The cold sweat. The pounding in your ears. The racing of your heart. The sudden waves of nausea. And it can hit you out of nowhere. Take you down completely. What was it? A brand of shoes. A smell. A memory stored in your brain’s pop-up software. But not even a memory. A portal. You have a superpower that is a curse. In a moment you can be transported through time and space to the moment(s) that the trauma wrote itself indelibly on your awareness. Getting back to today isn’t part of the power. Buckets of adrenalin being dumped into your system against your will. Fear becomes almost tangible as your brain is telling your body to fight and flee and freeze NOW! Because NOW DANGER DANGER!
You breathe. You tell yourself to feel your feet on the ground. You recite the month, day, year. For however long it takes you. Hopefully you were at home on your couch or had someone to come get you from where you happened to be. You live through the moment and on the other side you are a wrung out dish-rag. It can take your body days to recover.
Some days are good. Sometimes even weeks. There isn’t a handbook for being the adult survivor of childhood trauma. There isn’t a timeline or a protocol. There is only trucking along and being as ‘normal’ as possible, whatever the hell that is, until one day it all comes crashing into you. There is a lot of mimicry and mirroring as you attempt to create a life out of the fragments of knowledge, assumptions, observations, and pieces of instinct that you have managed to hold onto. Until it hits you unawares from behind and the slivers of life that you had welded together with willpower are scattered in front of you on the ground.
It is frustrating and agonizing. It is devastatingly lonely at times, but with a fierce gladness that most of the people in your life have no idea what it is like to experience the things that knock you off your feet without warning.
It is chaos in there, sometimes. The confusion takes up so much space that daily tasks and everyday routine is too heavy to remember. I live my life by the hour by a digital calendar with reminders. I struggle to remember things chronologically as linear events. I have no sense of direction. Days run together and I often cannot give a clear account of things. I probably sound like I’m making things up. When I’m stressed or anxious, I can’t find my words. I have been to the point of stuttering on occasion.
For 30 years, I lived a life that I could manage to an acceptable extent. I did the things I should do. I looked marginally appropriate. I cared about enough of the things people care about to maintain family relationships and a few close friendships while being married, homeschooling my children, and being involved with my church. The darkness hovered slightly behind me but as long as I kept moving and pouring myself into the lives of the people I love, I could stay just ahead of it. In quiet, still moments, I felt silent agony, studiously ignored poignant questions, and carefully repelled doubt and fear. I could be uptight and nervous but worked hard to be fun and full of life. Knowing somewhere deep inside that at some point I would have to turn and face the demons head on.
In all my reading about trauma and surviving, they speak of the pre-trauma you. Putting back together the pieces and learning to integrate the trauma into your memory and life instead of the trauma being a current reality that continues to hijack your life. There is no pre-trauma me. There is only a frightened little girl who wished to be loved but was fairly certain, and for good reason, that she was too gross and stupid to be worth much of anything. The abuse began before I can even remember, if what I saw of my younger siblings is an adequate representation of us all.
It was in the name of God. The one place I might find peace and hope is tainted by the damage. My desire to know and trust God puts me in the path of trigger after trigger. I’m coming to learn slowly that it is not the same Jesus. I’m throwing out the old knowing and finding the new truth. There are Christian buzzwords and religious phrases. There is Christian-ese that was used to justify the beatings. It’s slow. And terrifying.
Affection itself is tainted. When you had to earn love by betraying a sibling or by confessing to wrongs of all shapes and sizes, whether truly committed or not, it feels dirty to let someone love you. To be embraced after an argument feels unsafe. The sweetest of emotions and loving actions are not to be trusted at face value because they are a part of the control. It is a fight to honestly love and be loved for who you are.
I feel so less than enough. I cannot love my husband the way he deserves to be loved. There are holes in my care for my children no matter how fiercely I hold them in my heart. I am learning and I am growing. But every step forward is a dance: a step to the front and several to the back and sides. And in the process of learning, I am crowded and scattered in my mind. I am anxious. I forget everything. All the time. I walked into my kitchen 4 times on Monday trying to remember what I was doing. Eventually the kids got sandwiches for their lunch. I think that’s what I couldn’t remember. I feel like a disaster. I am exhausted after short amounts of social interaction. Getting out of bed every morning is almost more than I can handle some days. Simple tasks can seem overwhelming from time to time.
I keep putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that another horizon is up ahead. I fight the trauma everyday. I fight the fear. I fight the worthlessness. I fight the confusion. I go to therapy. I take my vitamins. I exercise. I read and study about the things that happened and how to be better. I’m researching treatments and making horribly tough decisions about how to best take care of myself and my family. I have better days.
I am painfully aware of how unavailable I’ve been. I feel each time I let my people down. I cry over the things I forget or confuse. And an apology seems far too little. The times I have to withdraw to recharge myself feel like slaps in your face. I’m sorry. Please be patient with me. It will get better. But it might get a little worse once in a while as I learn how to navigate my new landscape.
Unfortunately, the only way to the other side of this is through. I held it to the side for 30 years so I could get my bearings. Apparently my brain has decided I’m safe enough to face it. So I’m on a ride someone else bought me a ticket for.
I will get better. I will get through each wave. They may knock me down and carry me a little out to sea but I refuse to let the trauma win. My wins might not look like wins to you. It might not even look like I’m fighting. But since when is fighting ever pretty? When has battle ever been glamorous?