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The Hardest Part of My Trauma Resurfacing as an Adult

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I’ve always considered my life to be like the cartoon version of “Cinderella.” Sure, things were a little bit tough a long time ago, but there’s dancing mice and singing birds. Plus, there’s a fairy godmother who’s going to wave her wand and *poof*, it will all be magical again. I believed in the fairytale.

Fairytales always reach a point where suddenly everything is perfect for the rest of time. If you overcome this one obstacle, then life will be golden. I thought life was a fairytale. I lived through the horror, I walked through the abuse, and I emerged. I was a survivor and it was time for the fairytale ending.

For years I thought I had reached that fairytale ending. I have a happy marriage, we’re in the homestretch of raising kids as they will all soon be teenagers, I had a career I could see really taking off once I got all the kids to high school — life was running smoothly and I was starting to make a name for myself in my community. Life was rosy. I was a survivor who had gotten out of a bad situation by herself. I knew I had grit and gumption. Cue the theatrical music and let me ride off into the sunset in my carriage pulled by rats turned into majestic stallions.

But I didn’t get a fairytale ending. The clock struck midnight, or more accurately, my body decided it was time to unmask the trauma I had locked away 20-plus years ago. There’s an entire childhood of trauma to deal with. Some of it I knew, some of it I’m just now remembering. It’s a steady flow of nightmares, traumatic memories, fear and panic all mixed together. My past is reason enough to be struggling in this season.

The worst part of dealing with the trauma of my childhood isn’t reliving the horror of the experience. It’s not coming to terms with what happened or who hurt me. The worst part of my trauma resurfacing as I approach my 40s is realizing that I’m not quite yet a survivor. Some might want to argue with me on that and say I am, but to me, I’m not there yet.

Over the past year as I’ve walked through this, I’ve learned my survival skills were actually harmful coping mechanisms. There are things I do that harm me and my relationships, but they’re what I had to do at one time in my life to survive, and things I still do today.

One of the things I do that has been the hardest for me to face this year is hiding. I hide to protect myself or to keep from facing hard things that might cause conflict. In the past, it meant I hid bills from my husband because I didn’t want to face the finances. I hid how I was feeling about hard topics from friends and family because I didn’t want to cause a problem or be accused of being dramatic. Many times, I find myself hiding in relationships by not answering texts or messages because I feel like too big of a mess on that day or time. The biggest thing I hid was my emotions. Unless I was happy or joyful, I didn’t let myself feel because then I would have to deal with pain, sadness, hurt, abandonment or rejection. I crafted the perfect mask and that’s what I wore every single day, always hiding my true self from the world. This year, that mask has been painfully ripped off and torn to shreds. Yet, I still try to gather all the pieces and put it back on.

Not only did I hide, but I also became too dependent on myself. I had to survive alone, which is why I still persevere alone. My husband has walked alongside me for 16 years, yet I still depended on myself. Until this year, I wouldn’t tell him how I was feeling about something or ask for emotional support. I needed to control things because I was the only person I could depend on. Trusting others is almost impossible at times, but I knew I could do whatever needed to be done by myself. As my life became skeletal this year, cutting back on so many things to focus on healing, I’ve had to hand off control of almost everything. Honestly, as I wage war against this trauma, I’ve had to come to depend on others for the first time in my life. I need people to help me fight because it’s too much to do alone.

The trauma resurfacing this year has wrecked my life. The fairytale was burned in the fire along with several other dreams.

If there’s one thing I could tell someone trying to understand what their loved one is going through as they deal with resurfaced childhood trauma, it’s this: the trauma in itself is horrible. It’s likely the visions and nightmares will swamp and crush them. But the most painful part, in my experience, is realizing all the ways over the past few years you have harmed yourself when you thought you were a survivor. The worst part of this journey is putting the pieces together that show you how the abusers didn’t just wreck your life when you were a child, but their effect in your life has touched every single day since that time. The guilt and shame of that childhood trauma are carried over into the victim’s actions they just did to survive. In my experience, the hardest part of this journey is learning, in a time when their world is falling apart, they have to change how they’ve probably always operated and learn healthier coping mechanisms that are scary and hard to face. To them, the walls of that fairytale castle repeatedly fall on top of them, almost burying them, as if it will never run out of bricks.

Fairytales aren’t real. Sometimes your survival story needs to change because it needs a real ending, a healthy ending. I’m not fighting this dragon to ride off into the sunset. I’m fighting it so I can finally be a survivor.

If you’re supporting a loved one dealing with trauma from childhood abuse, the memories and abuse are just part of the story. There’s another evil villain they need to fight and that involves who they are and how they have always operated. It’s the hardest part because it’s when they’ll realize there is no fairy godmother who’s coming to save them. They have to find the strength to change themselves, and they shouldn’t have to face it alone.

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Originally published: January 27, 2020
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