Firstly I should introduce myself to you, my name is Colette Ryan and I am employed as a nurse educator by the Southern DHB, Dunedin, New Zealand. I have been doing some research into Trauma Informed Care Practice as a way of trying to inform best practice in our Mental Health, Addiction and Intellectual Disability Services.
This morning I was looking at the links in ‘The National Center for Trauma Informed Care’, where I came across your presentation from 2010: The “ACE” Study – The Tragic Consequences of Unaddressed Childhood Trauma.
Firstly thank-you for sharing this via the internet and thank-you for sharing the experiences of your beautiful daughter Anna.
As I write this I’m having difficulty seeing my keyboard and screen and I’m also wondering what to write and how to explain how I feel, how Anna’s story has touched me and how the Ace study has to affect our practice, and my responsibility as an educator in Mental Health.
I commenced my nurse training as a very green, naive 17 year old and I recall being taught in nursing school ‘that a delusion was a fixed belief and to never be argued with’. I recall thinking that people’s delusions and hallucinations’ must come from somewhere, there must be something at the root cause. However I entered a world whereby you did what you were told, I believe always with kindness and compassion, but whilst I was well intentioned, I have had a running commentary in my head;
“Am I contributing to and perpetuating a system that isn’t right”?
Over the many years that followed I often felt frustrated when we seemed to treat the ‘symptoms’ of mental illness and did very little to understand were these symptoms came from, what caused them – other than the ‘science’, the ‘pathology’, the labelling and the mis-diagnosis’. If we weren’t prepared to find the cause, what hope was there for our clients? Should we work with clients to understand their symptoms, thoughts etc, to enable then to take back control, as opposed to feeling controlled? Isn’t our work about empowering clients and helping them to see that what they are experiencing and feeling is absolutely normal in the context of their traumatic experiences? I recently read the following:
“A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead she inquired “How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She relied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralysed. In each case the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it the heavier it becomes.”
She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will be paralysed – incapable of doing anything.”
“Remember to put the glass down”.
I would like to add to this: Let us hold that glass for you, let us give you faith and strength and reassurance that we can help, that we want to help, to enable a mutual understanding of what happened to you and how we can work together to help you move to a more tolerable and eventual safe and happy and trusting place. To give faith that it is possible to move forward and to have a life and a future.
Whilst I encourage staff to work in collaboration with clients and families (true collaboration), to see the clients and families as expert in their knowledge of their life and experiences, I know that I haven’t done enough.I didn’t know how prevalent Childhood Trauma was on people, well I should re-phrase that, I knew the potential impacts, but statistically I didn’t realise so many people were affected.
I have also visited the anna institute website and viewed Anna’s artwork; it is both beautiful and sad. Anna is so clearly telling her story and that will be her everlasting legacy. Your writings and Anna’s artwork will influence how we deliver our trauma informed care education and how we initiate changes in our practice. I’m aware that it will be challenging (how to challenge an entrenched culture, medical model orientated clinicians’), I will have to remind myself that Rome was not built in a day. My first task will be to engage ‘like-minded’ individuals…….
