Healing From Your Family’s Toxic Legacy of Trauma
I remember the rage in her eyes like it was yesterday. She was angry at something I did, or didn’t do, I could never tell.
I was only 10 years old, woke from my bed with covers being thrown, scrambling for retreat when the curvature of the belt hit my leg. It stung. It penetrated all of me; the sound reverberating through my head.
I swallowed my fear and mounted up against my mother, but it was too late, she struck my soul. My father joined the whipping, careful not to spill his Scotch before taking another swing, growing angrier for having pulled him away from his single malt.
His little boy had disappointed him yet again.
I didn’t care. I protected myself behind a sense of dignified rebellion and a spectacular resilience in me was born that day.
But that day, it also introduced me to the mask.
They taught me to hide.
They taught me to man-the-fuck up and be perfect.
They taught me it was wrong to feel.
I became an athlete that day and now, even years later, approaching 50, I’m in epic shape.
One morning on a jog along the ocean while living in Southern California, I thought about that painful night so many years ago. Stopping in my tracks, I watched a wave break against the shore and wondered to myself, how long has that wave traveled to find its home right now on the banks?
Mystified and yet also humbled as wave after wave crossed its finish line like I too have done, so many times in life’s endless journeys to the reward.
Then it all came clear, paralyzed in my speechlessness from one of nature’s blissful lessons. You know the kind. The wave’s journey wasn’t over, it had only crested to land in a display before returning to sea and repeat the cycle once again.
I’ve reflected on that 10-year-old boy and learned this: I revealed myself in that spectacle of drunken abuse.
Over time, the pain recycled into the ocean of life’s grandness and reformed itself to a beautiful, no, breathtaking, display of life.
If you’ve suffered from family abuse and/or trauma, you probably relate to my story.
We suffer at work, holding a job, getting along with coworkers, and seem to always be short of money.
We isolate and often become addicted to substances, some life-threatening, some partake just enough to stay numbed out from feelings too painful to handle.
Our family and friends try to help, but we can’t take another trite comment of “you’ll be okay” or “just get over it”. Instead, we’d prefer to hide from the world in a sea of being misunderstood.
If this is you, I see you.
I see you because I AM you.
The good news is we can recover.
Here are six helpful resources for beginning your journey to healing.
1. Know that you’re not alone — but you won’t heal alone.
Often our egos and pain cycles mercilessly try to convince us we’re damaged beyond repair, unwanted, and must be the only human being on the planet with this problem that feels this way.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
“On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.” — The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (N.C.A.D.V.)
According to The Bureau of Justice Statistics, “a person is abused in the United States every 9 seconds.”
Everyone is in a constant state of change and either tolerating a trauma or recovering from one. Decide which camp you want to be in and the healing process becomes easier.
Others in their healing journeys will magically appear alongside you, you’ll hear words common in the healing communities like, “trigger” and suddenly you’re whisked into a new set of language where people are talking through (versus dumping and complaining) their own problems by taking responsibility for them.
You’ll wonder where these people have been all this time.
You’ll feel lighter and more optimistic.
If you’ve heard the proverb, “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear”, you’re introduced to others that will warp you into your healing journey at lightning speed.
You just have to DECIDE to be ready, embrace your shit, and walk down the path.
2. Be your own rescue. Nobody is coming to save you.
Twelve-step programs literally save lives.
“But I’m not an alcoholic,” you may be saying.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) founded the 12-step program, and they operate on a set of guiding principles and accompanying steps that, if you work them with a sponsor and regularly take part, your life will drastically improve in twelve months or fewer.
Alcohol has never been the problem for many of us, rather just another substance used to keep us trapped in pain cycles and numb our feelings.
12 steps programs are teaching-based and self-paced so you can discover your wounds and get group support to work through trauma.
They meet everywhere in the world, in person, online, they’ve organized sophisticated phone systems and use ZOOM.
With Covid keeping us isolated, never has humankind been more disconnected and polarized in our collective viewpoints, paralyzed by fear.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. with over 1.4 million suicide attempts yearly.
We need each other, and we grow by reflection. Healing almost NEVER happens alone, and truthfully, we only get worse than left alone to dramatize our trauma stories.
Alanon helps the families of one’s dealing with alcoholism.
Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACAoD) is the Ph.D.-level program of twelve steps, complete with multiple workbooks and a strict model to follow. In this circle, you’ll find a place to purge the trauma that our bodies hold on to, acting out our pain cycles.