Showing posts with label Sexual abuse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sexual abuse. Show all posts

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Writing Physical Abuse Survival into Your Plot Line with Teresa Watson

At the time that I was writing this blog post, I was in the middle of reading and enjoying Death Vetoes the Chairman by Teresa Watson. But it's a tough story line. 

Teresa, Can you give folks an over view so we have a point of reference as we chat?

Teresa - 
Basically, the main character, Lizzie, meets an old friend of Jake's, who appears charming at first. But as the evening goes on, he manages to get her alone, and tries to take advantage of her. He's not a man who is used to taking no for an answer. So despite his bruised ego, a sore cheek and taking a knee to a sensitive area, he tries to go after Lizzie again a few days later in her office. This shakes her down to her core, because she's never been in this situation before. She's a pretty tough woman, but she doesn't know how to handle this.

But when he ends up dead, and they start investigating his past, they learn that this is a pattern of behavior that has gone on for a long time. It makes the suspect list very long. So they're trying to find his killer, and she's trying to deal with her emotions over what has happened to her.

Was there something that made you want to write this novel? It's not your usual funny fair.

Teresa -
I didn't mean for this to turn into such a serious book. But as I started writing, it went in that direction. When I sent the first few chapters to my editors, one of them told me that they had gone through this in their life, and suddenly, I felt it was a story that had to be told. That's one of the reasons why it took so long to write this book. I wanted to make sure that I got things right, as far as Lizzie's reactions to the attacks and the harassment, as well as the reactions from her family and friends. I checked with my friend every step of the way, and she kept telling me that I nailed everything right. She didn't make me change anything. And since the book has come out, another friend, who works for a women's shelter, told me it was a very good book, and that I had gotten everything right. So to have two people who would know tell me that I had represented the situations correctly was a good feeling. This is just way too serious to get something wrong.

Fiona - 
Just to be clear, this is not something in your history, correct?

Teresa - 

Oh no, I personally have never experienced anything like this in my life. 

Fiona - 
What kinds of things surprised you as your were researching your book?

Teresa - 

  • The statistics are staggering. According to on average, there are 293,066 (age 12 and older) who are victims of rape and sexual assaults each year. That's 1 every 107 seconds. 
  • 68% of sexual assaults are never reported. 
  • 98% of rapists never spend any time in jail or prison. Just those little things right there should be a major signal that there is something seriously wrong with our judicial system.
Also, this is not limited to women. Men are also victims of domestic violence. A lot of people do not realize that. People usually assume that it is the men who are the abusers, because they are bigger and stronger than a woman. But men are just as likely to be a victim as a women, but they will not report it. It's not a stigma that men want known, that they were beaten by a woman. But it does happen.

When the police show up, they see the injuries on a woman, and sometimes assume that the man was the aggressor. But those are from the man trying to defend themselves from a woman who is coming after them with some kind of weapon, etc.

Fiona - 
Those are staggering details. 

As I think through my friends, there are very few of my women friends who have not experienced some kind of physical assault. 

Writing this book correctly must have felt daunting. How did you check to make sure you had the reactions correct? (Recognizing that reactions are individual and any survivor's response is absolutely correct and does not need to fit into a box.)

Teresa -
I knew that one of my editors had been in an abusive relationship, so I did give her a head's up. But I did not realize the extent of her situation until she told me. Having never been in this situation myself, I had no idea how I would react. So I tried to think of it through Lizzie's eyes, and I would think: "Okay, so if this was happening to me, how would I react?" I was really just feeling my way through it. 

I would ask my friend if I wasn't sure, and she would tell me that was exactly how she had reacted. So I knew I was on the right track. I've never been through this myself, as I said, but just writing these scenes would leave me an emotional wreck. I would literally be sitting at my desk, crying. This book is way more emotional than the other Lizzie books, not just because of the subject matter, but because of my personal life. I lost my grandmother on January 29th, and very unexpectedly, my dad on February 4th. So there was a lot of grief on my end, and I poured that into the book.

Fiona - 
I'm sorry for your losses, and hope the writing was cathartic - it certainly rings true as I read.

In your book you gave Lizzie a gift when she first told someone that she had been assaulted: people believed her. Can you talk about why this is so important - to Lizzy in the story and also to real life survivors?

Teresa - 
Lizzie is a strong woman who doesn't suffer fools gladly (even though she lets Gladys, her archenemy, get under her skin still). She's also pretty open about how she feels about things. Suddenly, she finds herself in this horrific situation where she's been assaulted twice by the same man, and she doesn't know how she let that happen. She's never been in this situation before. She's humiliated and embarrassed, and she doesn't want to talk to anyone about it. I mean, her mother is on her honeymoon, and Lizzie doesn't call her to tell her what's happening. I think she got to the point where it was just so overwhelming that she was afraid she was standing on that proverbial cliff edge. It was just too much for her, so she opened up to a very unlikely person. Those feelings of not wanting to tell anyone are the same for real life survivors. Often, abuse continues, leaving a victim feeling helpless, vulnerable, and afraid. 

To tell someone is to open yourself up to rejection from your family and friends, because they may not believe you. Sometimes, the only way your family believes that it is actually happening is if they see it for themselves.

Fiona -
I saw that you put a caution statement in the front of your book. Often on my articles, I will give a "trigger warning" where I think it's warranted. What made you decide to do this? Do you think authors should consider doing this for their books, as well?

Teresa -
Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not easy topics to talk about. In today's society, sometimes we take the "if we bury our heads in the sand, we don't see it and we don't know about it" view about these types of situations. I made sure that there weren't any graphic and gory details in the book (my head editor, aka Mom, would make me take it out if it was too graphic!). I didn't want to upset any of my readers that may be going through this right now, or have survived this, without giving them some kind of warning. 

And I do have some readers who are young adults, 19 to 20 years old, who have been reading my Lizzie stories since 2011 (when they were in high school).

Fiona - 
What resources are available for victims who might help a writer write it right?

