The Childhood Trauma I Didn’t Know I Had

Writing in a journalMy story starts at age 9. Both my parents were depressed and my family moved a lot. As the oldest of four children, I carried a lot of responsibility, even at such a young age. When I started missing school often, my mom took me to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with depression and prescribed Prozac, which I took until I was 20.

It was then, in my last year of college, that I had what some might call a “nervous breakdown.” My mental health slowly declined until I could no longer function. I dropped out of school, quit my job, and stopped volunteering. I lived at home with my parents and slept all day and was awake all night. Eventually, a doctor suggested a change in medication; I started taking Zoloft, and my mental health steadily improved. I returned to school, got engaged, and got a part-time job. Things were looking up!

After our marriage the following year, things declined again. I was unable to be intimate with my husband and was having extreme flashbacks about things I didn’t understand. I wasn’t abused as a child! Thinking it was all just a physical problem, I went to a gynecologist and had a hymenectomy. When that made no difference, I finally decided to go to a therapist. I was almost 23 when I finally let myself give in to the flashbacks, and then I realized that I had in fact been sexually abused as a child. I spent six years in therapy with the same therapist working through the abuse, telling my family, and trying to be intimate with my husband.

Some background here: When I was 6 years old, my paternal grandparents were divorced. My grandfather had been cheating on my grandmother with my mother’s cousin and several other women. He was the one who had abused me when I was between the ages of 3 and 6, as far as I can recall. Then, when I was 12, I lost my maternal grandfather to a car accident. This, too, was traumatic for me and scarred me so much that I didn’t want to learn to drive, especially as his accident was caused by a 16-year-old girl. Also, I was raised Mormon and left my religion at age 25, which was very traumatic. But that’s a different story.

When I was 29 and it was my seventh wedding anniversary, my therapist passed away suddenly. He was 54 years old. I was heartbroken and felt lost, but eventually started seeing his female intern, even though I didn’t feel as close a connection to her, because I felt I hadn’t completely resolved the underlying abuse issues. We progressed slowly, using the developmental needs meeting strategy (DNMS) therapy, similar to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which was too intense for me at the time.

Four months later, my husband was arrested in our home at midnight, charged with felony accounts of enticing a minor online. I went into shock and didn’t know what to do or what to think. I supported him through the court experience but knew he had given the authorities the excuse that he wasn’t able to be intimate with his wife. He spent a few months in jail, and afterwards we divorced. I struggled with trust, with the manner of crime he committed, and with feeling somewhat responsible. He lost his job as a university school counselor, we lost our home and our security, and I couldn’t stay married to him.

I continued in therapy throughout this ordeal, began dating a man I had known previously, and we ended up marrying less than a year after my divorce was finalized. He had no supportive family, no job, not even a driver’s license! For whatever reason, I felt it was my responsibility to “save” him and as a people-pleaser, I just couldn’t say no. My therapist was as supportive as possible while also trying to get me to see the truth. But I didn’t listen to her. In fact, I stopped seeing her altogether before we had finished the DNMS program because I felt like I didn’t need therapy anymore. I was able to be physically intimate with my new husband, and I took that as a sign that all was well.

Only six months into our marriage, I realized I was miserable and not being true to myself. It was agony leaving him, though. He wasn’t abusive, mean, or demanding. He was selfish, lazy, and over-sexualized, but he had this “wounded puppy” quality about him that I fell for over and over again, and it took me another six months to actually leave him. I moved to an apartment alone for the first time ever and spent my days working.

Work, by the way, was social work. That’s right. I was later diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), dissociative disorder NOS, and bipolar, and I worked as a social worker for ten years while I processed my own abuse issues and experienced new traumas. It got to be too much. I was missing work more than I was attending and I was isolating from everyone. When I was 32, I overdosed on my medications by accident but was still hospitalized for a suicide attempt. After this, I knew I needed to make a change.

Just before my hospitalization, my grandmother went through congestive heart failure, and I knew she would require assisted living. I discussed this with my family, and we all decided it would be good for both me and my grandmother if I quit my job and went to live with her. This happened just three months ago. I hoped it would be a healing time for both of us and in a lot of ways it has been. But we both continue to struggle with depression and anxiety. Not to mention just getting used to having someone else to live with. I haven’t continued in therapy since moving in with my grandmother, but have been on psychiatric medications. I’ve taken so many over the years, and many of them at the same time. I don’t believe being on several different meds at once is healthy or helpful, so I’ve been slowly weaning off the medications and introducing vitamins, with the guidance of a nutritionist and an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

So far, after moving in with my grandmother, weaning off meds, and trying to make positive lifestyle changes such as more exercise, I have been doing okay. I have my days of feeling completely hopeless, but they aren’t lasting as long as they used to. I’m learning ways to love myself and be okay with who I am, which I think is a big part of mental health. The relationships I have in my life are key to my well-being, so for them I am hugely grateful. I don’t have a lot of energy and it’s a daily struggle to survive, but it could be worse. I know because I’ve been there and come out the other end. I’m still not where I want to be, but I know I will be someday.

