Without the Pain of My Childhood Trauma, Who Am I?


The first step in recovering from a crappy childhood is acknowledging it.

Some people let it fester forever. These fall under the “my parents beat my ass when I was young and I turned out fine” folks. It molds their behavior like invisible puppet strings and they’re oblivious to it.

I don’t fault those people. Twenty years ago, I was in that boat too. It’s easier to feel like you blend in with everyone else than to mentally feel different. Except…you still feel different.

Reading self-improvement books and therapy websites becomes taking the red pill to enter The Matrix. Accessing a therapist, medication, and digging deep into the memory banks feels like a new world opens up.

It doesn’t start in a good way. It’s opening a wound that was never surgically closed but wrapped in an unclean rag. Those emotions grow and morph into other things as the bacteria of time ravages the wound.

I grew up in a very, very religious house with immigrant parents with a penchant for physical discipline. My mother’s horrific childhood spilled forth onto her two kids who were trying to survive it all while facing the outside world with big smiles to hide the secrets.

There were times throughout this multiple decades-long recovery that were too much. It’s like turning on the channel and everyone is reporting the same story in different ways. Eventually, it’s time to turn off the TV to enjoy the silence. It’s the only way to continue living.

I don’t know myself without this trauma.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? If someone recovers from their past, they still exist. It’s not like the dishes don’t need cleaning and social events stop happening. No one forgets their employable skillset or how to ride a bike. You’re still a human who does human things.

Positive facets of my personality stem from my crappy upbringing. I have the best poker face and no matter what is happening behind the scenes, I can keep my shit together. I can grit my teeth and suffer through a bad situation when I know there is a purpose to the end game. I can time my emotional meltdowns and stop at the drop of a hat, with the bonus of knowing how to remove redness from my face with the correct breathing pattern. Papercuts aside (those hurt like a mofo), my pain tolerance is almost terrifying.

All of those things make me…me. If I heal from my past, what happens to them? Healing means opening myself up for vulnerability, which is the antithesis of my master stoic skills. Will I cry in public all the time?

When I imagine my life recovered from the painful trauma, it feels like there is a gaping hole inside my soul and essence. Conventional wisdom says there’s now room for positivity blah blah blah. It’s filled with growth and emotional rainbows.

It’s too much to wrap my head around. It’s complicated quantum physics.

Therapy also puts people in buckets. Learning that I’m a “fearful-avoidant” or “disorganized avoidant” in my attachment type only further defines my trauma. I’ve learned how much of my inner turmoil is because of my hypercritical parents. My behaviors are impacted as a “third culture kid”. The eating disorder I’ve struggled with is rooted in the self-hatred I’ve experienced my entire life. Oh yeah, let’s not forget the Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

What happens if I heal? I feel like an outsider looking at a swarm of happy humans marching in the same direction heading to their destination. Will I be thrown into the mob, assimilating with everyone and moving onward? That 1984-esque visual makes me feel like I’ll be stripped of my identity.

Having children forced me to question my self-beliefs. When I was as young as four, I remember believing I was a bad person. Looking at my daughter, I can’t imagine her feeling that awful at that age. My son is two years away from the age when I downed a bunch of pills in an attempt to escape my family with a hospital “hotel” stay (I failed and only succeeded in throwing up for hours). My heart crumbles imagining him feeling such self-hatred about himself and his life to hurt his precious body.

Looking at my children, I see innocence. I’ve never felt innocence…keeping family secrets steals that from a child.

There is a part of me that feels like if I’m able to recover from my childhood, then it means it wasn’t that traumatic. But then I also feel like I’m being a baby for my emotions when there are people who have experienced real trauma.

Speaking of others with real trauma, when I dared tell my mother that her hitting me was child abuse, she insisted child abuse was when parents hurt their children for fun. She said those parents burn their cigarettes on their kids’ arms. This made me believe it wasn’t abuse because hitting me was for disciplinary measures, not fun.

And I was a bad kid who needed a lot of discipline.

Healing from past wounds isn’t a linear path. It’s a graph with lines drawn by a drunk toddler.

One ongoing battle is breaking the cycle with my children. It’s tough because bad behaviors are default and it’s a conscious effort to chip away at the cycle that needs breaking.

I want to stop feeling bad but I grip onto the pain. I don’t want to be bland and generic. In my mind, I associate being happy with turning into the cookie-cutter Stepford Wife (sans husband) permeating into the suburban lifestyle.

I know that chipping away at the trauma is the best I can do. Stopping isn’t an option but I have to make sure I don’t allow it to suck me under as I expose the monster lurking beneath the surface.

Writing continues to be my poor man’s therapy. If you’re joining this journey with me, buckle up. And bring snacks. It’s going to be a while.

This post was previously published on medium.com.


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