PART II The Wounds
Chapter 15 - What Happens in Childhood Doesn’t Stay in Childhood
When I look back at my childhood, and I think about everything that happened, it’s no wonder that I married an alcoholic, worked for an abusive boss for years, and basically endured life. I certainly didn’t enjoy life. I had fun moments, but for the most part, I existed in a state of silent rage.
My mom died when I was 29, and between my drunk husband and dealing with my grief-stricken dad, her death was the tipping point for me. That’s when I finally realized that I couldn’t think my way out of my problems, and I began therapy. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for me, the focus of my treatment for the next five years was more on my codependency than the trauma. My first therapist, who I have to say helped me a great deal, never asked about childhood trauma. Of course, she realized there was dysfunction; after all, I was married to an alcoholic, but this was the fall of 1995, and the now famous ACE study hadn’t taken place yet.
People in the mental health field have known for decades that childhood abuse and addiction go hand in hand, but like all things that get put under a microscope, the focus eventually becomes too narrow, and the bigger picture – the how the hell do we heal - gets lost.
In the first chapter of The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck states:
What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Problems, depending on their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair. These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain. Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us all that we call them problems. And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy.
Peck acknowledges that only a few will find the courage to solve the problems from their childhood. Most people, for whatever their reasons are, avoid facing the pain and go on to teach their children the same dysfunction. This is how the sins of the father are passed down through the generations, and now, in 2023, we are seeing the devastating consequences of people’s tendency to avoid the difficult. M Scott Peck warned us in his book:
Some of us will go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they cause, proceeding far afield from all that is clearly good and sensible in order to try to find any easy way out, building the most elaborate fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality.
I can tell you that facing my past was no picnic. Most of my childhood memories were buried so deep that I didn’t even know they were there. It took regressive hypnosis with a psychologist to dig them out, but, in the end, it was worth it because the only way to heal is by facing and, more importantly, feeling the past. I think someone came up with a catchphrase that says, “you have to feel it to heal it.”
That, I believe, is how to honor the traumatized child that lives within so that that child can become the adult it was meant to be.
I believe that healing is a three-part x three-part endeavor. We are, in my opinion, Mind, Body & Spirit, so it stands to reason that I must look at my wounds from all three perspectives, which is what I intend to do in this section.
I also believe that there are three levels to each section of healing: Superficial, Intellectual & Emotional or Heart-Based.
Healing is no easy task. It takes courage, dedication, and determination. Most people I know never made it past the serious self-reflection part. They couldn’t face their dark side, and no one heals until they do that.
In the spiritual text A Course in Miracles, section IV in Chapter 1 is entitled: The Escape from Darkness. The first sentence reads:
The escape from darkness involves two stages: First, the recognition that darkness cannot hide. This step usually entails fear. Second, the recognition that there is nothing you want to hide even if you could. This step brings escape from fear. When you have become willing to hide nothing, you will not only be willing to enter into communion, but will also understand peace and joy.
There’s a great video from the Academy of Ideas describing psychologist Carl Jung’s ideas about the shadow.
Clearly, the previous 14 chapters describe a traumatic childhood. There are obvious abandonment, betrayal, shame, and self-worth issues. Abandonment, betrayal, and shame are the big three archetypal wounds, according to clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Mario Martinez. In his book The MindBody Code, Dr. Martinez states:
All cultures, East and West, have their own unique ways of punishing those whose ideas and behaviors run contrary to established beliefs. These forms of punishment cause emotional damage that surfaces in the form of three archetypal wounds: abandonment, shame and betrayal. I call these wounds archetypal because they are so remarkably consistent across cultures – and the similarities in their mindbody manifestations are striking.
Whether one classifies the wounds as archetypal or as generational trauma is irrelevant to healing. I can name the events as memories or try to sound scientific by using current trauma language and refer to them as neural pathways. In the end, classification is only important in academia, and academia isn’t going to heal me; I have to do that myself. To heal, I must understand what happened to me in relation to my adult life – not anyone else’s – right now, in the present.
