Have you ever had an injury that, years after it’s healed, continued to ache in certain situations?
It could be from running into a door and having to get stitches that leave an unattractive scar on your forehead.
It could be from breaking a bone during a high school athletic event.
It could be from trying to jump off the swing at age five and, instead of landing gracefully upright, the pavement meets your chin and splits it wide open.
That same injury, 15 years later, starts to ache every time a storm is brewing.
Hidden bruises, thought to be healed, often have a way of aching again after years of silence.
When the hidden bruises have healed, why are the scars aching again after so long?
What can be done about them?
Does it mean they were never truly healed?
Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery, continues her discussion with Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse and Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon.
Shannon is owner and lead therapist of an award-winning counseling practice and co-founder of the non-profit Keep Dreaming Big Project. She has been featured on top media outlets.
Previously, Shannon talked about The Hidden Bruises Of Emotional And Psychological Abuse. This time, she talks about what to do when trauma resurfaces and why it’s important to learn about hidden abuse.
Healing Hidden Bruises: Why Learning About Abuse Can Help The Bruises Heal
Many people are afraid to learn about abuse of any kind because they believe if they learn about it, abuse will happen.
Anne reminds us that abuse is there whether we learn about it or not.
“It’s going to benefit you to become educated about abuse because, if you don’t become educated about it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It’s not going to create abuse out of thin air. You’re not going to read it and then it’s going to suddenly appear out of nowhere. It only helps you identify it.”-Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Shannon says that education is one of the biggest reasons she wanted to write Healing from Hidden Abuse, the myth that learning about abuse creates it.
“That’s one of the misnomers that people complain a lot about is, ‘Oh, well, you’re going to that therapist,’ or, ‘You’re reading that book and now you’re going to see abuse.’ That is just not the case at all. It’s either there or it isn’t. It resonates or it doesn’t.”-Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
In reality, the abuse is present whether it’s recognized or not.
But once it’s seen, something can be done about it.
At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we recognize that pornography use itself is abuse, but even more so, a pornography addict exhibits abusive behaviors, such as lying, gaslighting, manipulation and sexual coercion.
Shannon says that the emotional and psychological abuse can cause severe trauma and make healing difficult.
“The biggest challenge is being able to recognize that it’s real. That hidden abuse, that abuse while a partner is or was going through porn addiction can be traumatic. They can get it and they can feel it, it’s like sand in their hands and then it just rushes through and, all of a sudden, now they’re back to despair, back to the self-blame, back to being twisted up within some of the stories that the abuser gave them.”-Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
In many cases, the wife has been told a lie about herself for so long that she actually believes it. Shannon says this is the hardest part of healing for an abused wife.
“We have to do a lot of deprogramming, when it comes to hidden abuse because it’s much like being in a cult where, if you’re told something and you believe something and there is a trauma bond that has happened, it’s very difficult to maintain being grounded.”-Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
After a lot of work in therapy and on her own, however, a woman can heal from the trauma and abuse, allowing her to return to her new “normal” life.
Many therapists believe that once treatment for trauma is done, that’s it, if it resurfaces, they were never healed.
Shannon, however, believes that just like any other injury, trauma and abuse change a person forever and it can come back to the surface.
Healing Hidden Bruises: When The Scars Start Aching
Whether it’s a broken bone, deep cut, broken heart, or hidden bruise, any old injury can have a tendency to resurface from time to time, especially when a woman’s body experiences hormonal changes.
Just like that broken bone that aches when a storm is brewing, Shannon says a woman’s healed trauma can make an unscheduled appearance when a hormonal storm is brewing in her body.
“Hormone changes impact women differently and individually. Some women who experience postpartum definitely know that perimenopause can be a more challenging time for them because they do swing with the changes that are going on within their bodies. Trauma survivors and those that are prone to more anxiety or depression can also really feel those shifts in hormones. From a mental health perspective, this sneaks up on us.”-Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
When this does happen, Shannon says, it’s important to remember that as our bodies change, we should adjust our lifestyle to it.
Shannon suggests three things that can help a woman adjust to the changes.
