The Invisible Storm

Juanima

I am honored to share my interview with Juanima Hiatt, a bighearted, beautiful, empowering woman who courageously shares her experiences with PTSD and her journey to rebuilding her life from the inside out in The Invisible Storm. She writes an uplifting blog and offers a complimentary coaching session to help others create their unique path to healing, balance, joy and freedom. (She welcomes all emails, anytime: Juanima@healingmindscoaching.com.)

Juanima’s coaching practice, Healing Minds Coaching, LLC, utilizes intelligent questions to empower people to discover their own solutions. As Juanima says, “I have a special place in my heart to help people who suffer from anxiety and PTSD get back on the road as the driver of their life, not the passenger… PTSD robs the sufferer of the life they lived before the trauma. There is no going back, but it is very possible to create a life that is even better than what they had before.”

She leads the first PTSD support group in Hillsboro, Oregon, which is growing fast. Juanima has also teamed up with Susan Ulbright (a gifted LCSW specializing in trauma and PTSD) to develop a 10-week workshop on PTSD and recovery, and another weekend workshop for trauma survivors to rediscover the meaning in their lives. The workshops will be announced sometime in the late summer/early autumn.

The second edition of The Invisible Storm will be released in June, with a list of trigger warnings and new information about recovering from PTSD.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Your book, The Invisible Storm, acts as both champion and confidante for those who have experienced PTSD or sexual abuse. When and how did you choose to share your story?

I knew, even while I was in the pit of despair with PTSD, that I would someday write my story. That day didn’t come until May 2010, however, when I was healed enough to look back at my journey objectively, and from a healthy perspective. My desire in sharing my story is twofold.  PTSD is a horrific experience that people don’t understand unless they’ve experienced it themselves. The only way I could help people really understand PTSD was to bring them deep into my world as I suffered through it. From the emails I get from readers, I know it worked.  There are also many myths and misunderstandings about this disorder, and I wanted to give some truths. I also wanted to bring hope and encouragement to other PTSD sufferers. I wanted to show that if one is willing to do the work, he/she CAN recover.

I like how you made it clear recovery can come in many forms. How did you manage to weave everything together to create such a quilt of your life?

I eventually realized that while my daughter’s birth triggered the onset of PTSD, the true source was the sexual abuse I endured as a child. As difficult as it was to write about the trauma, I knew I had to. However, I also wanted to tell the truth about how difficult it was for me to face the trauma, as I imagine it is for anyone with PTSD. As far as the “sources” I used to write it, I couldn’t have written about my therapy sessions without the notes my friend, Traci, took, because I dissociated so badly in every session. The journal entries helped me relive the depth of pain I experienced, though I admit, at times, I didn’t need any help. Parts of the writing were excruciating. I also asked every family member to read the manuscript before I published it. Some of my family members are not painted in the best light at times, and because I love and care deeply for them, I wanted their blessing to write the hard stuff. I know it could have backfired, but everyone was incredibly gracious in letting the story stand. My therapist explained that their part in the story is critical, because every family will relate in some way to certain “unhelpful” behaviors and misunderstandings. I also asked them to read it so they would finally understand what PTSD was like for me. I got great feedback and validation, and I feel very blessed to have such an amazing, supportive family.

That support structure makes a tremendous difference. How did you research the list of resources at the end of your book?

I found every resource listed to be beneficial to me throughout my healing and recovery. When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I researched endlessly online to find out everything I could about the disorder, and what I was up against. It helped me—and my family—as I progressively shared what I learned.

Thank you for sharing them with us. The passages you chose at the outset and the end of your book are lovely, and could apply to anyone regardless of their creed. While you depict your relationship with God beautifully, please share with us your connection.

Wow… that’s a great question. I’m thinking about writing another book solely about my journey with God, because it’s been a roller coaster. The interesting part is that God is like the track. He never changes. He stays the same, always. He is strong and secure and holds us up. I was like the car, however, always moving, wildly changing directions, with lots of screaming involved.

There were times in my life, especially during the worst years of abuse, and the worst parts of PTSD, when I felt completely abandoned by God. I cried out to Him but I couldn’t hear Him answer. I felt so incredibly alone. I can even say that when I was sixteen, I hated Him, I was so full of anger at His lack of caring. Or…that’s what it seemed. What I know now is that God is the same whether we believe it or not. He is always with us, whether we feel Him or not. What we think of God manifests from our beliefs about Him. Believing He is there even when we don’t feel Him or hear from Him is called faith. Now, I understand Him. I know He never left me—not once. I know He grieved when others were harming me. I also know that I have lost so much in my life, and have had so much stolen from me, but I am witnessing today the fulfillment of His promise to restore what was lost. It’s really incredible. I love Him with all my heart, and I know He really does have a good plan for each of our lives.