Teresa - 
There are so many resources available for victims. The problem, believe it or not, is getting that information to them. You have to be careful about getting help, because you don't know if the abuser censors their mail, their emails, their phone calls, etc. But there is:
  •  the National Domestic Violence Hotline,1-800-799-7233 FREE 1-800-787-3224 FREE (TTY)
  • the National Center on Domestic Violence
  • Talk to a local pastor 
  • The police; they have resources available that will help you.
  •  The shelters have all kinds of resources available to victims. They will assign you a victim's advocate, who will help you with the legal process, as well as help you find counseling, a job, a place to live, whatever you need to get out of the situation you find yourself in. But there is help, and there's nothing to be ashamed of. You are a survivor!
Make sure you are in a safe place before you call. Make sure you erase the number from your phone history, or erase the web address from your browser history, so your abuser doesn't know that you are trying to leave.

That is one thing that all of them specify. Be safe when you reach out. And for family and friends, be supportive. Don't push them to leave on YOUR timetable. They have to leave when it's safe for them to do so, and not before. And it may take them several times of trying to leave before they actually do. They need your love, support and understanding. There are things you can do to help them, and that information is on the websites that I provided.

Fiona - 
Thank you. 

At ThrillWriting we're always curious to know the story behind your favorite scar.

Teresa - 
Which one? I have so many! LOL My nickname is Queen Klutz, for crying out loud! I'll pick the first one I got. When I was in the fourth grade, I was playing a game called Swing the Statue with some kids in my grandmother's neighborhood. Basically, you swing a person around by the arm, and let them go. They have to freeze in whatever position they land in, like a statue. Well, I was swinging a girl who was in the 9th grade. When I let go of her, I was the one who fell instead of her. I landed on an uneven section of the concrete sidewalk, broke my arm in two places. I have two small white lines on my arm from where I broke it.

And I'm pretty sure the doctor is still deaf in his left ear after I screamed bloody murder when he set my arm. LOL

Fiona - 
A big thank you to Teresa for sharing her insights. If you want to read Teresa's other ThrillWriting article, it's here: Death Grows in Your Garden

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Domestic Abuse and the Counselors Who Try to Help: Information for Writers with Donna Glaser

Today I welcome to ThrillWriting Donna White Glaser. Donna is the author of The Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery series and the Blood Visions Paranormal Mystery series. She is a psychotherapist and lives northwestern Wisconsin. As if that weren’t enough, she and her husband own a residential construction company where it’s Donna’s job to deal with any overly emotional, what-do-you-mean-you-can’t-put-roof-trusses-up-in-a-thunderstorm? clients. Strangely enough, she often comes up with ideas for creative murders and hiding bodies during business hours. Currently she is at work on the fifth Letty Whittaker 12-Step Mystery, The Lies We Tell and is plotting the second in the Blood Visions series,  Scry Me A River.

Fiona - 
Would you please tell us a little more about your psychology background?

Donna - 
I'm a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in WI. My degrees are BS in Psychology and MA in Human Relations, and I've been working in the mental health field for thirty years. Much of that time has been working with children and adolescents. 

Early on, I worked in residential treatment centers with kids who had been removed from their homes and foster homes for severe neglect and abuse. Those that were placed in the RTC after their own behaviors had gotten dangerous, either to themselves or to others. 

Domestic violence is so horrific because it happens in families, the place where we should feel safest. Not surprisingly, the children who are trapped in these situations react with what they see and experience.

I shifted out of working in RTCs after marrying and getting pregnant with my first child. The kids' stories and the intensity of treatment grew too close when I had my own babies, so it was time for me to step back and let others carry that particular burden.

That's also when I began to write. Prior to leaving that field, I think my energies were too focused on pouring into others for me to have any leftover for creative purposes. I did stay working as a therapist, though when my kids were young I kept it part-time. I worked (and still do) with outpatient clients, both adults and children. 

Five years ago, I was hired by an agency that does Children and Adolescent Day-treatment, so I was back working with kids again. In CADT programs, kids remain in their homes, but come to daily treatment during school hours. The particular program I work for is only a half-day program, so the kids head back to school when they're done with our group. During the time they're with us, we provide group therapy and help them deal with traumas and issues that are overwhelming them. Many come from homes where domestic violence is, or has been, common.

Fiona - 

If writers want to see the influence of your work with domestic abuse in literature they can read some of your early stories. Can you tell us a bit about those works?

Donna - 
Description for my first series, the Letty Whittaker 12-Step Mysteries: Letty is a psychotherapist, a recovering alcoholic, and a bit of a smartass. The themes in the series are loosely connected with Letty's journey through her own 12 Step program as well as the tough issues she faces in her own career. In the first book, The Enemy We Know, Letty is attacked by the boyfriend of one of her clients after Carrie leaves their abusive relationship. When Wayne (the boyfriend) can't take his anger out on his usual target, he turns his focus to the person he blames for Carrie's escape. 

The second book in this series also focuses on domestic violence. It's set in a women's shelter where Letty uncovers the fact that several women have been murdered or gone missing over the last several years.

Fiona - 
Let's start with a definition. What is considered abusive by a mental health professional?

Donna - 
I can't answer what is abusive by law. I know there have been many times when I've reported what I felt was abuse to CPS (Child Protective Services), and they've labeled the situation "unfounded." Unfortunately, it's a lot like the old "porn" definition: it it looks like porn to you, it is. But that's so hard to make objective. 

In a therapeutic setting, I let the client decide what is abusive in the context of their lives. As far as reporting goes, as a mandated reporter, I have to report instances where physical or sexual abuses of certain population types, eg. minors, the elderly, mentally ill. Neglect is also reportable, but emotional abuse isn't.

Fiona - 

When folks think about abuse they often imagine bruising and broken bones but abuse also includes

  • emotional abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • medical abuse
  • neglect

Abuse happens at all levels of education and socio-economic situation, what kinds of personalities and what kinds of triggers might begin the cycle of abuse?