3 Tips For Adjusting To Changes
- Learn to say “No.” If it’s something that isn’t important to you or that you were just “tolerating,” feel free to pass.
- Slow down. Recognize that you may not be able to go at full speed anymore and that’s okay.
- Have self-compassion. Your body is changing, you’re changing, so be gentle with yourself.
Shannon also provides three things to do when a woman realizes her trauma might be resurfacing.
3 Things To Do When Your Trauma Resurfaces
- Get bloodwork done. “Go make sure that thyroid issues aren’t popping up because thyroid issues can definitely mimic depressive low energy. Get hormones checked.” -Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
- Determine whether it’s old traumas or anxiety. “It may not be old traumas that are resurfacing, but the anxiety starting to kick back in because of the hormonal changes. We know how much that impacts brain function and emotional state.” -Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
- Be gentle as you process it. “That being very gentle, being able to do some journaling, recognizing that, if there are old traumas or old hurts that are resurfacing. Not in the work-through-it kind of way but what kind of processing do I need to do, why am I grieving this again, and how can I grieve it with gentleness.” -Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
Taking care of herself is the best thing a woman can do for herself and her family.
Healing Hidden Bruises: Why The Scars Can Ache Again
The trauma a woman experiences from betrayal and abuse leaves a lasting impact on her life.
It can’t be taken back and undone.
It changes her forever just like any other wound.
Only this wound leaves a lasting emotional and psychological scar.
Over time, the scar may fade, just like a physical scar would, but it doesn’t disappear forever.
She’s going to remember what happened, as Shannon points out, just like she would a broken bone.
“If we were skiing and damaged our leg, we’re always going to know it happened. There are going to be really good days and there are going to be painful days because it’s no longer what it was before. Some trauma therapists believe that, once you’ve processed all of it, that none of that pain is going to come back up. I just don’t believe that. Just like if we had a reconstructed body part, there will be good days and there will be days that it hurts.”-Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
Some days, the scars may hurt more than it does other days.
Maybe something happened that brought it up, maybe nothing happened.
Shannon believes that women should learn the skills to process their trauma in the event it does come up again.
“I think that we have to incorporate that the pain will come up, that we have these coping skills, we have this ability to work through it, so it isn’t debilitating. But we have to give ourselves the recognition that there will be times that what we have gone through impacts us at a greater level than the day before. We don’t know why.”-Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
Anne points out that the idea that the abuse and trauma will never bother a woman again, can add to any pain she may feel when it does come up again.
“I think the ‘you’ll never feel it again’ mentality that some people have adds guilt, if you do feel it again. Instead of the perspective that you may have issues from time to time, which is so much more compassionate, because then it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m still doing it right,’ or, ‘I’m doing okay.’”-Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Women, especially, experience extra stress when it comes to having difficult days. Shannon says it makes things harder on them when they do.
“I do think that there’s a gender-specific pressure put on women to stop being emotional, get over things and move on. There is no human being that’s just doing that, regardless of gender, but there is an extra special pressure that when women have bad days, or it’s just a harder day, that hormones get blamed or this gets blamed or they’re not forgiving, or a whole litany of excuses.”-Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
This is why repeatedly expresses the need for women to be gentle with themselves, others are hard enough on them.
Healing Hidden Bruises: Learning From The Scars
Shannon felt called to teach others about hidden abuse, just as Anne felt called to teach others about the abuse involved with pornography addiction.
Shannon says experiences are just a part of life, and women should remember that.
As women go through life, they learn.
A woman can learn from her good experiences and her bad experiences, her pain and her pleasure.
As she learns from the pain of the trauma and abuse, she can learn what helps her get through it.
Shannon reminds women that as they are gracious with themselves, and learn how to process their trauma, they’ll be able to adjust and recover.
“Hidden abuse is real. It involves a lot of different forms of abuse, and trauma is something that we can definitely get past, but we must incorporate grace and compassion to ourselves for those days that are just harder. We will move through them quicker if we can adjust for a day or two or even an hour or two, or whatever we need, and get back to the vibrancy that we were feeling before.”-Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse
Shannon and Anne both know that healing from hidden abuse and trauma is possible.
