when faced with potential danger to the survivor I’d become during this last move: fight over flight. I began questioning any “progress” I’d thought I’d made over the years, maybe I never made any at all. Maybe I’ve attempted the “fake it until you make it” for so long that I’ve just believed my own lie. I saw one therapist through my university, she made some recommendations that made sense and sincerely tried to help. But it was mostly nice just to have someone listen. She said, “It sounds like you have a lot going on, but it also sounds like you’re used to surviving in that chaotic mode.” Which absolutely floored me. I could feel myself grow defensive, I wanted to say something about not being so privileged, someone like me could not afford the luxury of a life that wasn’t constant struggle. However, she was correct and I nodded and said I’d like to change that. I had become very calm in a chaotic state of being, yet here I was struggling with it. Interestingly enough, in the same time frame I met a local woman who works and studies in the mental health field, Jennifer D. Watts, M.S. who has been training with Neurofeedback out of Newport News, Virginia. We developed a friendship and bonded over seafood, similar non-profit backgrounds, and common interests. She introduced me to another option in addressing my PTSD and swift arising symptoms of intergenerational trauma.
Neurofeedback. I’d heard of it, never had any direct experience with it but read how they’d used this to treat homecoming Veterans with PTSD from combat. I’d also read critical articles in various online journals. The woman I met shared some information with me that sparked my interest; she’d said they’d used this treatment with people in the Congo who were in the midst of violence and had generations of trauma they were surviving. I felt I should at least try neurofeedback after doing some further reading on my own. Jennifer has kept routine sessions with me, where I’ve had fairly consistent neurofeedback treatments for several months now. Other than these sessions this is the only treatment I’ve had. These treatments are painless, noninvasive, and do not include psychotherapy. As I was filling out the forms to begin treatment I ran through the questionnaire and realized just how much was going on within me. I checked the boxes for trouble sleeping, racing thoughts, cravings for using (mostly cigarettes) drugs/alcohol, sometimes food related, and having a physical reaction to people touching me, as well as sound and scent. I believe that due to the circumstance and specifics of the crime and assault being triggered by sound, scent, and touch are especially triggering for me. There were other boxes checked, I was kind of shocked to what I was willing to admit when it was just me, pen, paper, and Jennifer. I noticed a change after my first treatment, I had been especially anxious over academic and financial concerns and was losing handfuls of hair a day. I started having discoloration and bruising around several of my scars and where I’d been burnt and stabbed during my attack, which was two decades ago. I had not been sleeping and I really had little to no patience and was unable to focus on seeing anything through to “complete” due to being distracted and having racing thoughts. After the first treatment I slept. I still struggled in falling asleep, but I felt my body relax before passing out. When I woke up I felt refreshed for the first time in months. All of my worry over stressors was still there, but it didn’t feel as unmanageable as it had.
As far as “the treatment” goes this was what I experienced. I went into a small closed room with the technician who was “hooking me up” to the system. I sat in a comfortable reclining chair and several electrodes were placed on various spots on my head/scalp (this varies depending on what treatment/s you’re undergoing). My technician, who is also my friend, communicated exactly what she was doing and let me know where she was touching me and why. It really helped put me at ease, as well as helped establish trust within our relationship. This is very important in building a relationship for anyone and everyone, this is key in therapeutic interactions with anyone who has PTSD and a history of trauma. I had two options of “activity” to do during the treatment, I could play a computer game or watch a movie/television show, I opted for watching something and learned very quickly what you watch has an impact on your results and your treatment. Good to know! And after working in the mental health field for over fifteen years, I should’ve realized this! It’s pretty typical for the client to sit in a chair facing a laptop screen, television connected to the computer system, or a double screen set up. Whichever system set up the office or technician has is then connected to the electrodes which are applied to the head/scalp. The special software program, in this case it’s called Cygnet, monitors the electrical activity in your brain. In particular, it measures rhythmic patterns known as theta and beta waves which you can visibly see on the screen and or have a print out of after your session. This was interesting to me because not only was I experiencing this but I could see and monitor my own baseline, where my comfort levels were at and have been able to follow those form the beginning to present time. I can also give a few tips on do’s and don’ts for your treatments. Aside from the obvious, using the restroom, making sure you’ve eaten, you’re not hyped up on caffeine, you’re comfortable and you’re able to minimize your movements so you can sit as relaxed as possible the system picks up your movements. Also, leave your phone out in your car or put it away, allow yourself this time to be disconnected. Don’t use gum, or candy in your mouth. Mentally slow down and minimize your external stressors before treatment, don’t argue or engage in anything that’ll get your blood boiling. Listen to music, shake it off, walk it off. Just take a moment before hand and focus on breathing and keep in mind that you’re retraining your brain. Even simple visualization techniques, or meditation techniques help just before heading into a session.