Donna - 
You're so right about the generalization of abuse. It's not confined to any one demographic or victim personality type. That's because the abuse starts with the abuser. I know that sounds stupid but what I mean is that there is nothing about the victim that triggers the abuse to start. It's all about the abuser, and is born out of inflated insecurities which spawn the need to control. As an example, I've noticed that when a person, any person, is feeling out of control in some (or several) areas of their life, they often turn to another area and overcompensate. For instance when my work as a therapist starts to feel overwhelming, I come home and plot murders. I can control what happens in my books. I can decide every little piece and interaction in my characters. On a much larger and significantly more horrific scale, abusers follow the same pattern. They feel out of control, or less than, in some area--usually public--and they turn to something they can control to compensate.

Fiona - 
And the victim's are frequently not people that we would think could ever become victims. Can you tell us a little about victim cycles and how things escalate?

Donna - 
You're right that victims are often people we would least expect. That's because we have a preconception of the kind of person we think would become victims. Maybe that's because we'd like to think we are safe from falling into that trap. But we aren't. 
Most of the women (and some men) that I've seen are strong, capable personalities. Ones that lead and make decisions in their jobs. I think sometimes it's their very strength that leads to the entrapment. Knowing and believing in her own strength, the victim

  1. has a difficult time seeing herself as such
  2. believes that her very strength can "make a difference" in the abuser's life. Her love will be strong enough to weather this storm. Compassion is also another trait that victims have in plenty. They want to help and they want to be the ones to heal their partner's wounds.

Regarding how things escalate: 

  • THE TEST - an abuser starts with a test. Usually a threat, but a real one. Maybe he'll bring a gun home one day, or maybe it'll be a push or a drawn back fist. Some action that will test how his partner will (or won't) react. And then he'll apologize, often quite sincerely, for losing his temper while at the same time casting whatever he did as his partner's fault. He's sorry, but she shouldn't have. . .whatever.
  • ISOLATION - is key too, and happens at about the same time. Isolation can be physical--maybe a move to a location where the partner doesn't know anybody, maybe he'll encourage her to quit her job. Or it could be emotional. He makes her choose between him or her friends/family. He makes it an issue of loyalty and often couches it as an action that will help heal him and prove her love.

The actual triggers, once that prep work has been put in place, can really be anything that adds stress to the abuser. Life. Whatever. His job isn't going well. Financial burdens. Relationship conflicts in other areas. Anything really.

Fiona - 
Upon the initial threat - the test -can you give me three responses? 

  1. A counter move on the would be victims part that would curtail further abuse. 
  2. A neutral act that would lead to a second test 
  3. A response which would solidify the abusers new role. These are simply examples - obviously each situation is unique.

Donna - 

  1. The most effective counter move would be for the partner to leave the relationship. From what I've read, most of the women who've been abused state that there were clear signs and situations prior to getting married. Just leave. We're taught that true love forgives all, but it doesn't have to. 
  2. A neutral act would be one where the potential victim sets a boundary. One that she thinks will clarify acceptable and unacceptable behavior to her partner. Unfortunately, in the world of human interactions, words mean less than actions, and the action taken was, in this case, inaction. He might exert more self-control, which will extend the time between the threat and the next, but if a man is going to be an abuser he's going to abuse eventually. 
  3. A response that would solidify the cycle would be if the woman accepts responsibility for being the trigger and, in turn, apologizes for causing it.

I also want to stress that while I'm using he = abuser and she= victim, that's definitely not always the case. Especially in terms of emotional abuse. The same patterns apply there and in those situations I've seen a 50/50 ratio of men victims as women.

Fiona - 

That's an interesting plot twist.

There are also people who are abusive by nature, and they are looking for victims. Can you talk about some warning signs that -- let's put this in the context of a male looking for a female victim to -- a woman could be aware of. And what kinds of traits might an (psychopath, sociopath, narcissistic) abuser be seeking out in a mate.

Donna - 
If we're shifting to the more extreme personality disorder of an Antisocial Personality (psychopathy,) then he would probably be looking for a malleable, gullible person. 

APDs (antisocial personality disorder) don't feel love, but they are often charming and have learned what people, in this case, a woman, wants to hear. They'll use manipulation before aggression, because over-aggression might make the woman leave. 

If an APD marries, there is going to be an ulterior benefit for him. He might recognize that being married is a kind of screen for him; maybe he gains access to money or her kids, if he's a pedophile.

It's difficult to say what to look for in order to avoid an APD, because they often are highly skilled in getting what they want. They're conmen, and they're usually very good at it. Unless they're dumb, and then they get caught and put in jail. The very, very smart ones go into politics.

Fiona - 
So we are nearing the end of our interview - what did you think I'd ask/want me to ask you about this subject in terms of what a writer needs to bare in  mind when writing this kind of plot line?

Donna - 
One thing I wanted to point out is the #1 question so many people ask about or to the victim: Why do they stay? 

  • They stay, not because they are weak, but because they are strong and compassionate and those very qualities work against their instincts to flee. 
  • They stay because they've been isolated and cut off from resources. 
  • They stay because they've been told that nobody else will have them and nobody else understands what they really are and nobody else will believe them. 
  • They stay because they've been isolated financially or because they have kids together and he's a good father (sometimes). 
  • They stay because they know the most dangerous, unpredictable period for them to be serious hurt or killed is after they finally do leave. Leaving is necessary. It's ESSENTIAL. But it's not easy.

Fiona - 
If an author has written a plot that includes abuse, and characters outside of the situation are becoming aware that there is an issue, what helpful response could the other character offer the victim?

And what can a victim do to get out especially when they're leaving has been threatened with retribution?

Donna -
If you see someone in the situation, encourage her to leave and don't judge her when she is afraid to. Try not to be frustrated when she goes back and forth in her decision or when she gives you the excuses for him that she tells herself.

For the victim? 

  • Tell everyone. Get out and tell everyone. 
  • Tell the police 
  • Tell your friends and family 
  • Tell your coworkers. 
  • Be alert and aware of self-protection strategies and do what you have to do, including move, to keep yourself safe. 
  • If you need to find a safe place like a women's shelter for a while, do it. As heartless as this sounds, feeling ashamed won't kill you, but the abuser might. It's awful, but it's not fatal and it will get better.
Fiona - 
Awesome! Thank you.

