Childhood Trauma and the Journey Toward Healing
I endured childhood trauma at the hands of a mentally ill mother. The residual effects of that trauma morphed into years of physical illness. There is a proven scientific connection between trauma and mental, emotional and physical health. And there are ways to begin healing so that it doesn’t manifest as illness. I hope sharing my story heals you as much as it heals me.
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 numerous specialists. I spent thousands of dollars on medications. And I regurgitated my childhood trauma to multiple therapists. While in therapy, I was asked to read Understanding the Borderline Mother and The Body Keeps the Score. These two books changed my life.
During a break-through therapy session many years ago, my therapist suggested I stop calling my mother mother. He recommended I give her a nickname. His reasoning was that my mother hadn’t protected me as a mother should. She caused me harm as a mother shouldn’t. And due to the childhood trauma she inflicted, she was not a mother.
My mother preferred to not work very often. She manipulated my grandmother into giving her money. In slang terms, this is called cadillac-ing. And so, my mother became Cadillac.
As her only child, Cadillac abandoned me when I was in preschool. She moved a thousand miles away to Florida. My family passed me around until she returned years later. I remember a blonde, suntanned woman showing up unannounced at my grandparent’s home. She smelled of cigarette smoke and breath mints. And when she left their home, she took me with her.
CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER
Cadillac is mentally ill. She struggles with addiction. She prefers vodka, pain pills and cocaine if she can get it. She’s been informally diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Those with NPD are incapable of feeling empathy. She has no regard for anyone other than herself. In her mind no rules apply to her. She exaggerates personal achievements and habitually lies. She’s manipulative, violent and void of remorse.
My childhood friends who knew Cadillac thought she was amazing. She was beautiful and dramatic, a beloved elementary school teacher. But, no one saw the monster she became behind closed doors, weaving between good and evil with ease.
Narcissists pretend to be kind. They turn it on and off like a switch. Cadillac befriended barflies. She’d move people she just met into our home. No vetting was necessary. But within weeks of their arrival, her distrustful paranoia initiated their eviction.
She married four times, maybe five. My dad was her first. They divorced when I was two. Her second husband was a compulsive gambler accused of sexually abusing his kids. The marriage lasted one summer. Her third husband returned to the U.S. with her after a three-day Mexican vacation. They met in a Cancún nightclub. They weren’t even married long enough to get his green card. Husband number four was a renowned cocaine dealer. He was overweight and a heavy breather. Word on the street is he put a contract out on her when she left him. That one lasted a few months.
Ancestry.com has hinted she had a fifth husband. If it’s true, I never met him. If you’re out there Number Five, you dodged a bullet.
I’ve discovered Cadillac overdosed and lifeless many times. She has facial scars from lacerations during bar fights. I’ve received phone calls from police officers who found her passed-out in public. And I’ve watched ICU doctors place her on respirators and feeding tubes. Time and time again, doctors said she wouldn’t recover. But, she always recovers — and tells fantastical tales faulting others for her near-death experiences.
CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND CODEPENDENCY
I was six the first time Cadillac hit me. A piece of my heart disappeared that day. I remember my grandmother arriving afterward. I thought she was there to save me. But, when Cadillac opened the door they hugged. My grandmother was oblivious. She wasn’t aware I needed to be saved.
I kept the abuse secret until much later in life. I was a shy and quiet child. I’m not sure anyone knew. I choose to believe my family didn’t know. But, my body knew. The childhood trauma infected me with fear and disdain. I was sick all the time.
My trauma bond with Cadillac developed through manipulation and abuse. After each maniacal eruption, I’d clean up the mess and navigate the world with neurotic compulsion. I was an eager-to-please child who yearned for love and validation. I often wanted to flee, but I felt a conflicting obligation to please her and protect her — even from herself.
My people-pleasing extended to the outside world. I crafted each day with hyper vigilance. I strove for exemplary grades, flawless looks and behaving like a consummate good girl. I lived life as if I had something to prove. I yearned to matter. To this day, I struggle with my need to earn love.
The day I left for college, Cadillac launched her best and 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.
For the first time in my life, I returned the favor. One strike across her face and the consummate good girl who slept behind a locked bathroom door felt free. I placed the house key on the kitchen counter, pulled the door to her hell house closed and planned to never look back.
A few months later, my grandmother called me at college. She told me Cadillac was suicidal. I drove two hours to find her 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 depended on me to solve the problems — which I did. It was the truest form of dysfunction.
FIFTY YEARS OF TRAUMA
Several years ago, my family and I were preparing for spring break. We’d moved across the country twice within two years. The boys had gone through a lot and deserved a fun vacation. And then, I received the call.
Cadillac was in an alcohol-induced coma. She was found 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 her goodbye. But, by the time we arrived she had awakened. She seemed to always defy the odds. Instead of planning her funeral, we moved her into an independent living facility. Over a three day period, we found her new home, packed her filthy apartment and moved her in.
I slaved to make the new apartment her happy place. I wanted this to be a fresh start, her scared straight moment. Her gratitude to me was telling my fifteen-year-old son I was a bitch because I tossed her expired medication. Her sobriety lasted thirty days. She’s been the neighborhood drunk ever since.
Before the pandemic, Cadillac shacked-up with a widower who lived in her building. She told me the two of them were like “the homecoming king and queen.” Living through her numerous toxic relationships, I knew it would end in disaster.
Two days before my 50th birthday, she called obsessing about a birthday gift for the the king. I gave her some ideas and we said goodbye. I had no idea it would be the last time we spoke.
Although she usually ghosted me on my birthday, there was a seed of hope she’d call. It feels strange to be an only child whose mother ignores her birthday. As a mother myself, I can’t fathom it.
The sun rose and set on what would be my 50th trip around the sun. And not a peep came from the person who brought me into this world. My mindset shifted that night. And as I drifted to sleep, my codependency died.
Not long after, Cadillac’s property manager called. The king’s adult children requested a meeting. They were worried about their dad’s safety. They wanted him as far away from “that woman” as possible. The king moved away. The queen was alone yet again.
HEALING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA
The trauma I endured at the hands of my mother manifested physical illness. I’ve suffered with asthma, IBS, PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, miscarriage, diverticulosis and adrenal damage. This is how trauma wreaks havoc on our bodies.
I believe the only way to heal from trauma is to remove the head of the snake. You cannot continue a relationship with a toxic person who repeatedly hurts you. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Which begs the question: Which one of us was insane — her or me?
I continue to endure emotional peaks and valleys. I feel guilt and shame. The overwhelming internal narrative that I gave up on Cadillac can be consuming. My mind believes my life is healthier without her in it. But, my heart still has a smidge of hope.
When Cadillac dies, I wonder how I will grieve. Will I feel relief that she’s finally free of herself? Will I feel pity because she never knew happiness? Or will I feel regret for the missed opportunity of having a mother?
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