Being a child in my family was synonymous with being the brunt of cruel jokes. For reasons I still cannot comprehend, it was amusing for many of the adults to terrify the little ones. For example: shooting BB guns at my feet, hanging me by my ankles from a two-story balcony, and throwing a pack of lit firecrackers beneath the bed where I lay hiding, brought much laughter to the grown-ups in my world. Add to that the ongoing sexual abuse that began (probably) before I could walk and you had a fantastic recipe for PTSD.
I lived my earliest years in a state of constant fear.
My initial coping mechanisms were unhealthy:
Hiding (Under beds or in a bathroom with a lock on the door)
Sleeping (I slept and slept and slept!)
Disassociation, though I didn’t know it at the time (There are periods of my childhood that are completely blank; as if someone else moved into my head and took over while I stayed safely locked away in some internal room)
As I got older, I learned to cope by drinking and using drugs. I began experiencing insomnia which I cured by chugging 3 beers and smoking a joint. This led to more serious drug abuse and by the time I was 21 I was living on the streets and selling myself for crack-cocaine.
For 16 years my life became a cycle of drug use, jail, rehab, halfway house, then back to using.
The first step in my healing from trauma was to put down the drugs and alcohol. I had to find the courage to get through a day without numbing myself. But sobriety was not enough. Though I attended 12 step meetings regularly and did some therapy with mental health professionals, I was still that terrified little girl inside.
For the first 4 years of my sobriety, I was a mess. Overwhelmed with anxiety, I would rush home from a 12-step meeting to lock my door, pull the shades, and shut off my phone. I was still choosing to be locked in that internal room, hiding away in my brain. It was the only place I felt safe. But without the drugs and alcohol, I now had a window to the outside world. It terrified me.
Going through the 12 steps of recovery enlightened me to the notion that I could rely on God to solve all my problems. I believed in God, but I didn’t trust Him. And I certainly didn’t want to give up any control I thought I had by turning my will and my life over to Him. So many of the people in my life who were supposed to protect me, keep me safe, love me even, had, in fact, allowed me to be hurt, abused me, and humiliated me. Now I was supposed to trust in something I couldn’t even see, hear, or touch.
I would be “ok” in the world for short periods of time. I could manage a few classes at college or an hour at a 12-step meeting. Any longer and the panic began to rise. Attempting to hold a job was a nightmare. So many consecutive hours without being permitted to “hide”. Having to be in reality against my will was just too much, so I found financial security in student loans. But when school was over, I had no choice but to enter the world of the working.
I moved into a supportive living house for women in recovery from addiction and I found a job. A month later I lost that job. I found another job and lost that one as well. Every morning before work I would be so overwhelmed with anxiety that I would vomit. I was sober, but I was miserable.
About this time the boyfriend I had managed to acquire dumped me. I had interviewed for a position at a halfway house shortly before the break up and was confident I had the job. I received a letter the day after my boyfriend and I parted ways explaining that I was not getting the position.
I was devastated. Laying on the floor crying, I wanted to die. I knew my boyfriend had broken up with me because I was mentally unstable. Not getting this job compounded the thought that I would never get better and live a normal life.
At this time, a local church I attended once in awhile started a summer internship. The manager of the sober living residence suggested I attend. She went on to say that perhaps God WANTED me to go to the internship… perhaps that is WHY I didn’t get the job.
That may be the best suggestion I have ever taken. I don’t know why this began to fast track my healing process, but it did. The internship focused on revelation through meditation on scripture. Before long I was experiencing a closeness with Jesus Christ that I had never before known. Here was someone, the creator of the universe, who loved me, cared about me, wanted the best for me. I began to trust.
To put it simply; Jesus climbed into that room with me inside my head. He grabbed my hand and said, “It’s time to go. You are not alone. You’ve never been alone. I have always been with you. I will be your safe place.”
Furthermore, this God I formally could not or would not trust showed me how my experience as a child could help others.
I now manage that sober living residence where I lived when the healing began. In my role as house manager I am granted the absolute joy of being able to truly empathize with women who’ve suffered. I have worked here since 2016 and have yet to meet a woman I cannot relate to on some level.
I no longer recognize the woman who saw the world as a dark and dangerous place to be feared. Today I am full of joy knowing I am fulfilling my purpose. Do not misunderstand; the ramifications of childhood trauma still afflict me at times. I continue therapy with a mental health provider and have many understanding people in my life who remind me that “this too shall pass” when I am feeling overwhelmed. The need to hide away in that little room in my brain lessens more and more as I continue my journey.
I am easy on myself today. When I feel overwhelmed, I give myself a break. Just writing this essay triggered some unpleasant memories for me. I felt stressed to the max and took a day off from work. I try not to be ashamed of taking a “mental health” day. Something I would have beat myself up for in the past.
I still like to sleep, but I balance that with more engagement with the world around me. I take everything one day at a time, one moment at a time, continuing to grow in my trust in God. It is pretty easy these days as I am spoiled by my Father in heaven! I am happily married, gainfully employed, and have everything I could ever need or want.
To sum up; for me, the greatest tool for overcoming trauma was learning to trust God. The second-best tool was learning to see my childhood as, NOT a tragedy, but the essential ingredient in a healing balm for others. Knowing that my past suffering helps another woman is a gift of changed perspective that I never thought possible.
Today I can trust, and I am truly blessed!