You have a book up on Kindle Scout - Folks if you go over and vote, and Donna is offered a contract, you will get the book for FREE a week before anyone else gets to a chance to see it. That's a no-brainer win-win situation!

Donna, can you tell us about the story - I think it's so intriguing.

Donna - 
A SCRYING SHAME Book One in the Blood Visions Paranormal Mystery series. Following a near death experience, twenty-five-year old Arie Stiles decides she might as well take the job nobody else wants: a crime scene clean-up technician. It’s good money, which she could use, and death doesn’t hold a lot of mystery for her. Or so she thinks. Arie isn’t on the job long before discovering she’s been “gifted” with a new psychic talent—the ability to scry. Whether she wants to or not, Arie can read the memories of the dead in their blood. When she is assigned to clean the crime scene of Marissa Mason, the socialite author of the best-selling gold-diggers' bible, Rich Bitch, Arie finds herself haunted by blood visions day and night, and to her shock discovers an unexpected family connection to the victim. With her brother suffering the unwanted attention of the police as the primary suspect, can Arie face her fear of the blood visions long enough to follow the trail of clues left in the murdered woman's memories and find the real culprit?

VOTE NOW - and (hopefully!) GET A FREE COPY

Fiona - 

And now for our traditional ThrillWriting tell all :)
Can you tell us one of your harrowing stories?

Donna - 

The first one that pops to mind was when I was still in college and I started working at a residential treatment center for developmentally disabled adults. I filled in as a substitute at the school. Most of the classes were designed to teach life and work skills--some as basic as sorting buttons to learn counting, colors, and differences in size. At the other end of the spectrum, was the wood shop. Residents there were quite skilled and made craft items like lawn ornaments and birdhouses, which were sold at fundraisers. The men and women who worked in the shop were quite proud of their independence and enjoyed having a real job.

For some unknown reason, I started subbing in the wood shop, despite the fact that I knew nothing about wood-working or tools. Or anything, really. But ignorance is bliss and I was making good change so I toddled happily along. The shop was a cavernous room filled with bandsaws, routers, drills, and various other tools that made a lot of noise and had the potential to slice off important body parts. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is every body part. The room housed three different classes-nearly forty people, teachers included.

The plus side was there were two other teachers to help me figure things out, although their interactions with me started out fairly crabby because they were essentially doing my job since I was so CLUELESS. But I was all they had. Eventually, when they saw I was going to stick around, they lightened up a bit and gave me some tips about how to run the class. I kept my students away from the scarier tools and we stuck to sanding and painting wooden tulips in messy but cheerful colors. And I got to know several of the residents, especially a very dapper middle-aged man named Ernie who wore a faded plastic rose in his lapel and called me "mama."

Things were going well.

Until, that is, the school administration decided to prohibit smoking. Keep in mind, this was twenty-five years ago, so smoke-free environments weren't as much of a given as they now are. A further complication was that the residents were adults. Working adults, as they saw it, and they wanted their cigarettes.

Oh, my.

The announcement was made in the morning and it caused a stunned silence in the shop. For about four-point-two seconds, anyway. Then the dam broke and a steadily building roar of consternation and anger began to rise. The other teachers promised to find out what was going on and we split the classes up and set everybody to work. A few protesters had trouble moving on, but the majority, although still frowning and sullen-looking, got to work on the day's chores. After a while, things seemed to settle back into a routine of sorts. But the air felt tense and brittle.

At first break, the resentment rebounded. The smokers were used to having a cigarette or two on their breaks, and the fact that they couldn't was brought back to them. The wood shop seemed divided into two camps: the angry and the anxious. I was firmly in the second camp. Things were not looking good. But the other teachers stayed calm and professional, and kept the groups moving through their schedules.

And then, lunch time. Nicotine withdrawal and the indignation of trampled rights combined into an unholy cataclysmic event. They rioted. And, by riot, I mean, the adult residents started chucking two-by-fours and Sawzalls and metal stools. Open cans of tulip paint sailed through the air, leaving streamers of red and blue and yellow in their wake. I grabbed several pacifists who were frozen in fear and shoved them under the work tables. I dove behind the lumber racks. This, I decided, was going to be my new home.

Except from across the woodshop I heard, "Mama! Mama!"

"Ernie? Ernie, get down!"



I started crawling. When I got to Ernie, he was standing fully upright in the chaos, clutching his fingers and sobbing as hammers and birdhouses whizzed past his ears. I hauled him down beside me and dragged him under a table where we shivered and cried together for a while. Eventually, the police and several teachers from other classes showed up and restored order. When they finally found Ernie and myself, he was drawing pictures of kitties in the sawdust and I was curled in the fetal position sucking my thumb. (Actually it was the other way around, but I promised him I wouldn't tell.)

Over the years, I've been involved in many other precarious situations, but this one helps keeps things in perspective. Having survived the Cigarette Wars, everything else is cake.

Fiona - 
Donna would love to hear from you via her website at or on Twitter: @readdonnaglaser.

Thanks so much, Donna.

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Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Society and Survivors: Information for Writers with Rachel Thompson

TRIGGER WARNING - for those of you who might be triggered by abuse survival stories, please be cautious about reading this article.

Today we welcome Rachel Thompson. 

Many of you will know her as the author of the award-winning Broken Pieces, the newly released Broken Places, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She is published by Shadow Teams and represented by Lisa Hagan

Rachel owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…),,,, and Self-Publishers Monthly

Rachel is the creator and founder of #MondayBlogs and #SexAbuseChat and an advocate for sexual abuse survivors. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

Luckily, today Rachel is all caffeinated up and ready to help us write it right.

Fiona - 
How would you define stigma? And are you focused solely on crime survivors?

