Childhood Trauma

Last year I entered the world of Instagram. At first I found it fun and somewhat informative. I am ADHD, love to cook (and eat), I weight lift, I garden, do home improvements. And so I started to follow like minded people. Just last week a man came across my feed who had a unique way to store the fresh herbs we all leave to rot in the back of the fridge. Very helpful. I admit I get bored with some of the people I follow so I unfollow and move on in my Instagram life. I know there are algorithms that send things my way based on my viewing so I understand most of the feeds. However, for awhile now I am seeing something odd. I realize so much that is sent my way has to do with trends or current social culture. So maybe that is the reason. I have learned to flag things now to stop seeing things that don’t interest me. It works. But one of the current themes in life as well as Instagram seems to be childhood trauma. I started to watch them and then more appeared. It was interesting and it got me thinking about my own life.

The feeds are very similar. They focus on a behaviour that is deemed negative or disruptive to life. And honestly I can relate to so many of the behaviours. I do tend to avoid people quite often. The energy is often overstimulating. I struggle to complete tasks. I am pretty black and white in my thinking. I have trust issues. I am impulsive. I am easily bored. I have had anxiety at times in my life. Apparently, so much of this is related to childhood trauma. The issues I have in my life can be explained away so often because of the trauma I suffered at the hands of my parents. Hmmm That is where I start to question things. You see… These so called negative issues are also classic ADHD issues.

Any time I see one of these Instagram posts I find myself nodding and thinking to my self “Yep. That is me.” Then the post goes on to explain why my behaviour is actually related to my childhood trauma. That’s when I am unable to connect the dots. My parents weren’t perfect but I don’t feel the animosity that these posters seem to have. Don’t misunderstand me. My parents were weird. Truly odd. I never really thought about them much as a child. They just were. I felt relatively safe in life. I was a roamer. I just played. The biggest anxiety I had in life was not wanting to go to bed. Naps too were certainly not welcome. I may have needed the sleep but I would have preferred more play time. Early school life I loved. During those years the thing I disliked the most was piano lessons. I realized as I grew older the sacrifice those lessons cost my parents. We certainly couldn’t afford extra’s in our home and I came in time to appreciate what they were giving me. Brownies? I didn’t have the cool new version brownie dress. Mine was older and used but I had one. Skating. Swimming lessons. We had a seasons pass to both the swimming pool and the skating rink. Life was full. Junior High and High school were a little more difficult in some ways but that was mainly related to my peers. The petty junior high girls are brutal but again not my parents. Adulthood? Marriage? Kids? My parents stepped up to help whenever I needed them. So if I can’t blame any of my issues on my parents where does that leave me?

Looking back I realize that who I am and what I have become are all a result of the people who have passed through my life. Friends. Strangers. Parents. Other peoples parents. Neighbours. Workmates. Bosses. Family. In-laws. Kids. You name it. They all touched my life in some way. Each persons actions or reactions affected me in ways I never really thought about. I grew and evolved through so much of my interactions with the world. I think about my issues regarding trust. I had a very long relationship in my early life starting in grade six. It ended at the beginning of grade 11. The young man cheated on me with a friend and I wasn’t able to “get over it” and so the relationship ended. I realize now that the experience caused me to hold back on every relationship after that. I struggled to trust. I am also an Aquarius and we are reluctant to give up our freedom and independence so we hold back often and find it hard to commit for fear of being held back or controlled.

