Childhood trauma – more people have it than you think. Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually. And 50% of the time the perpetrator is a family member and 39% of the time perpetrator is the child’s parent(s). What a terrifying thought. On top of that, a large portion of that abuse is classified as sexual abuse. (National Children’s Alliance)
Those numbers tell me that I’m not alone! It tells me that there is someone out there who can benefit from hearing my story and my healing process. That is why I share, despite the fear, shame and embarrassment I carried for so long, I know now that there is more to be lost if I keep quiet. So please, don’t feel alone or like you have to struggle alone. There are resources out there for you!
Based on the reports we have, it’s conservatively believed that in today’s society 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys WILL BE sexually molested before they are 18 years old
National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse
My Childhood Trauma
At the age of four, I was sexually abused by a family member. I won’t go into details, because it isn’t necessary and I don’t want to trigger someone else. But, that abuse affected me for 14 years before I started working towards the healing I so desperately needed.
I didn’t come to terms or even confront what happened to me until I was 16 years old. But once I had a come-to-Jesus moment, allowing myself to fully relive and recognize the events of my childhood, I was able to begin healing.
My healing was centered around my relationship with Christ, but I also used lots of practical tools which I researched day and night, because I didn’t want ask my parents to pay for a therapist. I also didn’t want to talk to anybody about what happened to me at that point. So, self-healing was my go-to option.
How Trauma Affected Me
As a child I exhibited behaviors in line with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. I was never diagnosed, because I was never seen by a doctor. But I battled with things such as: paranoia, a strong aversion to triggering events, anxiety, emotional numbness, and acts of aggression.
I was constantly looking over my shoulder afraid my perpetrator would be there to kidnap me (due to claims made by other family members). I refused to watch any movie with sex scenes or abuse. Those scenes would send me into a panic and emotional state that was very uncomfortable, as you can imagine. I suffered from an unhealthy obsession to please that I am still battling today.
If I had a dollar for every time my heart began to race as if I were in imminent danger, in reaction to something harmless, I would be a millionaire. I was constantly on edge and it took a huge toll on my self-confidence and image. Not to mention my mental and physical health. I was as paranoid as you could possibly get. Every single male stranger was of immediate threat to me in my trauma inflicted mind.
Sticky Notes and Affirmations
Healing from childhood trauma, especially trauma that you’ve been hiding for a long time, requires a rewiring of the brain of sorts. I knew that I needed to change the way I reacted to things and how I spoke to myself. Our brains control everything and so it is important to train our brains to react correctly to stimuli. My first actionable step towards healing was Sticky Notes.
Sticky Notes? You question. Yes, sticky notes.
I wrote down affirmations like “I am Healed” and “I am Set Free” all over my bathroom mirror. Anything I was struggling with received an assigned affirmation and placed on the mirror. Every morning I would wake up and while getting ready I would read each one of the affirmations out loud to myself. It felt a little silly at first, but eventually I began to see myself behaving differently.
My reactions were less dramatic, my emotions more level and believe it not, I felt more confident!
In the bible, there is a verse that talks about speaking life.
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. – Proverbs 18:21
Living out this bible verse – Changed. My. Life. The key for this technique is that I was saying these mantras OUT LOUD. I would say them in my head throughout the day as I came into contact with particularly hard circumstances. However, saying them out loud in the mornings set me up for success for the whole day. It also allowed me to hear the affirmations. Speaking and hearing the statements reinforced them in my head space.
Scaling was a tool I used to make sure I was self-regulating. Self regulation is CRUCIAL when trying to heal from trauma. Most likely, you overreact to certain stimuli, because you are emotionally charged due to what happened to you. Recognizing these over reactions, self soothing and regulating is important to leading a more balanced life.
Scaling in a nut shell is this: When something happens, I gauge my reaction and then compare it to how I think someone else would or should react. If there was a discrepancy between the two, I knew I needed to work on how I responded in the moment or in the future.
Facing The Music & Finding Closure After Childhood Trauma
This is usually the most difficult part for people. But it is impossible to be completely healed and set free from your childhood trauma until you accept what happened, find closure and forgive. Trauma is a lot like grief. In fact, you may go through all the steps of grief, because essentially you are grieving a loss of either innocence or control. Trauma SUCKS. What happened to you, wasn’t fair, justified or okay. But it’s time to start taking action towards living a better life.
Accepting that something horrible happened to you is more difficult than it sounds. That’s why the first step in grief is often denial. But recognizing exactly what happened to you and how it has affected you is crucial to your healing.
We need to be honest with ourselves when doing a self-evaluation. By telling yourself there’s nothing wrong with you – you are doing yourself a disservice.
Let me clarify – what happened to you didn’t happen because something is wrong with you. I’m also not saying that what you’re going through isn’t normal for your circumstance. But I AM saying that if you haven’t healed, then you are not “okay as you are”, if you are symptomatic of PTSD you need to work on finding healing for yourself. Acceptance is a great place to start.
