Stephanie Thornton Plymale on Trauma, Mental Illness, and Healing



Stephanie is an American dream, and she was an American nightmare. A rags to riches tale. A child, one of millions, who fell between the cracks. She was our failed school system. A girl who remained silent in the classroom, illiterate past the age of eight, without anyone taking much notice. She was our failed child protection system. The girl who lived with her siblings on the beach for a year – alone, unschooled, and free of adult supervision. The child returned to an incompetent and criminally negligent parent over and over again. 

She was our failed foster care system placed in a home of a serial sexual predator. The sister of a boy raped in a juvenile detention home. Stephanie was our failed legal system. The daughter of a girl child gang-raped by upward of a dozen grown men, none of them who were sentenced to more than two months in prison. Stephanie was the daughter of a woman driven mad by trauma and injustice. 

She was our failed healthcare system. The daughter of a woman who never once in her lifetime received adequate care for her mental illness. The daughter of a woman who was committed to countless psychiatric wards, the conditions of which was worse than any horror movie. 

Yet Stephanie Thornton Plymale is an American daughter. A descendant from America's foremost founding families – founders and builders of America. She descends from a line of women who rejected it all. A child born out of wedlock to an Italian immigrant. The granddaughter of a cab driver. The adopted daughter of a Latino short line cook. The stepdaughter of a drunk and a junkie, an armed robber and ex-convict. 

Today Stephanie joins us on the show to discuss her first book American Daughter, a memoir. 


  • Why Stephanie decided to share her story after years of hiding it from the world
  • The horrific trauma Stephanie's mother experienced as a child and how her unprocessed trauma presented itself later in life
  • How Stephanie helped her mother release her trauma
  • What it was like for Stephanie to grow up in a toxic home with a stepfather who struggled with substance use and how she later found forgiveness
  • How as a child, Stephanie had to buy drugs and steal food for her mother and stepfather
  • Why Stephanie believes her memoir, American Daughter, is about not living in a state of judging other people
  • How eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) helped Stephanie process and heal her trauma and triggers
  • What life was like living in isolation in the Dependent Unit of the State of California
  • How the foster care system failed Stephanie by placing her in a home with a sexual predator where she was repeatedly sexually assaulted
  • What it felt like for Stephanie to go from having no family history to discovering she descends from America's foremost founding families 
  • The possibilities of what her mother's life might have looked like had she received the proper mental health treatment she needed to process through her trauma
  • What Stephanie's relationship looked like with her mother towards the end of her mother's life
  • How her childhood shaped how she showed up as a mother to her own children






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