Rachel - 
Well, stigma can have many definitions, for both survivors and their families/friends. I am a survivor myself. The biggest burden we carry is shame, so it makes it difficult (if not impossible, for many) to discuss what happened to them. And because 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before the age of 18, many of these survivors carry the extra burden of dealing with an intimate type of shame (myself included). The result of that shame manifests itself in any number of mental disorders: anxiety, flashbacks, depression, many of which are manageable (to a degree). Some have it much worse: suicide, bipolar, addiction. OCD can be especially difficult

Discussing these behaviors in public makes us feel like freaks or crazy. That's the stigma I personally wanted to help break when I wrote Broken Pieces. That it's OKAY to discuss what happened and also the after effects

As for only survivors of crime, not necessarily for me -- I'm open to talking with any kind of trauma survivor. The advocacy work I do however: #SexAbuseChat is pretty obvious -- it's for sexabuse survivors but also their families or anyone who wants to help survivors in a supportive way. That's why I didn't start the chat until I connected with a certified therapist (Bobbi Parish) who is herself an incest survivor.

I'm not an expert or psychologist; my goal isn't to create therapy for people -- simply a group support community.

Fiona -
Shame has various ramifications in survivor mentality. I think it is critical for writers to understand that a crime is not over, a victim is always trying to prevent that experience from happening again. 

One of the ways that you express your self-protection is not wanting to present anything but perfection for fear of judgement - judgement meaning that maybe you deserved what happened to you because of your imperfections. 

Can you talk about instances in literature that you have seen a writer portray this well? How does this show up in your writing?

Rachel - 
Well, gosh. So many instances. One of my favorite books is John Irving's THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. He strived for have the perfect family when clearly, it wasn't going to happen, given his start and all the craziness of his mother. But I loved the story because of the imperfection and ultimately, it was about love.

Another favorite is THE TIME-TRAVELER'S WIFE -- Henry worked so very hard to have a life with Clare -- to discover why he traveled and to beat it -- but he couldn't outrun his flawed DNA. Even perfect love wasn't enough. But they tried and their story is compelling. I reread that book a lot, actually.

As for my own writing and for my life, I've always felt that what happened to me is an event (or events) that don't define me. I'm not a victim and I don't ever refer to myself or others as victims, but as survivors, because we're still here. We survived.

We may be flawed, or changed, but who isn't? Everyone has experiences of some sort that helps to shape who they become. Not to minimize those experiences (because minimization drives me insane). What happened to us is horrific, and we need to recognize and deal with that. But we also have to progress from it as well.

What I love about the survivor community is that we are fiercely protective and supportive of each other -- I wouldn't have that if I hadn't survived what I did, and so I'm grateful. Which is ironic, in a way.

Fiona - 
In reading books and watching films/tv what mistakes/stereotypes do you find authors leaning on and how would you prefer they portray victim/survivors?

Rachel - 
It's frustrating to see so many 'fairy tales' that still exist -- the man saving the woman from her fate. Though I do see more and more that woman are making their own decisions. For example, like many, I got sucked into watching Showtime's THE AFFAIR this year. I really enjoyed the acting and writing. It was evocative.

But it also kind of pissed me off that the female was in a position of having to depend on men for her fate, going from one guy to another to live. Why not have her go it alone? I know that wouldn't be as interesting -- sex sells -- and maybe that's the bottom line in movies and TV. It's not about independent women, it's about sex.

Gilmore Girls seemed to be the exception, to an extent. I enjoyed watching that show w/ my 15yo daughter (we Netflix binged watched it)

I'm not opposed in any way to love stories -- we live for love, right? But when it shows women as victims or having no fate or future without a man, I get ticked.

Sadly, that is reflective of reality, given domestic abuse stats and sexual abuse stats. Most victims (and I use that term here in a legal sense only) of sexual and domestic abuse ARE women, and most perpetrators are men (look at for stats)

Strong women with strong storylines are often seen in Shonda Rimes shows -- I like her a lot

Fiona - 
Earlier you said, "it's okay to tell our stories and not feel bad about it." Can you talk about ways that society (and here we can see this extrapolated out to include how our survivor-heroines are treated in their plotlines) prevents survivors from expressing their distress. I'm thinking for example if someone has a medical diagnosis they receive support but if it's not a broken leg - if it's broken courage or depression...

Rachel - 
Lots of minimization, for sure. I experienced that in my own life. "Well, her abuse wasn't as bad as some of the others, so it doesn't count," or, "she'll be fine."

I told myself, well, if that's what my parents are saying, then it must be true. But you can only suppress that for so long. I had the whole 'good girl' thing going on, but inside I was dying. Partying, doing things I shouldn't have been, and later, depression, panic, anxiety.
Even now, flashbacks and nightmares.

To this day, my family still doesn't really believe that it was "that bad" because it wasn't "rape" -- JUST inappropriate fondling and touching and showing me things like that makes it okay in some way because there wasn't penetration. Which is totally fucked up.
And not at all uncommon, sadly.

A friend shared a story of domestic abuse on his wall the other day -- it was fairly graphic, about how his father used to beat him and his mother, and his two sisters were very young (less than age 2) so they wouldn't remember). One of his sisters showed up on his wall and yelled at him IN ALL CAPS to take it down, that this wasn't the father she remembered, and how dare he do that to HER.

It's very sad that people want to shut us down (though my folks have been super supportive and for that I'm grateful) because they are uncomfortable with the truth.

In my case, I was 11 -- more than old enough to remember. I even testified in 2 trials. So plenty of documentation.

Depression is similar -- more publicized now of course -- but people have a hard time with intangibles. If they can't see it, they don't understand how to deal with it, which of course, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It's about respect more than anything, and learning.

Fiona - 
A writer has a unique means of teaching the public about things that are outside of a person's experience. I for example have never had someone close to me die. I only know what to do, say, how to act at funerals because I have read about it. If an author was writing a helpful response from the survivor characters support system, what elements would be most useful to include - yes, our job is to entertain - but getting something like this "right" in literature might just make a difference in someone's life.

Rachel -
Well, that's what I hope my books do -- give insight into a survivor's mind, body and soul. In fact, that's how I set up Broken Places.

