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Trauma Mama: Little Girl Riding Shotgun in My Psyche

 

“I love you,” I say to my daughter.

“Of course you do,” she says, I’m awesome.”

She was twelve. The mother in me smiled. The girl I was shook her head inside and wondered how would it have been to feel both loved and lovable while a child?

I do not know. I will never know.

It does not matter how wonderful my present.

It does not matter who I will become.

I can’t change the past.

The past is a country I never want my daughter to travel near or in. I am an exile, from my past, my child self. There are no photo albums I want to share with my daughter. No traditions I want to pass on or teach.

My cultural pride is shame.

My native tongue is a memory I try to scrape clean so mud doesn’t cake out of my mouth. My greatest gift of maternal love is to insist she get no heirloom.

My gift is to break the cycle and attempt to give something I didn’t own as a child.

Safety.

Comfort.

Responsiveness.

Attachment.

TRauma

I am not a child-girl-victim anymore. I’m a mother-woman-adult. Except, I will always be both.

kid2

No one gets to choose whether they are victimized or not which is why the past is never completely done. I can't unknow that uncertainty.

We are not only the present but who and where we came from.

I know my parents, her grandparents did the best they could. And I know it was lacking.

I know my parents had no more for themselves than they had for me and it was not enough.

Because of that, I am raising my actual daughter as well as my emotional self.

I carry my past in my skin like a birthmark, in my teeth like a cavity filled and as a ghost that I can’t make real or go away who hovers, tethers and feels or refuses to feel. She is an invisible and palpable presence riding shotgun in my psyche at all times.

She is the foundation of the life I now live in. She is not where I live now.

She’s not my living room or my kitchen or even my bedroom. She’s still the basement bottom and the foundation all else is built upon.

I can’t pretend she isn’t in the way I settle in doors, windows, and choices.

Childhood was raged upon by the ocean during an astronomical high tide. Angry waves rocked the base and flowed through the bottom layers of my being. Watermarks and mold weakened wood which couldn’t dry without swelling even when the sea receded.

I weathered storms without coast guards or police to warn me, evacuate or take me to safety.

I endured extreme conditions like countless others.

chilled

I tried to “pass” for normal and pretend we had not just been through tsunami weekends and pretending was often the hardest part.

I went to school wet, hungry, shivering without homework or lunch bags or confidence. My 11-year-old self was a bet-wetting girl who also got her period. She didn’t have access to sanitary supplies or clean sheets.

She went to school sitting on her hands, hoping blood wouldn’t mark school chairs. She held her breath, hoping it would keep others from smelling her. She didn’t know the words abuse or neglect. She just thought she was dirty, smelly, and life was hard.

The little girl I was was not as confident as my own child is now.

Sometimes I watch my daughter and marvel. I celebrate when she asks for more food and affection, without worry, apology, hesitation, or shame.

It feels victorious at times.

Sometimes I worry I am parenting to my voids rather than her gifts. How can I keep my distorted beliefs from seeping through my floorboards where my daughter’s bare feet cross?

I know now that I was a scrappy and innocent warrior doing the best I could, but that is not what I grew up believing. I “knew” I was damaged and that something in me caused people to act bad.

I can’t go back and give accuracy or truth to the child me I was during development. I can’t go back and inhabit my body or the world as a child who felt safe. I can’t know in my bones that felt experience.

Instead, I inhabited faulty beliefs, a less empowered view of reality and marinated in fear.

How do I shed my former self while honoring all she went through to be this mother and adult?

parented

I know the world offers beauty, love, and health. I’m eager, giddy and surprised. I binge on joy and happiness like they are a food with an expiration date that will spoil if not consumed.

Can I teach my daughter to count on plenty and to pace herself? Can I teach her she need not hoard and grab for fear of going without? Can I teach her that she has enough and is enough?

Sometimes, my daughter doesn’t even finish a cupcake. It astounds me every time and I stare at the plate.

“I’m not hungry,” she says as she pushes it away.

I don't even understand how that is possible. Who leaves a half-eaten cupcake on a plate? Who, in childhood knows how to listen to her belly and lets go of the worry about what might come next? She's not afraid someone will take what's hers.

