Tag Archives: childhood trauma

Childhood memories

Isn’t it funny what the brain decides to hold on to from the past? As you get older, the memories become more faded, sometimes disappearing altogether.

I do have a few childhood memories locked in the vault. For some random reason, these ones aren’t going anywhere. And they pop up in my mind, off and on, with no rhyme or reason.  And for the most part, they all suck. Like the time someone ran over a yellow lab in front of my bus stop. We arrived in the morning to see its guts all over the side of the road, and no one cleaned it up for days, I think. I remember waiting for the owners to tearfully come, but it never happened. Or maybe it did happen, and my brain doesn’t feel like remembering that part. That’s the thing about these old memories…I think the brain fills in the blanks when it can’t remember something, even if the filling in part isn’t true. Then, you end up second guessing yourself. “Am I remembering this right?”

Another memory that’s been locked in the vault comes from around 1st grade. Let me tell you, I might have well been invisible in 1st grade. I did not say a peep. I had no friends. I sat by myself at recess, leaning against the wall with my head in my lap, hoping no one would approach me, while simultaneously hoping someone would approach me. And this was years before any of my childhood trauma! God, it’s not easy being a painfully shy child. Anyway, this memory had nothing to do with me. This one girl brought something in for show and tell. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even show and tell day. I think she just found something cool and wanted to share it with us. Her name was Catherine Wilson. She held this magical mystery item cupped in her hands, carefully walking to the front of the class. I can remember the teacher telling us to be careful when we looked. It seemed like a BIG deal, whatever it was. I could not wait to see it! Everyone was buzzing with anticipation and crowded around her like paparazzi. I was last in line, of course. The kids were pointing and commenting and even though I was standing like a statue in the back of the room, I was filled with anticipation, too. I was dying to see what was in there. Finally, after everyone had gotten their fill of seeing “it”…  “it” was right in front of me. I hesitantly peered over the little Dixie cup she was holding, and nestled gently on top of some Kleenex was a tiny, delicate, sky blue Robin’s egg. I’d never seen anything like it. So fragile looking. So amazing. The only eggs I’d ever seen were the ones in my refrigerator.  Gosh, Catherine Wilson was so lucky. Nothing this magical ever happens to me…

The teacher had us settle down and we went about whatever it was that 1st graders did back in the early 70’s. Catherine put the cup on the corner of her desk as she did her work. At some point, we all got up from our seats for something. Maybe lunch, or to get books, or recess or something that doesn’t really matter to this story. What matters is what happened when we returned to our seats. Or more correctly, when Catherine returned to her seat. Someone broke her Robin’s egg. I think time stood still for a minute. We all took turns looking in the paper cup. The pastel blue shell was crushed. No one was saying anything. She started crying. I can remember her face like it was yesterday. It wasn’t a typical six-year-old kid’s whiny cry. I don’t remember any sound coming from her at all, actually. But her face, and the sorrow it conveyed….well, that’s stayed with me for almost forty years.

I’ve reminisced about this egg tragedy off and on ever since. No rhyme or reason to why I thought about it. I never had any emotional feelings when I thought of it. I mean sure, it was a sad story, but forty years later, it just kind of became the  “Oh, that was the time Catherine Wilson brought the Robin’s egg to school and some kid crushed it”.  Not that I told that to anyone. I guess that’s just the conversation I have in my head, with myself, when I remember random things. Yes, I have conversations with myself in my head…don’t judge.

OK, now fast forward to a few weeks ago. I’m scrolling through Facebook and see a photo of someone I know with someone else I don’t know and I click on something and next thing you know, I’m on someone elses page, who I don’t know,  knee-deep in their photos. Like I said earlier, don’t judge…you know you do it, too. Anyway, it’s the page of a local radio personality and I happen to come across a photo of her 7th grade yearbook. I look at the names on the page and realize it’s my grade. At my school. Puzzled, I thought “Wow, I didn’t know I went to school with Cat Wilson”. It took my 45-year-old brain a few moments to process that “Cat” is short for “Catherine”… duh… and the next thing you know, I can see that little blue Robin’s egg, clear as day. I stared at her 7th grade photo. Yup, even 6 years later, I’m sure that’s the face I’d been remembering all these years. Or had I? What if it was never Catherine Wilson at all? What if it was some other random classmate. I honestly couldn’t remember any of the other girls in that class. It very well could have been one of them, and my brain filled in the blanks for me. Or, maybe it wasn’t a memory at all and just a crappy dream. I had to find out.