Thank-you once again and I wish you and your family all the very best, and for Anna, I wish peace. I’m thinking she would be so very proud of her mum,
POEM BY Patricia Callahan
What Anna Knew
I wish I could sing and draw and write and dance and act out and speak to you what Anna knew
Because words alone won't do it justice
Words alone are too lackluster
Her thoughts were too big for just letters in clusters
Which is why she drew what she knew
But it wouldn't be heard by a world too dependent
In time for her
Sometimes I wish to unweave the years from this world’s time and tell Anna that what she knew
Swirling in colors and images and sounds
Was more than just craziness all around
Knowledge so infinitely painfully profound
That she had to draw what she knew
In hopes she could be heard by a world too dependent
In time for her
I understand what Anna knew …
Sometimes I wish that I could wish that I didn't so I could wish
That I didn't have to try to translate for this world
Too dependent on words
In time for the rest of us
Try to do us some justice
So bear with me as I muster
The strength to gather haphazard
Thoughts in clusters
Of words that can't be made pretty:
Anna knew exactly what happens to get you where she was
She knew because she lived it and saw it and drew it
They thought they knew what she needed when she’d get there
But they needed to know what she knew
Anna knew about the silent scream
We scream when it starts
And no one hears but us
And we scream when it stops and starts again
Whether or not it is supposed to be fun or hurt or be okay
We scream in our heads at what we don’t understand
And sometimes we scream on the outside
But the outside one gets heard and the inside one doesn’t
And this goes on for what seems like
For forever until the scream becomes like an itch
And as it does we start to wonder for the first time
How it all happened
Little babies, defenseless
Torment toys for the most stagnant of humanity
And the layers start enveloping
What should have been us
Had things been different
The itch is the deep down kind
That no fingernail can reach
So we run to our heads and hide behind our eyes
And our minds begin to fracture, but it’s okay
A little company for the torment toy
And we learn to deal with a view
Of the outside world
Of the outside people
That can be both distorted and crystal clear
Depending on who you are
What day it is
And how you look at it
We learn to stay in our heads as much as is possible
Because to be in our bodies is to need to
But you can't always be in your head
When it feels like it's going to explode
Then it's big scratches for a deep itch
The first scratch
Bloodletting the soul; destroying its house
Self-mutilation they call it
To us it’s getting the yucky stuff out
But it never seems to happen
So scratching methodology grows and changes as we
Grow and stay the same
Pick a scratch any scratch
And the itch stays the same
Can't ignore it
Can't rape it, beat it, spend it
Cuss it, pop it, snort it, f-it
As fast as you can run
As slowly as you can stop
It's always there; it never goes away.
And every time we wonder for the thousandth time
Just how it all happened
Babies ... torment toys .... suffocating under the layers
Lies a faint pulse of what we might have been
Had things been different
And Anna knew what would happen to her
When she got where she was
She knew that they wouldn't know what she knew
That they wouldn’t listen or even try to hear
Or pretend to listen but not really hear
Or be so awful she wouldn’t want to tell
Or even worse, they’d make her worse
By recreating and re-traumatizing
By re-assaulting her self and her dignity
Still just a torment toy, but they don’t see their hand in
The ultimate curse
I know people who know what Anna knew
And when we are alone and we talk it comes out in
Images and colors and sounds
And haphazard thoughts all around
Ones that don't always need to be spoken
All swirling in rhythm with the universe
Little things and big things
Bitter things and sweet things
And a lot of painful things
Full of simple singularities in the complexity
That others see as chaos.
Anna knew that in a world too dependent on words
Words don't always say what they mean
Like Treatment Resistant
Which really means
Desperately trying to cling to the tiny shard of dignity
Which really means
Euthanasia for the troubled and the mentally ill
Who simply cannot be heard in this world
So dependent on words
In time to keep what they know from becoming
What they knew
Patricia Callahan lives in Augusta, Maine and walks a path of recovery with multiple mental illnesses. She works as a facilitator/speaker/co-owner of Callahan and Sullivan Associates. The mission of this firm is to achieve the goals of the client using the client's own mission, agenda, and resources through innovative techniques that seek to engage, empower, and educate. Trish and her partner Dolly Sullivan consider themselves agents of positive social change. When undertaking a project, whether staff development, individualized project development, or curriculum development all goals are achieved through retraining staff and/or redefining workplace mores. Trish can be reached at email@example.com; her partner, Dolly Sullivan, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I read with mounting horror Anna’s story. See, the story you wrote could have been a longer version of mine (I wasn’t institutionalized as many years), only I escaped the system and suicide. It’s hard for me to look back and see how bad off I was, and how hopeless my situation was. I did the hard work to get me to the tremendously healthier place I am at now; but I would never have been able to do it if I had not been sent to the Ross Institute (also called the Trauma Program)where I met my current therapist.
I got so angry reading her story. As you know, what you wrote is exactly what it’s like in those places, and no one but the patients will admit it. I, too, was verbally, physically, and sexually abused (on top of the incest that brought me there) at state institutions. I, too, rotated in and out of private and public facilities for years. Staff laughed and taunted to my face about my ‘frequent flier’ status. Pretty much the third time you wind up in an institution you’re labeled Borderline PD; quicker if you happen to self-harm. I was in and out of institutions so many times I’m not sure I could count50 admissions is a very conservative estimate.
