I’m in a support group for women who have been sexually abused. Nice way to start a conversation, right? You know, keeping things light on this bright sunny morning in the Philadelphia suburbs. This is my third time around being in the group in the past few years. This organization has provided me with individual therapy and they also offered group. For the very low price of…zero dollars. So grateful to have places like this that exist! I am in this group of women and the group facilitator asked us about our families. Biological or who we consider family. Who we would put on our family tree if we were in-person playing adult arts and crafts without wine.Those people who have shaped our views of the world and our early childhood experiences. I immediately got triggered because family is a very touchy subject for a lot of people. I have been facing a lot of hard feelings lately and my trauma has been on the forefront of my mind. I have had struggles with family in general for a long time. I was adopted at the age of 16. By the time I was legally adopted I didn’t even want to be. I didn’t want to have the last name of people who abused me for years. Most people are adopted when they are babies. My biological parents were 17 and 18 when I came into this world. My parents both had troubled pasts and I feel like they really didn’t stand a chance at living ‘normal’ lives. They were both traumatized, mentally ill, and doing drugs. My bio mom ended up in the foster care system and my fraternal grandmother was her foster mother. Who get’s put in their boyfriends mom’s home while in foster care? I guess she got lucky. I came along and the story goes they tried to take care of me for about a week and couldn’t do it. Then I went to foster care for a few weeks and got pneumonia. I wasn’t doing well and my bio father asked his next-door neighbor growing up to care for me. My father grew up playing kick-the-can with my adopted siblings. They were the same age. After this woman took me in I saw my bio parents here and there for a few years growing up. I knew the woman taking care of me wasn’t my mother. She also had a boyfriend who was my bio fathers cousin coincidentally and he was an alcoholic. He had a rough past just like my bio father. Gotta love that generational trauma running through families. So I went on to live under their care indefinitely. My bio parents had a daughter a year after they had me. Shortly after my sister was born they broke up and my bio mom had new boyfriend. I would visit with my mom and my sister, maternal grandparents and great grandparents. My bio aunt told me that one time as a little girl I asked her, “Why does my sister get to live with my mom and I don’t?” When she told me this I cried. I cried for the little girl I was. I’ve been told by my bio family that as a baby I would just cry when people would hold me. I probably didn’t know where I belonged. My heart literally aches for my child self while typing this. As a 5 year old kid, I waited on the steps for my bio dad to pick me up to take me to the Please Touch Museum. The children’s museum in Philadelphia.He never showed up. I didn’t see him much after that if at all. I moved to the eastern shore of Maryland just before first grade with my caretakers. I do not know if I had any years without some type of abuse thereafter. My new parents never let me forget throughout my life that my real parents didn’t love or want me. These were the messages my small brain and heart grew up receiving. No wonder I have never been able to have a healthy intimate relationship. I am working so hard on myself to rewrite my narrative about relationships with people. I find it impossible to feel safe in relationship with a partner. Always waiting for the moment where they will betray my trust and cause me pain. It is really such shit to go on living this way. My memories, the traumatic ones, really stick out. I’m not sure about the depth of the details I want to share with the world. There are people who are still in my life who I am still actively trying to determine my relationship with because they have abused me. I could just go on and on in the ways in which I have felt harmed by these people who are on my hypothetically crafted family tree. This family tree with twisted and broken branches.I don’t know what it is like to have a healthy family. My family handed me all of their baggage and sent me off to the airport. For years I have been trying to unpack these bags with all of their compartments. Stuck zippers and hidden pouches. Damn, they had a lot of shit. I have my own children now and I’m trying to figure out what is healthy for us. Becoming a parent while actively experiencing symptoms of PTSD and complex trauma has been really hard. I have made so many mistakes but I am still here trying. Fighting for my life, my kids, and trying to break patterns.
Recovering from surgery has brought me a good bit of not only physical pain but emotional pain. I have realized that my almost addiction to have to be doing things and going places is a disguise. Also, being a mom of two I am always on the go attending to something or someone. Busy is good because it keeps me distracted. I really have to be intentional about relaxing or I will easily run myself down. I’m always running from being alone even though I sometimes desperately crave solitude. I can’t work or get anywhere with out my crutches. So I am stuck sitting and feeling so many feels. This familiar feeling just sitting in the bottom of my chest. I have cried so much these past few weeks. It takes hindsight to again realize…maybe I’m depressed. After so much therapy the past few years, I had learned to take control of some of my emotions and triggers before they became one monstrous shit show. I have been taking Prozac to help with my depression and symptoms of PTSD for a year now. I fought for so long and had two really bad depressive episodes before finally giving in to trying medication. This depression had me so low that I had stopped taking care of myself. Just basic things like showering and eating became insurmountable. The draw to the safety and comfort of laying in bed usually got the best of me. I was losing my ability to parent properly. I fought through it and it was the most excruciating pain I think I have felt. I threw myself into all different types of therapies in the effort to get help. I built a support system of a few different professionals around me. I remember when I began going to therapy and reading books on trauma I thought ,”Holy shit this healing journey is going to take me years if not my whole life!” The baggage that my abusers handed me is going to take me a lifetime to unpack, yeah real fucking fair. The tools I have to learn and the space I have to cultivate within myself to be able to thrive as a human being after trauma just seemed almost unattainable. Slowly with a lot of work I felt better. I have enough space now that I can witness the thoughts and emotions and not let them always take over. Each time the spell doesn’t last as long and I can regain somewhat of a center. These days though