Tag Archives: child abuse

Self Help: More Than Just a Good Book (Shenandoah Chefalo)

Positive changes in how we think and how we manage difficult situations can develop even without our full awareness; they can even surprise us, but in a good way. There’s a message here for us and for our children. Author and foster youth advocate, Shenandoah Chefalo, shares her thoughts on self help.
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Self Help: More Than Just a Good Book, Shenandoah ChefaloI have written before about how I was a self-help book addict. I read every book I could find, re-reading several of them and even going as far as getting them on audiobook so I could re-listen to them hundreds of times.

I did this because I absolutely believed in their base principles, and, frankly, I needed a constant reminder. I would listen — and would feel good for 10 to 30 minutes afterwards. But, then life would happen; I would forget everything I learned and I would be right back to old habits until the next time I was in my car. This went on for years.

I often felt more depressed the more I listened or tried to read the books. Why wasn’t I able to just do this? How come I wasn’t good enough to implement these ideas? They weren’t helping me, and I didn’t know what else to do. I abandoned the ideas and assumed I was doomed for a life of hardship.

A Different View

Then, I decided to write Garbage Bag Suitcase, and everything changed. I didn’t know how this book would completely flip my world upside down, but while researching for that book, I stumbled on a piece of research (the Adverse Childhood Experience Study) that changed the way I understood my relationship with my mind and body. That one study lead me to more reading, but not in the self-help section, this time in the science section. Specifically, these were topics on brain function.

Before I read this study, things happened to me and I felt as though I was an unlucky participant in the happenings. I couldn’t understand how I could “change my luck.” After I read the study, I started to see my life’s journey in a completely different way. What if everything I considered “bad” that had happened to me, happened for a completely positive reason? It was a stretch, and when I told a friend she basically laughed at me.

But I couldn’t escape the thought. Was it possible that my own neglectful childhood had caused me to see only bad things? Slowly, I started to see tiny shifts within my own life. I was rewiring what I considered to be my “trauma brain” but it was tedious.

The “Test”

Then, recently, several disappointing things happened in a row (minor things, really):

1: My book wasn’t chosen for an independent award I was hoping to receive.

2: I submitted the book for a writing/screenwriting competition, and it wasn’t recognized there either; and

3: I also received a negative review about the book that felt very personal.

 

All of these things happened within a few days of each other.

Garbage Bag Suitcase, Shenandoah ChefaloIn the past, any one of these things would have sent me into a deep depression for a day or longer. The trifecta would have made me nearly despondent.

But it didn’t. After each event, after the tinge of disappointment, I remember thinking to myself, “That’s OK, something better must be coming.” I didn’t intend for that to be my response, it just was.

Those old feelings of depression, sadness, emptiness, feelings that I wasn’t good enough, seemed to have just disappeared. This is what I understood from all the trauma research I had done. I had actually changed the pathways in my mind to a new way of thinking and feeling.

A New Way of Thinking

It was possible! And now that I have this new way of thinking, I find the information I learned in my previous self-help addiction is easier to implement then before. It wasn’t bad information; it just wasn’t enough information for a person who was still functioning in trauma brain.

The self-help industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. When I was in trauma brain, I talked about “how it was” because none of it worked. Now that I have begun healing my trauma brain (I have a few more new pathways to develop), I understand that the information is valuable, but usually there is a lot of hard work to do before implementing the principles in any of the books.

Some of us have never known true happiness, so trying to “tune in” to that emotion and bring more of it to us is impossible until we find, create and reinforce new pathways in our brain. We can feel helpless and paralyzed. What we really need is the support of those around us to offer guidance on our journey of self-healing!

In the end, my self-help addiction helped me heal — maybe not in the way I initially thought. I hear lots of people talk about the Law of Attraction. They are almost afraid to have a negative thought for fear it will bring more negativity. What I learned is, to begin with, you have to heal yourself from your negative thoughts. That takes patience, love and grace for yourself above anything else.

If you are going to go down the path of healing your trauma brain, you will bump into lots of negative emotions that you have to learn to overcome. It isn’t easy.

Practice, patience, and remember that we all deserve absolute joy.

