Maybe if I had understood what was going on a little better, I wouldn’t have started hurting myself. Maybe if I had been told that what I was going through was scary and confusing and not my fault, I wouldn’t have blamed myself for being so messed up. But instead, I felt ashamed of my family and ashamed of myself and while I was desperately crying out for someone to love me, even when people tried, I couldn’t feel it anymore.
I still remember the day I decided to cut. I was sitting on my bed, ready to have something that I could control; something that proved that I was alive and in charge of my own life. I used an old pocket knife that my dad had bought me and it was easier than I thought, watching the little beads of blood pool up where the cool metal had been seconds before.
“This is mine.” I thought. And I made a plan to use it as my main coping mechanism everyday from then on. What I didn’t know at the time was that my control over self injury would eventually lead to a life of it controlling me.
Distorted coping mechanisms happen when we feel so out of control that we want something, ANYTHING to put our unsteady feet back onto solid ground. I grew up in a culture of girls that starved theirselves to lose weight, rather than eating clean, nutritious foods. A culture where kids smoked and drank and did all sorts of destructive behaviors because something essential was missing in their lives; a stable living environment, parental guidance, and the building blocks necessary to know what to do with all of that teenage angst. Sure, not all of my friends were depressed or spiraling out of control but a few were and had we understood how valuable we were, that the circumstances going on around us weren’t our fault, maybe we could have found a little love for ourselves and a slightly less destructive way of coping.
My parents tried counseling and I wanted to believe that it would help me, but somehow I ended up with the most unqualified adults imaginable. The last one that I was seeing was a “recovered anorexic”, except I don’t think she was actually recovered. She would look at me and say the most ridiculous things, comparing my physical appearance to hers or telling me that what I thought I was feeling was wrong and that what I actually felt was something entirely different. After a few months of sessions, I stopped cutting because she kept trying to make me show her my arm. After I was only cutting once or twice a week she released me from counseling because since I was no longer “actively cutting” I didn’t need help anymore.
Looking back on that, I just shake my head in wonder and I feel enraged for my sixteen year old self. How did that even happen? How was that lady even qualified to be a counselor, let alone a person who had any sort of right to speak into someone else’s life? So, by the time I left home and went to college, I was all kinds of broken, while not understanding what was wrong with me.
I’m unqualified to write on trauma of any sort. I don’t have a major in psychology or counseling or anything that would potentially give my words credit. I can only speak to you from experience and truly, all that I can offer to you is myself. When I was eighteen, I was basically a walking shell; hollow, empty, without emotion. I wanted desperately to be someone else; I wanted to feel like I belonged, like I was someone worth knowing, but the only words that I could hear speaking into my life were the ones inside that told me how much of a screw up I was.
My arms and legs were scarred, but my heart had the deepest scar of all; the kind that I was sure would never fade.
I feel so sad as I write this. My life wasn’t fair. Of course it wasn’t as bad as millions of others, but your pain isn’t less based on the comparison of someone else’s experience. Sometimes I still get so angry at the damage that was done but I refuse to sit in that for too long, because it did happen and I am so blessed and fortunate to be in the place that I am now in. In reality, it’s hard to believe that I lived through all of that because it feels like a million years ago, but when I look at symptoms of childhood trauma, I understand why I am who I am today.
We get to make a choice. We get to decide if something will become trauma or not, but oftentimes we don’t realize that we have that choice and situations that could be healed instead become wounds and then scars that never really disappear. I will struggle with certain limitations my whole life, but nearly ten years ago, I decided that struggle or not, those limitations would NEVER own me.
I’m not a perfect picture of someone who has fully recovered, but I am a picture of positivity and hope. I haven’t erased the damage that was done to me, but I have overcome. I still get extremely moody and I shut down and get anxiety and have to deal with mild bouts of depression and emptiness…but I also celebrate life on the daily, I laugh, I love deeply, I practice self care and kindness, I have hobbies that I love, I have a family that breaks my heart with so much love that I could burst. I am happy. I am thankful. I am me.
Self injury will never be a part of my life again. And neither will destructive coping mechanisms. In that, I have fully recovered. But it wasn’t easy and I failed a lot. But I did it and so can you.
Here I am. It’s just you and me and this space for truth and honesty and healing. We all have our stories and our painful moments. But worse than going through something traumatic is the belief that we have to do it on our own. You don’t have to fight for yourself by yourself. I’ll be here fighting for you and I pray that you find a tribe close to you that can stand strong when you feel weak. You deserve to heal.
All the love,
P.S. I will do a wrap up blog next, with a quick recap of the seven parts of childhood trauma that we discussed (or course there are so many other ways trauma can affect a person).