I talk a lot about trauma healing. What trauma am I healing? It’s a story with many chapters. For this post I’ll be focusing on my early childhood. When we learn love and safety. We learn who we are and our personalities take shape. We’re nurtured and encouraged to grow into whatever we want to be. My story didn’t start that way. That’s not to say that there was no one in my life that loved me, but my homes were not safe places.
I was taken away from my biological parents at 9 months old and put into foster care. My understanding is that my bio-household was riddled with neglect, abandonment and domestic violence. During the first months of my life I was not anyone’s priority and the State stepped in and removed my siblings and I. This was the start of my life-long struggle with abandonment and self- worth. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t feel unloved and unworthy of love. I thought that the reason I couldn’t live with my bio-parents was because there was something wrong with me.
Life in the foster home was good for me for a couple of years because they loved babies. Once I got a little older, probably 2 or so, things changed. You see, my foster family had it’s own issues with dysfunction and physical, emotional and psychological abuse. I became a people-pleaser at a very young age, because if you can be who they want you to be they won’t get mad and hit you. I know now that doesn’t work, but I tried so hard to be a good little girl, but I just couldn’t seem to crack the code. I cried myself to sleep all the time and I cried to my mommy to come and take me home, but that never happened. Being part of the foster care system, there were court ordered requirements for my bio parents that were never met. I had scheduled visitation with my mom and she just wouldn’t show up. My foster mom would make me stand at the front door and wait for her. For hours. Those are my first memories of anxiety and depression. Having abandonment smack me in the face every weekend was merciless. There was no effort to protect me from that kind of disappointment, I was thrown in head first. And when I would cry alligator tears I would be thrown head first into a wall. Punished by standing in the corner because I was crying. And crying so hard my legs couldn’t hold me up anymore. And being pulled to my feet by my hair. And smashing my face into the corner because I moved. THIS…all of this because my mom didn’t show up to take me on her court ordered visit and I had a very unobjectionable reaction to. I was heartbroken that she didn’t show up, why didn’t she want me? Damn, why can’t I just be good?
I have a couple of memories from about age 4 where I was with my bio mom. I found out years later that she and my dad did get me back, but it didn’t last long. One of those memories was my brother and I out by the highway throwing rocks at cars and a county sheriff caught us and took us home. My mom slammed me in a chair and said, “wait till your dad gets home”. Another memory from that time was my brother and I being taken to a Goodwill for clothes with a strange lady because we didn’t have anything clean. As it turns out this was the day we were once again taken from my parents. Some bio family members tell me that my mom called the state and surrendered us because she couldn’t handle us. Damn, why can’t I just be good?
I spent my childhood in the same foster care. It was never meant to be a long term placement, much to my foster parents’ dismay. No one wanted me. My presence was an annoyance and an inconvenience for all involved and I was reminded of that on a daily basis. Why didn’t anyone want me? I’m a horrible person, always in everyone’s way. The physical abuse was always swift and brutal. I cried all the time. Belts, yardsticks, and steak forks were the usual rotation, but whatever was in their hand was used as an implement of torture. I had pig tails which were great for using my head like a punching balloon or rudder. I began believing that I deserved every punishment I received. I was so stupid. Why can’t I just be good?
My first sexual abuse experience was around age 6, on a weekend visit with my bio mom (she showed up sometimes when I got older). It was a house party at a house I’d never been too and I was sent to sleep in a room full of other kids. It was another little girl that did it. It really messed me up, but there was no one to talk to about it. No one cared. I was confused and depressed and so anxious all the time. I first thought about suicide at age 7. I wanted the pain to stop. I was tired of feeling like I was a waste of flesh. I just wanted to get out of everyone’s hair, I would have been doing them a favor. They would have been happy to have me gone, but I could never bring myself to do it. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving a mess behind. So, I suffered in silence. Damn, why can’t I just be good?
I’ve done a lot of studying about how we are affected by our environment from birth to age 7. I wasn’t given the nurturing that would have afforded me self worth. I was treated as an afterthought, a burden, and a punching bag. What is one to do with all that? How do I heal that mess and create a sense of self worth and self love? The major struggle I’ve always had is how can I love myself when I have been abandoned since my formative years? I’ve been working on it for so long. Countless therapists, medications and even a couple of months in an inpatient facility. I feel like something deep inside me is missing, something important. I’m always searching for love and acceptance outside myself. That falls short when I don’t get the approval I’m searching for and feel unlovable and abandoned all over again. That seems to be my default setting. Damn, why can’t I just be good?
During recent months I’ve been paying close attention to how I seek acceptance externally. I know that my self worth cannot come from outside myself, but it is so deeply ingrained in my unconscious. Having been told what to do and how to do it every moment of the day to having to figure it out on my own has been wrought with major mishaps throughout my adult life. I don’t know how to just be. What do I like to do if no one is there to tell me what I like? What am I good at if no one is there to tell me? How will I ever figure this out if I can’t learn to love myself in spite of my formative years? The answer to that is to just keep practicing. I have to. I struggle with not knowing what that will feel like, but I’m putting a lot of work into it right now and I can’t go backwards. I believe that positive affirmations and meditation and self-hypnosis will all help me rewire my unconscious default settings. I believe that continuing to cut the emotional cords that tie me to the ugly things that happened will make space for me to find my way.