Am I broken?
Childhood trauma survivors usually wonder this because they feel so shattered from the pain they endure(d). This pain is so overwhelming that to exist they must disconnect from it to carry on with life. As a result, they feel like they don’t belong anywhere; they feel lost and alone; they feel unsafe, not knowing who they are. They sense the disconnectedness but don’t know why, where it comes from, or what to do about it.
I have felt this way for as long as I can remember. Only recently have I noticed more shifts happening within, and I am beginning to feel an alignment or unification of sorts inside. It is like the pieces of me are coming together and making up a whole – a new healed me. It is now four and a half years since I was re-traumatized and developed PTSD on top of dealing with pre-existing Complex/Developmental Trauma. Yes, over four years of painful yet rewarding work.
Thankfully, curiosity is replacing the self judgement and I am firm in supporting my need to feel safe. Therefore, I choose to be with those who build me up, who value me and respect me. They help me see my worth and support me to reach my goals. They see how far I’ve come and continue to support me as I heal. These are “my people, my family.”
Three memories emerged recently that overwhelmed me to the point where the executive function part of my brain was inaccessible. First, waves of horrific emotions overwhelmed me. I sobbed and felt like a terrified and helpless little girl. Then I recalled something that was said when I was growing up. I heard more than once that if I didn’t listen and pay attention and do as I was told that I’d die at Armageddon. If I wasn’t obedient, I’d die. If I didn’t listen, I’d die.
Then within seconds two more memories emerged. One was when I was on a road trip, probably a tween at the time, and we stopped at a highway rest stop to use the facilities. I remember while in the restroom thinking: “What if, when I came out, they aren’t there?” And sure enough, when I walked out, I looked for the vehicle and it wasn’t there! A feeling of panic, terror and abandonment hit me like a ton of bricks. I looked around thinking “Who can I ask for help?” and then I remembered the “stranger danger” indoctrination I received. So, I looked for a place to sit down for I was frozen and stuck. I waited. Eventually I told myself, “They’ll come back for me” and they did. Now I don’t know if my pre-existing fear made it so that I couldn’t see the vehicle or what. All I know is that the feeling of abandonment was real, intense and traumatic. It only took a second for me to numb out and shut down my feelings. The panic and terror were too much. So, did this happen because I didn’t “listen”? What did I misunderstand? What did I get wrong? I learned from this experience that if I didn’t listen, my life was in peril.
The other was from when I was in grade seven. I distinctly remember not understanding what a new teacher was saying to our class. The next thing I knew, all the students got up and left and I didn’t understand what was happening. I had a meltdown. I felt absolutely terrified at being left behind. I was embarrassed and felt so ashamed of myself that I couldn’t “keep it together.”
Many religions preach that “being bad” would result in going to the “bad place” — a life in hellfire. Talk about spiritual abuse creating trauma – religious trauma! Saying these things either directly to or within earshot of an impressionable child is thoughtless and cruel. It is emotionally and psychologically damaging.
No wonder I go into extreme panic if I don’t understand something, especially when I’m trying to follow directions to something new. These situations are a “do or die” thing to me. This explains my insatiable need to know, to learn, and to understand. As a result, I became a voracious learner. And it explains the harsh self-criticism that came with that — the thinking there was something wrong with me if I didn’t understand something.
Of course, I was going to make mistakes while growing up. Who wouldn’t? But to have these terrifying words put onto the shoulders of a 3-, 4- or 5-year-old?! Shame on that adult!
When we are impressionable little ones, words and events like this crush. They devastate, they wound very deeply. They impact our world view and how we relate to others – to everyone — and to ourselves.
This is why my trauma recovery involves more than recovering from the sexual abuse and the sibling abuse. It also includes healing from the emotional abuse and emotional neglect that I experienced. I grew up feeling so alone, that there was no one in my corner.
For most survivors, childhood trauma comes from a constellation of horrible events. It is rarely from one catastrophic event. The trauma (wounding) results more from the lack of emotional support (comfort and reassurance of safety) that should follow the terrifying situation/event. Reassurance would help the baby or child to calm down and “get back to normal” (homeostasis) afterwards. This is why trauma recovery takes time, love, safety, patience, and self-forgiveness. There is lots to acknowledge, unpack, process, and detox from.
Trauma recovery requires meeting the need to feel safe. And part of it involves overcoming strongly entrenched false beliefs and making and adopting new truths. This is how our minds are transformed – how we make new neural pathways that will serve us for the good. Amazingly after all this, I have a healthy relationship with God and feel very close to Him and loved by Him.
Besides the above, my healing involves connecting with the wounded parts of me — the emotional parts that I couldn’t let myself feel so I could survive. Now, I get to hug these parts, welcome them, assure them that they are believed. I speak to them with compassion, unconditional love, and acceptance. I feel their pain and want to listen, validate, and assure them that I’m there to help them with their burdens of rejection, fear, betrayal, unlovableness, unworthiness, the “not good enough” feelings, and more. I get to be the one who nurtures, loves, and accepts them as they are. This is such a priviledge.
Adults who’ve experienced child abuse and or neglect – I say to you: “There IS hope. You / We can recover. No dear one, you’re not broken, not in the way you think you are. You just need to gently get reacquainted with the emotional pieces of you that are circling around. You can do this and I can show you how.
If you’d like to reach out for support in your own healing journey and see if Trauma Recovery Coaching is the best next step you, please read the blog, Is Trauma Recovery Coaching Right for You, and follow the suggestion at the end.
I am Lisa Hilton, an Advanced Certified Trauma Recovery Coach supporting adult survivors of childhood trauma transform travesty into triumph. It would be an honour to walk with you on this journey.