How can I model for her something I do not believe? How can I show her something she already knows better than I do?

In some ways, she is wiser than I – stronger. And that’s a result of my good enough mothering but it also means that I'm not the sherpa, guide, and rock she deserves. I'm always playing catch up.

It also means the childhoods we inhabited can never be shared. Not really.

Will I tell her someday what and why I write so much? I’ve done so only outlining the full story? How can I give context without burdening her?

Will I speak of the sentence of childhood as a woman who was once a child and is her mother?

How will I ever tell my daughter how sorry I am I was not whole from the beginning of her precious life? She deserved more. It’s not my fault I wasn't whole but it's even less hers. It is me who is responsible for her even if my parents couldn't be responsible for me.

And I'm responsible for myself as well. Sometimes my hands and head have been too full tending to the child I was.

two children

Will I apologize for not being more present for barbeques and picnics on the porch or swinging in the hammock?

Will I tell her why I sometimes need to go down into the basement to open up windows and let sunlight into the darkest, deepest and oldest crevices?

Will I tell her that anxiety can be a bee I see, hear and fear that threatens to sting even when I don't have an epi pen in hand - how this - not she is what is keeping me from being as attentive as I'd like to be?

Learning to navigate my survivor identity and being a mother is not something that ends after childbirth or adoption or the diaper changing years.

Being a survivor does not start or end with pregnancy, breastfeeding, hugging, bathing, or ever. 

It does not start or end when our kids sleep through the night or have their first sleepovers.

It shapes who we are and how we do or do not come to know and share love, intimacy, partnership, and parenting. 

It's not just that survivor parents sometimes relive the past as our kids grow. It's not just flashbacks that rock us.

It's the way clarity and perspective cause grief and confusion when we realize, reconcile and finally believe we were blameless, innocent and young. 

Though healing, those experiences can upend and shatter many faulty relationships and realities. Often there is loss between what was and what comes next.

PWA4

Our orbits spin for reasons people often misunderstand and misrepresent.

Sometimes the work of parenting is monumentally hard, lonely and daunting. Other times, it is staggeringly beautiful and fortifying and healing.

Mostly, it’s the silence that is often the hardest.

Few people say childhood, trauma, and parenting in one sentence.

Fewer says, "it feels like this," or "Here's what I need," or "Here's how I figured out trust, love, boundaries or what relationships are supposed to be like."

Few ask those who were raised to normalize trauma how we navigated adolescence, sex, or childbearing and rearing.

Or didn't. 

What we tried and discovered worked. Or did not. 

Few get how unfamiliar we might be with calm, quiet or our own bodies.

The past does not predict the future but it impacts us. We are not doomed but we are impacted. We can't change the past but we can change the future, and the present, for ourselves and for our children. 

cis

Zora Neale Hurston wrote: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

My questioning is not yet done.

I am not looking for answers but companions. We need sacred and safe places for open and honest conversation.  We need each other more than we need fixing because we also have gifts to give and share. 

Once, my daughter heard another mom say to me, “You’re such a good mom.”

Later, my daughter said, “I’m the only one who can say if you are a good mom because I’m the only one you’re the mother of.” 

I smiled.

I don’t disagree with her reasoning.

I am raising two girls still. My own and the child I was. Will good enough truly be good enough? 

I can only speak for me.

 
Note: An earlier version of this post was posted on my blog, in the Trigger Points Anthology and Parenting with PTSD.  

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Comments (16)

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Christine Cissy White posted:
Teri Wellbrock posted:

Wow. Trying to catch my breath after absorbing your words. Thank you for this.

"Sometimes I worry I am parenting to my voids rather than her gifts." Absolutely brilliant and eye-opening. I will most likely journal on the  impact of these words momentarily.

I am in the process of finishing up my book and just happened to have been writing the chapter on ACEs survey questions 1 & 2 last night (until 2:30 a.m.) Those two questions: 

ACEs question #1: Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often . . . Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? Or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
ACEs question #2: Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often . . . Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

I have been feeling guilt about exposing my parents' actions and the resulting impact on my heart and soul. As I sat praying over it this morning, asking for guidance as I return to my keyboard this morning, our downstairs television randomly turned on by itself (the dogs were nowhere near the remote). There on the screen were Princes William and Harry talking about their mother, Diana. They spoke of "compassion" and "smothering embraces" and "attention." I cried. No. I bawled. 