Along with Shannon and Anne, Betrayal Trauma Recovery wants all women who have been betrayed and abused to find safety.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group provides a safe place to share with other women facing similar circumstances. With UNLIMITED access to more than 15 live sessions a week, it’s easier than ever to find a BTR Group session that fits your schedule without having to leave your home. Each session is led by a Certified Betrayal Trauma Specialist.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I’m continuing the conversation with Shannon Thomas, author of Healing from Hidden Abuse, today. If you did not hear last week’s episode, please go listen to that first and then join us back here.
I am recording this on March 15, 2020, and it will air in 4-6 weeks, so I don’t know what the status is of COVID-19, so I don’t want to say anything. It could be bad, or it could be okay. I don’t know. I think we’re all apprehensive about the future right now on March 15th, and I hope that by the time this airs that things have gotten better but if they haven’t, know that my prayers are with you.
Also, Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, thank goodness, is all online, so you can get the help that you need immediately. Please go to our site btr.org to be able to speak with someone who understands your situation. You don’t have to leave your house. You can log in from your closet or in your car. As long as the internet is still working, we are here.
Now, we’re going to catch back up with the conversation with Shannon Thomas. I start talking by explaining our demographic here at Betrayal Trauma Recovery. That we, specifically, focus on wives and ex-wives of porn users and porn use as an abuse issue.
Healing Hidden Bruises By Teaching About Hidden Abuse
Anne: On this podcast, I speak in a gender-segregated way because our audience at Betrayal Trauma Recovery is solely for women victims of male perpetrators, although I recognize that there are some abusive women out there and there are women who use pornography. I don’t want to discount that, but because this audience is specifically for women victims of male perpetrators the pressure that they’re under to hold things together is crazy.
The psychological damage that it does, because not only are they being abused by their addicted husband but they’re also being abused by proxy by clergy, therapists, and other people who are buying into this whole “let’s help him get better and you need to be patient and you need to expect relapses” and all that nonsense.
Shannon: Exactly, and I think it’s perfectly fine when podcasts and therapists and authors and other people are very upfront about the work they do, and your work is to women who have been affected by this specific toxic behavior. I think there’s lots of room for other people to do the work with abuse survivors that gender identifies differently.
I don’t think there is any problem whatsoever with segregating by gender. We just have to make sure that we also know that it happens across a wide range, as you do, but we get to specialize in whatever we are called to do, and that doesn’t negate anybody else’s abuse experience.
We have this sort of competing as we have to all be talking about every person who experiences abuse. Well, maybe we’re called to a very specific group of people? That is perfectly fine.
Anne: Yeah, I actually think that’s probably why I get a lot of heat. It’s because people are like, “Well, some women use porn.” I’m like, “Yes, I know that, but that is not our specific audience.” If there is someone else who wants to take over that other demographic then shine on, but this is our specific one. We’re also here because I think, at least in our case, there is so much misinformation for wives and ex-wives of porn users that I felt like we really need something specifically for this demographic.
Shannon: It’s pretty much how I feel about hidden abuse. I very much focus in on those abuses that are hard to describe and those abuses that are not as widely recognized. That’s why I ended up writing Healing from Hidden Abuse, because I wanted to talk about hidden abuse that’s not gender-specific. That is, talking about the behaviors of hidden abuse but not based on which gender the perpetrator might be so that we can just educate broadly. That’s what I’m called to do, not those abuses that are very obvious that we as a culture are really starting to identify, but those abuses that are hidden, regardless of the gender.
Anne: Whoever you are, it’s going to benefit you to become educated about abuse because, if you don’t become educated about it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It is existing in and of itself, and when you get educated about it, you’re just able to identify it better and talk about it in a way that helps you progress your healing.
Shannon: I think that’s a great point, if I could touch on that. I have clients that come in who have read the book or have heard me on a podcast or seen my social media post, and their story doesn’t fit psychological abuse. It fits not a healthy relationship, something that they want to assess whether they want to stay in or not, but it doesn’t fit the criteria and the model of what psychological and emotional abuse is.