I send a text to our mutual friend, telling of the sad, sad day at Hyannis West Elementary school in the early 70s. He relays the story and sure enough, it’s her. She hadn’t thought of that story in a long, long time. I think maybe she forgot. Or put it away someplace where she didn’t have to look at it. Can you blame her? That story sucks. Luckily, we just randomly crossed paths and I was able to bring that shit right back up to the surface! We end up connecting on Facebook (legitimately, this time) and go back and forth a few times, reminiscing about it.

Turns out, she’s a blogger, too. She wrote about this same story today, which you can read here.

So, at this point, we all know this is a tragic, sad story about the brutal demise of an already dead Robin’s egg. A tragic story that sort of became “just” a story, as the years passed. Until I read her blog. You see, now it’s not just a story about some rambunctious  6-year-old poking his thumb into some other kid’s pastel egg. It’s about bullying. It’s about not liking part of your childhood. It’s about kids making other kids feel bad for not fitting in to whatever is considered “normal”.  God, this little girl got picked on for loving butterflies…

As soon as I read about her tormentors, my heart went into my throat for a second….“Oh God, please don’t tell me I bullied her”. Yeah, I had my spurts of being one of those asshole kids. At the time, I never knew why I acted that way. The behavior just sort of oozed out of me. All I knew was I felt terribly ashamed afterwards. Which, at the time, was confusing…because I hated that feeling, yet I bullied more than once. Of course, as an adult, I can now see why I acted that way. Trauma creates trauma.  Luckily, I was fairly confident I only ruined a few kids lives back then, and was pretty sure she wasn’t on the list. But it doesn’t matter. I might as well have bullied her. I made other girls feel the way she did, so what difference does it make?

I’ve spent the past few days thinking about this. Of course, I’m now a completely different person than that damaged kid I used to be. I think I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to make up for being that kid. Not just to the girls I picked on during those few difficult years, but also to the girl I treated the worst…me. I’ve been thinking how when a child grows up knowing inherently that they are bad, they eventually end up acting out that role. I can’t speak for the other bullies out there, but for me it was almost like a way to have some sort of control over at least something in my life. No, I wasn’t consciously aware of that at the time I was being a jerk, but I’m pretty aware of it now. I had no control over anything back then. Not the feelings of abandonment, not the emotional neglect, not the sexual and physical abuse…nothing. I just absorbed it all, like a sponge. Total acceptance. This is just how my life is. This is all I get.

Forty years and tons of therapy later, I’m slowly learning that this is not just how my life is. I do have control over things (well, some things) And I am compassionate. I am not a bully, and frequently bend over backwards to prove otherwise. Well, not really to prove otherwise. I sincerely find joy in bringing peace to others. It helps me on my own journey to peace. You just never know what people are going throughwho spent part their lives being tormented, whether it was by a school bully or a sibling or a husband or a stranger. You never know who has a voice in the back of their head, telling them “this is all I get”. Sometimes, all it takes is a small act of compassion, or more commonly…a small act of validation…to quiet that voice, or to change the words to “I am worth more”.  And that’s something we all should be saying.

 

 

 

 

 

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Removing triggers

A year ago this month, I was filling in my family on my childhood trauma. A story I’d held inside for over 30 years. A story that shaped every aspect of my being, without me even knowing it. A story I turned around in my brain all those years to make it more bearable, without even knowing it.  A story that guided my actions, my choices, my partners…without me even knowing it. A story that I was terrified to tell, ashamed to tell…yet knew I had to tell, all at the same time.  A story that, once told, left me in pieces. Broken, jagged, seemingly irreparable pieces. It’s funny to read that, because I was obviously broken and jagged well before telling. I just didn’t notice. Well, no, that’s not true, either. I always noticed I was broken, I guess I just didn’t know why. I never knew how to connect the dots.  Now I know.