I will write today about the horrors of my childhood. And I will shine light into those dark spaces. I will write today about the joys of my childhood. And I will let the light of those moments radiate into that same darkness.

Thank you. For being a part of my prayer's answer this morning.

And for sharing your gift with us all. 

Peace,

Teri

www.teriwellbrock.com

Teri:
Thank you for YOUR writing and this comment. As Donna Jackson Nakazawa always says, "We're all in this together." And you gave me an idea to maybe share some writing prompts in the Parenting with ACEs Community to get us all sharing, or thinking, online or in journals... THANK YOU.

I can't wait for your book. I imagine, just from your comment, your writing will be healing and honest. Thank you for speaking eloquently about your process and reflections on what to share and how much to share in your writing. I hear about that, in varied ways FROM MANY PEOPLE. I think it's more than o.k. to share the ambivalence as well because it is precisely what, as well as guilt, shame and other things, what has kept so many so quiet. It's o.k. to have all the ambivalence in the world, to be conflicted about our "right to write," to be loyal and say stuff, to be honest and not wanting to cause pain, to be fair to yourself without feeling unfair to others, and sometimes it's so impossible to balance it all.

Sometimes, the truth does cause pain and sometimes it doesn't bring answers. But, it can, as Renee Boynton Jarrett has said, help us have new conversations, and it can be good for our heal to "write through" our feelings. My writing mentor Nancy Slonim Aronie says, "Get the rage on the page and out of your body." I know you aren't speaking about rage but I like that idea that there can be alchemy and healing, at a minimum for you, the writer, and possibly for readers too.  Anyhow, that got long. Onward to your writing!!!! Cis

I just recently discovered the writings of Donna Jackson Nakazawa and love it that you quoted her. I tell people whenever I can (on my podcast or on stage or in my Facebook posts), "share your story" as there is healing within the sharing and resulting connections. 

Thank you for your encouragement of my upcoming book and reminding me it's o.k. to share the honesty of the ambivalence. Validation can be healing, as well!

Oh my gosh . . . LOVE LOVE LOVE the advice from your writing mentor, "Get the rage on the page and out of your body." Fabulous!

Thanks again for this post, your soulful response, and for sharing your insights. Truly treasured.

Peace,

Teri

Teri Wellbrock posted:

Wow. Trying to catch my breath after absorbing your words. Thank you for this.

"Sometimes I worry I am parenting to my voids rather than her gifts." Absolutely brilliant and eye-opening. I will most likely journal on the  impact of these words momentarily.

I am in the process of finishing up my book and just happened to have been writing the chapter on ACEs survey questions 1 & 2 last night (until 2:30 a.m.) Those two questions: 

ACEs question #1: Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often . . . Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? Or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
ACEs question #2: Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often . . . Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

I have been feeling guilt about exposing my parents' actions and the resulting impact on my heart and soul. As I sat praying over it this morning, asking for guidance as I return to my keyboard this morning, our downstairs television randomly turned on by itself (the dogs were nowhere near the remote). There on the screen were Princes William and Harry talking about their mother, Diana. They spoke of "compassion" and "smothering embraces" and "attention." I cried. No. I bawled. 

I will write today about the horrors of my childhood. And I will shine light into those dark spaces. I will write today about the joys of my childhood. And I will let the light of those moments radiate into that same darkness.

Thank you. For being a part of my prayer's answer this morning.

And for sharing your gift with us all. 

Peace,

Teri

www.teriwellbrock.com

Teri:
Thank you for YOUR writing and this comment. As Donna Jackson Nakazawa always says, "We're all in this together." And you gave me an idea to maybe share some writing prompts in the Parenting with ACEs Community to get us all sharing, or thinking, online or in journals... THANK YOU.

I can't wait for your book. I imagine, just from your comment, your writing will be healing and honest. Thank you for speaking eloquently about your process and reflections on what to share and how much to share in your writing. I hear about that, in varied ways FROM MANY PEOPLE. I think it's more than o.k. to share the ambivalence as well because it is precisely what, as well as guilt, shame and other things, what has kept so many so quiet. It's o.k. to have all the ambivalence in the world, to be conflicted about our "right to write," to be loyal and say stuff, to be honest and not wanting to cause pain, to be fair to yourself without feeling unfair to others, and sometimes it's so impossible to balance it all.

