Most people think of childhood trauma as the individual experience some form of physical abuse, but there are other things that can be considered traumatic for a child. Some might not view the story I’m about to share as traumatic, but trust me it was and is to many other people.
Shortly before I turned 3 my parents got a divorce. I still saw my father every other weekend but both he and my mother quickly started dating other people. His, now wife, had a large family including grandkids (my dad is 20 years older than my mom) so I ended up having to spend those weekend trying to share his attention with the other kids. On the other hand, my mom started dating a man, we’ll call him Tom, who had a daughter, we’ll call her Alice,who became like a sister to me. For approximately a year we even lived with Tom, but even when we didn’t I still saw him all the time. Tom was like a second father to me.
Fast forward to when I was about 7 years old and they broke up. In my eyes he was there one day and then he was gone. After this I ended up with horrible nightmares that would, at the very least, unsettle even an adult. These nightmares always ended the same, my mother, father, Tom, and Alice were all dead. When I would wake up I’d run to my mom’s room and have to poke and pinch her until she finally woke up so that I knew she was alive, I’d then have to either sleep in her bed or on the floor next to it so that she couldn’t disappear.
This went on for several months, slowly getting worse. I couldn’t sleep at night because she might not be there when I woke up, then she couldn’t be more than a room away and had to be within eyesight. This continued on until she would have to drag me into school, literally, kicking and screaming because I didn’t want her to leave me. Then one time it happened outside of the guidance counselor’s office and she ended up recommending play therapy. The play therapist told my mom and dad that I was experiencing “childhood depression due to feelings of abandonment.” I started going to girl scouts with Alice and would occasionally go over to Tom’s house to spend time with her, which I’m sure helped. Eventually I got a little bit better, or at least to the point where it didn’t control our lives.
Fast forward again to when I was 9 or 10. My mom ended up in an on and off relationship with a man who we’ll call John. It got to the point where she even asked me for advice. At this point I started to become her rock. After the second or third time of getting engaged they finally tied the knot in Vegas so he couldn’t get cold feet again. When we moved into his house John started to really show his true colors.
He became verbally/emotionally abusive. I would listen to him screaming at my mom day and night while I cried in my room covering my ears. At some point I started to try and stand up for her since she wouldn’t do it herself. This turned his attention towards me. He would start screaming that I was just her little brat and when she wasn’t around he would call me things a lot worse than that.
This was around the time my bipolar disorder started manifesting. I turned to self harm to deal with both the emotions that I couldn’t control as well as the anger at myself for being unable to help her and internalizing the things he said to me. It wasn’t until I was about 14 that they finally got a divorce. They weren’t married for a super long period of time but it was long enough to cause lasting damage.
I continued to believe everything he used to say. I continued to believe that everyone left because of my mom’s previous relationship with Tom. While therapy has helped and I’m actually engaged (a huge deal considering my abandonment/trust issues) I still have John’s voice in my head sometimes and still struggle to believe that my fiance won’t leave me, that I’m not good enough. I’ve learned to respect and love myself, but that doesn’t mean I always like myself.
I will battle with not just my bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders, but also with the the trauma caused by my childhood. Many people around the world will struggle with this too and believe, just like me, that it wasn’t true trauma and abuse because it was never physical. This is still abuse and trauma though considering it will effect you throughout your life.
What happens in childhood doesn’t always stay in childhood