Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma: What's Next?

 By Lisa Michels, Guest Writer

When trauma happens in childhood, be it molestation, witnessing a crime, or a severe injury, children appear to "bounce back."  However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Do you remember some of the kids you went to school with, such as the ones who your parents didn't want you to hang around with, the bad element?  At the time did you ever wonder why those particular kids seemed to act out in ways that weren't acceptable?  It probably never occurred to us that there could be something underlying that caused that particular behavior. Maybe we were even one of them. You know the ones that were termed "crazy" or maybe they were into alcohol, drugs or smoking marijuana or cigarettes behind buildings. 

There are red flags, or danger signs that children seem to exhibit when something in their lives is just not right.  Psychologists, scientists, and scholars have studied and reported on many of these signs of trouble for a number of years.  We've seen them written about in all the parenting magazines and books.  They are pretty easy to recognize and manifest themselves in a way that gives parents pause.

On the other hand, there are those who seem to internalize, get quiet, maybe even study too much and pour all of their energies into being a "geek or nerd."  They were shy, reserved and had trouble socializing and communicating with the "in" crowd.  They seemed to be sensitive, isolated, yet somehow you thought, if provoked, that one may snap.

We all look back and have memories of good and bad times in our growing up, but some of those memories are locked up, they can't be brought back easily.  It's the memory that shapes our being, the who that we are.  Traumatic experiences can affect us in several ways, some we may recall and even elaborate about, such as broken limbs or traffic accidents.  We tend to heal and then our stories about them grow with telling.

But some memories of trauma are so excruciating that it's too painful to recall them at will.  They are pushed far into the depths of our being and we grow up without them.  They stay put away, yet affect us in different ways, ways that we can't figure out.

There may come a day when something triggers that memory, whether it be a smell, an action, or even a phrase that we can't explain.  It may come back not as a full memory, but a feeling that something just isn't right, or an unexplainable fear or anxiety.  Our mind and body may react to this trigger in a way that we just can't figure out, we don't know why we feel this way, or when this all started, but it continues to affect our lives.  It may cause feelings of inadequacy, loss of power over our thoughts, lead us to drinking or drugs, but it's somehow taken over our life.

How do we recover that memory, the one that was locked away, the one that was so awful that to recall it would be deadly?  There aren't many 12 step programs that allow this long and painful process heal the wounds that cut so deep into our psyche.  Studies and controversial therapies say that repressed memories aren't really repressed, and that most children have the ability to recall the trauma, yet don't understand the implications of it.

There are no easy explanations, nor are there any easy ways to heal from a childhood trauma.

There are millions of adults paying therapists thousands of dollars to find out why they react to situations the way they do.  We have a need to know why and feel unsettled until the mystery is unraveled and dealt with in a positive way.  We feel the need to heal, yet in some cases, we don't know what it is from which we need healing. 

Recovering the repressed memory is a process that you would think brings resolution.  Finally, we understand the unknown.  Our fears and anxiety are given a name. Yet this is the beginning of feeling the knife piercing the skin. We go from burying the pain so deep that we block all ability to feel, whether it be good or bad, to allowing ourselves to finally feel the reality of the pain that has pierced our bodies so long ago. Can we finally make peace within ourselves? The answer is yes, over time and through intense work.
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1 comment:

  1. I am a poet and a child abuse survivor who has lived to tell the tell in a book length poem titled "My Life as Doll" published by Autumn House Press. Here is the opening sequence:

    Why do I love the winter garden so?
    Is it because I love the dirge

    of dirt, elegy of vanquished blossoms?
    Whatever emerges at season's end

    comes from a harrowing heaven: yesterday
    I believed I was a wooden woman

    with a wooden heart the wolves
    would tear apart. I jerked

    about like a marionette with
    tangled strings--slash of claws, teeth

    sinking in to rip the flesh off
    my wooden bones. When I was four

    years old, my mother pummeled
    the back of my head with a baseball bat.

    I remember the pain. I remember
    hitting the floor like a scarecrow

    that was a heap of broken straw.
    This is why I love the winter garden so:

    energy of enigma. Icy blossoms.

    Elizabeth Kirschner


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