When I was born my parents owned a home in South Phoenix. We lived there until I turned four years old and then moved to Tempe. I have a handful of memories living in that house. My dad worked outside for a living and in Arizona meant that he had to wake up at 4am to start his day. My mom would also get up to make him breakfast and lunch. I would be woken up to the sounds of cabinets being opened and closed, pans sizzling with food and savory smells emanating from the kitchen.
It’s surprising to me that I have memories during this time of my life. I can remember the kitchen, my bedroom, the bathroom and the backyard and a slight mental picture of the outside of the house. One afternoon I went into the backyard to play. There was a chain-link fence that separated the front and the back of the house. The fence was weaved with some type of slat that helped to promote privacy. I wandered around the backyard and walked to the side of the house because I heard an unfamiliar noise. It took a few minutes to adjust my eyes and my brain to process what I saw.
On the left side of the fence there was a slight tear and as crazy as may sound was a bunny stuck in it. It was wiggling and trying to free itself from the situation. I slowly walked up to it and saw the helpless bunny was stuck exactly in the middle of its body. It was almost like I could feel the fear and pain of this small mammal and immediately wanted to try to help. I tried to pull back the torn fence to allow a bigger opening for the bunny escape, but it wouldn’t budge. So next I attempted to gently pull the bunny forward but it was firmly wedged in the fence. I then ran to the front of the house and tried to push it through, but again it didn’t move. Back and forth and back and forth I ran many times trying to assist this bunny but nothing seemed to work. I became sad and frustrated that I was unable to free that sweet, little bunny.
It wiggled and wiggled and struggled to break free and after a period of time just stopped. It didn’t move and for a minute I thought it had died. I reached my hand to touch it and then it made a jerking movement letting me know it was still alive. The next part of my plan was to ask my mom for help. So I ran inside and shared my story with her – she didn’t believe me at first and didn’t go outside. I mean thinking about it now I can see how it would be difficult for anyone to take seriously or believe. I wouldn’t stop talking about it so she finally gave in and allowed me to take her to the fence. Like me, she stared at it for a minute in disbelief of what she saw and then looked at me.
I started to move towards the fence to show her how the bunny was stuck, but she pulled me back. She was concerned that the creature would bite or scratch me and didn’t allow me to get close to it. I tried to convince her it was my friend and it would be okay but she wouldn’t allow it. In fact, she told me my father would take care of it when he came home from work. I was devastated and afraid that bunny would die, but what could I do? The bunny and I had to wait.
This is where my memory ends and I can’t tell you what happened when my father came home or if that bunny survived. I asked my parents once about it but they couldn’t remember the events of that day. I sure hope it made it out alive.
The thing to understand about childhood trauma is that it leaves a significant impact on your adult life. Such as emotional health, physical health, mental health and personal relationships (istss.org). There is no escaping that fact and as hard as it is you must deal with it. It is very difficult to do but much harder if you don’t. In the 4th grade I had stomach pain and vomiting that wouldn’t go away. My mom tried every over the counter medicine and home remedies she could find but nothing seemed to help. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed because the pain was so intense so she finally took me to the doctor.
After several tests and an examination he determined my problem was stomach ulcers. I immediately began taking lemon swiss creme liquid Maalox. He advised my mom to always carry it whenever I went. So a large bottle was sent to my school nurse and a bottle was also carried in my mom’s purse. I drank it like water.
I remember sitting in the examination room with my mom as the doctor gave the diagnosis. He asked me if I was stressed but I didn’t understand what that meant. I mean, my life was my life and I didn’t know anything different. I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of years of molestation, neglect and physical abuse. For me that was my normal. The doctor told me it wasn’t good to hold my feelings inside and that I had to get them out. He suggested that I tell my mom when I was stressed and even yell when things became too much. What he couldn’t understand is that my parents were a big part of my problem, and if I did those things I could be punished. So I continued to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself and frequently chugged my Maalox.
As I grew older I learned to deal with the memories and pain in different ways – self taught remedies that like Maalox would ease the symptoms but didn’t fix the problem. My emotional health, physical health, mental health and personal relationships have all been strangled and altered by my abuse. Nothing has escaped its reach. Is this to say that my entire adulthood has been horrible and unbearable – overall no. There is just this mountain of pain and burden that I’m extremely exhausted from lugging around.
Even now there are moments when I’m unexpectedly reminded of the past and I become that bunny stuck in the fence. It’s a place I don’t want to be but I struggle to find my way out. After years and years of unsuccessfully trying to escape – you stop trying. You learn to accept your circumstances and accept a new way of living. I remember when that bunny stopped fighting and appeared to be dead. In many ways, I’ve resigned myself that this is as good as my life would ever get – and stopped fighting for my freedom.
Through a series of unexpected events I met a counselor who suggested a new type of treatment. This therapy was designed to enable people to heal from the symptoms of emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. It was then tested on combat veterans who struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This process helps treat the triggers (memories) that cause overwhelming feelings of helplessness, anger, low self-esteem and many other issues. It helps to shift the negative thoughts and feelings into strong, positive ones (emdr.com).
I am still in beginning process of this therapy but I have a lot of hope. I’ve once again begun to wiggle and fight to escape the chain-link fence that binds me – and I’m a little nervous but it also feels really good. To believe there is a chance that these wounds can finally heal and my life can be resuscitated brings me deep comfort and joy. It’s like discovering the impossible is now possible. How long will this take? I can’t tell you but I will continue to share the steps of my healing journey.