Healing childhood trauma can lead to overcoming addiction, depression, anxiety, or any debilitating condition which benefits from redefining who you are. According to US Dept of Health & Human Services: Child Welfare, childhood trauma effects are persistent fear response, hyperarousal, increased internalizing symptoms, diminished executive functioning, delayed developmental milestones, weakened response to positive feedback, and complicated social interactions.
“You survived by seizing every tiny drop of love you could find anywhere, and milking it, relishing it, for all it was worth. And as you grew up, you sought love, anywhere you could find it, whether it was a teacher or a coach or a friend or a friend’s parents. You sought those tiny droplets of love, basking in them when you found them. They sustained you. For all these years, you’ve lived under the illusion that somehow, you made it because you were tough enough to overpower the abuse, the hatred, the hard knocks of life. But really you made it because love is so powerful that tiny little doses of it are enough to overcome the pain of the worst things life can dish out. Toughness was a faulty coping mechanism you devised to get by. But, in reality, it has been your ability to never give up, to keep seeking love, and your resourcefulness to make that love last long enough to sustain you. That is what has gotten you by.”
A traumatic event involves one experience, or repeating events with the sense of being overwhelmed that can be delayed by weeks, years, or even decades as the person struggles to cope with the immediate circumstances, eventually leading to serious, long-term negative consequences, often overlooked even by mental health professionals: “If clinicians fail to look through a trauma lens and to conceptualize client problems as related possibly to current or past trauma, they may fail to see that trauma victims, young and old, organize much of their lives around repetitive patterns of reliving and warding off traumatic memories, reminders, and affects.”
I took my mother-in-law for her doctor’s appointment today. In the car, she began to tell me about the tests being done on her husband, who is still in hospital. I have written here before that he has cirrhosis of the liver. The doctors are doing a liver biopsy and some other tests as well.
I asked her if she thought alcohol was a factor in his liver disease. And she opened up to talk to me as she has never done before. She told me that my father-in-law would go on binges for days. She said that she has been called every name in the book by him, been yelled at and belittled. She also told me that her own father drank. And she said that he did not want her to marry another man who drank.
All of this came as a huge “Ah-Ha” for me. I could understand her anger over the years, her need for a perfect house, her changeable moods. It all made sense to me when I knew that she was a kindred soul–an adult child of an alcoholic who married an alcoholic.
I have been around my mother-in-law for all of my married life. Yet, I never had this kind of conversation with her. She kept her distress from her sister and from close friends. And she kept it for all these years from me. Now, I see her through different eyes. I feel a level of compassion for her that I have for newcomers who arrive in pain.
She has persevered through a marriage of over 50 years, carrying around a secret that so many of us, who are affected by alcoholism, do. She told me that the reason she stayed in the marriage was because of her daughter, my wife. And that decision no doubt had its ramifications for C. Probably, what she isn’t aware of, is that she stayed for other reasons as well–hoping to change the alcoholic, fear of abandonment, economic fears, pride, and a host of other emotions that keep us bound in an emotional prison.
I shared with her about my father. I didn’t mention my wife as I won’t break her anonymity, even to her own mother. I told her that I don’t know whether my dad was an alcoholic but that I also had a lot of unresolved emotions carried over from childhood. And I told her that I have learned to detach from the belligerence of others by physically removing myself. She said that she tunes out her husband’s yelling as best she can.
How I wish that she could have gotten into Al-Anon. The conversation we had made us both feel better. As she put it, “We now know something about each other that we didn’t before.” How very true. More will be revealed.
Today, I was asked a question by a therapist-friend of mine, who knows I am a survivor of trauma, but does not know that I am DID. I was explaining that sometimes I get “stuck” in the healing process, like I plateau and I’m moving forward but I don’t feel like I’m making progress. I explained to her that I get stuck usually in fear, and the emotion overcomes me. I am unable to process memories with my therapist at that point. They just swirl around in my head.
She asked, “Do you have to talk about the memories to move past them?”
I answered with a very strong YES! Although, as one of “The Regulars” I don’t have clear memories of the abuse, someone else does. And they really feel like it is important to talk about it to “move on” (or whatever you call healing). My therapist-friend felt that in her professional experience, it wasn’t always necessary to process the trauma, but more important to learn and implement coping skills.
I agree that healthy coping skills are important. Grounding. Containment. Hobbies. Distraction. Relaxation. But without processing the trauma, I know I will never move on. I need to talk about it with my therapist. In detail, including feeling the feelings no matter how overwhelming they are. Once and for all. I don’t know if that’s just different for me, or if it is different because I’m DID, or if it’s different because I’m dealing with Complex Trauma. Or all three?