How does someone even begin to describe a childhood wrought with pain, fear, terror, and loneliness? There is not a title or word that encompasses all I endured as a child. It has taken many years to process what I went through and many, many more to even begin putting voice, sound, and story to my past.
What some people may not realize is that children who grow up in fear and chaos are silent warriors. Life is constantly changing and confusing, so it's hard to understand what is happening and why. If life doesn't make sense how do you talk about it? If a child doesn't have a trusted adult who sees her pain and asks her to share it, how does she learn to talk about it? Like so many children, I was a silent warrior. I spent the majority of my life in silence hiding the truth of what I was enduring at home.
Part of the reason I lived in silence is because I moved around a lot. I didn't stay at a school long enough to have a good friend(s) I could confide in. Teachers didn't get a chance to know me, let alone try to help me. Having to constantly make a whole new set of friends was lonely and isolating. A child has to learn how to be vulnerable and make deep connections. When I should have been learning how to do this I was learning how to be invisible. Desperately trying to find a whole new set of friends once, twice, sometimes three times a year was heart breaking. The more I was able to keep peers out the less heartbreaking it was when I left them. Hence being invisible; hiding from my peers, teachers, family and myself saved my heart from overflowing with pain.
Something else that added to my silence is, every time something out of control, scary or flat out crazy happened it was minimized. I had many adults tell me that what my mom was doing was not a big deal. It was not a big deal because they too were living in chaos and for them it was normal. Therefore, no one sat with me to process my experience and see how it impacted me. I was told time and time again that "your mom really loves you children." Them why was she so violent? It's confusing when adults tell you one thing, but their actions say another thing. If she loved me as much as she did why would she tell me she didn't want to be my mother? Why would she call me names like stuck up, slut, whore, and bitch? This was so confusing. My experience and feelings did not match with what was happening. This helped me to feel that what I was feeling didn't matter. If I don't matter then why would I share how I feel? My mom and her unpredictable sabotaging behavior was all that mattered. My family put all their focus on my mom, but none of them stopped to think what about the kids watching and experiencing the craziness. They naively thought, "oh they're kids, they'll be fine." Yes, I was fine in the sense that I lived, but I was not fine. I was emotionally crippled, terrified and so hurt by what I was having to endure. My silence was shutting down my heart and isolating me from close relationships and love.
Moving around a lot and living in chaos felt like I didn't matter. I lived in shame about my life and who I was. I internalized the chaos I lived as my fault. I felt that I was a bad kid, an angry kid, a selfish kid, and I deserved what happened to me. I didn't understand until many years later that the adults in my life were children themselves. As typical of most adult children they don't hold their self accountable to their actions, but project all of their shadows onto others. For instance my mother would constantly tell me how angry I was and shame me for feeling upset when I was hurting. While she herself was getting in physical altercations with men, police, neighbors, and family members whenever they upset her. She dealt with her painful emotions through violence, but in her eyes I was the one with a problem. Adult children are victims of life, so they feel justified in their actions. Everyone else is the problem, not them, they are innocent. It took me many years to come to understand this. When I came to this understanding it helped strip away a layer of shame which allowed me to start wanting to share my experiences. It was not my fault, I was an innocent child.
Silence is not natural. For some like myself, it is a self taught strategy to stay safe. A person who is not safe must shut off her feelings and truth in order to survive. These experiences, feelings and not having a safe/secure relationship to be vulnerable is what kept me in silence.
It wasn't until after I became a mother did I really begin to share my story. The first time I attempted to share my story was in college. My professor wanted each of us to talk about how we grew up in front of the class. I had no clue what to share, every story up till mine seemed so normal and dare I say happy. My story wasn’t and this scared me. I felt so much shame about what I went through. When it was my turn I could barely get the words out. My face was beat red, my body shook, every other word came out as a stutter. I could barely think so my story didn't make sense because it had no linear coherency. Fast forward to graduate school when I had to share my story again. It was a tad easier because I knew my cohort well enough to feel safe being vulnerable, but I was still terrified. I was able to share a few things like my mother dying of a drug overdose and attending around 20 different schools in my childhood. So, it was progress, but still too hard to do in a clear and coherent way. It wasn't until I started to work through my trauma, after grad school, did I want to share what I went through and I could do it without feeling sick to my stomach. Now, almost twenty years after I first attempted to tell my story I can share without fear or a physical reaction. The shame I felt that kept me in silence is leaving my body. I still feel it from time and time, but not to the extent where it causes me to be quiet.
I do not consider myself fully healed from my childhood trauma, but I am no longer unconsciously controlled by it. My work now is to rewire what has been long wired in my brain. I still have certain fears and reactions that do no merit the energy I give it, but I see it and I work with it. I've come to accept that it's a process and although I can't always see it I trust that healing is happen. My job is to show up for myself time and time and again. To be kind to myself, honest with myself, and to always accept where I am at.
Over the next few months I plan to start sharing my story via blog and possibly at TEDx Bend. This is a new level of fear because I have no clue who will be reading my words nor do I get to see with my own eyes how the story is impacting the reader. However, I am ready to share on a bigger level. It feels right and I am ready to lean into this new experience despite the fear I feel. I hope that through the telling I can help others connect to the truth of his/her pain and feel motivated to start the long road to healing. If I can do it, I know you can too. I am you, you are me and we are no different from each other. What I can do you can do.