Throughout my life I find the anxiety I have felt was often due to a loss of control in my life. I felt the least amount of control when I was married. As a young wife I found I deferred often to my husband. Even while we were planning the wedding he made the decisions. He picked the invitations. And the wording. He chose the china pattern as well as the silver pattern. I had very little to do with the decisions. His Mom and sisters were very involved and he was a go along kind of guy. To be fair… I allowed it to happen. Little did I know it would set the stage for our life. He bought our cars. He chose our house. He decided on the cabin we bought. When we redid our kitchen and decided to get all new dinnerware, my husband chose the pattern. He even bought a lot of my clothes. In time I realized my life was very much in the hands of my in-laws and as the years passed I became more and more uncomfortable with it. As I pushed back there were struggles in my marriage. It was hard for my husband as in time he was forced to chose between me and his family of origin. It also became harder as I aged because I just started to follow my passions. He then had to decide if he would share in my passions or follow his own. Ultimately I found more peace in my life as the children grew older and more independent and I was also able to follow my bliss without fear of intervention.

I have issues as do we all. But when I examine my life there is very little that I can trace back to my childhood or my parents. They did the best that they could with the skills they had. Perhaps I chose to see my childhood in a positive light. Perhaps I truly bury bad things down. But I highly doubt that is the case. My father was inconsistent and in fact had quite an attitude of poor me. He always acted as if his children were looked down on because he was our Dad. Money was important to him and although he was never able to make it big in life, we didn’t go without. I have no doubt there were people who treated him poorly. Some of his own children were embarrassed by Mom and Dads lack of refinement. They were simple people. I remember being confused as a child. When I was with a friends family and they would introduce me to other people, stating I was Kjeld Pedersen’s daughter, I would watch for their reactions to his name. Try as I might I never saw people reacting with the disgust or lack of respect that I was expecting. I eventually came to realize my Dad felt inadequate and was afraid we, his children would suffer because we were poor. As an immigrant with an accent, my Mother felt a little intimidated by other women. She was a beautiful young girl and I have no doubt that any judgements made by other women were more based on jealousy than anything else. She was a world away from her family and trips home brought her so much joy. Yet she would have followed Dad anywhere. Leaving all she loved so much. And Dad? Well he got the girl that all the boys wanted. Some days he understood how blessed he was while at other times he lost focus of what was important. As I grew up I understood my parents more and more. Were there times I acted out or fought back? Absolutely. But do I hold them responsible for anything bad that happened in my life? No. I am old enough now to recognize where my issues come from. A variety of interactions with so many people in my life brought me some pain and anguish. But these were all learning periods in my life. They brought me to this point in my life. But I don’t blame anyone. I have learned to be accountable for my own life.

Before you get up in arms, I am aware there are people who did not have the parents I had. I come from a large family and each of us had different experiences. Some based on birth order, whether we were boys or girls and also personalities. So in reality my siblings and I did not have the same parents. I only have one sister and we have always been close. When we talk about our childhoods there are issues she truly struggles with that I don’t. We are ten years apart. As girls we were required to do a lot of the cleaning. She holds a great deal of anger about that as she felt it wasn’t fair. The boys had less responsibility and more freedom. Now I came years later. I started grade one the year after sibling number three graduated from high school. My closest sibling was a boy in grade six. I wasn’t really too aware of big differences. I mean it made sense he was allowed more freedom. My biggest issue with him in the elementary school years was he wouldn’t allow me to ride his bike. His bike his rules. The issue was one day I saw his best friends little brother riding it. I was pissed. That wasn’t fair. And yet as I complained to my Mom, she pointed out that it was his bike. To do with as he pleased. Soon after, my Dad fixed up my sisters old bike and it was all okay. The bottom line was, I saw chores in a different way. By the time I reached Junior High I worked harder at chores in order to go out more. I was devious. My sister was resentful. My brother was a jerk sometimes but every once in awhile he would do something sweet in front of friends. We were kids.

