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Why Photos of My Daughter Triggered My Sexual Trauma

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering.

You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I just received pictures of my 15-year-old daughter whom I lost to adoption 10 and a half years ago. I lost her because I was struggling with my mental illnesses — post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative identity disorder (DID). I was not able to separate her from my former abused self and was having flashbacks, nightmares, body memories and suicidal ideation. I was worried I, or someone else, was going to hurt her.

• What is PTSD?

When I looked at her, I saw myself at that age and could only see the abused child I was in my past. I could not handle raising her because I kept being triggered. Everyone said she was a mini-me. We look so much alike with our deep dimples.

Fast-forward to now. I received my quarterly update from her adoptive parents about how she is doing and usually, I get a stash of photos.

The update was brief, but she is doing well and has adjusted to online classes. I also received 10 pictures of her modeling several different outfits in front of her Christmas tree. It is always good to see pictures of her so that I can somehow gauge how she is doing by looking into her eyes. She looks happy.

Several days have passed since I received the photos, and I am realizing that I am triggered. I find myself thinking about her safety and her access to information to keep herself safe. I noticed in the pictures how developed she is (much more than the last time I saw her). I find myself scared for her safety — that men and boys will be attracted to her and will force themselves on her.

I keep looking in her eyes — the mirror of mine. I wonder if anyone is doing to her what was being done to me at that age. I cannot stop thinking about her safety.

I cannot help but think that if I was raising her, I could keep her safe. I do not know what her moms are doing to keep her safe. Are they talking with her about child abuse, dating violence, consent or sexual harassment? Do they understand how dangerous it is for girls in this world and that we must do all we can to keep them safe?

I called my therapist for an emergency chat. I told her of me being triggered and how I was struggling. I told her about my fears and concerns about my daughters’ safety. I talked about how I was feeling guilty about relinquishing her and regretting my decision.

My therapist was so good with me, validating my concerns and then reminding that I need to stay in the present. The decision to place her into adoption has already been made and I do not have to relive my last months with my daughter anymore. She also told me it is not my responsibility to keep my daughter safe anymore. I have chosen other mothers to do that, and I can relax and know they will do their best.

That conversation helped.

I get annual face-to-face visits with my daughter. I used to have to be hospitalized around the times of the visits because I was so triggered. The good news is I have improved. Do not get me wrong; it is still hard, and I struggle for a period after the visits and updates. I doubt my feelings will ever go away but I am learning more and more skills to deal with the onslaught of memories and feelings I get.

PTSD and DID are hard to overcome. They can be debilitating illnesses and are poorly understood. Others feel you should be able to reframe and move on. It is so much harder than that. I am a captive of the trauma that got me into this position in the first place. It took decades of abuse to develop these illnesses and will take more than that time to overcome and to come to terms how it has all impacted my life.

If you are a parent living with PTSD, DID or both, please know you are not alone. It is exceedingly difficult to raise children when you are dealing with past trauma, especially if it is sexual, emotional or physical abuse as a child.

It is possible to raise healthy children even if your childhood was toxic. 

  • Learn as much as you can about raising healthy children in a nontoxic environment.
  • Remember to love your children unconditionally.
  • Respect their personal space and bodies.
  • Teach them and help them practice healthy boundaries in relationships and with their bodies.
  • Learn developmentally appropriate messaging and communicate openly with your child about their bodies.
  • Understand they are just children with limited frontal lobe development.
  • Know they need you as a role model and will be following your lead whether you want them to or not.
  • Your children are watching and taking notes.
  • Evaluate your personal relationships with partners and friends and make sure they are not toxic.

I lost my daughter. Some of us, no matter what, are not able to raise our children. But you do not necessarily have to lose your child. You have it within you to do this. Take your time, assess your situation, gather as much help as you can and move forward knowing you love your children more than life itself and you want to do all you can for them. Also, remember to take care of yourself and carve out times for “time-outs” — mommies and daddies need them too.

You are Mighty Strong parent!

Getty Images photo via CherylCasey

Originally published: June 8, 2021
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