I grew up inherently knowing I was damaged. I knew I was not like other kids. I knew that joy, popularity, adoration, attention, love and the like went to other kids and didn’t come to me. I think it’s a little strange now, but I never wondered why it didn’t come to me. I just knew it wasn’t in the cards. It wasn’t my lot in life and I sort of accepted it as “It is what it is”.  Wow, writing this now, and knowing a child felt this way is actually quite sad. I still have a hard time connecting that child to me. I wonder why I wasn’t sad about it?  Maybe I was and I don’t remember. It’s easy to block things out that don’t feel good, especially being a kid like I was. I can remember trying to be invisible… a lot. Whether it was around kids I knew I didn’t belong with, or at family gatherings, or even when I was by myself…I tried to be invisible. Maybe it’s because if I became invisible on my own, it wouldn’t be as sad as the reality of being invisible to others? I know I always felt like a burden, and being invisible is probably the best way to not be a burden, right? I can’t say I’ll ever find the answer to that one…

I carried that inherent knowledge of being damaged right up to adulthood. And when you know you’re damaged, you are ashamed of it. Not sure why, but they seem to go hand in hand. Not fair, but what is?  By then, I had learned how to character play. From the outside, it looked like I had it going on! Friends, outgoing, social…complete opposite of that invisible girl.  Just on the outside, though. Hell, I carried that shit right up until last year. I dropped the charade and was honest about who I was for the first time in my life. It wasn’t pretty. But it was real. God, it was downright ugly. I can vividly remember people’s look of disgust when I got to the juicy part. Not so much my friends, because they didn’t personally know the players, but definitely for my family. It was like a “shock and awe” campaign.  Most of them looked down and away, with what looked like a slight wave of nausea across their faces. Geez, no wonder I felt ashamed. They only had to hear the story…I had to live it. Makes sense, doesn’t it?  I can remember waiting, terrified, to hear what they would say. Waiting for them to judge me. No one did. At least, no out loud. I’ll never know for sure what they think inside. The looks on their faces, though…

Everyone seemed pretty supportive, which helped ease that heavy load of shame. How one can spend their entire life carrying that shit around and not know it, I have no idea. But you sure as hell notice when it’s gone! The more I told the story, the more it became just that… a story. I was eventually able to tell it without crying, without trembling, without fearing being judged, without feeling nausea. I removed thoughts, scenarios and people from my life that triggered me and things started falling into place. The shame and doubt slowly became replaced with feelings of worth and confidence. I became empowered. I accepted things for what they were. No one was ever going to make me feel used or unworthy again! It suddenly seemed easy. And there, my friends, lies the mistake….

The problem with my technique is, you can’t remove thoughts, scenarios and people who trigger you. Sure, you can temporarily avoid them, but you can’t remove them. And when your triggers involve family, forget about it. And when your triggers involve family, you might as well forget about it. They find their way back, in one form or another. Some are more camouflaged than others, but they all find their way back in, eventually. Sometimes, they hide in people you would never guess. Removing the triggers is not what’s easy at all. It’s them sneaking back to you, that’s what’s easy. I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening. How could I not realize it? These feelings of angst, shame, rejection, fear… they are supposed to be gone. Empowered people don’t feel those things, right? For me, emotions almost seem like a trigger. When people or scenarios result in me feeling a certain way (typically unworthy or unimportant), I start to spiral. Weird, isn’t it?