What I always say to them is, “You don’t want to go for cancer treatment if you have a cold.” Just reading a book, listening to a podcast, and educating yourself [doesn’t mean you’re in an abusive situation], but if your situation doesn’t fit it’s going to be very obvious. It just doesn’t fit.
It’s just like going and getting lab work. The doctor looks at it and if it looks a certain way, it looks a certain way and if it doesn’t, it just doesn’t. I think that’s one of the misnomers that people complain a lot about is, “Oh, well, you’re going to that therapist,” or, “You’re reading that book and now you’re going to see abuse.” That is just not the case at all. It’s either there or it isn’t. It resonates or it doesn’t.
Healing Hidden Bruises By Seeing The Hidden Abuse
Anne: As a trauma therapist, you work with women who have experienced trauma through betrayal by their spouses. What do you see as the biggest challenge to healing from this specific form of trauma?
Shannon: I think the biggest challenge is being able to recognize that it’s real. That hidden abuse, that abuse while a partner is or was going through porn addiction can be traumatic and having to recognize that the trauma is real.
They can get it and they can feel it, it’s like sand in their hands and then it just rushes through and, all of a sudden, now they’re back to despair, back to the self-blame, back to being twisted up within some of the stories that the abuser gave them.
We have to do a lot of deprogramming, when it comes to hidden abuse because it’s much like being in a cult where, if you’re told something and you believe something and there is a trauma bond that has happened, it’s very difficult to maintain being grounded. I think that can be one of the biggest challenges is recognizing that this really did happen, this is the truth, and not slipping back into that self-blame and back into that cult-like thinking where it’s not the abuser, it’s the victim’s fault.
Healing Hidden Bruises During Life Changes
Anne: With this demographic, you’ve also written about the challenges of perimenopause that happen with survivors of trauma. Why is this time in a woman’s life extra challenging from a mental health perspective?
Before you answer this question, we have so many women that during this time is when they find out that they have experienced 30 years of psychological abuse. It’s just interesting that when the kids move out or it seems like it’s patterns. Women find out right after they had their baby, or once the kids have moved out, or when they’re going through these stages. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this specific group.
Shannon: Yeah, that’s really heartbreaking to know, and I’ve heard this before, that a lot of these betrayals are coming out after just having a baby, which is this wonderful height but also mind, body, spirit going through so much with becoming a mom, whether it’s the first time or fourth time. It’s still this head-to-toe experience and then being in the moment where you find out about the betrayal.
Or going through perimenopause where maybe they still have teenagers in the home, which has its own challenges and great things, or being an empty nester and finding out these are the lies that have been seeped into the walls for all of these years. You knew something wasn’t right but couldn’t quite figure it out.
I think perimenopause, in particular, as they move into menopause, is very difficult for trauma survivors because they call it the second puberty, where you end up getting a rush and a change of hormones, and for some women, they’re not impacted by their hormones changing.
Perimenopause isn’t exceptionally hard on some people because their hormones are so radically different than others, it’s just that hormone changes impact women differently and individually. Some women who experience postpartum definitely know that perimenopause can be a more challenging time for them because they do swing with the changes that are going on within their bodies.
Trauma survivors and those that are prone to more anxiety or depression can also really feel those shifts in hormones. I think, from a mental health perspective, that this sneaks up on us. Even as a seasoned therapist myself, you know hitting 48 and I’m 49 now and I’ll be 50 in the summer, I started having reoccurrences.
I’m also a trauma survivor and I put that out there in the books and in my writing, but right around 48 I started having a lot more anxiety, some panic attacks again, and I was like, “Whoa, what is going on here? Nothing is warranting this right now.”
What I came to realize though, and really it took about six months to a year of really getting it under my belt, was that these were the shifts, with the hormone fluctuations, that were causing old mental health, old anxiety, old panic to come up. It’s really off-putting and it’s really, really hard when you feel like, “I need everything I have right now, for what I’m going through, to feel good, and I’m on this rollercoaster.”
