As part of 2016’s National Recovery Month, we released another list of our favorite recovery bloggers. But not all of those bloggers are actually what we would designate as “sober.” Meet Christine “Cissy” White, the woman behind Heal Write Now. In recovery from PTSD and an eating disorder, she rarely touches a drink or drug and doesn’t identify as an alcoholic or addict, but she does share one major commonality: she’s a survivor. We recently interviewed Cissy to discuss her journey in the blogosphere and more:
How long would you consider yourself to be in recovery from PTSD, or is it even possible to quantify it?
I was diagnosed in my early 20s but for a long time I was in rage rather than recovery. I was like, “I have PTSD from childhood—not fair.” And it wasn’t, but I spent a whole lot of time fighting the fact.
What made you decide to start Heal Write Now?
I was desperately searching for everyday women writing about trauma and how it impacts our lives, and even though one in 10 women get PTSD and adverse childhood experiences are common, there was almost nothing about living with trauma. There’s plenty of clinical and diagnostic stuff but there weren’t women writing about the way we are living in the present. I needed to know someone had been through similar or worse and came out the other side. I wasn’t sure it was ever possible and I wanted proof. Plus, as a writer, I was tired of writing around the edges of truth, dodging, weaving, avoiding and saying incomplete truths.
How has blogging helped your recovery?
Writing, in and of itself, has healing benefits and writing in community is also incredibly powerful, but only if people feel safe and are completely free to share. For some of us, blogging is a way of creating community. I’ve “met” so many people online and know in my soul and bones I am not alone, in a way I didn’t most of my life. We can share, relate, talk and even joke. In the trauma community, healing happens a lot in therapy, where there’s a shrink or specialist and a survivor, one-on-one. But it’s the people in the chairs I sat in before and after me I want to hear from most.
I blog with the feminist belief that just telling the truth has power. I get the most, as a reader, from honesty and people saying how it actually is, not the ways we wish, hope or pretend it is.
Have there been any downsides to being public about personal matters?
Yes; lots of them. This is not for everyone and there are serious things to think about. Here’s the short list of concerns I’ve had to work through or learn to accept:
- My kid can Google my article. I have had some serious conversations with her about PTSD, addiction and abuse. I want her to learn things from me and that’s been a real consideration.
- Future in-laws or employers can read words. There’s nothing I don’t stand behind that I write, but what I’m comfortable writing is not necessarily what I’d share over coffee or dinner. Though I write about most anything and everything, I’m actually fairly private in my day to day life. This can make for some strange dynamics. That said, most people are busy living their own lives and don’t read or care all that much.
- The words are out there in a cyber age. They can’t be unsaid and even though I believe in writing truthfully, for my own healing and as a social justice issue because there are so many people dying of shame, secrecy, addiction and symptoms of trauma, I don’t relish that I make others in my family embarrassed or uncomfortable—either of me and what I share or by exposing “dirty laundry,” so to speak. That’s not always easy or comfortable.
- There are some safety issues and concerns beyond privacy. I’m writing at times about people who are alive and who have betrayed, offended or been violent. Not all of them are dead. I’ve worried that I’m poking the wasp’s nest by writing.
All that said, I continue to do it without regret. It’s the truth and I have never felt more authentic, grounded, real and inhabited in my skin, environment, relationships and life. And so many people write to me relieved someone is acknowledging the lifelong consequences of adverse childhood experiences on physical and emotional health.
You’ve shared about struggles with disordered eating. How do you continue to heal in that realm?
I had bulimia for most of my teens. I don’t write about it much, because for me, it’s a symptom of trauma more than the main issue. While I’ve not been bulimic for decades, I always struggle with diving into a box of carbs when stressed or overwhelmed. Food, especially at night, that I can eat without tasting and to blunt or dull the emotional edges is an issue I may always struggle with. I sometimes still go into cereal, bread or pretzels for comfort or relief. It’s a cue and a sign I need the stress to come down a notch. Sometimes I can help make that happen and honestly, sometimes I’m still one with the carbs.
If you could give any advice to trauma or abuse survivors, what would it be?
You matter as you are right now. You matter even if you feel worthless and are in the depths of despair. Your needs, desires and experiences matter. You don’t have to share or be silent and no one but you gets to know what you crave and need. You can be honest with yourself and accept and love who you are, as is, though I know that feels laughable or impossible or you might even hate yourself too much to consider it.
Honestly, the one book that changed my life most is Cheri Huber’s There’s Nothing Wrong With You No Matter What You Think. It’s about ending self-hate and for many of us, we can’t do self-love until we stop doing the self-hate and self-sabotage. One thing that Huber said that I think of at least once a week: How you treat others is a reflection of who you are. How you treat yourself is a reflection of how you are parented. If your own inner self-talk is radically different than the way you speak to others, that’s the work. Go there. Do that. Notice that until one day you speak to yourself as kindly as you speak to others.
Why do you think it’s important for people to be vocal about their own experiences online?
Well, do a Google search of PTSD right now. Even though it’s 2016, it will look like the only people who get PTSD are soldiers. It’s not true. Men get PTSD from childhood. Children get PTSD too, in foster care or at home. And women get PTSD at more than twice the rate of men and yet, there are no images that reflect us. That needs to change. We shouldn’t have to write “women” and “PTSD” to see images of ourselves. When we search on Google, as I do five million times a day, I should see myself reflected in the world. That’s not true yet. In some ways there is still shame and silence. Women are often invisible.
Some women-writer-activist friends and I, all with PTSD, started a #FacesOfPTSD campaign online. That’s not something that could happen easily 20 years ago but we just launched it and made it happen within weeks to try to change the Google algorithms to include images of women. It’s on-going but by knowing about one another and sharing, we can make change. And, until change is made we can know we are not alone.
We got a great response and it was a way of saying to ourselves and others, “We see you. We know you.” That can happen in an online world where people share openly and honestly. I love that.
Photo courtesy of Robert MacDonald; provided by Christine Cissy White and used with permission. Heal Write Now made out list of top blogs for 2016.