I had a nightmare last night. The first one since last summer. I was home alone and I was getting robbed. Masked men were at each window. I can usually tell when I’m dreaming, but not with this one. Just like the ones I had last summer. Scary as shit and so freaking  real. In the dream, I knew they were going to kill me. I could see a scene of my father’s house, and all of my family was over there for a birthday party. I was trying to figure out how to get out of my house before the men got to me, and I could somehow hear my family talking at the party at the same time, about how dramatic I was being. Even though I was scared to death of these men about to attack me, I also questioned myself. “WAS I making too big of a deal about this?”  Jesus, I was embarrassed and ashamed, at the same time I was about to get killed. Sounds about right…

So, now I have to figure out how to get rid of this stuff….these feelings. I don’t want my head to be swirling anymore. I did enough of that last year. Intellectually, I understand all of this. I understand that I need to reduce my expectations and learn to accept things for what they are. I need to learn I can’t make people act or feel the way I need them to. That sounds easy enough. I actually have been able to do that for most of the past year. Suddenly, though, I’m finding that talent to be missing. I DO have expectations. I DO need people to treat me the way I need to be treated. It DOES affect me when they don’t. Shit. How do I get back to where those things don’t happen? I don’t want those needs. I had acceptance, and it’s gone.  I felt lovable and now it’s gone. And it hurts. And it’s confusing. And it’s scary. And it’s sad…

And the most ironic part of all this? If I heard this story coming from someone else, I would have the answers. Why is it so much easier to heal others and not myself?

 

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Take me home

I’m sitting here in the parking lot of a shopping plaza dictating this blog post to my phone. I can’t say I’ve ever done this before, so we’ll see how it goes…

I was driving through town listening to my country music playlist, which probably has a good 50 songs on it. You just never know what you’re going to get when you step inside my Venza…Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Loggins, Gladys Knight, Missy Elliott…you gotta be flexible riding with me. I tend to flip-flop between genres, depending on my mood. I just got my hair cut and colored this afternoon and was feeling pretty good about myself. Nothing like belting out a Miranda Lambert song while you’ve got good hair. I turn into this parking lot I’m sitting in now, and the classic “Take me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver comes on. I added this to my playlist years ago, because it reminds me of my dad. I must have been about five or six when we were on a road trip. I can’t recall where we were going, just that it was out of state and took days, or so it seemed. Funny how I can’t remember the vacation, and only remember this part of the drive. The things that make an impression in your brain…

My dad was driving his old blue pick up truck which had a cab on the back of it. I’m assuming my brother and sister were lying down in the back bed of the truck, because that’s how people rolled back then…safety was for sissies. We didn’t even have seatbelts back then. I can remember sitting in the front passenger seat as my mom snoozed, sprawled out in the backseat. I was kneeling and looking at my dad as he drove. We must of been out in the boondocks because there was only one station to listen to and there was so much interference, he ended up turning it off for several hours. For some reason, I had this John Denver song in my head. It must’ve been the last song played on the radio. Unfortunately for my dad, I only knew the chorus. And like a typical five or six-year-old, I was repetitious. I sang that damn chorus for a good four or five hours…”Country roooooads…..take me hommmmme….to the plaaaaaace…..I belonnnnnng…West Virginia, mountain mommaaaa….take me hommmme….country roads”. I remember my dad looking at me after an hour or so, saying “Don’t you know any other songs?” I kept on singing it. We joked about that for years. Actually, we still occasionally do…when I happen to get to see him.

So, the song comes on as I’m pulling in to the parking lot. And just like that, I go from empowered, good hair rocker to that little girl in the pickup truck. As soon as I hear the first few notes, I smile…because damn, this is one great memory from my childhood. And lately, I have spent so much of my life thinking of the bad childhood memories. As I smile, I’m that little girl, singing to her dad. Laughing. Happy. Content. God, it was so easy back then. All I had to do was be a little girl spending time with her dad. Why did it have to become more complicated than that? It’s not easy anymore. Next thing you know, I’m crying and I haven’t even parked my car. I’m crying because it seems like so long ago. I guess it was. 40 years ago. I wish I could feel that way again…able to relate to that song…“to the place I belong”. I don’t even know where that place is anymore. Jesus, if I knew my life was going to turn out the way it did, I would have taken more advantage of those easy moments with my dad. I had no idea they were so fleeting. 