I’ve also been very mindful of what I have been feeling, thinking, I’ve kept a diary, even logged my dreams, made notes, and stayed focused on what I’ve been hoping to get out of this, I’ve monitored what has been very stressful and triggering for me. Aside from very “normal” adult life stressors, like bills, money, deadlines, and such there are some specific triggers. For me, having some focus on what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and being able to keep my eye on the prize helps calm me. Remaining goal oriented has made me feel as though I’m making progress. It’s been several months since I’ve started Neurofeedback sessions and I can honestly say that I’ve been able to sleep better, I still struggle with relaxing and have vivid nightmares, but it’s not as bad. My bruising and physical reactions haven’t been as intense; the skin around my scars is beginning to even out and I don’t feel flashback as intense as I had been. I haven’t had as many cravings as I was, which has helped since I quit smoking cigarettes. I also still have anxiety attacks but they aren’t debilitating and don’t keep me from doing my daily routine and rituals, I can usually talk myself down and through these with ease, as I had been able to do. I highly recommend to anyone contemplating giving neurofeedback a try to be very honest with themselves, their provider, and to keep a log to monitor their progress and struggles. It helps to see patterns, triggers, and is a good way to see what’s not working and to keep track of what is.
It’s important to also note that it might be good to have psychotherapy along with your treatments, or to be in some sort of group, or be under care, have someone to talk to, I’ve been solid with my journal, talking to my technician, and knowing I have a therapist through my university and my medical provider. You’re also not treating the PTSD and trauma, not just masking the symptoms with medications, this is giving you a window of opportunity to work through underlying issues and truly help yourself. My pre-adolescent son has also started these treatments, he’s not been exposed to the same traumas that I was but has a history of seizures and has also struggled in facing a lot of anti-indigenous micro-aggressions since moving to Virginia. We immediately noticed that he slept soundly the night after. We are keeping a diary of how he felt before, any specific problems he’s having, or concerns, and how he reacted and slept after, as well as any seizures he’s had. He’s had none. Overall, I would recommend neurofeedback to others, I’ve very curious at this point to know how other Natives would react to this, especially those who’d been at Standing Rock, those who’re dealing with trials for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and in communities reeling from suicide and murder in both the United States and Canada. My friend, Jennifer D Watts, M.S. who has been working with me out of Fly Family Therapy and Neurotherapy out of Newport News, Virginia is also working on non-profit programming for future work in the field, so perhaps one day this could be taken to people where they are as opposed to having to see them in an office. I feel this would be ideal for programming on Reservations, where they’re trying to act more traditionally and “decolonize” therapy, just as they did with people from The Congo.
After my last session I walked out of the office feeling hopeful, which is feeling and sensation that it’s always present for me. Which hasn’t always been part of my life. I feel like everything I’m dealing with is manageable, and I’ve slept. My basic needs are being met and I’ve also felt like my brain has been able to process information and external stimuli in manner that is allowing me to accomplish more on my daily checklist of Things To Do. I’m more productive in my daily life, for a full time student and career woman, that’s so very important. 10/10 recommend trying neurofeedback for PTSD and anxiety related issues.