Wow, thank you. What advice would you give to fellow memoirists?

There is so much power in telling your story, whatever it is. Maybe your goal is publication, or maybe it’s just to get your story on paper for your children and/or family. But what’s important is to not put it off. Don’t delay. Your story becomes a timeless legacy for your loved ones, and if you publish it, it just might become a powerful memento or treasure to a stranger you may never meet. One of the most moving statements I’ve received from a reader was, “Thank you for writing this book. I feel understood for the first time in my life.” I mean…wow. That is a priceless gift I will carry with me forever—to know my story impacted someone like that.

Congratulations for making everything work so you could deliver your story into their hands. What was it like to self-publish The Invisible Storm?

I couldn’t have done it without the incredible people in my life. My sister-in-law, Rebecca Reinke-Merrion of Reinke Creative, designed my book cover. She happens to be an amazing graphic designer, and this was her first book project. I also got lucky and found a colleague looking to trade her editing talents for a book review of her recently published book, and she helped me improve the manuscript immensely. My family—especially my dad and stepmom—read the manuscript multiple times to help me perfect the details (and it’s not an easy read, so my gratitude runs ocean deep for the time they dedicated to it, while putting their emotions aside). I actually enjoyed the process of self-publishing. I decided to go that route because I didn’t want to wait two years to see my book on a shelf. I have too many other projects I want to get busy on!

Yes! What has been your marketing plan?

I use social networking a lot, including Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. I have found the Goodreads giveaways bring great exposure to my book! I try to blog uplifting and encouraging posts on a regular basis at my author website and I guest blog whenever possible to discuss PTSD and my memoir. I’m very grateful for every opportunity! I also rely greatly on word-of-mouth. I  do book signings, speaking engagements, and interviews, which are also great marketing tools.

What do you hope to achieve with your book and your message, in empowering those who are affected by childhood sexual abuse (not just the children, but all those that these abuses impact)?

First, that healing is possible, but second, that healing is a choice. The terrible risk of living one’s adult life in denial of the past is a later onset of PTSD. We can’t foresee traumatic events occurring in our lives. My triggering event was the traumatic birth of my second daughter in 2003, and then I had no choice but to face my past abuse. I honestly thought I was over it, but I was so wrong. Abuse affects our lives in countless ways, damaging the core of who we are and how we see ourselves, as well as our perceptions of the world around us. Our behaviors stem from our beliefs, and when our beliefs about ourselves and others are tainted, relationships suffer. My goal is to encourage healing not only within the individual who suffered child abuse, but the relationships with their loved ones as well. Everyone in the survivor’s life is impacted by it.

Yes, the “darkness” spills out in sneaky ways; I’m grateful you capture all sides of the issue. From my experiences with PTSD, let me thank you on behalf of our spiritual kin—perhaps all PTSD is its own kind of “soul murder”, and you shine a light on how to recover ourselves to a semblance of a whole. What do you recommend as people seek that balance between who they were before, and who they became after, the PTSD?

“Soul murder” is pretty accurate. I remember saying during the worst years of PTSD, “I just want to be who I was before. I hate who I am now. I feel like a monster! I want my old life back!” What’s amazing to me is how I now read that over and over—verbatim—from other PTSD sufferers.

First, coming to terms with PTSD—for me—was a process much like grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I went through every stage. I eventually had to accept PTSD, but I also had to accept I would never “get back” the life I had before, or the person I was before. But we are never completely destroyed in this journey.

In the early days of PTSD, I felt like I’d fully lost who I was before, but my little brother made me see that wasn’t true.  PTSD shatters the heart, mind, and even the soul, and yet the core of our being remains—it just becomes overshadowed by the pain and torment of the disorder. But as you recover, and do the work of healing, the shattered pieces start coming back together; only this time, they’re stronger. YOU are stronger. But you have to do the work, and you have to choose every day to do something that moves you towards the person you want to be.

