Those who have experienced trauma tend to separate their lives into trauma chapters. There is life before the trauma, during the trauma (for those who experience prolonged and repeated trauma) and after the trauma. I always considered my “pre-trauma” to be before going to live with my mom when I was about 7. My “after” trauma would not start until about the age of 19, with everything else in the middle being the “during” phase. I had this belief my whole life that if I had never gone to live with my mother then my life would be great. If the courts had done what’s right, she never would have been granted joint custody. Or if my dad’s construction equipment had not been stolen then he would have had the money to keep me in the first place.
Looking at the before trauma years my life seemed so perfect. I lived in a nice home with a sister, Jess, father and mother figure and had everything I could want. I remembered tea parties with Jess in our secret base under the deck, playing Wizard of Oz or Adventurer in the field below our home, sneaking into each other’s rooms to play barbies and Christmases full of bikes and toys and even a mink wrap (yes you read that correctly, at 5 I was the owner of a mink fur shoulder wrap because…reasons?). There were negative memories like trying to run away, getting the chickenpox or being yelled at for letting Jess cut my bangs, but all kids do stupid things like that. The memories however that were always the most confusing were the ones that were less clear. The ones that seemed like they could be dreams or otherwise existed in this hazy place, real and not at the same time. Finding Jess would change this reality for me in the most bittersweet way imaginable.
One of the strangest parts of trauma is the phenomenon of suppression, a topic that will likely be addressed in many entries to come. This pretty much means that some memories get so buried or distorted that we actually forget the trauma that we experience. This can be especially difficult when trauma occurs within the younger years since children are seldom able to really understand the things they experience. Because of this people can go years or even lifetimes without ever really coming to grips with the trauma they endured. The troubling part is that almost anything can trigger the memories to resurface leaving the individual suddenly realizing a piece of their story they had blocked out. To say this is unsettling of an experience would be an understatement. In fact, unless you have ever experienced this, it is nearly impossible to really understand the complex emotions it can provoke.
Jess coming back into my life proved to be one of these triggers for me. Memories that had once been hazy returned to focus. Sometimes it was just a fragment, a feeling, or expansion of a memory I already had. The best way to describe it was like pulling the camera back and revealing the whole image rather than only a section. The issue was that what was coming back was far from positive. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me that playing under a balcony or wondering in a field at the age of 5 would be strange and unsafe. I guess part of me wanted to believe there were responsible parents watching just out of my vision or secretly aware of my actions or maybe that the world was just bigger to a child and the things I thought I did were less extreme.
Talking to Jess filled in the blanks and removed the veil I had over this part of my life. The secret base that was safe from the violent fights our parents would have. The adventures in the field while inappropriate drug activity took place in our home. She had been my big sister for all intents and purposes, sneaking me from my room to hers and playing Barbies so I wouldn’t be exposed to the open sexual acts being performed in front of us or get scared because of the strange people who were always around. My wonderful memories of a happy home were, in fact, a creation from Jess to shelter me from the truth.
In reality, there was no “pre-trauma” to my life, I was born into it. To say this realization shook me to my core would be an understatement. To have the chapters of your life altered causes more of a sift in reality then one would expect. As a trauma survivor, I put so many hopes and dreams into what I had considered being the Utopian part of my life. This was an ideal I longed for and strove to regain, a happy family in a safe world. Maybe I could have lived my whole life remembering it this way, never realizing the lies my mind told me. Maybe I would have been happy that way, but that is no longer an option. I am awake now and I have had to find a way to accept this new chapter and fit it into my story. I am only just beginning down the road of acceptance and I am sure I have a long way to go before I have fully processed the revelations I have gained. Part of me wants to wish I had never found Jess so I could have remained in my ignorant peace. But I think in the end I would rather know the truth of my life, even if it hurts.
*Name are modified to protect the identity of the individuals discussed. Please respect the privacy of these individuals and refrain from posting additional information.
* I have worked hard to heal from my past through professional therapy and personal growth. Over the years I have become comfortable enough to start using this story in public speaking events and as a major part of my writing. Writing about personal trauma can be very triggering and is not recommended for those still working through trauma unless instructed to do so by a mental health professional.