I am the type of person who needs to get things out. If someone hurts me I can only hold on to the anger for a limited amount of time. I lash out fairly quickly. In my older years I am more apt to walk away from people. Just move on. Especially if I am unable to resolve my feelings. That is huge these days. My own daughter doesn’t speak to me and I haven’t seen my grandkids for two years. That is her choice. I have a number of friends in the same type of situation. Now as I said, this is actually quite popular these days. Walking away from family. I can tell you from experience that distance can bring some peace. My in-laws always caused anxiety in my life. The time leading up to a family event was always so horrible. I was just sick to my stomach as I was always on edge. Knowing the passive aggressive speech patterns would somehow destroy me and I wouldn’t be able to protect my heart. I don’t see them since my husband died. His one brother contacts me now and again for coffee and I meet with him and his wife. In my mind I am doing so much better without their involvement in my life. But then we meet. It all goes well. Superficial chit chat. And then I spend the next few weeks crying, feeling exposed. I am out of synch and sad. You see, distance alone isn’t going to work if you don’t seek help. Whatever caused the traumatic responses in your life need to be dealt with. The problems don’t just go away because you remove someone from your life. So in time, we all need to seek help to heal. Otherwise we are just running away, and that person we blame? They completely control us. Even if we think they don’t.

When my husband died I really was at my most vulnerable time in life. Although we were told he was terminal I don’t think I was able to accept it. Not that he might die. That he would die. I held out hope. Always. The writing was on the wall 17 hours before he died. He went downhill so quickly. I was unprepared. The weeks and months that followed were surreal. Like a dream. Or maybe more of a nightmare. Things happened which blew me way off course. I just didn’t have the mental strength to deal with some of the things that came at me. I felt pushed around. Attacked. In time things came to light which crushed me. Actions by people around me blew me away. I wasn’t in a place where I could see my way clearly. Strangely enough my greatest confidant was a 22 year old personal trainer. I continued to see him through it all and often we would just sit side by side in the gym as I poured out my heart. Comfort comes from the most unlikely sources. As does pain and hurt. It is a time when people reveal to us just where we stand in the pecking order. Even when we know deep down inside that someone doesn’t value us, the pain when they reveal it is crushing. Grief they say is personal. For me it was transformational.

Maybe my memory is going. Perhaps my parents were horrible and caused me untold damage. Perhaps I hide it away because I can’t deal with it. My husband once said to me that my Mom did me a disservice by protecting me for so much of my childhood. He said I wasn’t prepared for the real world. He was right. I wasn’t prepared for the family he grew up in. Fortunately I felt enough love and acceptance from my parents that my soul felt safe. I didn’t feel the need to run away and give up control of me as a rebellion. I was in relationships that were undesirable. Not nice men. Controllers. A deeply disturbed narcissist. My inner peace and love for myself allowed me to turn away from these people. Did I fight with my parents? Hell yeah. Did they make mistakes. Too many to count. Do I blame them for all the bad in my life? Well how stupid would that be? I can’t blame anyone for the trauma I saw in my life. I can only recognize the situations that caused the events. The number one takeaway for me is that there are people who I don’t wish to see anymore. My reasons are personal and mine. Enough said. But, I am dealing with the events that I feel are traumatic in my life. Not just childhood. And I am doing it in my own way and my own time. I am not not allowing someone else to skew my view of my past. I am not allowing anyone to use my grief or pain as a way to control me. I will not be influenced by social media that wants to blame everything bad on my parents. Because I have learned that if everything bad in my life is because I had bad parents, how can I claim that everything good is because of me. The bad caused me to develop in ways I could not have experienced if life was all roses and sunshine. When shit went sideways I learned. I chose another path. I am responsible for how I feel inside my soul. Healing childhood trauma can only happen when we take responsibility If that includes cutting people out of our lives so be it.

Thinking back I find some of my memories bring me feelings of peace in my heart. These are pure and sweet and always involve my family. I think it is because even if I felt ignored or left behind sometimes, my home life was safe. Being the youngest by a lot of years means you do get left out of things. But it also means that as time goes by there is quiet in the home because the rest have gone. I got the best of many worlds. A large family but also a small one with a couple of kids. Plus I was an only child for quite a bit of time. My mother may have protected me from the world but my husband was wrong. It made me stronger. Able to face the shitstorm that life throws at you. Because the foundation of my life was good. The early years. I have learned that is what I managed to give my kids. A good foundation. Even the daughter who seems to hate me has always admitted she had a great childhood. That being said my adult children still struggle with things in their life. But their stresses come from every corner of life. Every day we venture out into the world and you just never know what you’re going to get. As time throws more and more at us we try and protect ourselves. It is that action which causes us the most pain. And to keep that pain alive we relive the hurtful memories over and over again which causes the pain to truly dig in and stay with us. Even when we turn away from someone we believe is the root of all our problems, the reality is, we still carry the problems with us.