This is what I mean when I say I help people write their new life story. It can seem, while you’re suffering, that life will never get better. It took me a while to grab hold of those reigns and take control again. In these recent years, I started building my life back up again. I kept my vision alive of who I want to be, and stayed determined to never let fear or this disorder keep me from having a fulfilled life. I’m not saying I’m completely free, but my life is so much better, and I’m so much more powerful than I ever was before. My family can attest that all the hard work has paid off. I’m a changed woman, and I’m whole, and I want to remind people that whether we have PTSD or not, we are the author of our own life story. And if you do have PTSD, don’t write yourself that ticket to eternal submission. There is hope for us ALL to recover and have a fulfilled life.

Awesome! On a different note, how is your novel going?

It was put on hold, unfortunately, while I went to school to become a life coach. Now that I’m certified, and my practice is open, I’m working on bringing my passion of writing back. I just can’t stay away from this keyboard for too long! I have a political thriller in development, but I’m also developing a YA novel series. I’m excited about this project, because I have a huge heart for teenagers. Each novel deals with a tough issue such as eating disorders, divorce, domestic violence, abuse, running away, self-harm, etc. I’m close to this because every issue is based on my own life experience. I understand, and more than anything, I want teens to know they’re not alone in their struggles, and there is hope.

Those will be great books, I’m sure. Is there anything else you would like to say?

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share my heart, my experiences with PTSD, and my message of hope. Somebody once said, “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.” My life with PTSD didn’t start to improve until I embraced the journey ahead (no matter how long it took), dug my feet in, and gave healing 100%. We are all stronger than we think. PTSD instills a lie that it’s bigger than we are, and our only choice is to succumb to its power. But like I said, that’s a lie. There are answers out there that will take each of us forward. There are tools and resources that will help us in our healing. There are people who care and want to see you recover. I’m one of them. I’m always open and willing to share my experiences with others, whether it’s about healing from childhood sexual abuse, or my journey with PTSD.  You’re not alone in your fight. Don’t ever lose hope for a better, stronger you, and an abundant life. And never, ever give up.

A Conversation with Laura Davis

Laura Davis

Laura Davis is the author of seven non-fiction books, including The Courage to Heal, The Courage to Heal Workbook, Allies in Healing, Beginning to Heal, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be and I Thought We’d Never Speak Again. Not only have her groundbreaking books sold more than 1.8 million copies worldwide but she also leads weekly writing groups and memoir writing retreats in the Santa Cruz, CA region, as well as an annual summer writing retreat in Bolinas, California, a two-week writing and yoga retreat in Bali, 10 days in a Scottish castle, and other international retreats. She recently took time from her busy schedule to share what inspires her…and how she inspires others to learn more about themselves through the transformative power of writing. 

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer.

A: Well, when I was in my twenties and thirties and maybe even into early forties, it wasn’t always easy to see the through line. I’ve always been such a maverick and I’ve never been one to follow a traditional path. But looking back now, I can see the connecting threads clearly.

I’ve always been deeply committed to writing—both as a tool for my own understanding of myself and as a means to communicate with others. I have always been able to be more honest on the page than I can be face-to-face. The page is the place where I discover what I think, what I feel, what I yearn for, what I need to say to somebody. The page is the place I come to a decision when I’m standing in the crossroads, and life is kicking me in the butt, screaming: “Move!”

On the other hand, I’ve never written just for me. I love the interplay of author and audience, writer and reader. I published my first book, The Courage to Heal, in 1988, and it unexpectedly (to me anyway) became a huge best-seller, catapulting me into a level of notoriety I wasn’t prepared for. That book was about healing from child sexual abuse, and it was the first book of its kind. My co-author, Ellen Bass, and I laid out the roadmap for healing in a simple, compelling way that just hadn’t been done before. It became the groundbreaking book in the field, the one that has made a huge difference in the lives of generations of women (and men) who had been abused. And it was through The Courage to Heal that I learned the power of the printed word and the awesome, humbling responsibility of being an author with, literally, the lives of your readers in your hands.

Q: You became famous because of the most painful thing that ever happened to you – incest with your grandfather. How did the challenges inherent with this constant exposure in the spotlight ever allow you to heal emotionally?

A: You have to realize, The Courage to Heal came out when I was only 31 years old. I was so young! For a number of years, I was the poster child for incest. Every TV interview I did, every radio appearance, every time I stood on a stage and spoke out to a thousand women who’d lined up around the block to hear me, all I had to work with was my own story, my connection to a power greater than myself, and the determination to reach out to the women in that room, telling them, yes, healing is possible. You can do this.

