When I first started this site, I wasn’t sure how I was going to navigate sharing about trauma and healing without sharing the actual details of the last major trauma that I went through. The one that broke me so thoroughly, that I had no choice but to start over and build a whole new self. I guess at the time, I figured that maybe one day I’ll be able to share some of the details. But honestly, I’m not sure that the day will ever come. And you know what? That’s okay. I can share the details of some of my earlier traumas, which I’ll do here. But that doesn’t mean the one that I’m keeping to myself doesn’t matter.
Not sharing the details of a trauma doesn’t make it any less valid or real.
I know what I went through. And I know how it affected me. It really doesn’t matter how many other people know the details. That number doesn’t change anything about my trauma. I mentioned in my post last week that everyone’s feelings and emotions are valid, but I wanted to reiterate. It doesn’t matter if others know the details or if they would have been affected the same way. The seriousness of your trauma has nothing to do with the opinions of others. It is about how something affects you. That’s it.
I’ve experienced a lot of trauma (big and small) in my life.
Some of it was minor. So minor that I didn’t even realize it was trauma or affecting me at the time. Growing up with a narcissistic parent who alternated between abuse, neglect and the occasional love bombing had a huge effect on who I was, how I felt about myself, how I processed things, and what I allowed to happen to me. And as it all started so early in my life, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t how every little girl grew up. Even when I started to notice that my father treated me differently than my friends’ dads treated them; I thought it meant that there was something wrong with me. I ended up with an extremely low sense of self-worth, which ended up with me inviting a lot of toxic people into my life and allowing myself to get into some not-so-great situations.
The first time I didn’t try to blame myself for something awful happening to me, I was almost eighteen.
Thinking that I was alone, I didn’t have my guard up. I ended up getting trapped in a room by someone that I knew was dangerous. By the time I noticed him, he was blocking the only exit. The redness of his eyes and heaviness of his breath made it obvious that he was on something, but I didn’t know what. I just knew that he was angry and I was scared. He started walking closer to me and I tried backing up, but too soon my back was against the wall. I couldn’t understand his ramblings at first, but then they started getting louder and a little bit clearer. He was saying he knew that I hated him and that he was sick of it. That he was going to give me a reason to hate him.
He hit me hard before I could prepare myself and I was knocked to the ground. And then lightning fast he was on top of me with his hands around my throat. I clawed and kicked and begged for him to let go, but he only tightened his grip. He was enraged and terrifying to look at, the tinted whites of his eyes showing all the way around his pupils and spit flying out of his mouth as he shouted. My nose stung from the smell of him and my vision started to spot and blur, eventually going dark around the edges. I remember trying to gasp for air, thinking that I was going to die, when suddenly there was a loud noise outside. It distracted him just enough that he loosened his grip and shifted his weight. I was able to shift as well and brought my knee up into his groin as hard as I could. He only faltered for a second, but it was long enough for my adrenaline to get me up and running. I took off as fast I could without looking back, as he screamed that I was a bitch and would regret it.
That was the last time I was ever alone with my father.
I remember being told that I would have to forgive him eventually because he was my father. That I would regret it if he died and I had left things on bad terms. I was told that there were two people involved and I must have done something to set him off. That I knew how he could be and shouldn’t have instigated. I was told that I was probably exaggerating and that the bruises on my neck weren’t even that bad. The phrase ‘that never happened’ was thrown at me more than once and at one point, I was even told I should apologize for making him angry. I was told that I was just looking for attention, that I was stirring up trouble, and that I was always so dramatic.
Pretty soon, I was almost convinced that like everything else, this was my fault too. But then my little sister told me that she overheard our mom telling him that if he ever laid a hand on one of us again, she’d kill him. (He of course denied everything.) Hearing that my mom warned him helped me to believe that maybe, this wasn’t my fault after all. That merely existing wasn’t cause for punishment.
