My Long Journey of Healing After Childhood Trauma

Sep 9, 2021 | JOURNAL

The scars of childhood trauma can run deep, casting long shadows over our lives. But the human spirit has an extraordinary capacity for healing. My healing journey is about hope and the promise of reclaiming my narrative. I hope this story and the resources I found helpful are beneficial to you, too.

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA — MY SECRET

My mother abandoned me when I was in preschool. She moved a thousand miles away to Florida. While she was gone, family members passed me from household to household.

I don’t remember my mother leaving, but I recall her returning. She had been a thin, pale brunette the last time I saw her. When she returned, she was a suntanned buxom blonde.

Not long after she reentered my life, my mother began abusing me. I remember asking over and over, “What did I do wrong?”

Like many who have been abused, I kept it a secret. Friends who knew my mother considered her a beloved school teacher. None knew the monster she became behind closed doors. She weaved between good and evil with ease.

My mother married four times. My dad was her first husband, divorcing when I was two. She was married to her second husband, a compulsive gambler, for one summer. Her third short-lived marriage began during a three-day Mexican getaway. And her fourth marriage to a renowned cocaine dealer lasted three months. —Ancestry.com hints of a fifth husband, although it’s never been verified.

My mother is mentally ill. She struggles with addiction. Several of my therapists diagnosed her with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This means she’s incapable of feeling empathy and has no regard for anyone other than herself. She’s a manipulative habitual liar who enjoys hurting people — void of remorse.

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND CODEPENDENCY

After my mother’s destructive eruptions, I would clean up the mess. I was an eager-to-please child who yearned for love and validation. I often fantasized about running away, but my obligation to protect her from herself was inescapable. 

I’ve discovered my mother lifeless from overdosing several times. I’ve watched ICU doctors place her on respirators and feeding tubes. Time and time again, they said she wouldn’t recover. But she always recovers, telling fantastical tales about others causing her near-death experiences.

My childhood revolved around codependency. A people-pleaser, I navigated the world with neurotic compulsion. I strove for exemplary grades and to be the consummate good girl. For years, I lived every minute as if I had something to prove.

The day I left for college, my mother launched her final assault. Her diabolical mind refused to relinquish control. In short form she instigated an argument, pulled me by the hair, and hit me over and over again.

For the first time in my life, I returned a blow. One strike across her face and the consummate good girl who slept in a locked bathroom felt free. I placed the house key on the kitchen counter and pulled the door to her hell house closed. I planned to never look back.

A few months later, my grandmother called me at college. According to her, Cadillac was suicidal. She asked me to drive two hours south for a well-check.

I discovered my mother strung-out and despondent. Her fragile frame weighed ninety pounds. She was in need of a shower, a meal, and a hardcore detox. So I threw on my codependent cape, rented a U-Haul, and brought her home with me.

This was our codependent waltz. She created problems, blamed the world for her problems, and expected me to solve the problems. —Which I did.

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND HOW THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE

In my thirties, I began experiencing extreme fatigue and debilitating abdominal pain. I spent the next fifteen years trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I met with many specialists and a long list of therapists. 

Two of those therapists recommended books that initiated my healing. The first book was “Understanding the Borderline Mother.” The second was The Body Keeps the Score.” Like a one-two punch, these books changed the course of my life.

As I continued to heal over the years, I maintained a superficial relationship with my mother. By this time, I was living in California while she remained in Texas. Each time I saw her name on the caller ID, I’d cringe. Listening to her drunken narcissistic rambling grated every nerve in my body.

It was no surprise when I received a call from a Texas hospital. My mother was in a coma. A police officer found her drunk and unconscious with a head injury. The ICU doctor explained she was on a respirator and feeding tube. She was not responding to “squeeze my hand.”

The boys and I flew 1,600 miles to tell my mother goodbye. But by the time we arrived, she had awakened. She seemed to always defy the odds.

When she was released from the hospital, I rented an independent living apartment and moved her in. I slaved to make the new apartment her happy place. I hoped she’d have an ephiphany with a new lease on life. Her sobriety lasted thirty days. She’s been the neighborhood drunk ever since. 

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA — CODEPENDENT NO MORE

My mother had begun dating a widower resident. Within a few weeks, she moved out of her apartment and into his. I anticipated iminent disaster. I had witnessed far too many of her relationships over the years. “Toxic” is the only description that comes to mind.

