Chynna Laird — A few months ago, I had the phenomenal opportunity to meet with the Director of a local charity that helps children who have been abused or otherwise victimized. I was so excited about this meeting because the Director and I have been in contact for years after I’d interviewed her for an article about the incredible work she and her team have done. Our initial conversation back then was what inspired me to finish my memoir, White Elephants. And our recent meeting was the first time we’d met face-to-face. It was an unforgettable experience for both of us.
Being able to finally meet her, and getting to tour the Center, was both an emotional as well as uplifting experience for me. As a survivor of severe child abuse myself, knowing there are places like this now for these kids is incredibly meaningful. The most profound part of our visit was when she said, “These children go through some of the most horrific things and it’s our job to make them feel safe again. Here, we merely give them the tools, resources and strength to go from this point forward so they can define themselves—not by what’s happened to them but by who they are and what they can do.” I took her pearls of wisdom with me when our meeting ended and spent the next couple of weeks absorbing the whole experience.
You see, White Elephants is my survival story. It sets out my life being raised by a mother who lived with severe mental health issues who never got properly assessed, diagnosed, or treated for those issues. Instead, she chose maladaptive ways of coping with her symptoms, resulting in my brother and I living every day in fear, chaos, and confusion. Not understanding what was happening, we held on as tightly as we could during her manic cycles then plummeted with her through the depression cycles, dealing as best we could with the explosions that boomed along the way. And not one person stepped in to help us—not even when they knew what was going on. I can’t and won’t speak for my brother but I endured physical, verbal, mental, emotional and sexual abuse as well as horrible neglect and rape (not all directly from my mother). But you know what? I’ve never once allowed myself be a statistic.
Was I angry with those people for not stepping in? Yes. Was I bitter? Absolutely, for a while. But instead of giving in to those negative emotions, I used them as fuel to keep going, becoming the opposite of the stereotypes society holds of abuse survivors: No, we don’t all grow up being abusers ourselves; No, we don’t all become substance abusers and wallow in self-pity; and, most importantly, we don’t allow the shame of what happened to us to take over, defining who we’ll become.
I was, and am, a survivor. To me that has always meant that, like other survivors, I went through tremendous trauma but found a more positive path to keep moving forward on. We don’t make it through these experiences unscathed because there will be scars to remind us. Survivors, though, use those scars as a source of strength to show society, “We will be okay with the love and support of others.”
And that’s why the visit at the charity was such an amazing experience for both the Director and for me. I guess you could say that White Elephants shows others what happens when support for these children is lacking while the Center’s mandate shows what can happen when it’s in place. In the end, we both have the same underlying message: We cannot allow traumatic experiences, or other people, to define who we are. We need to take those experiences and find a way to make them a source of strength so we can define ourselves.
I sure wish the Center had been there for my brother and I so many years ago. But we’ve found each other now. Hopefully together we can help teach others the importance of defining ourselves.
About the Author
Chynna Laird is a freelance writer and multi award-winning author. Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and other special needs. She’s authored a children’s book, two memoirs, a Young Adult novella, a YA paranormal/suspense novel and an adult Suspense/Thriller. Visit her website www.chynna-laird-author.com and blog www.the-gift-blog.com to read about her and her work. Her special needs blog is online at www.seethewhiteelephants.com.