Adults: WE MUST teach teens about consent, BELIEVE kids when they tell, and LISTEN A LOT.

My kids are grown, but I still interact with teens on a daily basis. If I’m not teaching English to teenagers in a small rural district, I’m often talking to teens online and in person through my work as an author. Interactions with these young people affects me deeply–they get into my heart and stay there, and they plant seeds for stories in my mind.

Ali Raisman’s amazing testimony and the subsequent conviction and sentencing of Larry Nassar + Eliza Dushku’s experience on the set of True Lies + the #MeToo Movement are doing what I try to do with my work: dragging the ugly secrets out of the shadows and expose them to sunlight.

Sunlight, you see, is the only thing that kills shame. Keeping secrets is deadly in so many ways, from killing one’s soul to causing people to take their own lives.

I was sexually abused throughout my childhood. When I was maybe 4, a neighbor boy forced me to expose myself to him. My stepfather began molesting me at 8 age, and it progressed to rape in my teens. My grandfather pulled me into his lap and French-kissed me when I was 13. Not once, at any time I told about any of this, was my outcry acted on.

Not.
Once.

When my children were young, they probably tired of me telling them, “If anyone ever touches you in a way that makes you feel yucky inside, you tell them NO and then tell me and Daddy. We will believe you and we will take care of you. Even if the person tells you NOT to tell, you tell. Okay?”

I credit my three daughters turning out as assertive and independent as they are in part to my husband being the sane one when they were growing up (semi-attempt at humor…although my kids would tell you, “Yeah, boy.)… They have a sense of self that was sorely lacking in me until I was at least 40, two years into therapy. What I really love about my daughters, in addition to a laundry list of other Proud Mama stuff, is that they take no shit. They have a sense of self, and I am so, so grateful for that. When I talk about some of the situations in the news with my daughters, I ask them how they would handle themselves in a situation such as the one recently in the news with Aziz Ansari (a situation that has divided members of the #MeToo Movement).

The story is troubling, and I understand that my daughters were not in the young woman’s position, but I want to believe that, based on what they’ve told me, they would have left. They would not have felt any sense of submission. I’m not judging the young woman in the story. She may have had a history that set her up for freezing. I have a history that sets me up for freezing. I hope I wouldn’t freeze now, if I were in that type of situation.

Over the years in my jobs as author and teacher, teen girls have trusted me with their stories of being in situations where they did not want to do what a guy wanted them to do, but they were afraid to hurt their feelings, and even when what the guy did sounds a lot like sexual assault, they still feel this obligation to protect the guy.

THIS HAS TO STOP. Parents and Trusted Adults: we MUST rid our daughters of the belief that they have to be nice at all costs. We MUST believe them when they tell us that something happened and they were uncomfortable.

Males need to be taught from a young age that they are not entitled to take what they want or cajole or pressure young women into doing what they have already indicated they do not want to do. NO means NO. It does not mean, “No, unless you convince me otherwise.”

Look at the Olympic gymnasts: many of them TOLD THEIR PARENTS. They told people what was going on, and they weren’t believed. Look at Eliza Dukshu. She TOLD HER MOTHER what was going on,  and the mother was afraid to speak out for her daughter. The mom was afraid of the powerful men on set.

The last time a teen girl confided in me about being pressured to do things sexually she did not want to do, I made clear to her that she should not do anything she feels uncomfortable doing, and I shared with her two websites so she could have a better idea of what was going on, and how she can react in the future:   Consent & Consensual Sex &  Scarleteen.com

Coming from the position of a person whom young people often trust with stuff they wouldn’t tell their parents, I’m begging you: please, please, please: if your child has a sexual experience at a young age, please try to HEAR them if they trust you enough to talk to you about it. Please don’t shame them. I once had a reader tell me that, after she had sex at age 13, her mother told her that from that day on, people would be able to tell that she’d done it, because she’d walk funny. I told her, “That is not true, and I am so sorry that you may have felt shame as a result of what was said to you.” Then I talked to her about her life. I asked her questions about what was going on. I listened. Given her very young age, I was concerned that she had been abused.

Please. Do more listening, and more believing, and, from a young age, we need to stop teaching girls that they always have to be nice. Even though women are nurturers by nature, that does not and should not extend to doing what another person wants us to do if it makes us uncomfortable. Sex education is sorely needed, and it needs to come without a side dish of shame. Then, perhaps we can raise a generation of women who do not feel obligated to do anything that they are not ready for, or that makes them uncomfortable, or that they DO NOT WANT TO DO.

We need to do a better job of educating our kids about their right to autonomy over their bodies (and their LACK of a right to control whether others choose to allow them to do things to them).

My newest book: an opportunity to share hope and resilience with trauma survivors

Something I’m thankful for: my writing partner and the book we wrote together. I’m sharing the cover with you. It’s the first time it’s been posted publicly.
My co-author, Matt, and I really like this cover because of the light coming into the group therapy circle: providing the light of hope in the face of the indescribable darkness that is being “stuck” in mental illness and desperation.

I think it was spring of 2016 that Matt Jaremko and I discussed writing a book to help trauma survivors. It took us a bit to find our writing groove in terms of both how we could best communicate what we wanted to say that would extend hope and model the power of resilience for traumatized people, AND for us to find the most efficient way for us to write together without becoming frustrated…we initially tried using Google Docs, and, never having co-written with anyone else, I didn’t realize we couldn’t be in the document at the same time. So I was working and Matt was, too, and the page was jumping all over the place…it was not fun. So we dispensed with that pretty quickly and moved to Word and Track Changes, which is the industry standard for working with editors.
Once we found our way to work together by exchanging the manuscript (“The book is now in your hands. I will not touch it until you send the manuscript back to me”), our book began to take shape in a meaningful, rewarding way. Matt and I have such a strong respect for each others’ strengths and abilities. He is, without a doubt, one of the two smartest, most compassionate and caring men I know, with the other being my husband, Daniel. Not coincidentally, these 2 men also comprised my primary support system when I was broken.