Sometimes, the truth does cause pain and sometimes it doesn't bring answers. But, it can, as Renee Boynton Jarrett has said, help us have new conversations, and it can be good for our heal to "write through" our feelings. My writing mentor Nancy Slonim Aronie says, "Get the rage on the page and out of your body." I know you aren't speaking about rage but I like that idea that there can be alchemy and healing, at a minimum for you, the writer, and possibly for readers too.  Anyhow, that got long. Onward to your writing!!!! Cis

Wow. Trying to catch my breath after absorbing your words. Thank you for this.

"Sometimes I worry I am parenting to my voids rather than her gifts." Absolutely brilliant and eye-opening. I will most likely journal on the  impact of these words momentarily.

I am in the process of finishing up my book and just happened to have been writing the chapter on ACEs survey questions 1 & 2 last night (until 2:30 a.m.) Those two questions: 

ACEs question #1: Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often . . . Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? Or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
ACEs question #2: Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often . . . Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

I have been feeling guilt about exposing my parents' actions and the resulting impact on my heart and soul. As I sat praying over it this morning, asking for guidance as I return to my keyboard this morning, our downstairs television randomly turned on by itself (the dogs were nowhere near the remote). There on the screen were Princes William and Harry talking about their mother, Diana. They spoke of "compassion" and "smothering embraces" and "attention." I cried. No. I bawled. 

I will write today about the horrors of my childhood. And I will shine light into those dark spaces. I will write today about the joys of my childhood. And I will let the light of those moments radiate into that same darkness.

Thank you. For being a part of my prayer's answer this morning.

And for sharing your gift with us all. 

Peace,

Teri

www.teriwellbrock.com

Thank you so much for your candor and beautiful writing. You capture not only the deep shame that comes from being unloved as a child, but also the hopeful possibility that this "doesn't have to be a life sentence." I really needed to read this, and I, too, would say that your daughter is very lucky to have you.

Kathy & Tanya & All:

Please feel free to share blogs, articles, thoughts, feelings, calendar listings - anything about Parenting with ACEs, here, or in Parenting with ACEs. ALL ARE WELCOME!

We have a Parenting with ACEs page on Facebook as well.

Thank you for commenting and sharing how many of us share these feelings/experiences! Cissy

Rebecca, Allen, Laura, Laura, Leslie & Laurie: 

THANK you for your words, for reading, for witnessing.

Allen: I agree, we need stories and stats, studies and how we're living with that stuff being studied day to day, hour to hour, year to year, relationship to relationship. Thank you for the encouragement to keep writing these kinds of pieces. 

Laura H: I used to hate that quote, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." But as I get older, I've come to see it the way your friend does and it's a gift. Thank you!

Laura: YOUR friendship is a gift!!! 

Leslie: Thank you, it's nice to read strength and vulnerability in one sentence!

Rebecca: So many questions we can at least ask (as well as expertise/experiences to tell), huh? That's getting better and do have more of a voice and WE do have more pathways and yes to collective and generational healing and including poverty, as you do, as central, ALL SO YES!!!!! There's SO MUCH work to be done. I'm encouraged by your optimism.  

Laurie: Thank YOU for your tender words. They touched me.

Cis 

Cissy:

This is such wonderful writing that addresses a big problem in a thoughtful, reflective, and ultimately positive way. I think these kind of stories do more to help folks understand ACEs (and their own challenges and those of others) than a 100 scientific articles do. Please continue to share stories about your journey, there are great lessons for everybody in them

I love reading your work. There is so much in the “asking” and the “telling”.

There is so much in the complexity. I am utterly grateful with this movement WE have a voice. WE have a path together. WE are vital. WE are healing collectively. Generationally. And that both you and I and us and them are loved.

 

 

Cissy, this is so powerful, moving and prosaic. Thanks for sharing this    beautiful piece of writing!  Your daughter is so fortunate to have you as a mother. In the same way, so is that little girl who lives inside you.

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