I am a complex trauma survivor.
Updated: Feb 25, 2022
I also created the Healing & C-PTSD Community. I use my voice to bring awareness to complex trauma, help other survivors know that they are not alone, and advocate for C-PTSD to be recognized.
In this blog series, I share my experiences with complex trauma and my healing journey. This is a space for me to speak my truth, as I continue to tame the chaos within.
Please be aware that in an effort to fully be un-silenced, I do not censor myself in this space, so there will always be a TW for this series.
Dear Community, for this first blog post, I am going to give you a little more insight into my trauma-to-healing story and how this community came to be.
I was born into a trauma lifestyle with a dysfunctional family of alcoholism, domestic violence, and mental illness. I don't remember a time before trauma. In fact, I don't really remember the first 7 years of my life, but that's just my brain's defense mechanisms working at their finest.
The first few years of my life, I broke both my collarbones and cracked my head open, so it seems redundant to point out that neglect was present in our house. Mental and emotional abuse was the language of my family. Alcohol was the water their bodies needed to survive a minute of existence. I experienced molestation as a child for years and was raped by a family member when I was 14 years old.
Outside looking in, you didn’t see any of that.
I was just like everyone else.
When those causing your trauma are the people who share your blood, the abuse doesn't just stop. When you turn 18, it still doesn't just stop because you are now 'an adult.' It doesn't just disappear. This was the family I was born into. Chaos was the foundation of my life, and even into adulthood, I didn’t understand that I was functioning in constant survival mode because a trauma lifestyle was all I'd ever known.
I didn't even realize that what was happening was abuse or trauma.
This was the hand of cards I was dealt; this was just normal life. But I knew something was definitely wrong with me. I felt as though I was different from everyone else. I spent most of my late teens and early twenties trying to numb the pain with drugs and alcohol, pretending to be as 'normal' as possible, and searching for love and some sort of acceptance in all the wrong places. I was on a hamster wheel of trauma after trauma, thinking “this is just how life is.”
MY FIRST ATTEMPT at THERAPY
Finding my father drinking himself to the point that he didn't recognize me, led me to my first therapy session when I was 21. I went for a couple weeks, only to later talk myself into thinking it was pointless.
Cue the "it's not your fault it happened, but it's your responsibility to deal with it now" bullshit that no one who is still being abused wants to hear. I didn't want more responsibility. I survived it. I lived it. Now I have to “deal with it too?”. I wanted to have some time NOT dealing with this. Didn't I deserve a break? Didn't I deserve to have my own life? Didn't I deserve to stop the pain and chaos?
She told me that's not how it works.
So I decided I would deal with it in my own way.
I quit therapy; it was too expensive anyway. I began writing about my trauma and would continue for years. That's processing, right? That’s facing my trauma, right? I would rather express it myself, cope in my own time and not have to pay some person to listen to my abuse. The reality is, I only wrote about the stuff I could actually face, which included everything but my sexual abuse. This remained sealed away, in a dark room in the basement of my subconscious, locked in a box marked DO NOT FUCKING OPEN.
With each word I wrote, I was unknowingly re-traumatizing myself. I was re-activating the pain from inside the same environment that had caused it. And doing so without any skills to cope except my hearty (and continually growing) level of tolerance to alcohol. The reality was, I was still only surviving.
But this is what healing looks like, right? Talking about your abuse, processing your trauma. This is what sitting with it looks like: Feeling through the pain? But what happens when it’s your family that’s the problem and escape isn’t an option.
At this point in society, the message was "your thoughts control everything."
"Just think positive," they said.
"Put the negativity away," they said.
"Focus on the positive. Just talk about it to heal it," they said.
"But it's your family," they said, "it’s your FAMILY."
I’d lie to myself and say I wrote about all my trauma. I did what I was supposed to do. I would pretend I was proud of myself and act like I was this strong person who wouldn’t be held back by the cards I was dealt.
I think I knew I was lying, but I really wanted to believe it. I just wanted to be healed. But I wasn't, which just confirmed my belief that something was fundamentally wrong with me.
So I put my healing on the back burner and went back to surviving the only life “style” I had ever known.
To the outside world, I appeared successful, confident, and like I had my shit together. I developed a successful career in the bar industry because I could thrive in the chaotic environment, an environment that I literally grew up in. As a glorified babysitter for drunk adults, I became a workaholic inside a toxic comfort zone. I mastered the art of putting on a mask and being what everyone else needed me to be, because that’s what I had been trained for all my life.
Yet inside, I was completely mentally unstable and felt sure, I was losing my mind.