I first wound up in a psych. hospital at 15, almost exactly one year after my mother died in a car accident. That, combined with 14 years of incest at the hands of my father, and the onset of puberty were just too much. I could no longer hide my self-harm and suicide attempts after her death. Of course, I had my loving father by my side, fighting with me, against the mental health system. So, every time I was released, I was released to his custody. At 22 I exhausted all the options in my home town, and was shipped to Dallas (driven by my father, no less), to the Trauma Program as a last ditch effort. I shouldn’t have been alive by that point. I never expected to live to 20. I began hurting myself at 5 yrs. old, and my first suicide attempt was at 7. When I was 18 I slit my wrist, almost accidentally cutting my entire hand off (I still don’t have 100% function). When I arrived in Dallas, I was literally only a shell of a human being. Julie was buried deep inside. I only remember that time through a thick fog, in bits and pieces. I, too, was over-medicated until reaching the trauma program. At one residential facility, and as a minor, I was taking 26 pills in th e morning, and 28 pills at night (all psychotropic), plus several other doses throughout the day. I was on 4-5 tranquilizers at one time, and several anti-psychotics at once, though I never attempted to hurt another human being, never had ‘tantrums’ or ‘fits’, and never hurt myself in front of another person. I think after enough time in the system, they quit trying to start with new drug combos, and just add on to the existing one, never checking how much you’re on. I gained 150 lbs., and could barely walk, talk, or stay awake by the end.
Moving to an entirely new city from my dad (I moved here straight from my 2nd admission to the Ross Inst., as I had already begun ‘clearing’ and could see the necessity of escaping him), coupled with an excellent psychologist and drastic drug reduction led me to the road I’m on now. Today, I’m 27 years old, I haven’t been in a hospital in 3-4 years, I take only an antidepressant, am a sophomore in college majoring in Speech Pathology, and have been free of self-abusive and suicidal thoughts for years. Oh yeah, my diagnoses have dropped from about 4 or 5 to just Dissociative Identity Disorder, which is almost gone.
None of this is anything you probably care to read, especially considering the devastation you’ve been through. I just wanted you to know that others know that what you are trying to do is SO important, and I haven’t heard of anyone doing anything like this (outside of trauma therapists). The only reason (no exaggeration) that I’m here today to write you this e-mail thanking you for what you’re doing, is luck. It was pure luck that the institution I was sent to the last time was a good one, and knew what really needed to be addressed.
I am so terribly sorry for what happened to Anna. Please, keep getting the truth out there about child sexual abuse and the ignorance, denial, and abuses that occur in mental institutions. Maybe if more people see, something can be done.
Thank you, . Julie B
Just wanted to say that this website: the anna foundation, is the only website in existence that validates my own experience and I thank you all for that..it was if I designed the website with my own experience with those who retraumatize. I am currently involved as I have for the last 10 years with the most vulgar, ignorant and dangerous authorities from police and mental health systems that seek to beat me down as I fight at every turn against the bastardization of my child rape adult rape experience..
your website is incredible and I will most definitely pass it on to others that have suffered in the same light. I am currently on disability from the drugs given to me for fabricated illnesses that do not exist.
Thank, thank you...and anna
My name is Kathleen M. Hill
I am writing to you to request that I be allowed to place a drawing of
Anna's on the cover of the e-book "RANTing OUt the Devil: Community
Traumatization & Human Transformation"
This e-book is being published by Chipmunka
Publishing, UK and can be found at
I have attached a C0PY (pdf) which Chipmunka recently forwarded to me.
Please do NOT worry - there was a miscommunication
and the cover in the attachment is not published.
It requires approval by yourself and appropriate documentation recognizing Anna as the artist.
It is for this reason that I am writing to you.
I am not a writer and I am afraid that it shows in my e-book
BUT (generally-speaking) if consumer-survivors allow a little thing
like lacking in literary skill to dissuade us out of print - then we
will succeed in gagging our own speech.