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A dad, his daughter and a motorcycle

When I was in first grade, my dad bought a motorcycle. There’s not much cooler than that to a six-year-old kid. I can remember the excitement I felt when he bought me my very own helmet. A few times a summer, he would take me for a ride. I would hold on tight, never afraid. He was strong and I felt so safe with him. I felt so special on those days. I felt important to him, worthy of his time. Sometimes, we’d ride over to the ice cream shop. We’d lean against the fence, eating our cones, making small talk. Then we’d hop back on and head home, always taking the scenic route, along the beach. I loved the feeling of the wind on my arms as I wrapped them around him tightly. Those rides were never long enough. I wanted to ride with him forever.

I can’t remember the last ride. I suppose they just tapered off as I got older. Things changed. Our family changed. We all became different. Things happened. Things that caused those feelings of worthiness to vanish. I still don’t have them.

He’s got a motorcycle now. I don’t ask for rides anymore, and he doesn’t offer. He doesn’t understand. Those special feelings I had are so faded, I often wonder if they were real. It’s funny how a memory can make you smile and cry at the same time. I would’ve ridden with him forever…

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The Friday Reminder and Prompt for #SoCS Dec. 31/16

This post is a part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday with Linda G Hill. The prompt word is “first”.

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Baring my soul #SoCS

I bared my soul this year. I never planned on it. I spent my whole life hiding my soul. I was so good at hiding it, even I didn’t know it was hidden. I thought what was on display was all it was, and it took baring it to get me to realize what I really had inside me. How one can walk around for four decades not knowing what’s inside them, I just don’t know…but it happens.

Baring my soul resulted in “opening Pandora’s Box”. It was life changing.  Pandora’s Box doesn’t just close up again. Nope, that sucker stays WIDE open until you deal with what it is you just released. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. I did it, though. I’m on the other side now, and can appreciate just how damn heavy that box of secrets was. Baring it all made me lighter. It made me free. Well,  a little more free. I really had to bust my ass emptying that box…it burned and I cried and it was excruciatingly painful. I didn’t think I would ever get the job done. It’s like the box was going to swallow me up…drown me…because I had to dive head first right into the nasty soul part to understand how to empty it. But I did it. One day, it was just empty. It’s crazy how it just happens. Plugging away, feeling hopeless…then it’s done. Liberating. Empowering. Freedom feels good. Funny, though…how come during all those box emptying days, I never noticed that other box? That smaller box that was inside the big box. Damn. Nesting boxes of souls. That’s just mean! But, that’s how it goes, I guess. I don’t make these rules, I just live with them. So, I find myself now facing this second box, wondering how hard it’s going to be to empty. I’m scared. I don’t want to go through all that again. I’m tired. But I can’t just go walking around with another box inside me. Not after all that work I put in on the first damn box. So, I peek inside and get a glimpse of what’s in store. Yup, still some shitty soul ruining stuff, but this box seems a little lighter. Whew. That’s how nesting boxes work…big one with a smaller one inside, then a smaller one inside that one. I bet after I empty this one, there’s a good chance I’ll find yet another one. Weird thing: I’m not really that scared anymore. I get it now. I already survived baring my soul. I already survived emptying “the” box. All these other boxes are just part of that first package. I can handle it. I might not like it. It might make me sad. That’s OK. I know I can be sad and angry and scared and hurt…and survive. I can’t control how other people are going to respond. I can’t make people be who I expect them to be. I can try to open eyes and hearts, but if it doesn’t work, that’s not on me. In the end, all I can control is how I respond.  I bared my soul…the ugliest things inside me, and I’m still here. I survived. I did more than survive, I grew.

Moral of the story: When life seems like too much to bear….wait.

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This post is a part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. We were given the prompt “Bare/Bear” and then had to write organically…no edits, just let it flow!