 

Shenandoah Chefalo is a former foster youth, and advocate. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of Good Harbor Institute, an organization focused on translating evidence based research on trauma into skills that can be used immediately by individuals and organizations. You can learn more about her and her work at www.garbagebagsuitcase.com or www.goodharborinst.com

 

Comfort in Chaos: Understanding Trauma Brain (Shenandoah Chefalo)

I make no bones about it: As a foster child, I don’t think I was an easy person to get along with. I certainly wasn’t trying to make bonds or connections with those around me. Of course, I knew nothing at the time about trauma brain.

Shenandoah Chefalo, Comfort in Chaos: Understanding Trauma BrainI went into foster care at the age of 13. My life prior to entering the system was one of immense dysfunction; I had practically raised myself. My mom was rarely around, and, when she was, it was usually to tell me that we were moving. We moved over 50 times and I went to more than 35 schools in my life before the age of 13.

Chaos had become my normal.

In learning to “cover” for my mom’s actions, and watching my mom talk her way out of almost any situation, I learned a valuable skill early on: lying. It was a skill that saved me numerous times from severe punishments.

Foster Care and Beyond

I thought foster care would be a positive solution to the life I was living. What I found was more of the same as loneliness, isolation and depression followed me into care. I had become disconnected from my feelings and simply accepted that I was unable to love … and was unlovable. I continued behaviors from the past and found no solace in the families that took me in.

I ultimately aged out of the system at 18 and was turned loose onto the world with no real connections to other people. When I hit the college campus, a feat I wouldn’t learn was remarkable until later, I made a pact with myself to never talk about my past with anyone. I was a good liar, and, because of that skill, I kept that promise to myself for more than 20 years.

Trauma Brain

I spent those years, hiding the past, keeping myself at arms length from any real relationships, and doing the one thing I was knew I was good at: lying. I didn’t know it at the time, but I found myself in what I now refer to as “trauma brain.” I would go to that comfortable place in my mind, a place of Fight, Flight, Freeze or Appease.

For me, there was comfort in chaos. When things in my life were going well, I looked for and caused chaos for myself so I could feel “comfortable.” Of course I  didn’t realize, at least not consciously, that I was doing it until I started to become increasingly unsettled with the life I was living. I had a good job, managed to get married and had a child, but I was only comfortable in the unknown.

I wanted to change.

For most of my life, I chalked up my behavior to the idea that I was just “crazy,” a concept I was comfortable with. I figured it was only a matter of time until I turned into my “crazy” mother. I was working in a law office at this time, and I would watch clients with similar tendencies. I had wondered about their past and when I started to ask, I was surprised by how many of them had been former foster kids, also. I had always assumed there had been very few kids like me. The numbers appearing in my office were off-putting, to say the least.

Garbage Bag Suitcase, Shenandoah ChefaloSelf-help Search

Flash forward. In an effort to find peace in my life, I initially turned to self-help books. I found a little relief, but often found myself going back to old habits. I started to realize that hiding my demons was only making me more depressed and more disconnected.

I tried everything: more books, journaling, yoga, meditation. and hiking. Physical exertion was having an impact, but it only lasted a few hours, then I was back in my mind, returning to old habits.

I finally realized that I had to tell my story. I wrote Garbage Bag Suitcase and began diving into an understanding of trauma and its effects on the brain.

The research began turning me onto new books. Suddenly I understood my “trauma brain” in a whole new way. I wasn’t “crazy;” my brain was just programed to constantly be in Fight, Flight, Freeze, Appease mode, and this knowledge changed everything for me.

Like a Sledding Hill

I recently heard Dr. Cathy Fialon explain trauma brain as a sledding hill. When you go sledding the path becomes worn, so you gain greater speed. The well-worn path is easy and comfortable. However, if you take your sled over a few feet to a part of the hill that hasn’t been used, it becomes more difficult to slide down; you can’t gain momentum and you often start and stop a lot. It takes time, she explained, to break in this new path and make it again enjoyable for sledding.

I understood exactly what she meant. My learned reactions as a child had become the well-worn sledding hill. It was easy for me to go down that road, regardless of the effects. But when I started working on myself (i.e. taking my sled to a new hill) it was difficult. Don’t get me wrong, while I’m still working on breaking in my new path, every once in awhile I like to take a spin on the old one.

