Something about becoming a parent changes us, doesn’t it? Well, I suppose it would be more accurate to say everything about becoming a parent changes us! I love how becoming a mother to my daughter has forced me to grow in ways I never would have let myself grow. Some changes we are ready for and others we would rather not face because it is scary; and if weren’t for my daughter, I would likely run away from the more difficult parts. Ensuring her well-being has given me the desire and motivation to undergo such painful change and finally deal with my past. This is my first-hand description of what it’s like to become a person you never wanted to be.
I’d never given much thought to why I couldn’t recall childhood memories or feel connected to my childhood. I always knew that I’d endured physical, verbal, and sexual abuse at a very young age by family members and friends and for that reason, I didn’t try to think back to childhood very often in life. I spent years explaining my story of abuse and abandonment to therapists for it to eventually become like a story I once read rather than the truth of what happened. Evidently, it’s a common phenomenon to lose several years’ worth of memories as a result of trauma. Even memories that had nothing to do with trauma can be irretrievable if they were around the time of the traumatic events. This explains why certain parts of my therapy and my childhood were like a blur.
I hoped that becoming a mother would move me even further along in my recovery, by providing me the chance to end the dysfunctional and abusive cycles that had diseased my family tree.
Instead, once I became a mother, I was thrown into mental and physical chaos marked by a near constant state of anxiety. And as I started paying more attention to what exactly was triggering me, I came to the realization that it was the most basic acts of parenting — nurturing and protecting — that were causing my pain.
I was never warned that living with CPTSD would be something else I would have to learn to manage when I became a new mom. My primary care doctor and OBGYN both took a social history from me at my initial visits, and my chart held the secret that from the age of 2 to the age of 7, I was sexually abused and even during parts of my teenage life. My records briefly outlined the sexual and domestic violence I witnessed and the abandonment I experienced from both of my biological parents. Yet that is where my secrets stayed; it never came up in any of the discussions I had with these providers as I entered parenthood.
I didn’t just hide my pain from my doctors; I was too ashamed to talk to even those closest to me about what was happening. I was afraid friends would judge me, my husband would doubt me, and my doctors would have to report my inability to be a “good” parent to authorities. I never felt so alone in my life. But I carried on, leaving clues for no one that inside, I was crumbling.
I mothered through the physical pain, mental anguish, and a broken spirit until, finally, I heard a whisper in my head that would help me begin to confront what I was feeling, and heal: “you cannot become your mother, there has to be a solution.”
For children, giving and receiving affection is paramount, and disciplining is necessary. As a survivor who was denied such basic care as a child, or who only knows of such acts in association with abuse, this can cause serious anxiety, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and chronic pain.
A parent experiencing frequent triggers, without assistance in connecting the trigger (the child or acts of parenting) with CPTSD, may revert back to methods that kept them safe and in control when they were younger — fight, flight, and freeze. These coping mechanisms that helped keep the survivor alive while enduring the abuse may now lead to unhealthy behaviors such as such as addictions, re-victimization, or poor parent/child attachment.
After experiencing trauma, some people develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many times it’s because the person didn’t have the chance or the skills to healthfully process their experience. A person who has Complex-PTSD essentially has a brain that is chronically wired for stress and operates in constant survival mode. Treatment involves trying to train yourself out of survival mode.
Until I had my daughter, I knew that I was all messed up inside and my young adult life was a roller coaster. A train wreck, if you will. Are there any untreated PTSD sufferers reading that can’t seem to keep a stable job or relationship? I know what you’re going through or went through. I had no idea that my past was still effecting my present.
But I began to deteriorate mentally and I knew the cause of my deterioration was due to a dark place inside me that I’d never dealt with and it was rearing its ugly head. Looking back, I know that being a parent is what brought out in me that which I refused to look at when I was only living for myself. This was the difficult part of change and growth. I had no idea it was coming either and I was ill prepared.
As my daughter turned from an infant and became a toddler (about the time that my abuse began as a child), I started having a lot of anxiety about her well-being, nightmares, anger and hostility and intense depression. Her age is a giant trigger for the past that I’d stuffed down. I watched my daughter with grief for my own childhood. I knew that I’d do anything to protect her. How could my my biological mother and sperm donor of a biological father let such abuse happen to me? Deep rooted anger toward my parents began to simmer beneath the surface. Life started crumbling quickly thereafter.
Flashbacks and random mood swings flooded my psyche and I felt out of touch with the present reality. There were times that I had flew into a rage because I was being pulled in every direction between work, being a wife, and a mother of a toddler who needed me to be present, and I didn’t know how to deal with what I was experiencing.
Shrieking or continuous crying or whining on an evening where I felt emotionally drained from a night filled with nightmares, and a day of panic attacks, and flashbacks would send my exhausted body and mind into fight or flight mode. I would yell at my daughter to stop screaming. It would be like my mouth was moving and I was shouting things but my mind was like, “Stop! What are you doing?”
Knowing I would never want to hurt my child emotionally or physically, but also knowing I had intense rage flowing through my body for no reason that I understood, I would run into another room and close the door so that my daughter couldn’t witness her mother break down and cry. I’d just lay on the floor or the bed staring off into space for several minutes while my body slowly came back to the present day. Then a wave of guilt would suddenly take over. I do not want my daughter to see this side of me. To know her mother was hurting so deeply.
CPTSD is heartbreaking. Being a parent with CPTSD is daunting. It’s heartbreaking because your past robs you and your family of the present and the happiness in it. One of the hardest parts of this disorder for me to accept is that I will never know what else is going to come up or when. You can’t always be aware of what is going to trip your brain’s panic switch and you always have to be ready for it so that you can be calm, still, and rational. This task is the daunting part and you have to be kind and patient with yourself and never stop trying. It’s absolutely necessary that you keep growing until you one day outgrow the effects that your past has had on you. This is especially true if we are raising little ones who will one day be adults who must survive and thrive on their own.
My biggest fear is to be like my biological mother. To not be able to protect my daughter from the world and the reality of all the hurt and pain that is out there. It’s my adult responsibility to keep getting help and treatment for the past that continues to haunt me.
I will begin a new form of CPTSD therapy next week called Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) this is a fairly new, nontraditional type of psychotherapy that is supposed to help me cope with my newer CPTSD flashbacks and moments of anxiety and disassociation. I will be documenting each step of the way.
Let the healing begin….