 

 

The Friday Reminder and Prompt for #SoCS Dec. 10/16

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45

Today I turn 45. I’ve never been one to regret growing older. I’m grateful to have made it this far. Since I was a teenager, I’ve always had this feeling that I was going to die young. I never really knew how young, but I knew I would never make it to grandparent age. I think I often pictured it to be in my 30s or 40s, so to make it to 45 is pretty good. Why? No idea. Just something I’ve always “known”. Not a suicidal thought, just regular old dying…like disease or accident or something out of my hands.  Kind of like how I’ve always known that living “happily ever after” was never in the cards for me. I grew up knowing I wasn’t the type of girl who was going to have someone fall madly in love with her and want nothing more than to spend the rest of his life with her.  Sometimes, I would imagine it, but inevitably scolded myself for dreaming about things I didn’t deserve. I was never quite sure why I didn’t deserve them, but I was smart enough to be aware of it. Like not living to be old, it was out of my hands. These are things I’ve just inherently known, like knowing I was female, or I was Native American, Italian and French…you are who you are and the things that are going to happen, well…they just happen.

 

Now that I’ve started on my journey this year, I think I’ve started to unravel the mystery of why I’ve always had those feelings. They seemed so normal my whole life, up until this year. Now I know they are not normal feelings…unless maybe you have unresolved childhood trauma. It makes sense for me to feel my life is not in my control. How could it be? It never has been.  At 9, I learned the first lesson: It just wasn’t in the cards for me to have my mom want to stay. At 13, I learned it wasn’t in the cards for me to choose with who and when I wanted to have sex for the first time (and second, third, fourth….15th…20th time….). At 14, I learned I could not control the anger of my stepmother, nor her impulsive rage towards me. It was out of my hands. Just how things were. At the same age, I learned it just wasn’t in the cards for me to have a dad that could protect me from her. Through the rest of my teen years, I kept on learning that first sexual lesson I received at 13. Actually, for the rest of my life I kept learning that lesson. I can’t remember at what age I figured out that it just wasn’t in the cards for me to ever know what real emotional intimacy felt like. It’s sad that this realization didn’t make me sad. It was something I accepted before I even realized it. I knew I wasn’t worthy. I even had come to the realization that it wasn’t in the cards for me to have kids, because really…how can that happen when no one is going to love me? Thank God I was wrong on that one…I have somehow been blessed with two of the most lovely, compassionate, amazing boys anyone could ever dream of having. I’m always surprised at how these two awe-inspiring human beings were created from the nothingness of me.  I knew I didn’t deserve them. I figured I must have slipped one past God, and was so terrified that he would realize the mistake and take them from me. So far, he hasn’t noticed, but the fear still exists.

 

I’ve come a long way in the past year. I’ve started to understand how I’ve become who I am. I understand why I have that hole inside my soul. Heck, even understanding there is a hole in my soul is pretty amazing. I always thought my feelings were normal. Just how I was. Now I know they are from trauma. Lots of trauma. So much trauma that I kept hidden in a box, deep down inside of me. The jagged edges of that box are what carved the hole inside my soul. That’s often how it works…one trauma sets you up for the next, and so on and so on. It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself because it’s all you know. Since it’s all you know, as far as you can see, it’s normal. It is what it is. People can live and die without knowing any better. Luckily for me, I happened to stumble across a little glimmer of light while in couples therapy. It turns out, that little glimmer of light was a crack in that box I kept my trauma in. Amazing how a little bit of therapy with the right person, at the right time, using the right tools (writing in my journal, meditating) is powerful enough to crack open that box. I ended up spending the past year diving head first into that box. I saw the darkest parts of my existence and for a while, I thought I might suffocate and die in there. By the grace of God, I came out. I’m not all the way out…I think my feet are more often than not, still standing in the box, and sometimes, I get tired and just lie down in there, but other times I step out of it. I stepped out enough to realize that I actually have some control over what happens to me. The trick is to understand that I can’t control what others think or do, but I can control how I respond, how I act….what I’m willing to let happen to me.  It took me reaching the age of 45 to realize I control me. I control me. I could have just taped up that crack in the box and went about my business. I think that would have been a lot easier, but you know what? That just wasn’t in the cards for me.

glimmer

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