For years I had been afraid of my father. He’d hurt me so many times and had spent my entire life manipulating me, but I had never before thought he would actually try to kill me. I started having panic attacks during the day and nightmares almost every time I slept. But I kept telling myself that I was leaving for college soon. I joined every activity at school, picked up as many shifts as I could at work, and in general just tried to avoid being home. I thought once I left, the pain and fear would go away. It lessoned, but it never really left. I think I just got better at numbing myself and hiding from it all.
I had just turned twenty when something happened that brought on the panic attacks and nightmares in full force again.
Before this, I had thought I was doing better. I was doing well in school and at work and had been working on my relationship with my mom after she’d finally kicked my dad out. If anyone asked me about him, I told them that he had died so that I wouldn’t have to talk or think about him. Finally, I thought maybe I was going to be okay. But then I was at a party one night and things took a bad turn.
An older guy that I sort of knew was telling me that he liked me and wanted to go somewhere quieter so that we could talk. Stupidly, I believed that talking was actually on the agenda and went into one of the back rooms with him. As a result, I will never forget how easy it was for him to tear my stockings, pull at my underwear and rip the strap of my favorite red dress. I won’t ever forget the weight of him on top of me or how his fingerprints were bruised into my arms and waist and thighs. The burst of pain from the assault or the sound of my own cries begging him to stop… and the feeling of the cold bathroom tile where I laid for hours afterwards feeling dirty and broken and used.
I told one person afterwards about what happened, and she said something along the lines of ‘well what did you expect when you went into the room with him?’ And so once again, I started to think it was my fault. I started hearing my father’s voice in my head telling me how worthless and stupid and unlovable I was. Nightmares started coming on strong, switching back and forth between that room at the party and the living room of my childhood home. I had panic attacks and couldn’t be alone unless I double checked the locks on the door over and over again. Every time I walked out that door or turned a corner, I was afraid I was going to see one of my attackers.
I decided that I couldn’t handle it.
One day, it had gotten to be too much. I couldn’t stand the constant fear or worrying about what was going to happen next. The idea that I might have to face one of them again, that I would get hurt like that again… It was enough to drive me mad. I found myself in front of my bathroom medicine cabinet, staring at a row of pill bottles-sleeping pills, antidepressants and heavy pain killers- all left over from previous issues and a major surgery that I’d had. Suddenly I snapped and started swallowing as many pills as I could. At first, they went down easy and I was almost excited, thinking about how the pain was going to stop. But it started getting harder and I started crying a lot. And then I thought about my family.
At the time I was sharing an apartment with my older sister, and I thought about her coming home and finding me. I thought about my mom and little sister finding out and how they would never forgive me. The things people would say… these thoughts started being scarier than the idea of having to face my life. I forced myself to throw up again and again, until I was sure there was absolutely nothing left in me. Even then, I continued to dry heave for a while. I forced myself to stay awake, feeling embarrassed and weak, until I was sure that the danger of overdosing had passed. And then I started looking up therapists in my area.
At that time, therapy ended up not working for me.
I tried with a few different people, but it was never the right fit and each time I ended up feeling worse or more confused. Then I found art and I let it be my saving grace. For hours every day, I painted or sculpted. Every piece I did was dark and full of anger and rage and sadness. I let it all pour out of me so that each night, I was too exhausted to even dream. Then I would get up in the morning and get right back to it. I ended up putting on an entire art show focused on women surviving domestic violence and sexual assault. People told me it was powerful and scary and raw, and I finally felt like I had found my voice.
I relied on art heavily to stay in control.
It was my way of telling my story without using words. I was able to share some of my trauma without getting into the details of what I had gone through or how I felt. The paintings and sculptures were there for people to interpret, and I was able to release some of what had damaged me so much. All of my inner ugliness and pain and shame and guilt and confusion… I created a place through my art for all of it to go, so that I could try to figure out who I was without it.
I started to feel in control again. The panic attacks stopped and the nightmares lessoned. I graduated college, had a job that I was good at, got married… I had managed to build a life for myself and thought that meant that I had healed. But that’s the tricky thing about trauma… it knows how to hide.
I had just turned twenty nine when it happened again.