Because I was so young, and because I was so consumed by my own healing process, incest was my whole life at that time. It was as if the letters I-N-C-E-S-T were just screaming at me from my living room. They followed me everywhere. So for a time, what I was doing and what I was living were in synch. But as the years went by and I healed from my own abuse and began to move on, I no longer wanted to be known as the “incest queen.” I no longer wanted to meet people because of the worst thing that had ever happened to them. I wanted to meet them in a different playground, in a field where the past no longer had such a hold.

Q: Referring back to your desire to meet people in a venue other than than of victim survival, how did you reinvent your sense of purpose?

A: Once I had earned the scary right to create my own life, not one predetermined by trauma, I knew my work had to move on, too. And so I quit the lecture circuit and quit writing about sexual abuse. I moved to Santa Cruz, California (where I live now), met my partner, and started a family.

My books moved in new directions, too. A couple of years after my son, Eli, was born, I teamed up with a wonderful parent educator, Janis Keyser, and we wrote Becoming the Parent You Want to Be.

As I began to heal a long, very painful estrangement from my mother, I started researching, and eventually wrote, I Thought We’d Never Speak Again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation.

Clearly, my books track my interests in life. Right now, I’m writing a memoir about my relationship with my mother and the unexpected, amazing journey we’ve been on together.

When I look at my body of work as a whole, all my books have a similar theme: growth, change, human evolution, healing. Since I’ve always been fascinated with peoples’ stories, all of my books include a lot of those as well – varied, gritty, real, honest, deep, human stories.

Q: “Forgive and forget” is advice that’s commonly dispensed but, in the case of truly heinous acts, is it universally practical, especially if the offender has no remorse nor seeks redemption?

A: “Forgive and forget” is one of worst things you can say to someone who is suffering after being grievously hurt. It isolates people and tells them that shutting down and smoothing things over is preferable to acknowledging and working through the hurt. I would never give that advice to anyone, and I challenge anyone who does. “Forgive and forget” is like slapping a band-aid on a festering wound. I don’t believe we can “make ourselves forgive.” The anger and unresolved feelings just go underground. True forgiveness, if it comes, only arises naturally at the end of a very long, committed process of healing.

Forgiveness is a personal choice on a religious, ethical and moral basis. I have always maintained that for trauma survivors, it is not a necessary part of the healing process. I’ve seen people live through terrible trauma and go on to live productive, positive lives without forgiving their perpetrators. Ultimately, we have to move beyond the injury, let go of our grief and rage – as well as our identification with being a victim, but whether that moving on ultimately includes forgiveness is an individual matter each of us must come to terms with on our own. How can anyone dictate another person’s spiritual evolution?

Personally, I have forgiven my grandfather, the man who abused me. But it wasn’t anything I tried to achieve. That feeling of forgiveness arose naturally and spontaneously after many years of healing, when I’d finally earned the right to put the incest to rest. I had released my grandfather long before that – letting go of my anger and neutralizing his impact on my life. The added forgiveness was a gift, but it was not something I consciously sought or created.

Q: What intrigues you the most about human transformation?

A: I’m fascinated with human evolution – how we carve away all the things that were laid on us or expected of us – in order to become the people we were meant to be. Not all of us make it all the way to the core, but I’m a cheerleader for that true self – for the true expression exists in each of us if only we can get out of the way.

That’s why I love teaching long-term writing groups, because often, students come in thinking they’re going to be working on one thing, and they do, often quite successfully. But then, over the course of months and years, they sometimes peel that initial goal back and something deeper, that they were really meant to write, comes bubbling up to the surface. Before that moment, they didn’t feel ready or safe enough; they never had the proper conditions and support to make telling that story possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s memoir or fiction; the process is the same. And then one day, they’re ready, and the real work begins.

Q: What do you love the most about your work?

A: It isn’t when a writer shares a beautiful sentence (though I can swoon over a well-turned phrase); it’s when a writer tells the real truth. It’s watching people crack open. I love watching my students find their strength, their voices, their own direction. One of my favorite students, Bonnie Harris, once said to me, “Laura, you say you teach writing, but you don’t really teach writing. You teach transformation.” It’s not exactly the kind of thing you go around saying about yourself, but it’s absolutely true.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It’s the challenges in life that teach us the most.

Q: Tell us about the classes you’ve been teaching in Santa Cruz as well as the ways you’re creatively expanding beyond your own community.