I feel as if am carrying all the sadness and worry of the world in the pit of my chest again. This familiar feeling of the world crashing around me. Damn anxiety and depression you sneaky sinister bitches. The tears just come and come. They flood out of my eyes and down my cheeks. Like a dam broke loose. It is odd because when I was aware I would be out of work and recovering from surgery for two months, I had a feeling that I would be feeling a lot of feels. My intuition was right. Now I am mostly sitting on my ass all day scrolling through my Instagram feed looking at all the beautiful nature I can’t explore yet. One of the vital components to my recovery so far and I cant do it. No yoga, no hiking, and no exploring. It certainly feels like the sun wont shine again at this moment in time. This black cloud has been following me for weeks and it wont fuck off. My brain just begins to make all of these assumptions and stories that confirm my beliefs. The world is a scary place and there is so much pain. It can be so very hard to hold this pain when it feels like I could drown in it’s sea of sadness. Healing is just that way, I guess. Things can come up that seem to be laid to rest. I am still haunted by the man who abused me and robbed my life of so much safety, love, and peace that I deserved. It has been 19 years since the first time I was abused sexually and he still haunts my dreams. Flashbacks still happen. Its like being a young girl stuck in a grown woman’s body. I have to remind myself in those moments I am safe and an in adult body. For so long I felt like I had been able to move past constantly being triggered by flashbacks from being sexually abused. Three steps forward and two steps back. That is how it feels and it is hard to accept that healing can be so not linear. It is so scary to feel those feelings. I am trying to recognize that I have been here before and that if I hang on the sun will shine again.This is the deep dark work and I won’t stop fighting for myself. I have to face these deep scary feelings and find a way to hold myself like the parent I needed when I was younger. One day I hope I can look back at this and feel stronger. Writing it out helps. Thanks for reading!
Image of a Blue Poppy I took while strolling around Longwood Gardens.
If I had to choose one of the worst things about having significant trauma history. It would have to be the effect it has had on my ability to function in romantic relationships. I have had some pretty toxic relationships in my past and it sucks to admit that I was the cause of a lot of the chaos. Don’t get me wrong most of those guys were dicks anyway but I’ve been seriously damaged by my past. I was in a constant state of fight or flight at times. Not even aware of the fact that I was triggered or what that word even meant. People like me, we can become addicted to chaotic situations. Normalcy can seem unsafe. Unsafe enough that it is a threat and then a problem could be created just to feed the chaos. Pushing people away is something I know a lot about. It’s weird because I feel like my perspective of the world at times can be very black and white. At times I love people, I feel the universe is in my favor, and life can be beautiful. Other times my boyfriend is going to fuck me over, human beings are ghastly, no one is to be trusted, and the world seems to be crashing around me. I mean really though he must fuck me over at some point, because isn’t that what people do? Hurt one another? It is so hard to break the mindset. Maybe if I watched Brene Browns’ “The Power of Vulnerability” everyday 3 times per day I’d finally let go? Can’t I just get to the point in my life where I am not crippled by the fear of other human beings and life itself. This anxiety has been coming up for me a whole lot lately…this relationship and love anxiety. I have been feeling a lot of sadness and just very emotional. Crying at even things that aren’t sad. These days instead of causing a huge fight because of my big emotions its likely that I will cry instead. Everyday is a new day and as my current boyfriend says, “I know this will pass.”I know to some that might not sound helpful. I don’t want anyone to invalidate me, but there is a part of me that feels it to be true. The sun will shine again. My reply is that it doesn’t feel like it will. It usually does though. It’s one hell of a roller coaster this life. It’s really a constant battle to keep choosing love. Keep choosing to say fuck it and at least I tried. Keep picking myself up off the floor(lots of times literally) and choosing to just fight the good fight.
I think that it is important to discuss mental health. This topic is so very important. We have to do a better job as a society at addressing this. From first hand experience, it can be really hard to get good quality help when you are suffering from mental illness. You have to be really vigilant and advocate for yourself at times. I could go on and on about the ways that I have felt the current health system has failed me, in regards to mental health especially. It is a crisis in this country. I want to tell you about how when I called my primary care physician to make an appointment when I was feeling very helpless and depressed. I told someone from the office over the phone how depressed I was feeling. They came back on line and said there would be no available appointments for ONE MONTH. They instructed me to call back to see if there were any cancellations for an earlier date. That was it. The phone call ended. What if I didn’t have a month to wait? There was no offer to help or empathy provided. No one asked me if I would like to be transferred to a therapist. They didn’t ask me if I would like the number to the suicide hotline or a crisis center. Nothing. This is a problem. Sad to say this isn’t the first or last time that myself or someone I love was treated this way. I will probably be posting more similar experiences about that later. It has been a few years since I started my journey towards recovering from childhood trauma. It has been a long road so far and I’m still on it. I have experienced deep loving connection and the deepest of internal hell. I have had to absolutely be my biggest source of support and advocate. There are not enough good quality therapists, support groups, resources, etc available. My heart goes out to anyone in this position. Please do not give up. I see you. This is one reason why I wanted to start this blog. I want to get the conversation going even more about these issues that are near and dear to my heart. Also because I wanted a space where I could share my story. I could choose to never publish this post or launch this site. It would just be in the ether of the internet. At least it would be out.
My name is Amber! I would love to use this space to talk about my journey through navigating the effects of trauma on the mind, body, and spirit. I would like to be able to share my experiences with people who might benefit from hearing my story. The struggles and the triumphs. I’d like to share what I have found helpful and healing along the way.