That is “trauma brain” retraining ourselves, and oftentimes those we care about, how to break in a new way of thinking. I am thrilled to say I have a new career that allows me to help others recognize their trauma brain and the trauma brain of those around them, and to help themselves and others heal in a brand new way.

After all, we all deserve to try out a new place to sled. ###

 

Speakers Group MemberShenandoah Chefalo is a former foster youth and an advocate. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of Good Harbor Institute, an organization focused on ensuring sustainable, implemented trauma care within organizations and individuals. You can learn more about her and her work at www.garbagebagsuitcase.com or www.goodharborinst.com

 

Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Survivor Speaks Out, Part 2 (Guest: Shenandoah Chefalo)

BTRadioInt-300x75-300x75This podcast concludes Dr. Sutton’s interview with Shenandoah
Chefalo, author of Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Memoir. It’s an insightful and inspiring story of one girl’s will to survive and achieve in the face of unbelievable difficulty.

………………………………

Shenandoah Chefalo, Garbage Bag Suitcaseunfortunate, but true

There are those youngsters that struggle in school, but not because they cannot do their work. They struggle because of the meals they have missed. They struggle because of their concern for the care of younger siblings still at home, or they worry intensely that, when school is out and they go home, they will be on the street because of unpaid rent.

And then there are those youngsters that are victims of outright child abuse.

These things should not happen, and they certainly should not happen in the United States of America. But they do.

garbage bag suitcase, Shenandoah ChefaloGarbage Bag Suitcase

In this frank and candid two-part interview, guest author, Shenandoah Chefalo, explains why she broke 20 years of silence to share her story of abuse and neglect as a child. She tells how, much too often, her only true friend was a stuffed, cloth bunny and how, with only a five-minute notice, she learned to put all her belongings into a plastic garbage bag as her family left town, again.

400,000+ Foster Kids

Shen shares how going into foster care was not the solution she had hoped for, and how her experiences in the foster care system gave her insight into the changes that need to be made for the sake of over 400,000 boys and girls in foster care on any given day in the United States. Shen knows of what she speaks, and she speaks it very, very well.

Shenandoah Chefalo

Shen is one of only 1% of foster care kids to ever earn a college degree. She and her husband, Gerry, own and operate a successful law practice in Michigan, where she also works with local youth organizations. Life today seems pretty normal for Shen, Gerry and their daughter, Sophia. But, as a survivor, Shen is quick to point out that some hurts don’t go away easily. (27:216)

http://www.garbagebagsuitcase.com

TO LISTEN, use the player below or left-click the link. To access the file right-click and “Save Link as …” to save to your audio device), CLICK HERE FOR LINK


(START/STOP Audio)

BONUS: Shen has offered to provide a FREE Skype call for any group (workplaces, book clubs, organizations, church groups, service organizations, etc), sharing her interest in encouraging and supporting young people, especially those in foster care and adoption. Contact her through her website and mention this podcast. [website]

Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Survivor Speaks Out, Part 1 (Guest: Shenandoah Chefalo)

BTRadioInt-300x75-300x75In this radio-style podcast, Dr. Sutton interviews Shenandoah Chefalo about her life and her book, Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Memoir. It’s an insightful and inspiring story of one girl’s will to survive and achieve in the face of unbelievable difficulty.

………………………………

Shenandoah Chefalo, Garbage Bag Suitcaseunfortunate, but true

There are those youngsters that struggle in school, but not because they cannot do their work. They struggle because of the meals they have missed. They struggle because of their concern for the care of younger siblings still at home, or they worry intensely that, when school is out and they go home, they will be on the street because of unpaid rent.

And then there are those youngsters that are victims of outright child abuse.

These things should not happen, and they certainly should not happen in the United States of America. But they do.

garbage bag suitcase, Shenandoah ChefaloGarbage Bag Suitcase

In this frank and candid two-part interview, guest author, Shenandoah Chefalo, explains why she broke 20 years of silence to share her story of abuse and neglect as a child. She tells how, much too often, her only true friend was a stuffed, cloth bunny and how, with only a five-minute notice, she learned to put all her belongings into a plastic garbage bag as her family left town, again.

