Childhood trauma

Trauma Response

Like the sea cucumber
I protected myself
Spewing my guts
At anyone who drew near

Go away before I get too attached.

Like the abandoned stray
Quivering with hope and fear
Once given scraps
I clung, unrelentingly

No, stay, I need you to survive.

Like the porcupine
Trapped and under attack
Spraying sharp quills
Piercing the inquisitive

I’m dangerous, keep your distance.

Like the sinuous feline
Not to be ignored
Winding around legs and feet
My insistent presence tripping you

Pay attention to me, on my terms only.

Insecure
Needy
Defensive
Demanding

Shaped by trauma.
Forged in neglect.
Informed by abandonment.
Afflicted with mental illness.

Is this at all familiar?

Trauma Is Not Your Fault, But Healing Is Your Responsibility

Connecting the dots

I just remembered that I used to adore playing connect the dots when I was a girl.  Learning that a shape and image can be formed from drawing lines between seemingly unrelated points on a page was fascinating for me.  Once I began to recognize the relationship between the dots and how to follow the sequence of associated numbers in correct order, I reached the point where it became a personal challenge to see if I could visualize the shape and image before I began drawing the lines.  True confession: I kind of enjoy having a three year old to go with me to a restaurant so I can play connect the dots on the child menu.  The point of this is that I had forgotten how important it was for me, as a child, to understand the order and relationship and to be able to predict the shape of things to come.

I’ve spent almost the entirety of the past 26 years believing that the reasons I had such a difficult time connecting to and relating with other kids was because of all the externals: My mom had me when she was 16.  She and my dad probably married during her pregnancy and were divorced by the time I was a few months old.  She was married two more times by the time I was six.  Her third husband was a Vietnam Veteran with a steel plate in his head who drank a lot and for a couple of years from the time I was 8 – 10…there were things that happened between us that I didn’t tell my mom about until after they’d stopped.  When I did tell her, there were a whole bunch of reasons and motivations that had nothing to do with me being hurt, scared, or wanting to get help.  It was pure revenge because the attention had stopped and I was feeling completely abandoned, confused, lost and angry.  Telling precipitated a separation, investigation, trial, and conviction.  It also triggered a series of moves from Texas, to Alabama, and finally to Oregon.

The relationship with my mom had always been somewhat disconnected and distant, though I don’t recall ever doubting she loved me.  She simply wasn’t available, emotionally.  I don’t think she knew how.  By the time we got to Oregon, I was spiteful and vindictive with her and in school I was a quiet, withdrawn, socially awkward loner who desperately wanted to belong.  I made a few friends, but I don’t really know how that happened and those friendships never really went anywhere or lasted long.  Things were so overwhelmingly chaotic inside of myself, that I hid in books, and picked arguments with her.  I told her I hated her on more than one occasion and packed my bags preparing to run away a couple of times.  She turned guardianship over to my uncle and moved back to Texas.  A few months later we were told she’d committed suicide.  I was 12.  As for the next things that happened in my life, well all that’s for future consideration.

All of that is certainly enough to contribute to adjustment problems and making it difficult for a kid to relate to her peers.  Of course it is.  There’s enough in all of that to trigger maladjustment issues and depression. Absolutely.  What it doesn’t explain, and I’m just now realizing this, is that I had always had adjustment problems and difficulty relating to my peers.  I can remember feeling jealous over the fact that my childhood best friend was laughing and interacting with my mom on crafts projects while I was just seething in the background. Never mind the fact that I had excluded myself from the activity.  I was somewhere between the ages of six and eight. It doesn’t explain the fact that I was already the dissociated little girl who had almost no emotional response to the “flasher” who exposed himself to a group of little kids sitting on the front stoop of the babysitters.  Everyone else screamed and cried,or pointed and laughed.  At six or seven years old, I thought they were being ridiculous and even remember having the thought that I knew what this guy was up to when he approached us and knew the kids who answered yes when asked if they wanted to see something were stupid.  I’ve always felt a bit like the fourth object in the Sesame Street song that talks about the thing that isn’t like the others.

I have to thank one of my newest blogger friends for making me rethink the shape I’ve formed of myself and my life and the possibility of having connected the dots of my life out of sequence.  The Howler and Me, THAM, opened up that avenue of inquiry for me when I read her post, Can We Try A Little Compassion Here???.  This lady is inspiring to me.  The way she addresses the issues of family and mental health and how she copes are incredibly insightful and to the point.  Anyway, in this post she mentions how she experienced life as an adolescent with undiagnosed mental health issues.  It suddenly opened me up to the realization that not all of the difficulties I’ve had in getting over and dealing with the circumstances of my early life are necessarily because of the circumstances of my early life.  Those circumstances may have triggered or exacerbated the mental health issues I struggle with daily.  However, it’s likely that I just am the way I am because it’s the way I am, and no one and nothing is to blame and it’s ok, as long as I recognize that there are things I can choose to do that minimize the negative aspects of it and embrace what’s good.

It’s going to be interesting discovering the new shape that comes from reconnecting the dots