I’ve already stated that I’m not going to disclose this latest and worst trauma that I went though. I’m not hiding from it, but it’s just something that is going to remain between me and the therapists that I’ve been working with for the past few years, as I’m still processing it.
But I will share that something happened that was worse than everything else I’d ever been through combined. Something that completely shattered everything I knew to be true. My world as I knew it feel apart completely and it felt like all of the work I’d done to heal over the years disappeared. Every single part of my body hurt constantly and it was hard to breathe. Not only were the panic attacks and nightmares back in full force, but so were the suicidal thoughts. I hated everything and everyone and didn’t think that there was a soul on this earth that I could trust. I could barely go five minutes without crying, and I couldn’t eat or sleep. This time, there was no hiding it. I was absolutely terrified of my life.
It was really dark for a while and my husband finally convinced me to give therapy another try.
Thank fucking god.
Not only did I end up talking through all of the shit that I was going through at that moment, but I was able to go back and talk about the years of abuse I suffered as a kid and about the traumas I’ve mentioned above. To see how not actually healing in the past allowed those traumas to keep coming back. I was able to let go of all of the self-hatred and blame and to really look hard at all of the times that I had let myself down, simply by not sticking up for myself. Therapy helped me to see how desperately I needed to set boundaries and about how toxic most of my ‘friends’ were.
It wasn’t a quick fix by any means. Hell, I am still very affected by what happened to me. But, over the years, I’ve been doing talk therapy, eft, hypnotherapy and working really hard on learning to love and accept myself. The work is hard- there’s no getting around that. But through this work, I’ve been able to build a better life for myself. I’ve been able to become stronger and bolder and healthier. I was able to find love in my heart again, for myself and for others. Now I’m a mom and a business owner and an advocate for healing and empowering women…
But all of that took facing my trauma. If I would have continued to try to hide from it, bury it, or pretend it wasn’t there, I don’t know that I would be here today. And if by some miracle I was, I’d probably still be surrounded by abusive and toxic people, because I didn’t know I deserved better.
There are different ways to face trauma.
Trauma is an unimaginable pain that everyone must deal with in their own way. Sometimes that means sharing what happened to you and sometimes it doesn’t. We all have to find a way to survive and it can look very different from person to person. For me, therapy, exercise, boundaries, journaling and art were huge. They not only helped me with surviving, but have helped me to move onto the next stage of healing- thriving.
Again, I just want to remind you that only you get to decide what is traumatic for you.
The same way you don’t get to decide what is traumatic for someone else. Only you get to decide what you want to share or not share. And only you get to make the decision to heal.
The situations that I shared above are memories that I still recall in vivid detail that have definitely had an impact on almost every aspect of my life over the years. And yet, until recently with therapy and now in this post, I had barely told anyone about them. Does it make them any more real or valid now that I’ve shared some of the details? Of course not. The events didn’t change just because I wrote about them on a blog. They happened and affected me, and sharing or not sharing doesn’t change that. The only difference is that I’ve now made a choice to reveal some of my experience.
It doesn’t make me stronger or weaker for doing so. It just means I’m at a place in my life where I’ve decided to talk about some of it.
This was a lot, so I’m going to end it here.
I hope that the main takeaways were that:
- It’s up to you to share what you want to share or not share what you want to keep private.
- You and your feelings and your experiences are valid, regardless of the circumstances.
- There is never an excuse for anyone to lay their hands on you without your permission. Nothing justifies someone hitting you or choking you or assaulting you. Not ever.
- Horrible things can happen and you can still build a good life afterwards.
Next week, I’ll be back to share more about the healing process of trauma, as well as some what can happen if you don’t do the work to heal. If you’re looking for more in the meantime, here are some other articles I’ve written about trauma:
- Trauma is not your fault but healing is your responsibility
- Trauma Secrets: Healing Without The Audience
- Healing isn’t linear
- Triggers: They don’t have to own us anymore.
- You have to want to heal in order to heal
- An introduction to understanding trauma
Check out some of my other posts here. And don’t forget to subscribe for some awesome freebies and discounts!Want to connect further?