A therapist's story of complex trauma and her remarkable journey to recovery.
When Connie Greshner was eight years old, her father walked into a bar in Ponoka, Alberta, and shot her mother. So began a young life defined by trauma. From Catholic boarding school in Kansas to the streets of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, Connie travelled in pursuit of acceptance and belonging. Grief, confusion, and shame manifested as depression, addiction, and promiscuity. Branded chronically suicidal with no hope of recovery by the mental health system, Connie was determined to heal herself and help others. Supported and inspired by exceptional friends, a love of books, and a connection to nature, she finally found her home, purpose, and peace.
In Borderline Shine, Connie breaks the silence and shame of intergenerational violence. With unflinching honesty she chronicles her unique journey through the darkness of suffering to the light of compassion, hope, and recovery.
About the authors
Connie Greshner is a mental health therapist who works with people that have complex trauma. She is a writer, artist, and nature lover. Connie lives with her family on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Excerpt: Borderline Shine: A Memoir (by (author) Connie Greshner; foreword by Theresa Therriault)
PART 1: COMPLEX TRAUMA
CHAPTER ONE: SMALL CHILD
Small child. Time bends. I observe:
Noise. Rushing, jangly energy. There is my mom. Short, curly, blondish-red hair, trying to smile, always trying. She works in the house, caring for five kids. She is young and pretty. Watching, waiting, laughing. She cooks and cleans, and I watch her sometimes. Special times when she is really with me. Spinning a globe, pointing a finger. Laying out a marvellous array of Christmas crafts. I am often merely in her shadow as we tend to business in the little town —at the post office, grocery store, driving here and there in the long green Buick. I recall few conversations. I am a small child, watching, waiting.
More often I am my father’s shadow. We drive in the red pickup truck; go fishing, to construction sites, to the gravel pit. He also is quiet, though softly laughs when I do speak. I know sometimes he is sad and anxious. Most of the time he is sick. This dad is not the man crashing and raging, driving his family before him. That dad is a shadow figure the others hide me from. That dad demon is not the one I curl up with, watching hockey, not the one I listen to sleeping, his snoring my comfort. Not the one who silently enters my room and checks that I am sleeping safely every night. The demon dad is seething, full of rage, hated and hating.
I watch my brothers.
Steven, the oldest, is quiet, sad, and angry; the growing image of Dad. Intelligent and sensitive. Hurt already.
I see Bruce, here and there, already trying to escape, his sardonic humour masking confusion and helplessness. Trying to be strong, though he’s terrified (justifiably); trying to pretend the smacks and the punches don’t hurt. I can’t help but see my sister Jo-Anne, trapped in a bedroom with me —her bratty, spoiled baby sister. We fight, as sisters do. Not fair. I am untouchable, Daddy’s girl. She leaves. For her horses, for her freedom, for her sanity.
Theresa sees me. Theresa, my sister-mother. Nurturer. Too grown up already —caregiver by birthright, oldest child. It is known she will go places. She obediently awaits her chance.
This is what my eight-year-old eyes see, what I remember. There are layers, all players have their stories. This is the cast in my memory, the opening act.
The setting is Ponoka, a town of four thousand, in the province of Alberta, in the country of Canada. We live in a house that my dad built, decorated in glaring seventies style: velvet-gilded wallpaper, purple and orange carpet, mirrored tile, and green appliances. This house is the symbol of our success. Look at us, a sweet, hard-working middle-class family. We fool no one, although the screams and bangs are never spoken of by the neighbours. We don our masks over our shame, hold our heads high. We are Greshners, and any challenge to our pride will mean an instant fight. There are few takers.
Theresa teaches me to read and write at a young age. Moreover, she teaches me storytelling. I am often in her bed, and we take turns weaving stories, back and forth, fantastic and fun. She teaches me poetry. We walk together, through streets and fields and woods. She is a photographer; I draw. At school, I quietly gather my A’s, following in her academic footsteps.
I follow my brothers in their love of the wild —summers at the lake, jackknives, fishing, and frogs.
I am a lover of animals like my sister Jo-Anne. My poor kitten, Tigger, hauled around in a baby carrier, stalked and imitated as I learn to prowl and growl.
I plant seeds of flowers and vegetables with my dad. The whole family harvests, Mom pickling and preserving. An idyllic dream of a perfect family.
Then there are the nightmares.
Adults loud and drunk, kids holding their breath. The boys rush out to hold my dad back long enough to get my mom and us girls out of the house. We cruise the streets in the car, lights off until we park in our grandparents’ backyard. We listen to our breathing, too loud, too loud, as we see my dad circling, searching, rage growing and reaching out in the dark …
My mom’s parents, Grandma and Grandpa, live two blocks away. We are there all the time. The parents and the parties are there. Also the Christmases, the summer backyard fires, games, and goodies.
The good and the bad.
My grandparents drink, too, of course. Everyone does. This is prairie culture. Drinking. Drinking and driving. Drinking and fighting. Of course. This is the way the world works. Love and fear.
Memories are like jewels on a Christmas tree. Some shine bright, glittering and precious. Some are dim and tarnished. And some lie broken in fragments on the floor.
I am cherished and often ignored. In the seventies kids are wild. I am independent.
I am okay. independent. I am okay.
Connie Greshner’s book, Borderline Shine, is an inspirational roller coaster ride detailing a bright and resourceful woman’s path to recovery and liberation. Greshner writes in succinct, clear prose, describing a childhood marked by trauma, upheaval and years of struggling with impulsivity and emotional storms that people suffering from borderline personality disorder will surely relate to. Like many people with these challenges, Greshner’s incredible strengths kept trying to shine through, only to be obscured time and again. Her tenacity, compassion, and drive to help others gradually won out, and she was able to devote her career to helping others with mental health problems and establish a life worth living. I highly recommend Borderline Shine as an inspirational, honest, and intimate story of resilience and recovery.
Alexander L. Chapman, Professor of Psychology, Simon Fraser University
Opens a window into how challenging life can be and the importance of a supportive network in combating mental disorders and recovering from severe trauma.
Canadian Journal of Family and Youth
The book is a valuable insight into mental illness, and a reminder of human fragility.