Surviving Childhood Trauma Together: Our Interview With Shanon Page

"Telling my story gives my pain purpose, each time my words bring comfort to another survivor."

Shanon Page is a mother of two, a wife, a sister, an advocate, and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. In 2017, she presented in crisis mode and was diagnosed with delayed onset PTSD of the complex kind. Since then, she has been on a journey of healing. She loves to write poetry as well as essays, advice pieces, and journal-style writing to share the struggles of living PTSD. Sharing gives her pain purpose. When she is not focused on her writing, she is spending time with her husband and young daughter. Shanon is a cat person, a political nomad, and a lover of coffee.

SWY: If you don’t mind sharing - What is your story with childhood abuse and trauma?

SP: My story is complex and layered. I often tell people that I have lived three lives. In my first life, I was a terrified child, sexually abused by my grandfather and neglected and emotionally abused by my father. I lost my mother at birth and was raised by my father and his side of the family. My paternal grandfather was a pedophile who had already spent his youth molesting his own daughter before turning his attention to me when I was 5 years old. My family protected him at all costs always following behind me and calling me a liar and a storyteller when I would speak up. The abuse continued until I was 12.

At the age of 14, my father and I became homeless; through a series of events that followed, I ended up moving to live with my maternal grandparents thousands of miles away. When this happened, my father stopped speaking to me completely. Within a year, I disclosed my abuse and my maternal grandparents acted swiftly. My paternal grandfather was arrested, and the trial began. The trial itself played a pivotal role in changing my perspective of what is safe in this world. Not only was my father a sworn witness for the defense, the day I was scheduled to take the stand my grandfather killed himself. Less than two months after the suicide, my rebellion became too much for my grandparents and my guardianship changed again moving me once more across the United States. At this time, I moved in with my half-sister by my dad and her mother. It was a tumultuous time in my life and my sister’s mother compounded my already traumatized mind. Within 18 months she kicked me out, I was 17.

Shortly after that, my 2nd life began as I rushed into a young marriage and gave birth to a child at the age of 19. Thus, begins the 23 years of dissociation from my childhood trauma. In this life, I went through all the motions that I believed was expected of me. Always people-pleasing, always striving for perfection. During this time, I divorced, spent 8 years in a dead-end relationship, and then met my now husband and had a second child.

In 2017, my 3rd life began as life calmed down and I suddenly realized I didn’t know who I was. My childhood hit me like a train and took my feet right out from under me. I entered therapy quickly and took on the challenge of healing my childhood of trauma.

SWY: How have your experiences with childhood sexual abuse changed your life?

SP: I live with physiological changes in my brain due to the stress hormones pumping through my system regularly while I was young. These changes affected the alarm systems in my brain, they have changed my perception of what is a threat, as well as my ability to regulate emotional responses. The negative beliefs that I have hardwired into my sense of self have hindered my daily living for most of my life. Additionally, the effects of PTSD present their own set of challenges. I live with a lot of grief, loss, and disappointment. Even on a good day, I feel the losses in my life.

However, on a positive note – I have a level of understanding about the human condition that many do not. I understand grief so very intimately, and I have a perspective of parenting and the importance of my role to my children that I don’t take for granted. My children will never question their worth, or my love and acceptance.

SWY: What have you learned about yourself in the process of telling your story? What do you think are the benefits that come with this?

SP: I have learned a lot about my own resilience. I have lived through the unimaginable and I came out the other side – I feel that means I have a purpose. I feel like I have an obligation to share and help others. I have learned that sadly there are many of us trying to heal from childhoods rampant with abuse and neglect. Telling my story gives my pain purpose, each time my words bring comfort to another survivor.

Through telling my story I can focus on myself and process in real-time the chaos of emotions that accompany PTSD. Additionally, I make connections with others who can offer the level of understanding and support only survivors can give, which heals the wounds left by childhood abuse.

SWY: It is common for people who have experienced long-term childhood abuse to be diagnosed with C-PTSD later in life. From your personal experience, can you give us some insight into what it is like to live with C-PTSD?

SP: I am not certain about the prevalence of delayed on-set PTSD, I think it all has to do with the individual and where they are in life. That said, I know that it isn’t necessarily uncommon. For me, I was in “survival mode” for over 20 years, it wasn’t safe for me to look my childhood in the face due to where I was in life and the lack of support system. It is hard to explain what it is like to live with C-PTSD. While Complex PTSD isn’t recognized by the DSM-5, it is a term used by therapists when treating people who have suffered numerous and long-term traumas in their life. Healing from C-PTSD is to recognize that at any time during normal everyday events my responses can be hijacked by my trauma triggers causing misplaced anger, heightened emotional outbursts, or I completely shut down - really it just depends. These episodes happen frequently, and they are tiring. C-PTSD means that normal stressors in life can feel like unmanageable challenges that cause me to lose connection to myself and my surroundings. It means a sight, smell, or sound can trigger flashbacks. Imagine living your life on constant alert just in case your logical mind is taken over by irrational thoughts and fears that you need to manage in real-time while you interact with people or try to complete your immediate task.

SWY: What would you say has helped you the most throughout your healing journey in learning to live with C-PTSD?

SP: It has not been one thing specifically that has helped me as I heal. It is a combination of multiple things: a strong and healthy support system at home, a wonderful counsellor who is trained in trauma, and my writing. Writing helps me process and it helps me connect with others.

SWY: What is one piece of advice you would give to a child or youth who wants to heal from any abuse or trauma they may be suffering from but does not know how to go about getting help?

SP: Don’t be afraid to speak up. RAINN is an organization that I direct people to as a means of getting help with local resources. Or speak to a trusted teacher, the school counsellor, or another trusted adult. If you are a teenager and savvy with a phone and the internet, search Facebook and the internet for groups or agencies that can help.

Just know – it is not your fault, and you deserve to be protected. There are adults in this world who want to help you, not hurt you. I also have a contact page and agency numbers on my own site for people who need help.

SWY: What is one thing you want others to understand about being a childhood sexual abuse survivor?

SP: Childhood Sexual Abuse leaves a mark on the soul. There are parts of me that will always be tender to the touch. My abuse is not a flashpoint in my life, it is a part of who I am and what I am made of. When I talk about healing childhood trauma, it needs to be understood that we survivors are learning to integrate our traumas into who we are and then to live in spite of them. To the loved ones in our lives – our abuse doesn’t go away, we don’t get over it. We all have to learn to accept it.

"To the loved ones in our lives – our abuse doesn’t go away, we don’t get over it. We all have to learn to accept it."

SWY: Can you tell us more about your blog “Surviving Childhood Trauma” and what the goal of the blog is?

SP: Initially, my goal of the site was selfishly about my own platform for processing. However, it is in my blood to advocate for issues that speak to me and my own childhood is a cause that needs serious advocacy. Over the years, I have realized that healing is a daily choice, not a final destination and my site has morphed into a path of healing with that in mind. I want my site to provide a place of comfort to survivors looking for understanding and clarity when they are struggling. I want to help people realize their own strength and worth. In the midst of this, I make connections that help me heal too.

We want to thank Shanon for taking the time to share her story with us and giving us some insight into what it is like to live with C-PTSD. Feel free to check out Shanon's Instagram page @survivingchildhoodtrauma where she shares a collection of writing, poetry, and essays that follow her journey of recovery from childhood trauma.