400,000+ Foster Kids

Shen shares how going into foster care was not the solution she had hoped for, and how her experiences in the foster care system gave her insight into the changes that need to be made for the sake of over 400,000 boys and girls in foster care on any given day in the United States. Shen knows of what she speaks, and she speaks it very, very well.

Shenandoah Chefalo

Shen is one of only 1% of foster care kids to ever earn a college degree. She and her husband, Gerry, own and operate a successful law practice in Michigan, where she also works with local youth organizations. Life today seems pretty normal for Shen, Gerry and their daughter, Sophia. But, as a survivor, Shen is quick to point out that some hurts don’t go away easily. (27:25)

http://www.garbagebagsuitcase.com

TO LISTEN, use the player below or left-click the link. To access the file right-click and “Save Link as …” to save to your audio device), CLICK HERE FOR LINK


(START/STOP Audio)

BONUS: Shen has offered to provide a FREE Skype call for any group (workplaces, book clubs, organizations, church groups, service organizations, etc), sharing her interest in encouraging and supporting young people, especially those in foster care and adoption. Contact her through her website and mention this podcast. [website]

Restorative Justice: An Old Voice & Way in New Times (Ken Johnson)

BTAboutThemAugust 8, 2015 was a great night for me. In front of my peers, at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association President’s Awards, I received not one but two gold medals for my book, Unbroken Circles for Schools. But, what really moved me were the words of wisdom given by Mark Wayne Adams, FAPA president and multi-award winning author & illustrator, before the awards were given.

Mark told us there is always this one person in our life that encourages us to step out and do something great. He told us the medals will not matter and instead we need to focus on the one person that brought us here to the awards.

IN A GOOD PLACE

Each time I went to receive my award, Mark made it a point to tell the audience great things about me. When I thanked my publisher, Terri Gerrell, for having faith in me and my message (most authors can understand where I was coming from) she simply said, very sternly might I add, “It’s a good book!”

Ken Johnson receiving gold medal1Later that night, someone was joking and said, “Hey Ken, how many awards did you get – four?” To that I meekly replied, “Just two.” Not thinking of how it may have sounded, I heard a joking reply, “Yeah, JUST TWO!” Looking around the table, I laughed in joy because my peers and my loving wife were by my side and I was in a good place.

After putting a little blurb on Facebook about the book doing well, a friend of mine wrote back that the award merely proved to me what they already knew about me – I nearly came to tears. Again, I was in a good place.

I say all of this to make note how, for me, I was always pushing and uplifting the book while family, friends, and colleagues were instead pushing and uplifting ME.

When is the last time someone has done that for you? When have you done that same thing for someone else?

THE OTHER HALF

In the United States, just a little under fifty percent of households with children are underemployed. Underemployment often translates into a child having unmet needs. Children of impoverished homes tend to have chronic illnesses, suffer neglect and abuse at higher rates, witness more domestic violence, and generally do not have the social resources a child needs to cope and adapt. Hunger and malnourishment are huge problems.

Moreover, there is a growing trend of child abandonment in America where parents, both mothers and fathers, are leaving children to fend for themselves for days, weeks, months and sometimes years at a time. Lest we not forget, there are also circumstances where middle and upper class children are suffering in plain sight, in their own unique and sometimes obfuscated ways.

So, these children come to schools where they are increasingly expected to perform like trained animals due to performance-based funding. Mom just got beat, but Johnny is told he needs to learn a nonsensical Common Core math problem or else he’ll be sent home – where he’ll probably be beaten or have to cry himself to sleep hungry and with a pillow over his head to drown out the yelling.

His friend Billy has a different problem. Billy has no mom or dad to take care of him this foreseeable month and so he has to “couch surf” from friend’s house to friend’s house hoping he might get a hot shower, a warm meal and a couch to sleep on for the night. Across town, in a gated community, young William feels much like Billy, being that he has to travel from house to house like a hobo – carrying his clothes and belongings in a small suitcase. This week, he is with his dad who left him with Cindy, dad’s latest girlfriend, because of yet another business trip. Next week, William will be at his mom’s apartment, where a similar occurrence will happen. His only companions are the trinkets his parents give him – mostly out of guilt for not being there for him. His only release comes from the self-cutting he ritualistically does to drown out the pain – the evidence of such cleverly concealed by his long, baggy clothing.