A: I teach ongoing weekly classes in both writing practice (a “finding your voice” class) and feedback classes where people working on projects at home bring their work in to be critiqued. I love my weekly students and the intimate community that builds up in those classes.

To expand my geographical range, I’ve also started a free online community, The Writer’s Journey Roadmap, where I send out weekly writing prompts and people can post their responses on line. Over the past two years, that’s developed into a lovely online space for people who want to share their work in a safe, encouraging community. (http://www.lauradavis.net/roadmap)

Q: What’s your favorite thing that you’re doing now?

I love retreat teaching because of the intensity, because we’re all unplugged from life at home, coming together with one purpose – to write our brains out and go deep into our writing. People often arrive the first night of a retreat, looking tense and afraid, and then by the time they’re hugging everyone goodbye, their faces are cracked wide open and they look deeply refreshed. And it’s not just a quick high that fades. I’ve watched people make profound changes in their lives because of something they experienced on a retreat with me.  

I’ve been teaching an annual retreat in Bolinas, California, right on the high cliffs of the Pacific for a week every July–and I’ve been doing that for years. Last year, for the first time, in part because my children are getting ready to leave the nest, I also led an international retreat to Bali. My partner taught yoga and I taught writing, and we teamed up with a wonderful local eco-tour company who kept us in small, local hotels and introduced us to amazing artisans, dancers, shamans, and all kinds of incredible adventures. We used our writing time to document our travels and to dive deeper into the descriptive world. And starting our day with yoga was just divine. I fell deeply in love with Bali and the Balinese people. I can’t wait to go back this June (June 21st-July 5th) with another group of writers (http://www.lauradavis.net/cometobali).

I’ve also added a second international retreat this year–this time to the Scottish Highlands, near Findhorn. It will be at the end of the summer, (August 14th-28th) and we will be living in a Victorian mansion, a sister center to Findhorn. In addition to exploring the gorgeous Scottish countryside, and diving deep into our writing, we’ll be living in a successful sustainable community and witnessing what that means on a day-to-day basis.

Q: What can students expect to learn from these overseas excursions?

A: When I teach, I like to take my cues from the students who come, but in the trips to Bali and Scotland, we will definitely utilize a lot of what we see, hear and experience each day to develop deeper powers of observation and the capacity to better capture sensory detail. These are useful habits no matter what genre we work in. We will use our writing time to glean every bit of insight we can out of our trip, the community we’re visiting, to help us take full advantage of the kind of change and openness only travel can bring.

Writers at all levels – as well as their non-writing spouses – are welcome to join us. Readers can learn more at http://www.lauradavis.net/cometoscotland.

Q: Over the course of your career, what accomplishment are you the most proud of?

A: Like many parents, my marvelous children come to mind first. They’re amazing young people and I can’t wait to see who they become. I’m very proud to have been a foundational part of their lives.

But when I set them aside and look at my literary work, you might think I’d choose The Courage to Heal, and the three other books I wrote about healing from sexual abuse. Those books have been read and translated all over the world, with more than 2 million copies in print. I still get letters (well now, texts and emails and FB messages) from grateful readers who tell me that the books have literally saved their lives. That is immensely gratifying.

But really, to tell you the truth, the books I feel the most proud of are two books I wrote this past fall – two volumes conceived and completed on a very tight three-month deadline. My brother had convinced me we should do something special for our mother’s 85th birthday. We agreed to have a big family party for her around Thanksgiving because that’s when our relatives gather. He said he’d be in charge of the party and I said I wanted to make a book for her.

I put out a call to all our relatives and all of her old and new friends asking for photographs, tributes and stories. The material started pouring in! In three months, I created two incredibly beautiful books – using everything I knew about constructing and writing a book – and printed two copies through blurb.com, and gave them to her. They were filled with her own writings, pictures of her being crowned campus queen at City College in 1937, photos and reviews from her acting career, stories and photos from everyone she had ever loved. Considering where my mother and I were 30 years ago (she was the prime subject of I Thought We’d Never Speak Again), I have a lot be proud of. My mother does, too. We both worked hard at our reconciliation.

My mother has dementia and these books, A Tribute to Temme – Volume 1 & 2, literally gave her back her life. She lives in assisted living now and her world has shrunk dramatically, but every day she looks at those books and remembers her travels, her friends, her former life and who she used to be. That’s definitely the thing I’m most proud of today.

Readers can learn more about Laura, her books, and her workshop retreats at http://www.lauradavis.net. Email her at lauradavis@lauradavis.net.