Digging Into the Darkness
Digging Into the Darkness
This past week I’ve been digging into the darkness. And no, I’m not talking about the eclipse that happened Monday, even though it did help dredge that stuff up. I’m talking about the trauma I experienced in childhood. The emotional abuse. The sexual harassment I experienced in high school. The bullying. All of that garbage has been on the surface of my psyche this past week, and I’ve felt as raw as an open wound.
Even though this has been a painful experience, and even more painful to write about, I think it’s important to do. I think it’s important for me to dredge this stuff up, and write about it, because in the long run it will help me heal. It will also help those of you who’ve had similar experience know that you are not alone.
Because of my past trauma I have PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), mild Anxiety Disorder, abandonment issues, and probably more things that I’m not aware of. I have not received a diagnosis from a psychiatrist, but thanks to the advent of Google, and many support blogs and pages, I’ve been able to piece together this list, and begin to heal.
Today I’d like to share my experience, and some of my many “quirks”, to work through this mess. Break down the wall I’ve so carefully built up. I ask that you hold space for me for just a moment. And in return, I will hold space for you when you need it.
When I say the word “trauma”, you may get a picture of a child being beaten with a belt, being thrown around, or otherwise seriously neglected. And you’d be correct. But, there is also another form of trauma that can occur, and that is emotional abuse. That is what I experienced.
My trauma began in grade school. There was a time, shortly before my family moved to a different city, that I was bullied and beat up every day after school while walking home. For some reason, I was the target of these two girls, and they felt the need to beat me up. I vividly remember one occasion in particular when my New Kids On the Block t-shirt was ripped. My mom was working at the liquor store down the way from where we lived, and I went there after it happened. Even though my memory is fuzzy, I don’t remember her doing anything about it.
From that time on, I learned not to trust.
After that, I was bullied in grade school because of my teeth. “Buck-tooth beaver” was the favorite slam among the kids. In high school, it was “flannel bitch”, because I wore flannel shirts all the time. That was also the cause of my sexual harassment.
The boy who called me “flannel bitch” also put gum in my hair during driver’s ed. We were called into the principal’s office one day. The principal asked me if I wanted to file a harassment claim against him, but I declined because I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know it was okay to ask for help. I didn’t know that that kind of behavior wasn’t okay. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel about the situation.
I also experienced emotional abuse at home. My mom wasn’t in the picture much because my parents divorced when I was 10, which left my dad to raise us. But, I want to make one thing clear before I continue: I don’t blame my dad for my PTSD. I don’t hate him. I am finally in a place where I can look back and say he did the best he could under the circumstances. But, I do not dismiss what happened either.
My dad was verbally abusive. He would get stressed out, and angry, and yell. A lot. He would also spank us. Now, spanking to a certain degree is understandable. But, when the parent is so worked up that they chase the child through the house because they’re avoiding the spanking, that is not okay.
I learned at an early age to do everything I could to please my dad, so I wouldn’t get spanked. My sister on the other hand did not learn that lesson. She and my dad would scream and fight, while I tried my best to be invisible. My escape mechanism was reading, because I could zone out and forget everything going on for a short time.
Another painful event from my childhood is something that happened on an over-night visit at my mom’s. Her boyfriend at the time decided to start tickling me, in the middle of the night, while I was sleeping. He may have been drunk, I don’t know. I do know that that event caused some damage though. I don’t know if anything more than that happened, because I can’t remember. But, I do know that it affected me.
Today, as an adult, there are many things I do because of what I experienced as a child. One of the biggest things is, I second-guess myself. Constantly. Just trying to write this piece has been a challenge because my mind says “you’re overreacting. You’re making it out to be worse than it was”. This self-doubt has made many things difficult for me in life. Like, asking for help. I have difficulty asking for help because my mind tells me I don’t need it.
I should have gone to therapy many times over these past few years because of my PTSD and anxiety. When I was feeling suicidal, especially after my mom died. When I would have flashbacks to my dad yelling at us any time someone in authority would raise their voice to me. But, I never did. My mind always downplayed it, saying “you’re overreacting again. They won’t believe you. They’ll say you’re not crazy and tell you to go home”.
When something traumatic happens, I don’t know how to feel afterwards. I remember two instances that stand out in my mind.
The first was the time an accident occurred down the street from me. A car ran the stop sign, and hit an SUV, turning it on its side. The driver and passenger in the SUV were stuck inside the vehicle. I heard the crash, and ran down to help, calling 911 (emergency service) on the way. I stayed online with the dispatcher through the whole thing, until paramedics could get there. I stayed on the line when the driver of the car said he had a gun. Turns out, he was just trying to scare everyone away so he could run.
After I got home, I was shaken. But, I didn’t know how I should feel. Should I feel scared? Should I cry? Should I feel proud of myself? I don’t know. I needed validation from another person to help me figure out how I should feel.
The second incident happened after a 12-step meeting. A guy had a seizure due to alcohol withdrawals. As soon as I realized what was happening, I ran over to assist. I stayed with him until the paramedics arrived. But afterwards, I didn’t know how I should feel. I said to a guy friend of mine “would it freak you out if I cried?” And I did, for a second. But that was it. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel.
The next day, I didn’t talk to any of my friends about it because my mind told me not to. It said that talking about how I felt that night would be making it all about me. So, I held it in. These are just two instances where my mind plays tricks on me.
Other things I do today because of how I was raised is, I overcompensate. I am a perfectionist. I apologize a lot, even when it’s not my fault. I have trust issues, especially with women. If I feel even the slightest change in your mood, I push you away. I avoid conflict. Loud noises trigger my anxiety. I am always aware of what is going on around me. I hate change, but I love chaos when I make it.
I can’t watch T.V., especially the news, because it triggers my anxiety. Violent movies, especially ones that involve torture, cause me anxiety. I have flashbacks to the times when my dad yelled at my sister and I whenever someone in authority raises their voice to me. Whenever I get called into the office at work, I get defensive because of the time I was called into the principal’s office.
I don’t share the deep, dark side of me with others. Whenever I talk to my friends, it’s on a surface level. A consequence of that is, I feel disconnected from others often. And, when I do legitimately need help, I have trouble asking for it because I feel like they won’t believe me. Or, won’t be there for me.
Because of a car accident that I was involved in years ago, I have anxiety every time I need to travel outside the city. Mild to moderate panic attacks. And, I have huge gaps in my memory. Most of my childhood is a blank for me.
The above list is not extensive. There are many other things I do today because of how I was raised. But, slowly I am beginning to heal. When I first got sober, my anxiety was through the roof. I would scratch my arms, or my head, when my anxiety was really bad. I avoided conversations with people that I didn’t know. I couldn’t look people in the eye.
Today, my anxiety is still with me, but I’m learning to cope. I’ve learned what triggers my anxiety and PTSD, and instead of running away, I face it head-on. I’m still working on my trust issues with people, but it has gotten better. The 4th of July is still difficult, but manageable.
Even though I have these mental illnesses, I don’t let them control my life. I recognize when I need self-care. If I am feeling triggered, I face it head on and work through the feelings, instead of drinking, or running away. I challenge myself by going out after a meeting with friends, even though I feel anxious. When the voice in my head pipes up with doubt, I tell it to fuck off.
It has been a slow process. A learning process. But, it has also been a growth process. I can do many things today that I couldn’t do last year, or three years ago. That growth will continue to happen if I keep digging into that darkness, and shining the light of hope in the crevices.
Sending love and light,