In my first post, I stated that the government overreach, abuse of power, cancel culture, and everything that has to do with the covid pandemic sent me back into my traumatized past. I realized that things that I thought were healed clearly weren’t. I hadn’t felt rage in a lot of years, but I sure felt it many times over the past few years. I hadn’t felt that helpless either for a long time, but then again, I haven’t put myself in an abuser’s path for many, many years. Nothing triggers me faster than feeling as if I’m being controlled, manipulated, coerced and victimized. Who knew that governments and institutions would take the place of abusive parents, and the agencies in charge of protecting children from abuse couldn’t even recognize it when it was happening to them. I became despondent and nihilistic. I knew I had to return to the past if I wanted any kind of future.
Childhood abuse results in codependency, and today’s cancel culture is codependency on steroids. It is a testament to the consequences or the butterfly effects of projection.
As Melody Beattie states in the introduction of her 1992 edition of her book Codependent No More:
I worked with women wo were experts at taking care of everyone around them, yet these women doubted their ability to take care of themselves.
I saw mere shells of people, racing mindlessly from one activity to another. I saw people-pleasers, martyrs, stoics, tyrants, withering vines, clinging vines, and borrowing from H. Sackler’s line in his play, The Great White Hope, ‘pinched up faces giving of the miseries.’
Most codependents were obsessed with other people. With great precision and detail, they could recite long lists of the addict’s deeds and misdeeds; what he or she thought, felt, did, and said; and what he or she didn’t think, feel, do and say. The codependents knew what the alcoholic or addict should or shouldn’t do. And they wondered extensively why he or she did or didn’t do it.
She goes on to say:
It was a formidable group, these codependents. They were aching, complaining, and trying to control everyone and everything but themselves. Weren’t they just an extension of the alcoholic, a visitor to the treatment centre? Why couldn’t they cooperate, instead of always making problems? The alcoholic had an excuse for being so crazy – he was drunk. These significant others had no excuse. They were this way sober.
Soon, I subscribed to two popular beliefs. These crazy codependents (significant others) are sicker than the alcoholics. And, no wonder the alcoholic drinks; who wouldn’t with a crazy spouse like that?
I learned about my own codependency in therapy, and eventually, I realized that both of my parents had transferred their codependent traits onto my siblings and me. They learned it from their parents, and their parents learned it from theirs, and so on. In fact, it continues today because most people either avoid dealing with their childhood or, like me, think they did but didn’t.
It seems to me that there is a pandemic, only it isn’t viral; it’s psychological. Many people would rather pop a pill to mask unpleasant feelings than face them head on, and doctors are more than eager to write a prescription. Others do nothing but blame the whole world for their misery.
I am considered a layperson despite my certifications. I don’t have any psychology or social health degrees to validate my beliefs or attest to the number of hours I’ve studied, and to be honest, that was by intentional design. I studied psychology and philosophy but did not obtain any degree and therefore am not bound by any regulatory agency that can muzzle me (literally or figuratively). I am free to share my opinions, beliefs, and story with whomever I please without fearing losing a license.
I share my journey because breaking the silence and openly discussing our experiences is the only way we heal. That is precisely why 12-step groups work. People get together and talk, and no one lets anyone get away with anything because everyone in the group has been there, done that. This is peer reviewing at its best!
While I think it’s important to determine specifically what needs to be healed from a person’s past, I’m also skeptical about revealing scores because some folks feel the need to compete for the level of trauma they’ve experienced. In other words, the dark side of the need to belong can sometimes cause people to exaggerate (or worse yet – invent) their perceived traumas, so they can then be included in a said group. Look at what happened with the #metoo movement. I certainly don’t want to encourage that, but at the same time, I feel it’s necessary to reveal details, as I realize that is how people relate to one another.
Let’s take a gander at some of my scores.
Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Questionnaire
While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life:
1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often … Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often … Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Try to or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with you? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
4. Did you often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
5. Did you often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
7. Was your mother or stepmother: Often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes or often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________ (but I witnessed my grandma being shoved as well as a physical fight between my brother and dad)
8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
10. Did a household member go to prison? Yes No If yes enter 1 ________
Now add up your “Yes” answers: __5 - 6_____ This is your ACE Score
There is a huge traumatic piece to my past that isn’t on the original ACE scoring sheet, but is now acknowledged in the field, and that is the medical trauma I experienced.