I first found Anna at Sidran Foundation near the beginning of my
healing/recovery and later I rediscovered her at her
personal website, which is where I found her artwork.
Her drawing addresses both our similarities and our dissimilarities.
Her drawing is a portrait of myself in my youth and then again in my 50s.
It expresses my anxiety-driven anguish and my panic-ridden outrage -
both for myself and the Anna's past, present and to become.
RANTing is a compilation of email rants into support groups on the web,
which I compiled into an e-book. These rants and the personal research
via the internet that they summarize are the healing that I have undergone.
I am presently able to maintain myself as a p/t student in Practical
Nursing, an endeavour far removed from anything that I was capable of for years.
Anna's art is a self-portrait of the me that I was writing.
In turn representative of my reasoning for writing!
In summary: Anna's life has been a keystone for awakening and recovery
I am hopeful that you will release Anna's drawing for the cover of RANTing.
Artwork of Anna touched me greatly..wish I could have met her..I used to be a casework for child protective services and have heard the many horrible stories that go with being sexually abused. One thing that needs to be changed is the phraseology in the field of Social Work. There is too much gloss on real events of abuse. Instead of saying a child was raped or penetrated, other words such as abused, fondled, molested etc..not enough truth..of what is actually DONE to children!! "He groomed the child from a young age"; rather than "he psychologically manipulated the child and used mental mind games to get the child comfortable with sex because he or she is a sick perverted mentally ill and deprived of human feelings of empathy and knowing right from wrong"...etc..
Anyway, thank you for your website: I too was a victim of childhood sexual abuse and it is a miracle that I survived mentally..but thanks to my heavenly father, I am becoming a whole person.
To the Family of Anna,
Thank you so much for putting the story of Anna on the internet for others to see and share in her experience. It breaks my heart when I think that Anna died before trauma-based therapy approaches really began to become available. I think to myself that I would not be where I am today if it were not for trauma-based therapies like EMDR, which I am convinced saved my life after the suicide of my mother.
I too come from a history of sexual abuse in the home, and it is something that 6 years after beginning therapy, I do still deal with today; however, life is much easier to live now than it was 6 years ago, and I know that getting the appropriate therapy was what made that difference for me.
I am so sorry that Anna was never able to find her peace that she needed so much while she was alive. But I hope that her story helps reach others that have quite possibly almost run out of hope. I hope that you are also able to highlight possible treatments for abuse survivors, or offer links to such options to those who find themselves on her site. I certainly wish every day that I could find a way to reach everyone that needs to hear it, that there is a way through, it does exist now and it doesn't have to end with all of us in the dark, alone and destroyed. We don't have to live in the hell that was created for us anymore.
I will say a prayer tonight for Anna, and I thank you for putting up such a moving memorial for her that also helps so many others realize that they are also not alone.
Thank you so much, and may your God bless you.
I somehow "fell into" the web site. I looked at Anna's drawings and feel I must continue until I see them all. Not tonight, not all at once. Of course, I was abused also and have held it at a distance for some time now although I have attempted to confront it over the years. No matter how much help I've received it's still there, the effects are life long.
Thank you for this site.
I think your site is incredibly moving. It is a subject that really needs highlighting and I hope you get the book deal. I myself am hoping to get a book deal and despite having an agent its rather a battle to explain to people what the system really does to people. I have put a link to your site on my own blog about trauma and was wondering if you'd consider my blog worthy of a place on your links page? All the very best - and good luck with the fight! All credit to you,
Trauma Blogger (Claire)
I would just like to say that I absolutely adore your website and the work
do on informing people about the horrifying effects of children being sexual
I feel so sad for Anna when I think of all the pain she had to go through in
her life, but the fact
that her life is being used to inform other people about this very important
subject comforts me.
Another thing I'd like to say is that I also enjoy drawing, as it is very
obvious Anna also did, Anna's artwork
is breathtaking and absolutely beautiful and she has forever touched and
inspired me in an indescribable way.
Aferdita A, Norway