Sigmund Freud said that much of what we do in our adult lives can be traced back to our mothers. After all, they’re the ones who give birth to us, and typically the ones who raise us and nurture us. Traditionally, they’re the ones we run to when we’re in trouble, or hurt, or scared, or otherwise don’t know which way is up. Of course, most of Freud’s theories have been disproven, but when I look at my career as a writer and editor, I can’t help but think he might’ve been onto something.
As I often say, I’m a survivor who was raised by a survivor, who was raised by a survivor, who was raised by a survivor. That’s four generations of women in my family who have faced some form of sexual trauma—most of us before puberty. It’s not a secret in my family of origin, although it also isn’t exactly something that’s talked about much. And I have to wonder, how different might one generation have been if their parent had talked about it more? Whether that was in therapy or a support group, or even just with a trusted loved one, what might have changed?
I think about my mother—and my role as a mother—a lot this time of year. My mother’s birthday and my daughter’s birthday are within a few weeks of each other, my son’s falling only a few days after my mother’s. And then, after all those birthdays come, my grandmother’s birthday, and a week later, Mother’s Day. For the better part of three months, I’m inundated with reminders of where I came from and where my family is going. And as much as our society might tell us to keep our eyes on the future, I think most survivors would agree with me that it’s hard to move forward until we understand where we’ve come from.
How did we get here?
In Katherine Turner’s resilient, her memoir about surviving myriad traumas and her relationship with the well-intended label of childhood resiliency, she begins with a chapter titled “ill-equipped.” In this chapter, she explains what her family life was like before she was born. After explaining the trauma and mental health battles her parents both carried, she writes:
My parents weren’t evil. They may have been ill-equipped for the lives they had, but they certainly weren’t ill-intentioned. They loved us, and they did what they thought was best at the time, relying on the knowledge and coping mechanisms they knew. I fully recognize that now as an adult, of course, but I even had some subconscious understanding of this when I was young. That recognition and understanding, however, doesn’t change what happened or what it was like to live through those things that happened, and it doesn’t change how it impacted every person in our family.Katherine Turner
I believe Katherine says it best: ill-intentions are not the same as being ill-equipped. And when we’re looking at the generational inertia of our families of origin, it’s important to keep that in mind.
When I was writing my first memoir, Me, Too: Voicing My Story, I started out by writing simply what had happened to me during my teen years. Being assaulted by a classmate. Being groomed by my teacher. Being raped by a man several years my senior. Escaping date rape by a friend at prom. But even after I’d written it all and edited it, I realized something was missing. How had I been assaulted so many times? And why did it take me until almost a decade after the last assault to recognize what had happened to me?
I started looking over some older files, things I’d written depicting what my earliest childhood years were like, and I realized that I’d never been taught that I’m the boss of my own body, as I like to tell my children. I’d never been taught that telling someone “no” to a hug was okay; I was taught that refusing to hug a relative was, in a word, cruel. As an adult now, I comprehend how harmful messages like that can be to a young child, like I was. And if I realize it now, why didn’t my parents?
Because they were ill-equipped.
Of course, we can’t change the past, so I’m not even going to go down the rabbit hole of “if they’d done x, maybe y wouldn’t have happened.” They didn’t; it did. Here I am now.
And where I am now is working with survivors, like myself and like my direct maternal line, who are eager to tell their stories. I work for a publisher which is founded on telling the stories society would rather we keep to ourselves, encouraging authors to write them in all their glorious imperfection and authentic vulnerability. Josha strives to publish stories that not only help the author heal, but inspire, encourage, and empower the reader to do the same.
When I look to the future, that is how the world changes. By survivors telling the stories previous generations were forced to keep silent, either because they didn’t know the right words or because they weren’t allowed to share what happened in the darkness for fear that it might shame their families somehow (as if anyone other than the perpetrator should carry shame for violence). When I look at where I am now, as an editor of survival memoirs and fiction that features trauma, I see all the women who came before me, carrying burdens I can only fathom, leading me generation by generation to be born in a time when survivors speak.
When survivors can voice our stories.
And maybe doing so won’t completely eliminate sexual violence in the future; no matter the progress the developed world makes, developing countries will still struggle for a time. And yet, I believe that if we can tell our stories, eventually, our courage will reach the people in every corner of the earth and we’ll see a worldwide revival as victims emerge from surviving to thriving…from wounded to warrior. Will it happen in my lifetime? I don’t know.
What I do know, though, is that everything I do will influence my children, and my children’s children, the same way my ancestors influenced me. And if Freud’s theory of parents shaping their children’s futures has any merit, then I think it’s my duty to the future to make sure the world they have is at least more accepting of diversity and more willing to listen to stories of adversity.
I’m a survivor who was raised by a survivor, who was raised by a survivor, who was raised by a survivor. And I am a survivor who guides other survivors through writing and editing their stories of resiliency, then works to help publish those stories.
With Mother’s Day just behind us, this year, I rest a little easier knowing I am doing my best to process and heal generational trauma so that I may be better equipped to do my part for my family and the world. I am raising warriors, all the while working for a company that is striving to educate and equip every generation to do the same. As Josha Publishing strives to change the world one book at a time, our focus is on what matters most.
Family. Healing. Generational progress, rather than traumatizing tradition.
Josha Publishing is changing families, one chapter at a time. My story is proof of that.
Josha Publishing, LLC is a woman-founded, woman-owned, and woman-run company that is passionate about books, stories, and the power of words to change lives. Learn more about us here and remember to sign up for our newsletter to find out about new content, new books, and submissions update.
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