The Harvard Trauma Questionnaire is a measure of PTSD. There are 40 questions and a scale rating between 1 and 4 – 4 being rated as extreme. My total score is: 236. Then I divide 236 by the 40 questions and I get 5.9. Individuals with scores higher than 2.5 are considered symptomatic for PTSD.
When I looked at the Adult Attachment Scale questionnaire, the first thing that struck me was how would any of the information obtained with these questions be helpful? In my mind, it’s clear that every romantic relationship I entered into from the time I was a teenager came from a place of desperate need: the need to belong, to be loved, to matter etc. I’m nearly 60 years old and I have never experienced unconditional love, outside of the relationship I’ve had with my pets. Animals love unconditionally, which is why, I suspect, those of us who experienced childhood trauma are often animal lovers. When it comes to human beings, I don’t imagine, considering the crazy world we live in now, that I will find unconditional romantic love in this lifetime. But, who knows? Never say never!
When it comes to resilience, I took a look at Hamby, Grych, & Banyard’s Coping Scale. There are 13 questions. Answers are rated between 1 and 4. 1 being not true about me and 4 being mostly true about me. Higher scores indicate good coping skills. My total score was: 42
I have an analytical mind and I am highly solution driven. That is why I scored high, but I also know that I will obsess about a problem until I find the solution. Like all things though, there are pros and cons. The benefit to my obsessive problem solving resulted in a fraud conviction. The con is my physical health suffers because I’m like a dog with a bone. I keep searching, looking, finding, analyzing ad nauseum, until the problem is solved. When it comes to solving me, I could easily be dead before I find the solution, which defeats the purpose of the pursuit.
Finally, let me go back to codependency. What is the definition? According to Robert Subby, author of Co-Dependency, An Emerging Issue, the definition is: An emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual's prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules – rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems.
Seems to me, Canadians have a codependent relationship with our government – but I digress.
Codependency was a buzzword that came out of the addiction treatment scene of the 1970s, but if we take a moment to look at the characteristics, we’ll see that they fall in line with victims of childhood trauma.
The following characteristics are from the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. I am listing only a few from a couple of the categories, just to give you an idea of how extensive the information is.
- Think and feel responsible for other people – for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being, and ultimate destiny
- Feel anxiety, pity, and guilt when other people have a problem
- Feel compelled – almost forced – to help that person solve the problem, such as offering unwanted advice, giving a rapid-fire series of suggestions, or fixing feelings
- Feel angry when their help isn’t effective
- Anticipate other people’s needs
- Wonder why others don’t do the same for them
- Find themselves saying yes when the mean no, doing things they don’t really want to be doing, doing more than their fair share of the work, and doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves
- Feel angry, victimized, unappreciated and used.
There are a total of 25 characteristics in the book under the heading of Caretaking. I have listed only eight and I’ll admit that I relate to nearly every characteristic listed in the book.
- Come from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families
- Get angry, defensive, self-righteous, and indignant when others blame and criticize the codependents – something codependents regularly do to themselves
- Reject compliments or praise
- Get depressed from a lack of compliments and praise (stroke deprivation)
- Fear rejection
- Take things personally
- Have been victims of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, or alcoholism
There are a total of 33 characteristics under the heading of Low Self-Worth. I have listed only 7 here.
I bought this book many years ago, when I started on my healing journey. At that time, I resonated with 24 of the 33 characteristics listed. Today, I would score myself as 11 out of the 33.
The other categories are: Repression – 3 characteristics, Obsession – 13, Controlling – 8, Denial – 15, Dependency – 26, Poor Communication – 34, Weak Boundaries – 8, Lack of Trust – 7, Anger – 16, Sex Problems – 18, Misc – 16 and lastly Progressive with 12 characteristics.
As I look down the list now, I can see several characteristics that I never resolved, but I can also see a lot that were. It’s good to dig out these old books, dust them off and compare the information from the 80s and 90s to the information out there today. It makes me wonder if we’ve made headway in the mental health field or just spent decades regurgitating information rather than turning the focus to the specifics of healing.
In the next post, I’ll describe some of the physiological consequences of my childhood trauma.
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