This week I have an appointment to see my DNMS therapist. She has her own private practice now and I happened to see her at my APRN’s office. She offered me free therapy for life, which is incredible to me. I don’t know that I’ll need that or that I’ll even be able to take her up on it, but the fact that she offered is amazing and makes me feel so blessed and special. I’m looking forward to seeing her and updating her on my life.

I’ve also been writing a blog about mental health, which was inspired by this website, GoodTherapy.org, and by a man I worked with who challenged me to write about my experiences. I’m still trying to be brave and get more personal and in-depth—I’ll get there eventually. I know that mental health, when it’s not at its best, is one of the worst pains in the world. I hope that we can all help each other and be more tolerant of each other, less judgmental. I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the cause by sharing my story.

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  • nita

    nita

    July 14th, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    It is hard to see when people continue these patterns in their lives over and over again. I hope that this time you recognize those patterns in yourself and are finally able to break free of those chains that it has placed around you for so many years.

  • Abigail

    Abigail

    July 14th, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    You have experienced quite a bit of stress and trauma in your life.
    There are some people who could never function after the true realization of what they had been through in the past.
    You however have managed even after so many traumas and setbacks to bounce back and get care fro yourself even when it felt like you were at your lowest point.
    That speaks to the resilience that you have been able to maintain even in the face of so much tragedy.
    I hope that your story will inspire others and show them that there is hope, that you do have a chance to make it even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

  • Rob

    Rob

    July 15th, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    You have lived with is all of your life to varying degrees haven’t you? I am sorry for that but at the same time what wonderful life lessons you have to share with the rest of us. I think that there are many of us who are intimidated to even ask for help because, you know, most of us are hard pressed to even know where to begin. I think that for many they can relate to your story and your trauma and can maybe see themselves a little but in you. There is never an easy journey to wholeness again but it does make things a little more manageable when you know that there is another who has gone through the same things that you have and that things can always look up once you get the right combination that works for you.

  • Author

    Author

    July 15th, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    Wow thank you all for your kind words. It means a lot knowing I could make a difference. Thank you

  • Benny

    Benny

    July 16th, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    We sometimes don’t even realize how much damage others do to us until we find ourselves floundering as adults. It is such a shame that people can’t be adult enough to just settle their problems on their own instead of always taking it out on their kids, who then, well, you get the picture. It seems in some families to be never ending.

  • Nancy

    Nancy

    August 15th, 2014 at 5:53 AM

    You are a brave and courageous woman. Your story inspired me. Thank you for sharing it and I pray that you continue on the healing path. Body work like cranial sacral, massage and acupuncture are also great ways to further heal from trauma.

  • Maurice

    Maurice

    October 17th, 2016 at 12:02 AM

    “I’ve been slowly weaning off the medications and introducing vitamins, with the guidance of a nutritionist and an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
    So far, after moving in with my grandmother, weaning off meds, and trying to make positive lifestyle changes such as more exercise

    Thank you for being brave enough to dig into your memories, to face them, and to risk sharing them with the many anonymous others who have experienced similar pain.

    Your decision to wean yourself from medications, take vitamins, and get more exercise are the ticket.

    I, too, am recovering from extensive similar but different abuses, and have attained mental stability despite coming from a family with 3 successful suicides plus at least 1 unsuccessful attempt (mine).

    Two friends (saints in every sense) have helped me. The following have proven essential to my recovery, and I cannot recommend them highly enough:

    1. Gradually eliminate ***ALL*** sugar, sugar substitutes and sweet things from your diet. This includes artificial sweeteners, and good sweeteners such as honey and fresh fruit. This is what I had to do to keep my anger at bay. The goal is to eliminate all desire for sweet food. It is possible. I have done it.

    2 . Eat balanced meals–preferably home-cooked–with plenty of quality protein and organic vegetables, and nutritional supplements (is there a Vitamin Cottage in your area?).

    3. Exercise regularly, as you have been, starting gradually (just ‘show up’, kinda thing), doing the minimum, working the HABIT and, eventually, the craving for it into your life.

    4. Make adequate rest a priority–8 hours of sleep.

    You will be blown away by how much better you feel after forgoing sugar.

    Thank you for sharing your story. You will win!

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