Within weeks, the Assisted Living manager called me. “Your mother’s boyfriend and his adult children say they want him as far away from your mother as he can get.” He moved to a different assisted living facility. She had to apply for a new apartment and pay an increased deposit and rent.

In April 2020, I turned fifty-years-old. The sun rose and set on my fiftieth trip around the sun without a peep from my mother. Like many birthdays before, she ghosted me. As a mother myself, it’s unfathomable. This was the catalyst to the death of my codependence.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Which begs the question: Which one of us was insane — her or me? It took decades to realize I could not continue a relationship with the toxic person who harmed me. The only way I could heal was to remove the head of the snake.

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA — A NOTE TO MY MOTHER

When we’re sick, we need our mothers. But what if the actions of your mother made you sick?

The trauma I endured at the hands of my mother manifested years of physical illness. I’ve suffered with asthma, IBS, and diverticulosis. While struggling with fertility, specialists diagnosed me with PCOS and endometriosis. The heartbreak of my life was miscarrying my little girl.

According to “The Body Keeps the Score,” this is how trauma wreaks havoc on your body. It’s like an emotional absess oozing through your flesh. No fiber of your being is immune.

You have to resurrect the deep pain within you and give it a place to live that’s not within your body. Let it live in art. Let it live in writing. Let it live in music. Let it be devoured by building brighter connections. Your body is not a coffin for pain to be buried in. Put it somewhere else. —ehimeora

My mother is not in my life. Her absence creates emotional peaks and valleys. The internal narrative that I gave up on her can be all-consuming. My mind knows I’m healthier without her, but my heart clings to the unrealistic hope she’ll get well.

I often wonder how I will grieve when my mother dies. Will there be relief that she’s finally free from herself? Will there be pity because she never knew happiness? Or will there be regret for the missed opportunity of having a mother?

I tossed and turned over whether to share my story. I feared people would think I’m mental. And the thought of my mother reading it compelled me to delete every word.
But my voice of reason regained control. If my story could help even one person, I had to click submit. And if my mother wanted a glowing review, she should have damn well behaved better. 
And so I wrote one last note to my mother.
To the Woman I Once Called Mama,
 
I love you. And I love the mama I hoped you’d become. I’m no longer your malleable little girl. I clawed my way out of the burrows of a broken heart and body. I sculpted myself and my children into happy and whole human beings. —Human beings you will never have the privilege of knowing.
 
Love,
 
Your resilient, kind, compassionate, generous, intelligent, flourishing, take-no-sh*t daughter

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA — THE PATH TO HEALING

If you are struggling with the effects of childhood trauma, please know you are not alone. Here are a few resources to help support you on your journey:

Acknowledge the pain. Allow yourself to feel the anger and sadness. Give voice to your story. Seek therapy, journal, or connect with a supportive community.

Take small steps to rebuild trust in yourself and in healthy relationships. Surround yourself with people who respect and support you. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small.

Explore practices like meditation, yoga, or somatic therapy. These practices can help you reconnect with your body. They also help manage stress, release tension, and cultivate self-awareness.

Explore creative outlets. Reclaim your power through art, writing, or other creative avenues. These can be powerful tools for expression and self-discovery.

Reach out to a therapist specializing in trauma. Connect with others who understand your journey. Consider joining a support group for survivors. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Embrace the ups and downs of your healing journey. There will be setbacks, but also moments of breakthrough and profound personal growth. Celebrate your progress. Be patient with yourself and remember that you are worthy of love, joy, and a life free from the shadows of the past.

*This post is not a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice. Please seek professional help if you are struggling.

At the time I published this post, I did not have comments turned on. I’ve never received so many private messages about a post. Although the topic was childhood trauma, it resonated with many who experienced other forms of trauma. The vulnerable responses you shared moved me. So much so, I included a few of them in the post, Gentle Methods for Healing After Childhood Abuse.

As always, thank you for being here and sharing the articles you appreciate most. Be sure to subscribe to future posts below. And if you have questions or suggestions, leave a comment or drop a note. My mind and inbox are always open.

2 Comments

  1. Beautiful story as I felt the healing in the end. I too, endured narcissistic parents. I can relate to a good portion of a lifetime of inherited drama. Like you, I broke free from any generational curses and raised 3 beautiful children. Btw, I worked at Tampa Hooters with you for a period of time, and now also live in beautiful California. Thank you for sharing Julie.

  2. Thank YOU for sharing, Patricia. It’s ironic how our paths continue to cross. I noticed our new connection on IG. It will be rewarding to see how your beautiful life continues to unfold. Big hug!

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