I rank our book, “Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt–Narratives of Hope and Resilience for Victims With PTSD,” as one of my “heart” books. What this means, for you non-writer types, is that this book is one of the most personally meaningful to me. It is defining. It IS to come full circle. While I love all 4 of the YA fiction novels I’ve written, 3 of them: Courage in Patience, Hope in Patience, and Truth in Patience, are the most precious to me because I wrote them while in recovery when I was working with Matt Jaremko, many years ago. They are the arc of Ashley, a teen girl who is entering recovery after being abused by her stepdad and neglected by her mom through deliberate indifference. Ashley’s biggest hurdle is facing the truth about her life–about her worth as a person, in spite of being discarded by the person who should have loved her most. She is removed from her stepdad & mom’s home & placed with her father, David, who she does not know at all.
Ashley is a frightened victim at the outset, a person beginning to realize her value in the middle, and a strong survivor capable of advocating for herself at the conclusion. That’s why the books are called Courage (1), Hope (2), and Truth (3). They are set in the small E. Texas town of Patience, and the girl’s therapist is Scott “Dr. Matt” Matthews. Guess who he’s modeled after?

When Matt and I decided to take 2 of my characters–Ashley and Dr. Matt– and place them in a group setting in order to facilitate the combination of fiction and teaching about resilience, we took Ashley, aged her from 15/16 to 19, and made her a member of Dr. Matt’s Thursday evening Therapy Group for Victims, Survivors, and Righteously Indignant Angry Folks. Then we imagined the other members:
Hunter, age 32, who woke on the ground in the dark after a rain-wrapped tornado destroyed his mobile home, critically injuring his toddler daughter;
Felicia, age 34, who, at age 14, was nearly raped by her brother’s friend; 20 years later, she is still haunted by it, but needs to come to realize an even darker truth about her youth;
Ben, age 20, who saw combat horrors in the Middle East and returned home a fundamentally different person;
Patty, age 47, who lost control of her car, with her husband being killed when they hit a semi-truck;
Jake, age 30, an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who responded to a hate crime-shooting at a local church’s Wednesday night prayer service. The son of a preacher, Jake lost his faith as a result of what he saw.
Darrell, age 35, who served time in prison for armed robbery. When he was released, he entered therapy to seek solutions for the frequent rages that overtook his decision-making abilities. Through his work with Dr. Matt, Darrell learned new ways of interacting with others. He joined the Black Lives Matter movement and discovered his passion for making a difference through teaching young African-Americans about non-violent protest.
Betty, age 40. Her family-of-origin abandoned her when she began coming to terms with the sexual abuse perpetrated on her from a young age. Betty worked with Dr. Matt and gradually found the strength to rebuild her life. She entered college as a non-traditional student and became a bilingual education teacher, where she puts her native Spanish to work.

We wrapped our manuscript in July, began seeking a publisher in late summer, and by October–and this is remarkably fast to find a publishing “home”–we were offered a publishing contract with a “Mind-Body-Soul” imprint, Ayni Books, and our book will come out in late spring/early summer 2018. The book will have international distribution and be available in both print and e-book.

We began sharing the manuscript with others, asking for blurbs, and we were blown out of the water by what our readers said. Check ’em out.

We invite you to read the Prologue: The Internal Dialogue of a New Patient Being Sick and Tired of Being Afraid and Stuck.

I wrote this Prologue from the memory of where I was when I entered treatment to recover from Childhood Sexual Abuse. At that time, I was 38 years old, the mother of 3 teen girls, and I broke. I could no longer pretend that the stuff I’d gone through as a child and young adult, and in many ways continued to endure as an adult, were not killing me. The pretending was killing me. I was slowly killing myself through binge eating. Efforts to deal with the never-ending anxiety I lived with night and day were futile. Prior to working with Matt, I never stuck with therapy once I was nudged toward being authentic and honest with myself and others about how broken I was. I “clicked” with him and, after Daniel, Matt is the first man I ever truly trusted. Until that time, my understanding of men was that they would abuse me once I began to let my guard down.

This prologue is thoughts of the person prior to entering a therapist’s building when the choice at that time is either get better or die. These are exactly what it was like to be in my head at that time.
Facing the truth about one’s life is a soul-searing experience. For me, the journey to REAL, and WHOLE, was much like the process of birthing a child. It was exhausting, but without a doubt, learning to be resilient and authentic was the most gratifying experience of my life.
This is what we hope will be the result for those who read our book.

Please help us spread the word about our Facebook page. “Like”/”Follow” us, and you won’t miss out on the journey.

Authors One and All: a Program I’m Presenting–and I need help from authors/librarians/teachers!

Credit: Ashim D’Silva

Hey, Friends! I hope you can answer 2 questions for me. Your responses will help me begin to craft a presentation I’m giving at my school district’s Back-to-School training (it’s in about a month, but I’m a planner…). The topic is, “Authors One and All”: my purpose is to help teachers find ways for their students to connect to literature and see themselves as people with stories to tell, too, through the use of realistic fiction in the classroom.  Age level that you write for/teach does not matter. Please answer in the comments below. 

P.S. if you, like me , write AND teach, please answer both. Thanks!

Author question:

What about realistic fiction attracts you as a writer or reader of it?

Can you think of an example in which you have gotten feedback from a reader indicating that your book made a difference for them?

Teacher/Librarian question:

Why do you think students relate to realistic fiction?

Can you think of an example in which you have found a reluctant reader particularly impacted by a realistic YA book?

 

Please respond in the comments below, and thank you!