By age 25, I was a functioning alcoholic, addicted to Adderall, and ruining relationships with anyone who actually gave a damn. I was the mirror image of my parents, and that made me sick. I was walking down the same twisted dark path, something I swore I would never do.
I began isolating myself in a way that scared me. I didn't realize I was still trauma-blocking, mainly because the abuse was still so active.
My abusive father passed away, a family member was sexually abusing me again, I made the difficult decision to have an abortion, and to say the least, I hit complete rock bottom.
I knew if I continued to live this way, I would absolutely end up killing myself.
THE PATH TO HEALING
Holding my newborn nephew for the first time gave me a light in the dark hole I was trapped in. Seeing my sister’s strength and resilience in healing her trauma while building a family and future gave me hope that it was possible. Maybe someday I could have what she had, or at least my own version of it.
That was when I made a serious decision to focus on my healing again. For the first time in my life, I established some boundaries and started to face the pain that I couldn't seem to get rid of.
‘Difficult’ is an understatement.
The people who benefited from my open boundaries used guilt, shame, manipulation and anything possible to keep the boundaries down.
I had no clue what I was doing or what was happening inside my head or body. But what I did know was that I couldn't handle being in my own skin anymore and I didn't want this life anymore. Continuing to “survive” like this was actually killing me. I knew I needed to tame the chaos within.
I decided I needed help from others and, more importantly, myself.
There was no roadmap for growing up through trauma, which meant no roadmap for the healing journey either. I wasn't even sure I was ready to deal with the road ahead, and I truly had no idea what to expect.
I already spent years writing about my trauma. But now, I spent years re-wording, re-reading, re-living the experiences as I tried to edit the book I was writing. I became obsessed with my book being the proof I needed to explain why I was the way I was.
I went to therapy for a few years but never felt comfortable enough, to be honest (with a therapist, nor with myself). I could talk about the basics, but I couldn't even face the reality of the sexual abuse myself, let alone speak about it to a stranger.
Healing doesn't happen overnight.
Even with the work I was putting in, even though some things were better, it really was better. But I didn't feel I was any closer to being fixed or healed. And because I couldn't fix myself completely, I still felt damaged, like I was stuck in the quicksand of my past.
Healing is messy, ugly, really fucking painful and seems to never end. But I knew that I would rather go through the healing no matter how painful it was than die chained to the torture in the trenches of shame.
THE PERMISSION SLIP I NEEDED
It took someone close to me, disclosing their own sexual abuse, that instantly shed a little bit of shame within.
It was like the permission slip I was waiting for. I needed to be shown that it wasn't just me. When that individual shared their voice, I felt the courage to use mine.
The truth is, I couldn't physically say those words. It had been over 15 years since the first rape, and I still couldn't verbalize it. I didn't know how. But I didn't want the secret anymore. So I wrote about the sexual abuse and added those chapters to my book. The first time I ever spoke of the abuse was me reading those chapters out loud. I still couldn't say those words alone.
Looking back now, I think it was like I needed to explain how it all went down or else no one could possibly ever believe me. I didn't think saying "I was raped" was enough. I knew, in every inch of my body, that statement wasn't enough for others to believe me. It wasn't even enough for me to believe it myself.
Because that's our culture, and that is just heartbreaking.
The act of disclosing your trauma to someone for the first time, can either help you heal or re-traumatize you. It can help you take ten steps forward or send you spiraling backward into a black hole of minimization, blame, and shame.
When you do decide you want to tell someone, please choose wisely and only when you are ready.
I was blessed that this individual's response was loving and supportive, which allowed me to take the next step in the direction of healing.
With the encouragement and support of this individual, I found a trauma-informed therapist who was best for me. And that therapist to this day, still helps me make sense of what I’ve been through while I continue to evolve into the person I want to be. I can’t say this enough: the relationship you build with your therapist is crucial. You are allowed to ask your therapist questions to ensure they are qualified to help you and see if you feel comfortable with them. If your interactions with them make you feel like you can’t be yourself and be honest, find a new one. Yes, it can take a while before you feel you can trust your therapist. It may even take you a few therapists before you find the right one.
I slowly began to speak openly about ALL of my trauma; confiding in a few people I felt close to.
As I continued healing, I realized it wasn’t about the end-game of being healed but, instead it was about cultivating a life in which I didn’t need to survive anymore. This meant removing from my life; the people, family, situations, habits and things that continued to cause me harm or keep me in the cycle of abuse. Of course this wasn’t an over night expedition, but a voyage. I first had to quit my career and leave my old “normal” behind, then replace it with one that allowed for healthy habits, supportive people and safe environments.