Some people will never be open, and that's just a fact. A friend wrote about writing through her depression in the most beautiful, organic way and shared it publicly -- a women tweeted 'how boring and narcissistic' -- I mean... There will just always be ignorance.

And to be honest, that is some of the feedback I receive in 1-star reviews: that it's boring, that everyone has bad experiences, that I should have never said anything. And that's okay -- we as writers put ourselves out there and not everyone will understand or accept our POV.

I didn't really understand grief until my ex- committed suicide. I had lost my grandmothers, and I missed them, but they were old and in so much pain. It was a blessing for them, really.

Some things people have to learn themselves. Just like writing or marketing a book -- you can read how to write, but until you write, you don't know.

Fiona -
A traditional ThrillWriting question is, would you please share your favorite scar story?

Rachel - 
I gave birth to my second child, my son, in 2005. He was supposed to be almost 11 lbs, and I'm not a big person (about 5'3"), so they said, no way, your hips won't accommodate that boy. He was also breech. I had a C-section, and he was almost 9 lbs. Still a big boy! He's 9 now and a big kid, full of life and a big heart, too. Loves his mama. However, I think this quote sums up me and my writing the best:

Stay in touch with Rachel:Web site:
BadRedhead Media Site:
Twitter: @RachelintheOCTwitter (Business): @BadRedheadMedia
Facebook: Broken Pieces Fan Page:

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Rachel.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

It's Not Over When It's Over: A Crime Survivor's Perspective - Info for Writers with Hannah Byrnes.

TRIGGER WARNING - for those of you who might be triggered by abuse survival stories, please be cautious about reading this article.

At ThrillWriting, I am particularly grateful when survivors come forward to tell what it's like to live with the aftermath of a crime. So many times in books, when a crime is over, the character moves on with life. I have professed many times before, I think it's important to write things right. And writing crime scenes right means writing the effects of the crime on the character.

In the case of crime survival, one important reason for due diligence and correct portrayal is that people without context learn from literature. If we as writers say, "She was held at gunpoint," and in the next scene she's brushed it off like dust from her hem, then that is the expectation for real people in real-life situations, and it's just not the truth.

Today, is mostly about PTSD. You can read about this condition HERE. But I would like to introduce you to another linked diagnosis called NEAD (non-epileptic attack disorder) or PNES (Psychogenic nonepileptic seizures). For today's article, we will call it NEAD. NEAD has many characteristics of an epileptic seizure without the associated electrical pathways associated with epilepsy.

ThrillWriting welcomes our guest Hannah Byrnes; this is Hannah's story:

Hannah -
My story begins at age 7, when a well respected and sought after dog show judge showed an interest in my dog handling abilities.

I was regularly winning competitions with my pets and had qualified for young handler of the year and this was the man everyone said would coach me. Little did we realize at the time but this man was a pedophile who by 1990 was found to have abused over 30 children, including me. No matter what anyone says, there is a lot of guilt, shame, confusion and embarrassment over abuse.

Its often how other people react in the aftermath that causes the most damage. If you tell someone their immediate reaction is to tell you that its not your fault, and of course they are right. Yet every day discussions take place about how "children today are more promiscuous" that girls dressing in short skirts and makeup make them targets. Imagine how that feels at aged 7? 

I went from a happy little girl who danced with fairies in the garden to being isolated, withdrawn and suffering from extreme night terrors. Eventually my brain learned how to block it out completely and until the age of 14 I could not remember anything from my childhood.

But then my brain decided it was time to deal with it and saw the start of flashbacks, hallucinations, absence seizures and depression. To make matters worse I suffered two, independent, sexual assaults as a teenager. The police were supportive and amazing yet there is a lot of ignorance regarding rape and sexual assault that is commonly conveyed in conversations. 

False rape claims are reported in the media yet statistics show that 6% of all crimes are false. I have seen plenty of men convicted of perverting the course of justice in the name of insurance or to get back at someone yet these stories do not attract the same media frenzy as a false rape claim. As a woman, being met with messages not to get drunk, not to give out false signals or wear revealing clothes is victim shaming. I even asked the rhetorical question of "why does this happen to me?" to get met with "you do not walk down the street with your head held high". So, you can imagine it is very difficult to speak openly about any of this for fear of being somehow blamed or treated differently.

But the statistics for women suffering from assault are so high that chances are that female colleague[s] in [your] workplace have experienced the same as me, so from that perspective you should be aware of the effect of 'victim shaming' can have in the workplace. This cultural attitude makes it more difficult for people (men included) to speak out about sexual harassment in the workplace...

Fiona - 
Can you talk about how your NEAD diagnosis came about?

Hannah -
In short, I had started developing seizures when I was 14. It was diagnosed as epilepsy and for many, many years I had frequent seizures, as many as 50 a day at times. I was heavily discriminated against and developed an interest in disability rights and studied law.

It was only when I was 29, when the seizures were so bad that they were considering neurosurgery that they actually reconsidered the diagnosis. That was when they linked it to my abuse as a child.

You see, when someone experiences abuse they can separate from the images and feel nothing, I can describe what happened to me in great detail but be very cold. However, it was when I was working a case involving child pornography that my flashbacks and seizures triggered. 

It lead to the correct diagnosis and ultimately my being cured via extensive therapy. I became an advocate, as PTSD is misunderstood, it is feared like many mental health and films etc tend to tell of the war veteran returning. Yet, 
  • 80% of people with PTSD are women 
  • 1 in 4 women in their lives have suffered sexual assault 
  • 20% of misdiagnosed cases of epilepsy is often NEAD as a result. 
Fiona - 
How did your physicians put this together? What are the symptoms of NEAD? Do they vary person to person?