When I was a senior in high school, I wanted to dance. Not pow wow dancing, not even ballet, but the muscular aggressive style of La La La Human Steps. I was in rehearsals for a musical and had a new dance instructor who encouraged me to do what I loved and to pursue it through serious study. The week before my opening performance, my mom and sister were out of town and I was alone. I woke up later to find a strange man in my bed with one hand in my pajama bottoms and the other over my mouth. I fought him off as best I could and managed -- I don't know how I managed -- to break free and run for the door. There was a small landing at the bottom of my steps, one that turned the stairs to a sharp right. In my haste I navigated badly and felt a wrenching pain from my ankle to my knee. Somehow, though, I ran about a mile away to a convenience store where I called a neighbor to come get me. He took me back home, checked the place, but there was no one there. We never called the police; he just left me. Alone. I was alone for almost two days before my mom came home. My leg was badly swollen and I could barely walk. She took me to the hospital and I lied to everyone about what happened. Just said I was clumsy. It wasn't until almost twenty years later when I finally told my mom the truth.
But that's not really why I am writing. I am telling this story because of VAWA. Because of VAWA, I wanted my husband's son to speak out in support of all tribal provisions for Native women and in doing so, I wanted to make it personal. I wrote to him of my rape. I wrote to him of how my dream to dance died that day and how the path I was on for many years was not a good one. I wrote because of his Native wife and his Native daughters and my prayer that what happened to me would never happen to them, but if it did, through VAWA they would be protected.
And my husband FREAKED. The thought of me telling this story, of telling my truth, was so shameful to my husband, an old-school American Indian activist, that he couldn't bear it be told to his son, couldn't bear that I even suggest such a thing could happen to our daughter-in-law, to our takojas. I realized then, that even in the most politically and socially engaged families, the sexual violence against Native women was too raw, too horrible to be spoken of, especially when it happened to someone you love.
But that kind of silence is not my way. There are many things that have happened in my lifetime. The rape, the way I dealt with it, the way I didn't deal with it. I have enjoyed many of Creator's blessings as well. But good or bad, these stories have shaped me to be the woman I am. Many sisters have stories like mine, even much worse than my own. These stories are our medicine. We will tell them to heal ourselves and to heal one another. And we will not be ashamed.
As I sit here staring at a blank page on a laptop, I try to choose which sexual assault story to share. I laugh to myself - because I have a dark sense of humor which has undoubtedly kept me alive - it’s ridiculous I have more than one to choose from. Even more ridiculous though, is the fact I’m trying to choose one. They’re all important, they all hurt, they all cling to the dark corners of my mind which I’ve found I can control...but not erase.
So I’ll share them all...month by month...one by one.
Rewind 14 years, early Summer. At the time I was living with my best friend and her family in Bismarck, North Dakota. Said best friend was away that evening, meaning I was left to my own wandering mind.
In my teenage angst I crawled through the window, nabbed a cigarette from the 18 year old next door, and took off for a walk...at 1am. There’s this beautiful hill near the house. Even though it’s in the middle of the city, surrounded by a couple schools, this hill is beautiful. It’s where I went sledding, where we would roll down the hill on a nice Spring day, and where we would meet up after school to laugh, play M*A*S*H, and maybe even kiss a boy. It’s also the first place I would feel terror.
So there I was...perched on the side of the hill with a smoke in hand. Starring up at the stars, wondering what life had in store for me. (I was, after all, living with my best friend - things were not exactly going as I had seen them play out in my mind years before.) Upon inhaling the last breath of sweet tobacco, I stood up and laughed as my young body - still unaccustomed to a nicotine rush - stumbled down the hill. Not ten steps from where I was sitting I heard a truck coming. It’s now past 2am and it strikes me as odd. (Keep in mind, this is North Dakota pre oil boom...very much “small town” even in it’s capital at this time.) I pay no mind, but pick up my pace slightly...something doesn’t feel right.