Energy work played a massive role in shedding blocks in my healing journey and is currently part of my daily practice. It has helped me work with my trauma at the level of my body and nervous system. Plant Medicine also continues to play a massive role in my healing.
I found a way to help others learn these same healing techniques to navigate their own healing journey. And in doing so, I feel immense joy knowing that fellow survivors are moving forward on their journey.
Over time, things do get better. And then you might feel worse again. And then it gets better. It's a rollercoaster because healing isn't linear.
Even with the ups and downs of healing, I am happy I decided to go on this personal journey. I may not feel ‘fixed’ or completely ‘healed’ but, things are so much better than they used to be and I am learning to enjoy the ride along the way.
It would be decades of suffering before I was diagnosed with Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). It was like a light bulb finally freaking turned on. Learning about C-PTSD was one of the most essential parts of my healing journey; understanding that there was a name associated with my suffering allowed me to admit that what I was feeling was real and valid.
The symptoms I lived with for so long came from the trauma I endured, not because there was something wrong with me. Understanding the symptoms allowed me to, for the first time, start to manage them. It gave me the confirmation that I needed to stop minimizing my abuse and my pain. It gave me the understanding that my body was surviving the best way it knew how. It validated the notion that what I went through was traumatic. The diagnosis finally helped me make sense of what was happening within me. And with just that diagnosis, I could release just a little bit of shame.
Once I had a name for what I was experiencing, it gave me the power to take back control which started with learning more. C-PTSD is not widely recognized and there are not many resources available on the topic. Everything I read about C-PTSD, and complex trauma, felt like a message spoken directly to my soul. So, I wanted to create a safe place for myself as I continued on this healing journey. A place that spoke the truth of the chaos in my reality; a place that allowed me to feel a little less alone. I wanted to express myself, even if it was just by sharing a post on a social media app.
I had no idea that so many of you would relate, understand, and feel seen. I had no idea it would happen so quickly and continue to grow far beyond anything I could ever imagine.
But you have all shown me so loudly that I'm not alone, that there is nothing wrong with me, and that there are people out there who know exactly what I mean and how I feel. It is a true gift that I never could have imagined, let alone even think I deserve. A gift that I knew, deep in my heart, wasn't just for me: it was a gift for all complex trauma survivors, and I had to share it.
That is how The Healing & C-PTSD Community was born.
And here is what you should know about me.
I’m not a mental health professional, just a complex trauma survivor like you. I spent the first 25 years of my life in trauma and I’m about 8 years into my healing journey.
I don’t have all the answers, nor could I ever. I will most definitely make mistakes but will always try to learn from them.
I have bad days and good days, and I’m really honest about that (which helps to relieve some of the guilt and shame I feel on bad days)
I understand now that it wasn’t my fault that the abuse happened AND I have the power to take back control by moving towards healing.
I am a work in progress and always will be. Everyone is a work in progress, which isn't a bad thing. I can’t compare my trauma or progress to another because our journeys are different. And you shouldn’t compare yours either. I want you to know, your trauma is valid AND you deserve healing.
Healing is a deeply personal and unique journey for each person, no matter the similarity in trauma. But one thing I know for sure, is that my story isn't rare.
In hearing your stories, I have come to the realization that trauma is happening way too freaking often. It's something we aren't supposed to talk about. But if we keep ignoring what is happening inside of our homes, inside of our families, inside of us—if we keep sweeping trauma under the rug, then healing can't ever happen. We are only digging ourselves and future generations into a deeper grave of suffering.
When I think about how C-PTSD is not recognized, I am truly not that surprised, if this country and the structures in place were to recognize C-PTSD as real, they would have to shine a light on complex trauma, which includes their role in causing complex trauma for generations.
It is time for us to stop ignoring trauma. It doesn’t matter if those causing it won't admit it. This isn't something you should only learn about after years and years of suffering from it. It is something that we can deal with at the root.
It's scary to think about putting myself out there. In fact, it's scary to think about anyone even reading this right now, because well, let's face it, I have never been truly seen, heard or understood.
But each day that I spend running this community, I gain the strength and courage to keep speaking. I have all of you to thank for that. I only hope I can give as much strength and support back to you through this community.
Thank you for helping me find my voice and I hope this space will help you find yours.
You are not alone.
If you liked what you read, and want to support me and this community, please considering buying me a cup of coffee!
Part of what makes our community so amazing is not what is posted, but the comments from all of you. It helps others know they aren't alone.
feel free to share in comments if you relate!