Hannah - 
I had been dealing with the same team, and then moved. I was referred to a new hospital which just so happens to be the best in the country for NEAD. They went through my entire history, and I was admitted to the hospital for a week. They videoed me; I had an EEG on all week, and they would put me in various situations to induce a seizure. It was then that they found that my brain waves had nothing to do with my seizures. In epilepsy there is a correlation.
The symptoms of NEAD are varied but look like epilepsy, so you will have types of seizures including absences where you just black out, but they may be accompanied by various behaviours as well or occur in particular emotional circumstances

Fiona - 
You were presumably taking anti-seizure medicines all along and they did nothing to stop this - but did they do you any harm along the way?

Hannah - 
The seizure meds did not work, or I would become violently allergic to them very quickly, so lots of hospital trips. Hence why I eventually got referred because of my difficult-to-control epilepsy. 

I was actually on one for several years that doubled as an antidepressant SSRP - that worked for a time unsurprisingly, but then the seizures came back and an increased dose nearly killed me. I had several tonic clonic seizures within 24 hours and could not come out of it, it took 3 vials of ketamine for them to stop.

Fiona -
Tonic clonic seizures are convulsive seizures. 

Is NEAD always correlated with PTSD? 
Do you get a dual diagnosis or does NEAD take the place of a PTSD diagnosis? Can you explain how that works from a clinician's point of view?

(Hannah is under the UK health system. Check your character's country for their diagnostic criteria, as they sometimes differ.)

Hannah - 
PTSD and NEAD are both dissociative disorders that have separate classifications under the ICD-10. 

Fiona insert: USA uses DSM V

Hannah (cont.)
I was diagnosed with both because of my circumstances, but they can occur without each other. Often NEAD is related to trauma but it can also be hormone imbalances or related to another type of mental health disorder. seizures can be convulsive or absence seizures just like epilepsy.

Fiona - 
What is the therapeutic intervention? What kind of health care professionals are involved? And what is the outcome prognosis after someone receives a diagnosis?

Hannah - 
In cases of trauma, like mine, intervention is psychotherapy. Prognosis depends on how willing a person is to face their demons and change. Remember the seizures are a pattern of behaviour that has developed as a form of escapism.

A lot of people relapse. But not me; I'm 5 years clear.

With me, because I was just 7 when I was abused, my young mind learned to put my emotions in my dreams and nightmares. So I was very blocked emotionally for years. imagine feeling no fear, no anxiety, no guilt, no shame yet no love, no joy, no happiness
Therapy for me, involved going back into my dreamworld.

Most commonly, they look at the belief systems you have about yourself and start to unpick those. Deep down, as a result of the abuse, I believed I was defective and unloveable, so I had developed high standards of myself as a result, but when my law career took off, I felt like an imposter. 
So we dealt with that negative chatter in my head first, because I was really cruel to myself, but as we went deeper, it became difficult to unlock my emotions around the abuse, so I went to a hypnotherapist...that's where the major work came.

This last year, I have faced divorce, a change of life, etc...but my dreams have been the key so I started writing and the book is the result.

Fiona - 
To read about hypnotherapy and crime go HERE.

On ThrillWriting, my readers understand that it is important to write it right - and that means not falling into the stereotype trap, but exposing victim issues as what they are in reality so their plotline is correct.  As a survivor advocate, what would you like to see writers included in stories both written and on TV/film

Hannah -
Well firstly, PTSD is not simply a series of flashbacks that cause someone to blow up a house or try and kill someone. Indeed, the flashbacks may not be that obvious either. They are only triggered in situations that cause you to feel exactly as you did at the trauma, and that is why it can seem bizarre.

For example, part of my abuse was that if I did what my abuser wanted, he would make a big show of giving me attention and prizes. So when my boss gathered everyone around, because I had received a client compliment, and he wanted to give me a bottle of wine, I panicked.

PTSD is not always the angry outburst that people tend to write about.

In cases where there has been abused as children, they may have been subject to such severe subjugation that they literally curl up in a ball and shut out the world, thats what I do.

Disassociation causes you to react in ways that protect you from feeling like that again. Relatively nice things can cause flashbacks if, like me, you don't believe you are worthy or have been conditioned to believe that no one can do anything for you without wanting something.

There is a great book every writer should read about life traps called Reinventing Your Life. It explains how life traps are formed and how they expose themselves. It was the book that saved my life.

Fiona - 
So when you received the bottle of wine and felt panic what was the external manifestation? Were you able to hide it? Or was it evident and if it were evident did you then need to explain your behavior?

Hannah - 
I went very quiet. I was able to hide it, but it spoilt the occasion for me.

Fiona - 
As an advocate, you've heard many stories how does PTSD specifically affect a survivor's employment. How could they discuss the situation? What should their expectations be about their employers reaction?

Hannah -
I think anyone with mental health conditions can face stigma and stereotype and a lot of this comes from fears based on inaccurate or dramatic portrayal of those conditions.

I am an employment lawyer, so I handle discrimination cases every day. In the UK there are laws to protect people with mental health conditions from discrimination. In my experience many employers are supportive, but if you are still having seizures or symptoms, it can be a difficult as the employer has to balance the needs to the business against the duty of care towards the employee.

Of course discrimination does occur at an alarming rate. Some discrimination is overt. I have been told that they don't think I can handle the stress. Some is subtle. "Oh, we really need someone who can drive." (for a desk bound job). There is also harassment such as colleagues sending jokes or making remarks that someone is 'mad'. As a result, many people won't disclose their issues until part way into their employment which means they don't get the support they need from their employer
Fiona - 
What message would you like us writers to walk away with?

Hannah - 
Thinking on from a writer's perspective, the real story is in the courage it takes to address your past in those circumstances. 

For me, my abuse gifted me with a wonderful vibrant imagination that I am now using to develop books. It can take a while, but when you are walking in darkness of PTSD, it is realising you hold the light all along that releases you as in The Dragon Children, which contains a lot of totems and messages about facing fears, being your truth was a story of transformation.

Fiona - 
The Dragon Children is a childrens' book that is just coming out.

Hannah -

The Dragon Children:The Prophecy has nothing to do with any of my experiences. However, it came to me at a time where I had completed my treatment and had started to identify everything around me that was keeping me in a bad place. It came to me in a series of dreams, and is about being true to yourself and walking your path to destiny. I learned a lot about myself during the creative process and am happier than I have ever been.