I think it’s also rooted in compassion. I think that that’s where I ended up and what I suggest for clients is once we come to realize, “Okay, this is what’s happening,” you know you get your first hot flash and you’re like, “Oh, I’m getting sick, I better go take my temperature,” and you’re like, “Okay, my temperature’s normal, so why am I sweating?”
It’s a really weird experience, especially for those of us that—48 hit me like a real surprise. I’ve just been rocking and rolling and doing my thing, having fun, feeling great, really not noticing that I’m aging, to be quite frank, because I hadn’t really focused on it. I’m just happy doing what I’m doing with books, my work, and life and things, so I don’t feel like I’m going to be 50 at all, so it was very surprising like, “Wow! I really am in my late 40’s. How did that even happen?”
When I came to realize, “Okay, this is what’s happening, I’m having some hot flashes and I’m having some night sweats, and now I’m starting to feel sort of some anxieties that seem to be clocking with different hormonal rhythms and things,” it’s like, “Alright, here’s where I’m at.” It’s just a very self-compassioned focused, not panicking, not realizing that, “Oh, my gosh, I’m having a nervous breakdown or something terrible is happening.” It’s a lot of gentleness.
Then also recognizing that it can be very empowering to say, “I don’t want to, and I can’t throttle at the level that I used to.” I think we take better care of ourselves when we start to get to a place where it’s like, “I don’t want to be exhausted, and for me to not be exhausted I have to learn how to say no.” For me to go out and enjoy the company and enjoy social time, I really need to be around people because I enjoy their company.
It can also really trim some things in our life that maybe before we’d kind of been like, “Oh, it’s okay, I’ll just put up with that,” or, “Oh, it’s okay.” But when our bandwidth starts to become less, we start to value our time a whole lot more and our physical wellness. It gets to be, “You know what, those people stress me out.” They might be family or extended family or friends; it could be all kinds of things. It could be a job. But we get to step back and be like, “You know what, it’s time for me to make some changes because I matter.”
That’s been the real positive side to it. I just don’t want people to be surprised when perimenopause comes because I’ve gone to my annual visits every year; I have a great OB-GYN. He asks me all the questions and every year I’m like, “Nope, nope, nope, fine, fine, fine. Can I get out of here?”
Then, all of sudden, it was like these weirder symptoms started popping up that I wasn’t really paying attention to. Some of the traditional ones and then some that I was like, “I’m not sure if this is associated with hormonal changes,” and when I came to realize, “Yes, they are,” then it’s like, “Okay, this is where I’m at in life and I’m going to be gentler with myself.
Because we can be very harsh with ourselves, even therapists. We can drive and push and expect more. You know what, we’re human beings and we get to treat ourselves with that compassion.
Healing Hidden Bruises: Resolving Resurfacing Trauma
Anne: Yeah. Speaking of that, when you’re thinking, “What is going on? Is it my hormones? Is it trauma resurfacing?” Trying to problem-solve, “what is happening with me,” what are a few suggestions you have for women who are facing the resurfacing of old trauma experiences or a sudden increase in anxiety and depression?
Shannon: The first thing I always suggest for folks is to go get blood work. Go make sure that thyroid issues aren’t popping up because thyroid issues can definitely mimic depressive low energy. Get hormones checked.
In the beginning, for me, my hormones looked normal but I was getting hot flashes, I was starting to get some night sweats, and the doctor described that that can happen where hormones are in kind of a normal range but you’re starting to get missed periods or other things are happening.
I think some of the suggestions are going from a medical of go get some blood work done and let’s see, because then, when I went back this year, yeah, the blood work was starting to show that I was actually in perimenopause. It was actually a relief to be like, “Okay, this is really what’s happening and now I know why things have changed a little bit.”
I also think that it may not be old traumas that are resurfacing, but it may be that the anxiety is starting to kick back in because of the hormonal changes. We know how much that impacts brain function and emotional state. That being very gentle, being able to do some journaling, recognizing that, if there are old traumas or old hurts that are resurfacing, being able to ask, “What work do I need to do?”
