It is common knowledge that the cause for some adults who suffer mental illness can be traced back to adversity experienced early in life, like childhood sexual trauma. It is also a known fact that when someone experiences such a traumatic event they are most likely to respond in one of two ways, by harming themselves or harming others, either way the abuse cycle continues. This is my mothers and my story.
I do have warm-hearted stories of my childhood, they are happy memories filled with love and laughter. One of my fondest memories is the Homestead, a large chunk of land my grandparents owned on the outskirts of Westport, Ontario and where I spent a majority of my summers camping with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. We would spend the entire summer enjoying the long summer days filled with exploring, swimming, corn roasts, and campfires. When I really focus and concentrate I can still hear the screams of joy and laughter, taste the sweet taste of corn on the cob, hear the crackle of the fire, and inhale the smell of campfire smoke on my clothes. So when I was 10 and learned we were moving to Westport permanently I was ecstatic, this was a place I adored, a place I felt safe. These feelings however were short lived.
Alcoholism is a disease, drug addiction is a disease. There is a reason a person turns to alcohol and drugs. For my mother the reason was to numb the pain, to forget the horror she experienced as a child. The ill-fated side effect to her pain was my pain, my childhood trauma. The physical and emotional abuse I experienced at the hands of my mother was the darkest moments of my life.
I can remember the first time she struck me, I can remember the sting on my cheek, I can remember the sound of the smack and the words that followed, “You stupid little bitch.” I stood there staggered, unable to speak, having a hard time registering what just happened. What hurt the most was not my stinging cheek, but my broken heart. My mother, the person who is supposed to love me and protect me just called me a stupid little bitch. I was 10 years old.
As my mothers drinking and drug addiction got worse, so did the abuse. It graduated from hits to the head and insults, to being ripped out of my bed in the middle of the night, dragged to the basement, and beaten with the belt so badly that I could not sit down properly for days. My mother was very drunk and very angry, convinced that I somehow betrayed the family talking about things that happened in our home, which was forbidden. The more I denied it, the worse the abuse got, but I refused to take the blame for something I did not do, it is this resilience that helped me survive this time period of my life. This lasted for 3 long and painful years, many nights I cried myself to sleep wanting the pain to end, wondering why my mother hated me so much, I felt so alone, so hopeless. I kept this to myself, suffering in silence, telling no one. One day it just got to be too much and during one of her tirades, I struck her and struck her so hard, she stumbled. She stared at me, never said a word, and we never spoke about it again. She never struck me again, but the emotional abuse continued. To this day it takes all I have to go down into a basement, I still tremble and shake as I take each step.
I have dedicated my life to working in Mental Health & Addictions. There is a lot I have learned both personally and professionally. Traumatic childhood events can change the way a person’s brain and body work. Trauma effects the person’s emotions, memory, thinking, and sense of self. People cope with painful feelings in different ways, misuse of drugs and alcohol is common place. If you or someone you know is showing signs of trauma get help, push for the right diagnosis and treatment plan. Still too many times there are professionals in the field quick to diagnosis and give medications. The best treatment plan includes Psychotherapy or a combination of Psychotherapy and medication to help stabilize an individual so that they can participate in a meaningful life. Some common signs of Trauma are:
- Trouble sleeping
- Panic attacks
- Drinking or doing drugs
- Eating disorders
- Physical and emotional abuse of others
- Placing oneself in high risk situations
- Repeated experiences of physical and sexual violence
Start with talking with your Family Doctor, get a referral to your local Mental Health Agency, investigate and see that they have adopted Trauma Informed Care Interventions. It can get better, I am living proof that it does, I will not lie, it is hard, it is gut wrenching, but you can survive this, you can heal and have a healthy, happy life, you can love and be loved.