Just like it my truth is to be a writer. I had enjoyed reading and creative writing as a child but through my experiences my creative side got shut down with my emotions so it is a real pleasure to be able to connect with that part of myself again. Writing is not therapy for me. However, it is my passion and my stories come from my heart. I hope that many will enjoy them.

Decades ago, a war raged in Dragonsreach. The Iron King’s giant machines destroyed a whole flight of dragons. Now only two dragons and their nest of eggs remain.

Kai is the shy, studious son of a TV Astrologer. Pony-loving Bridget hates maths and wants to be a Knight. They are the Dragon Children, destined to restore man’s faith in magic. Their arrival means that an age-old prophecy may be fulfilled, and dragons will rule the skies again.

After a legion of iron birds attack, the dragon eggs are lost and Bridget and Kai are separated. Each sets out on an perilous quest leading to dragon hordes, mysterious wizards, invisible temples and ancient magic before facing a deadly foe who is not what it seems.

The Author has pledged 100% of the royalties from The Dragon Children: The Prophecy (at least £5000) to Make-A-Wish® Foundation UK Charity Registration Nos. 295672/SC037479 to help grant magical wishes for children and young people who are living with life-threatening conditions.

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Hannah. 

Readers, you can keep in touch with Hannah on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Drugging Your Character - Date Rape Drug Information for Writers


Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women'...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
DISCLAIMER - This is a non-political site that is geared to help writers write it right. I am presenting information to help develop fictional characters and fictional scenes. In no way am I advocating any position or personal decision

Some statistics indicate that 40% of all sexual assaults are due to date rape, that 1 in 3 women experience an assault - as many as 1 in 4 women are successfully assaulted. 

Related blogs:
How a Predator Courts his victim
The NEW rape definition - makes it easier to send the perp to prison

So some personal information - 

I have two personal connections to these drugs. One had a "as good as it could get under the circumstances" outcome and one did not.

The first.
I was at a frat party as a young college girl - and had never heard of date rape drugs. But with my very first drink that particular night, I was out of my head drunk and passing out. Luckily, my friend, Suzie, saw me and kept me safe. I was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with Rohypnol poisoning.

The second.
Suzie went to Switzerland with another friend. One night at a pub, Suzie went to the ladies' room, and when she came back, her travel buddy was gone. Just gone. No one saw the girl get up and leave. After 24 hours, the police got involved. They dragged the lake and found the girl's body. Later, the police disclosed the bar video of a man's hand moving over both of their drinks. Suzie was saved by her trip to the ladies' room  prior to sipping her drink. The long line meant Suzie wasn't there to see her friend's symptoms or to see the two men "escorting" her friend out the door.

So let's start off by keeping your character safe (or reverse if your plot line needs her in trouble):

1. Don't let her drink anything
    that she didn't see poured or that
Cosmopolitan (cocktail)
Cosmopolitan (cocktail) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    she didn't open 
    herself (unless
    it's via a waiter).
2. Don't let her drink
   from a punch bowl.
3. Always have her
    watch her drink (rest
    her hand over the
    top of her glass or
    leave a napkin or
    coaster over the 
4. Have your
    character take her glass with her to the ladies' room. 
5. If she gets up to dance, she should get a fresh drink when she
    gets back to the table (yes, even if your character is drinking 
    water or a soft drink).
6. If your character thinks she's been drugged, she should ask for
    help immediately (preferably not from a stranger) her window is
    small between awareness of something odd happening and
    inability. She should be taken to an Emergency Room and a
    toxicology report taken.

English: A girl sleeping in the heat room in t...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


* Is the #1 date rape drug effecting almost 50% of sexual assaults.

ROHYPNOL - Roofies

* A white tablet or green tablet. The green tablets dissolve slowly
   and may leave particles at the bottom of the glass and will turn
   the drink blue (this was a safety feature added by the
    manufacturer to try to prevent the drug from being used for date
   rape. Go ROCHE!) Bitter taste (possible).
* Works in 15- 20 minutes effects last 8 -12 hours

Health risks for your character:

* Nausea
* Slurred speech/problems talking
* Muscle relaxation/loss of motor 
* Drunk feeling
* Confusion
* Problems seeing
* Dizziness/sleepiness
* Loss of memory of events that took
   place while under the influence of the
* Unlikely to be fatal though the risk
   increases with other drugs (recreational or prescription), alcohol
   levels, pre-existing conditions such as type 1 diabetes, respiratory
   issues such as asthma, and circulatory issues. 
* This drug works by suppressing the central nervous system and
   respiratory systems.
It passes out of the system in 24 hours.


*Originally used by weight lifters to stimulate muscle growth. It
  comes as a clear liquid, a white powder, a tablet or capsule form. 
  Odorless, and nearly tasteless - it can also taste salty -
  though almost undetectable when mixed into a drink.
*Takes effect in 15 - 30 minutes and can last 3-6 hours.
*Usually made at home or in "street labs"

Health Risks for Your Character

* Relaxation
* Drowsiness
* Dizziness
* Blacking out
* Seizures
* Not remembering what happened under the influence of the drug.
* Problems breathing
* Sweating
* Vomiting
* Slow heart rate
* Dreaming feeling
* Coma
* Death


*A powerful hallucinogen originally used as an animal tranquilizer.
  Frequently found in a powder form that is sprinkled over
  marijuana or tobacco (so this drug doesn't have to go into a drink)
  but can also be found in a clear liquid form.                                          

Health Risks to Your Character 

* Distorted vision and hearing
* Lost sense of time and identity
* Dream-like out of body experiences
* Feeling out of control
* Impaired motor functioning
* Problems breathing 
* Convulsions
* Vomiting
* Memory loss
* Aggressive or violent behavior                                                                  
* Depression
* Slurred speech
* High blood pressure


Video Quick Study

Drink Savvy - preventing date rape products
Crisis Interventionist Talks About 3 Major Date Rape Drugs, Preventitive Strategies

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.