Not in the work-through-it kind of way but what kind of processing do I need to do about this and why am I grieving this again, and how can I grieve it with just a lot of gentleness towards myself. I think it’s okay if we set a timer for five minutes or even ten minutes and say, “I’m just going to sit here in this for this a very small amount of time and then when the timer goes off, I’m done.”
You know, there are different philosophies around trauma, and I am a certified trauma therapist, and this is a philosophy that I believe in, other therapists believe different things. I believe that, when we’ve gone through trauma, it’s kind of like being in a ski accident.
If we were skiing and we damaged our leg and we have rods and pins and all kinds of things that now keep it together, we’re always going to know that that happened and there are going to be really good days and there are going to be days that it hurts because it’s no longer what it was before.
Some trauma therapists believe that, once you’ve processed all of it, that none of that pain is going to come back up, and I just don’t believe that. Just like if we had a reconstructed body part, there will be good days and there will be days that it hurts.
I think that we have to give ourselves the ability to say, “Today is a day that I’m hurting. How do I get through the day? How do I shorten my list? How do I do the things that I need to do so that I am still a functional adult, but where do I give myself the grace to say my nervous system, my brain chemistry, my body is different post-trauma then it was before and today is a day that I can give myself a break. I may feel much better tomorrow, and tomorrow I’m going to go full throttle and ski down that mountain and feel better,” but we have to remember that that trauma is still there.
Anne: I agree with you that the pain can come up and sort of cycle through. I appreciate you saying that because I think the “you’ll never feel it again” mentality that some people have adds guilt, if you do feel it again.
It’s like, “Wait a minute, I thought I’d done all of this work and I thought I was doing great but now here I am having a bad day.” Instead of the perspective that you may have issues from time to time is so much more compassionate because then it’s like, “Oh, I’m still doing it right,” or, “I’m doing okay.”
Shannon: It’s compassionate and it’s realistic. I personally think that there are some real flaws in the belief system that, “Once I process it, it’s never going to come back up and if it has it’s, somehow, something that I haven’t done to work through it” or to forgive or to heal or to whatever that might look like. I don’t think that is true at all.
I think that we have to incorporate that the pain will come up, that we have these coping skills, we have this ability to work through it, so it isn’t debilitating. But we have to give ourselves the recognition that there will be times that what we have gone through impacts us at a greater level than the day before. We don’t know why.
Sometimes, as a trauma survivor, you wake up and you can just feel it. I don’t know if it was a dream or you just didn’t sleep well or something just brought it up and you open your eyes and you’re like, “Hmm, not as good of a day but what can I do to make it better and what can I do to be kind to myself?”
Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves that this body and this mind and this spirit has gone through a lot. Those aren’t excuses, that’s just truth. The sky is blue, the grass is green, we’ve gone through a lot.
Anne: Well, and with someone whose been in a debilitating car accident, it’s 20 years later, let’s pretend, and they’re limping a little bit because their knee is hurting. No one is going to look at them and be like, “Well, you should’ve just gotten over it.”
Shannon: Not at all. Great, great picture.
Anne: For my audience, it seems so misogynistic, like women should be able to take a lot of trauma and just keep on. It’s cray-cray actually.
Shannon: I would agree with you. I would agree with you wholeheartedly. I do think that there is a gender-specific pressure put on women to stop being emotional and get over things and move on. I can tell you there is no human being that’s just doing that, regardless of gender, but there is an extra special pressure that when women have bad days, or it’s just a harder day, that hormones get blamed or this gets blamed or they’re not forgiving or the whole litany of excuses.
I think the biggest takeaway is that hidden abuse is real. That it involves lots of different forms of abuse, and that trauma is something that we can definitely get past, as far as functioning day-to-day but we must incorporate grace and compassion to ourselves for those days that are just harder. Because we will move through them quicker if we can adjust for a day or two or even an hour or two, or whatever we need. We will move through those harder moments quicker and get back to the vibrancy that we were feeling before.
Anne: Thank you so much for coming on today’s episode. You can find Shannon’s book, Healing from Hidden Abuse, on our website btr.org/books. If you click on that it will take you directly to Amazon where you can order it, and have it delivered to your home. It’s also available on audiobook. I highly recommend it.
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