For me, acceptance looked like confession. I let myself relive the memories I had been suppressing for so long. Then, after I let myself grieve, I confided in my mother. We shared a lot of tears and it really helped me to face my fears. Knowing that someone else knew what happened, and there was someone else grieving for me as well, let me know that it wasn’t the end.
When you let secrets out, you take away their power. So I encourage you to find someone you trust, whether its a friend or a professional, tell someone what happened. Allow yourself to accept the past so that you can move on.
I can almost guarantee you will never get an apology from the person who hurt you. In fact, they would probably call you crazy and try to convince others that you were broken and a liar before they would apologize. So how do you gain closure? You forgive.
WHY ON EARTH WOULD I FORGIVE SOMEONE WHO ABUSED ME?
Because, your un-forgiveness doesn’t affect them in the slightest. In fact, the only thing you can do to get back at them, is to completely heal and move on in life. While it doesn’t make what happened okay, you may find solace in the fact that abusers, are usually individuals who were abused, but instead of healing continued the nasty cycle of abuse.
Not everyone who was abused will abuse others, but it is a possibility. And even if you don’t inflict the same abuse, it is likely that your decision to remain bitter and broken will hurt someone else in some way. So forgive your abuser. They are too broken to realize their wrong doing. But their brokenness should not determine yours.
You need to forgive someone who never said they’re sorry. And that takes strength.
Healing won’t be easy. It never is, but it is necessary if you want a better future. Gaining closure (to me) means that you have forgiven and no longer hold resentment towards your abuser. What happened to you happened, but it doesn’t define you.
Forgiving my abuser, was the best thing I could have done. Once I let go of that anger, I felt truly free and light again. It may take you a while to get to a point of forgiveness. That’s okay. But make sure you are working on getting there.
When I revealed I wasn’t mad at my abuser, I often received looks of confusion and bewilderment. Forgiving someone who did unspeakable truths to you is certainly difficult. But I understood that something awful must have happened to them to make them the way that they are. Or there was something deep and twisted inside of them. The point was, it wasn’t my fault, they weren’t going to take away my freedom and their brokenness wasn’t going to determine mine.
What happened to you happened, but it doesn’t define you.
Once you forgive your abuser, cut your ties and begin walking away. The beautiful thing about this whole process is that in the end instead of that abuse being burdensome or a dark secret, it’s just a piece of your past. A piece that is going to help you grow and give you a strength you would’ve never known otherwise.
I wouldn’t change my story, not even a little.
My Biggest Fear
One of my biggest worries when I was going through my healing was that I would never be able to have an intimate relationship. In fact, as a kid I was TERRIFIED of physical contact and more importantly – sex. While many sexual abuse victims may take on an unhealthy relationship with being sexually charged, I hid from anything of the sort.
How am I going to be married? What if I cry and freak out when I have sex for the first time? How will any man love me knowing I’m used/broken? What if my past totally freaks out my husband?
These questions weighed me down constantly.
But after going through two years of intensive self healing – I got to a place, where it didn’t even cross my mind anymore. I came to a place where my trauma was just a part of my past and wasn’t something to control my future. God really began working on my soul and I can proudly say I am healed from my childhood trauma!
And eventually, there was a man who didn’t even bat an eye when I confided in him.
“That doesn’t change how I see you in the slightest. If anything, I am more proud of who you are and your strength” – My husband after my big drawn out confession. I happy cried.
Hearing my husband (or boyfriend at that time) tell me that he didn’t care what happened to me was truly the icing on my healing cake. It didn’t even phase how he saw me and if anything it grew his admiration for me. That’s when I knew he was the one.
Where Am I Now?
Fast forward two years later and I am currently in the process of publishing my memoir which talks about what it was like growing up with those PTSD symptoms and some of the traumatizing experiences I had. Writing that book was just another way for me to gain perspective and heal. I didn’t necessarily know I would publish until I felt God putting it on my heart. Hopefully my memoir will bring comfort and perspective to others out there.
I also just started this blog as a means of sharing my experience and the things I did and still do to maintain a balanced, healed life. I believe healing is attainable for everyone and that it doesn’t require expensive therapy bills. Through practical techniques, you can rewire your brain, find healing and peace for a new brighter future.
So as far as where am I now? I am living my best healed life and working towards my goals and dreams without the hindrance of trauma related stress. I am happily married, in a home we bought for ourselves, pursuing my passions on the side of my full time job and hoping to become a mother in the near future. All things, I wasn’t sure I would be able to live out without extreme emotional disadvantages. But here I am, living in the healing God blessed me with, the healing I worked hard for – grateful and enjoying every minute of it.
I do want to add that while I claim a healed life, that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle some days. Despite living most days completely unhindered by my past, when life gets especially rough I can have bad days. On those days I work on these Emotional Dysregulation Strategies.