When I started practicing yoga I found it very hard to keep my mind still during Savasana. Also known as corpse pose. It is often at the end of a practise when we lie flat on our back and relax as we try and just let go. It is a form of meditation. But my mind was always racing. In time I learned to follow my breath and watch it flow through my body. Nothing else entered in and I would leave yoga classes in an almost hypnotic trance. Now I find that I can meditate almost anywhere. The blessings that come from this is the ability to release things from my life. I am bothered by some actions out there in the world, but I can now just take a deep breath and let it pass through me. I recognize the feelings and let them move through my body. But then I try to visualize the anxiety and watch it move out of my body with my breath. Whatever is going on with the people in the world it has nothing to do with me. Seldom is it personal. Usually the negative actions of others are childish responses to whatever is going on around them. They haven’t learned how to react to the world so they lash out. But very seldom is it because we did something wrong. Often it is because we aren’t doing what they want us to do. That is a huge difference.

When we shift our mindset we can actually start to heal. We don’t need to make a big production about cutting people out of our lives. That just keeps it front and foremost in our minds and any new pain we feel is then added to the fire raging within us. Adding to the hate and anger. Then we seek out others so we can validate our decision. But it still consumes us. So, maybe we change tactics. We live our life our way. We seek professional help to deal with our pain but also learn new skills. People talk about boundaries. We set them. Clearly. Not for others but for ourselves. For us to use as a guide. It is not about drawing a line in the sand. Change the behaviour I don’t like about you or else. You will be punished. I will never see you again. You’ll be sorry. It’s is about deciding how you will respond in a consistent manner when anxiety is triggered. Consistent is the key word here. In time if we are consistent in our actions, others will either change, get mad, or even walk away from us. Or perhaps if we give them the chance they will see inside themselves how their actions can be seen by the world. Regardless, it is not our problem. It is theirs.

There are those whose lives in childhood were extremely traumatic. That is a truth I never lived. It is a hard hole to dig yourself out of but it cannot be the badge of honour you wear throughout your life. It is a shackle you must work very hard to escape from or you will never move forward. I know I am blessed to have fairly good early years but that doesn’t mean I never had experiences with horrible people. I have had trauma. It’s life changing when you learn that you are not your experiences or your memories. Two of my children have a tendency to live in the past. Hold anger from long ago slights. Another child tends to worry about the future. Mainly because she has young children and her worry is for them. What is important for them and for all of us to remember is that what happened before may have helped to frame our responses to life, but it is over. Gone. Done. When we dwell on the past our brain doesn’t understand we are remembering. It interprets the thoughts as actual events and responds accordingly. So we relive the same action a million times over and it hurts us a million times over. And tomorrow? Well who knows? There won’t be a tomorrow for many people. Do you really want to waste today? Because frankly it is the only thing we have right now. The right now moment.

Right now, I am in my chair beside the window. There is snow everywhere and I am drinking my coffee as I watch the world go by outside my living room window. The fireplace is warming me and I feel content. Soon I will venture out into the world and inevitably someone will annoy me. And then I will breathe in and out and remember the wise words of my husband. “I am not responsible for your happiness”. Only we can soothe the pain we feel in our hearts that is left because of the actions of others. Only we can make our lives peaceful. Only we can chose to live just for today. Happy and content. If we put the responsibility on others we will never be free from their hold. Make new memories. Good ones. One day at a time.

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