Before I’m able to process what is happening, I’m running. There is a guy hanging out the side of this truck banging on the side, yelling “We’re gunna kill you Squaw!”. The only thing that came to mind? My Mama’s voice telling me to “cut to the side if you’re ever in the path of a tornado” - and this was much worse than a tornado. Yet still - I had no other advice, I was out of ideas...I cut to the side and ran. I ran towards the college across the road. There was a brick building and some type of shed which I was able to place myself between...and tell myself over and over I wasn’t going to die this way.
A sentiment I wasn’t so sure was the case when I heard that big truck rumbling up to the building. I had nowhere to go. I had no plan...and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to scream. I had frozen.
They pulled up, of course they knew exactly where I was (it’s truck V human...I knew they would find me). A clammy hand grabbed me, and ripped me out of my safe space into beer laden breath and devilish shouts I could no longer make out. The whole thing is a blur from there. I know one guy kept watch while the other took the time to shove his hands up my shirt, down my pants, in my mouth...he was speaking, but I wasn’t exactly all present to even know what was being said. In my mind, I was riding my horse through endless fields. I didn’t want to be there. Anywhere but where I was. Even if the escape was only in my mind.
(Later I would learn the body has three responses to dangerous situations; fight, flight, or freeze. It brought a certain amount of peace to me knowing my freezing was a natural response. Knowing my body did what was right in the moment for me to survive. I no longer felt as if I had failed, but as if something deeper in me took over and kept me alive.)
What I’m sure had only been a few minutes, yet seemed like hours, had passed. I can still hear the one keeping watch telling his friend they needed to go - how he felt like someone was watching. With some coaxing, it’s exactly what they did. They left...and me? I dropped to the ground like a ton of bricks. I still couldn’t move, but I was alive. I couldn’t even believe it, I was alive.
After some time I found it in me to pick myself off the ground and walk back home, squeeze back in the window, and curl up in bed. I wouldn’t speak of it to anyone for six years...not even to myself. As long as I didn’t say anything aloud, it didn’t really happen.
It’s now been eight years since I finally told my first story. I told it to myself first...speaking the words aloud in my room. It hurt, terribly...but it also lifted an immense weight I had been carrying. I hadn’t realized how much energy I was spending trying to make that night nothing more than a bad dream. I realize now, I was running from my own healing - but I also realize maybe it was good for me to run for a moment. Sometimes we’re simply not ready to begin healing...and there’s nothing wrong with that. I beat myself up for a while after I began healing for not starting down this path sooner...but I’ve realized it was probably for the better. I just wasn’t ready before.
For the first few years when I told this story I would sob uncontrollably...there are times when I choke up still (if you’ve taken an Arming Sisters course, you’ve probably seen me shed a few tears - or even cried with me), but they are now tears of healing. No longer tears of terror or fear. Telling my story has immensely helped lighten the load for me - and finding out I wasn’t alone, knowing others had experienced similar situations, made me feel like I could speak up. It made me feel like I had some form of backup. Above all, sharing my story helped me shed some of the heavy weight from my shoulders so I was finally light enough to take a step toward healing.
When I originally launched Arming Sisters back in 2013, I incorporated a blog called Stories of Strength. I’m not sure why I didn’t bring it over to ASRW, but it’s time to do so now.
Why Stories of Strength? Because stories of recovery post sexual assault are extremely hard to find in the media. You can find any other recovery stories quite readily - from substance abuse to car wreck survivors - but search for stories of healing post sexual assault and you’ll be hard pressed to find any.
This won’t only be recovery stories though - this will also host the raw stories we as humans need to get out. The dark, ugly, and stomach churning times we carry with us slowly begin to slip away, one layer at a time as you heal. One of the greatest ways to begin healing? Telling your story.
So let’s bring inspiration to others together...take a few healing steps together...and remind each other we are not alone.
If you’re interested in contributing, please send an email to:
Of course you do not have to submit with your real name. Feel free to remain anonymous, or use a pen name.
Any and all are welcome to join in this journey!
Regardless of gender identity, sexual preference, ethnicity etc...you only need be an Earthling.