Understanding what prevented my healing was the first step toward recovery.
Trauma experienced in childhood has a special ability to wound, especially when it includes emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect. The fallout echoes through the years and causes negative consequences, such as higher risks of depression, anxiety, bipolar-disorder, PTSD, Complex-PTSD, obesity, behavioural problems, and health problems such as heart disease.
I can tell you firsthand as an individual who had been abused as child, by the age of 21 I already met the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder. As a troubled child the abuse also lead me to abuse alcohol and drugs as a way to numb the pain and memories.
Recent studies estimate that up to two-thirds of patients in substance use treatment centres have childhood histories of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse. There is much to overcome with a troubled childhood, but help is available, and a thorough understanding of what hinders healing can aid the recovery process.
There were many reasons why my freedom from childhood trauma was difficult:
- As an adult I was slow to realize the source of my pain. As a child you have no frame of reference when traumatic experiences occur, so I came to see my reality as normal. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way – that the longer a person waits to get help, the tougher it becomes to heal.
- Co-occurring issues masked my true problem. Using drugs and alcohol to deal with painful memories of childhood trauma had me focused on the addiction issues – what was essentially a symptom of the trauma – never fully discovering its source.
- Overcoming the past meant remembering it. I found the concept of revisiting the past too painful. It was impossible to sort out the jumble of childhood impressions. All that remained was a floating sense of anxiety. Pain become tough to eliminate because I couldn’t pinpointed the source.
- Why try when closure was an elusive afterthought. Trying to get those responsible for my trauma to accept responsibility for their role was impossible. It was tough to accept that the abusers would never accept responsibility for there actions, and that there was no hope of ever developing a healthy relationship.
- I ultimately focused on becoming an approval-seeker who was willing to go to any lengths to keep the peace or earn the love of others. Rather than valuing my own needs, I spend my energy trying to become worthy of others’ affection, and in the process enduring further pain.
While each of these reasons created challenges to my healing, none precluded it.
For myself, treatment and therapy dramatically improve my quality of life. Learning techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy, which changed my negative thought patterns, opening up about my trauma, reflecting back to my first memory, and working through psychotherapy processes helped resolve my past traumas. Additionally, medications. The medications helped find the horizon during the cloudy storm. The storm reflecting the days I saw no reason to live.
What is encouraging for you and me to recognize is that psychiatrists and therapists are coming to understand that there is a small silver lining to negative experiences: They can sometimes boost resilience. Carrying an ugly burden from the past can weigh a person down, but it can also make them stronger. Just keep in mind, it’s never to late to start. You’re strong today but can find happiness becoming stronger tomorrow. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This will be your first step..
Please remember you are never alone.
By Brian Nadon