BACKSEAT, MUTED VOICES

Children sometimes get placed in the “backseat” of society even though they are our future. We do this for a number of reasons. Sometimes it is due to simple ignorance. Other times, it is out of fear due to sensational media stories. Other times, it is because we let our need for money and happiness cloud our views on things. And still, there are a plethora of other reasons. Yet one thing remains constant through it all – the children’s voice is muted.

As school starts back up, we are once again on track to see the same old trends. We can expect to see nearly 2.2 million children being arrested at school for trivial offenses. Each school day, we can expect to see 7,000 children drop out. And we can expect to also see students suspended in great numbers – each suspension now known to increase a child’s chances of dropping out by fifty percent. All of this, academics now pose, is aimed at skewing performance-based testing by culling out the poor performers. But, what if I could tell you these numbers could be turned around while also saving lives?

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

Restorative Justice is a very old voice and methodology which has been adapted for our contemporary times. You know, when I was first training to be a mediator, the instructors said to never say, “So, what’s your story” or “Tell me your side of things.” I was also reminded that a person’s problems are not mine and I have to remain objective, neutral and always allow the problem to be owned by the persons with the problem.

RJ does just the opposite of this. Essentially, RJ thrives off storytelling. We are not talking about fictional storytelling, rather a person being able to express their views and retell an account of what happened to them, how they felt, what they expected, etc. This discussion is driven by a facilitator who is as much involved in the problems and issues as are the people who are talking about the problem. At the heart of this is something profound – focused attention. Focused attention is focusing direct attention on someone to hear their story, to empathize with their situation, to show genuine compassion, to encourage them, to uplift them, and to offer insight and counsel.

RJ IN USE

In a typical classroom situation, the teacher is usually involved either as a facilitator or a circle keeper in the process. A round of praise is generally done so students can uplift each other and offer encouragement – something child psychologists are finding to be profoundly beneficial. Today, maybe the teacher decided Susan was a little “off,” so she inquired as to everyone’s well-being. When it comes around to Susan, the circle learns how a girl from another school has been tormenting her via text messaging and social media. The girl makes fun of Susan’s appearance and the rented home. She can’t turn off the phone because her mother uses the phone to keep in contact with Susan between breaks waiting tables. Susan can’t use the computer because the school has gone to a computer-only system of paperless instruction. So, the students offer support, possible solutions, etc.

KyleesitJanet tells the circle how she went through the same thing and what worked for her. In the end, Susan agrees to tell her mother what is going on, a report is made to Principal Tsulakis to let him know what is going on and a school counselor is called in.

Two weeks later, Susan’s bully is now in a similar session where it’s revealed the girl, Erica, was being abused by her mother’s fiancee when she was at work. Now, Erica is getting help and Susan is no longer bullied. In the end, the two even become friends as they call each other every day to make sure the other is okay and doing well.

It sounds different. Some might even say, “Oh he had to use bullying! It’s the new, hot-button word – just tell her to get over it and move on!” But here’s the deal: We are now finding out how bullying acts as a catalyst for suicide – which is the top reason for premature death in teens and pre-teens. We also know now that bullies generally are bullied themselves. The act of bullying essentially is a spin-off of the classical “fight or flight” response where the child loses power in one aspect of their life, then try to rob a weaker person of power through bullying. Restorative Justice diffuses the situation through allowing all parties a right to tell their story through the implementation of focused attention on the individual. In a nutshell, it puts people in a good place by giving a voice back to those who once had none. ###

KJohnsonbookKen Johnson is a culturalist and conflict specialist. His book, Unbroken Circles for Schools, deals with issues of conflict in the school system while also proposing common sense, cost-effective solutions using Restorative Justice strategies. Until November, you can get $9 off Ken’s book by entering in coupon code “NACRJ” at checkout when you go to www.syppublishing.com.